In Bertrand Russell's Analysis of Mind, after he gave only a few examples, he wrote "But it is unnecessary to prolong the catalogue of the uses of language in thought." At the height of excitement, I was hugely disappointed by this abrupt end. Now I'd like to create exactly such a catalogue. Please don't hesitate to post anything that comes to your mind. Thanks!

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    "Please don't hesitate to post anything that comes to your mind." That's not a constructive way to ask questions here. Please ask something much more specific, perhaps like what else Bertrand Russell wrote on the topic.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 9, 2014 at 6:01
  • That is a creative way of finding answers. Sep 9, 2014 at 8:22
  • No one knows the complete answer. I'm trying to encourage people to share what they know. Sep 9, 2014 at 13:48

3 Answers 3


Here is Russell's list

The advantages of words for purposes of thought are so great that I should never end if I were to enumerate them. But a few of them deserve to be mentioned.

In the first place, there is no difficulty in producing a word, whereas an image cannot always be brought into existence at will, and when it comes it often contains much irrelevant detail. In the second place, much of our thinking is concerned with abstract matters which do not readily lend themselves to imagery, and are apt to be falsely conceived if we insist upon finding images that may be supposed to represent them. The word is always concrete and sensible, however abstract its meaning may be, and thus by the help of words we are able to dwell on abstractions in a way which would otherwise be impossible. In the third place, two instances of the same word are so similar that neither has associations not capable of being shared by the other. Two instances of the word "dog" are much more alike than (say) a pug and a great dane; hence the word "dog" makes it much easier to think about dogs in general. When a number of objects have a common property which is important but not obvious, the invention of a name for the common property helps us to remember it and to think of the whole set of objects that possess it. But it is unnecessary to prolong the catalogue of the uses of language in thought.

Russell, Bertrand. The Analysis of Mind. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2529/2529-h/2529-h.htm


Unfortunately I did not read Bertrand Russell's Analysis of Mind but two things come to my minds.

Not only a word may stand for an abstract or complex concept, but it helps us to develop on these concepts, building again more elaborated concepts that would have been inaccessible to our mind otherwise. I believe that the history of human thought is written like this. How to even think about republic without the concept of democracy, vote or individualism. Sometimes, taking a closer look at this concepts, that we take for granted and are the foundation of what we believe, can revolutionized our vision of the world. Simply because behind these words there was something more complex than we were assuming so far.

At the same time I believe that unfortunate associations have also a great place in the history of thought. Mixed semantic, errors, misinterpretation or translation can open our mind to new perspectives. They can lead to complex theory, good or bad. "Race" is an example of how a fuzzy concept based on only one or maybe few unclear human phenotype can lead to a considerable amount of thought production. I think "consciousness" is another of this term that produced some of the most interesting thought without anybody beeing really sure what it is.

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    Thanks, @Ugo. Speaking of association, I think sometimes words can "drag out" ideas. Often times as soon as I wrote down the first word, the next one follows, then the next, the next...although I had no idea before hand. Sep 8, 2014 at 23:10
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    Yes! I think what is interesting too is what it tells us about our brain. I recently saw a specialist of the brain that was explaining the serie of tests they use to locate lesions in the brain. One of these is to ask people to tell a maximum number of animal's name. They are looking for defective thought association. A normal patient will think about one category of animals like Pets, Enumerate, then look for another category etc.. Some people actually can't do that and will stop after only few animal names.
    – Ugo
    Sep 8, 2014 at 23:20
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    Some people will repeat the same names again, which would indicate another kind of lesions ...
    – Ugo
    Sep 8, 2014 at 23:20
  • Here's how Rusell wrote one of his books:"I had had no intention of writing such a book, and it was totally unlike anything I had previous written, but it came out in a spontaneous manner. In fact, I did not discover what it was all about until I had finished it. Sep 9, 2014 at 11:54

Words can be used for typographical conveniences

Theoretically, it is unnecessary ever to give a definition ... the definitions are no part of our subject, but are, strictly speaking, mere typographical conveniences. Practically, of course, if we introduced no definitions, our formulae would very soon become so lengthy as to be unmanageable; but theoretically, all definitions are superfluous.

Words can embody our choice of consideration and express notable advance.

First, a definition usually implies that the definiens is worthy of careful consideration. Hence the collection of definitions embodies our choice of subjects and our judgment as to what is most important. Secondly, when what is defined is (as often occurs) something already familar, such as cardinal or ordinal numbers, the definition contains an analysis of a common idea, and may therefore express a notable advance.

Whitehead & Russell. Principia Mathematica. Chapter 1. Page 12, Merchant Books, 1910

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