Friday, November 11, 2011

Debased verbal coin

F. A. Hayek

Political wisdom, dearly bought by the bitter experience of generations, is often lost through the gradual change in the meaning of the words which express its maxims.  Though the phrases themselves may continue to receive lip service, they are slowly denuded of their original significance until they are dropped as empty and commonplace.  Finally, an ideal for which people have passionately fought in the past falls into oblivion because it lacks a generally understood name.  If the history of political concepts is in general of interest only to the specialist, in such situations there is often no other way of discovering what is happening in our time than to go back to the source in order to recover the original meaning of the debased verbal coin which we still use.   
F. A. Hayek (1953) The Decline of the Rule of Law, Part 1, in The Freeman, April 20, 1953, p. 518

To talk and listen in a public forum, words must have meaning.  There can always be a translator.

To find such meaning for oneself, the coin also of mere individual thought, I recommend what Hayek advises here.  A commonplace book helps.  For me it took years.

It's best of course to strive for shared meaning, but not at the expense of clear thought.