Newton and Wittgenstein -- long lost cousins?

As I was preparing for my History of Scientific Thought class tomorrow, I noticed the following line in Newton's Principia: "the meaning of words is to be determined by their use." (It's in the 14th paragraph of the Scholium to the Definitions, if anyone cares.) This is a revolution in Wittgenstein historiography! We obviously need to re-write all the history textbooks: Wittgenstein should no longer be seen as making a radical break with tradition, but rather advocating a return to orthodox Newtonianism...

But seriously: does anyone else know of other clean expressions of the Wittgensteinian 'meaning is use' slogan in the centuries before Wittgenstein?


Greg Frost-Arnold said...

Kenny --

Half an hour or so after I posted this, I had more-or-less exactly the thought you did. Though I then did wonder how many people would accept that meaning is determined by use, and not merely 'constrained' by it -- i.e., that once the use of an expression is given, the meaning is fully or completely given.

Anonymous said...

Greg, I think that "determined" is ambiguos in Newton's quotation. I migkt be taken in either a metaphysical sense, or an epistemic sense. In the metaphysical sense it means that meaning is constituted by use, which is closely to what Wittgenstein meant. In the epistemic sense it means that one can know the meaning of a word by examining its use, which is compatible with the negation of what Wittgenstein said.