for the judging of truth, let us see what profit there is to dialectic from
this power of words whose seeds we have just sown, and what impediments arise. The
listener is hindered from seeing the truth in words by obscurity and ambiguity.
The difference between the ambiguous and the obscure is that in the ambiguous
many things are exhibited, of which one is unsure as to which one to take; in
the obscure, however, nothing or not enough appears. But where it is too little
which appears, the obscure is similar to the ambiguous: e.g. as if someone
beginning a trip is faced by a fork in the road or a three-way road or even a
multi-way road, where nothing lights up the road, say, because of the density
of a fog. He is first kept from continuing by obscurity, but when the fog
begins to lift a little, something is seen which may be either the road or the
ground itself, since the color is not quite clear enough. This is an obscurity
which is like ambiguity. When the sky has brightened and it is light enough for
the eye and the view of all the roads is clear, it is not obscurity but
ambiguity which makes him doubt as to which one to take. Thus, there are three
types of ambiguity: 1. Open to the senses, closed to the mind: If someone sees
a picture of a pomegranate who has never seen one before nor heard what one is,
it is not the eye, but the mind, which does know what the picture is of. 2.
Open to the mind, closed to the senses, e.g. a picture of a man in darkness.
When it appears to the eye, the mind does not doubt that a man is pictured. 3.
Both hidden from the sense and not at all clearer to the mind, the greatest
obscurity of all, e. g. if an inexperienced person were required to recognize
that painted pomegranate in the dark.
Now turn your
mind to the words of which these are similitudes. Constitute in your mind some
teacher, his students having been called together and silence having been
invoked, who says in a low voice «temetum» (booze). Those sitting close hear
well enough, those further removed poorly, the furthest removed are reached by
no sound at all. For some reason, those who are somewhat remote partly know
what «temetum» is, partly do not, and those who heard the teacher»s voice
immediately did not know what it was. All were thus hindered by obscurity.
Those who were sure about what they heard are like our first type, i.e. those
ignorant of the pomegranate even when painted in the light. Those who knew the
word but perceived the voice poorly or not at all with the ear are of the
second type, similar to the image of a man in an unclear or dark place. Those
who were privy neither to the significance of the word nor the voice of the
teacher involve themselves in the blindness of the third type, which is the
worst of all. You can see that that which has been called obscure is similar to
the ambiguous by the example of those to whom the word was known but who did
not perceive the voice well or with any certainty. For he avoids all kinds of
obscure speech who speaks in a clear enough voice, not kept from the ear, and
makes use of known words. See now by the example of the same teacher what a
distinction there is between ambiguity and obscurity in words. Let those who
were there (the aforementioned group, Tr.) both perceive well by sense the
voice of the teacher and let him pronounce a word known well by all -- e.g.
have him say «magnus» (big) and no more. Note what uncertainties are attached
to this noun («nomen» is used both for noun and adjective in Latin, Tr.) which has
been heard. For example, one might ask: What part of speech is it? Or ask
concerning the meter: What foot is it? Or about the story: How many wars did
«magnus» (great) Pompey wage? Or if one of his admirers were to say for the
sake of the poem: Virgil is a great poet almost without equal. Or someone
scolding the negligence of students erupts in these words: A great torpor has
invaded your study. Do you see after the cloud of obscurity has been lifted
that that which has been said almost clears up the manifold way? For that one
thing which was said, i.e. «magnus» is both a noun (Latin did not distinguish
between noun and adjective, Tr.) and a foot and Pompey and Virgil and the
torpor of negligence, etc., or even innumerable things which we did not mention,
which nevertheless can be understood in the pronunciation of this word.