Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the word, 'theory'

The Japanese language has two separate words equivalent to the two usages of the English word, 'theory'.

理論 [RI-RON]
A system of knowledge built on logic to systematically and uniformly explain individual phenomena. In addition, a purely logical knowledge corresponding to practice.

説 [SE-TSU]
1. A principle (belief) or claim for certain things.
2. Rumor.

I tried to translate the Japanese definitions as faithfully as I can into English. The first word, 'ri-ron', is equivalent to the scientific usage of the English word, 'theory' (as in 'the theory of evolution' or 'the theory of relativity'), while the second word, 'se-tsu', is equivalent to the common usage (more like 'I have a theory!'). Setsu doesn't need to be substantiated and can be wild claims.

It's a shame the English language doesn't have two separate words; we can avoid a lot of confusion.