7.6 Words and Decades

I’m not going to start with the list of most common words each decade, because it just looks like what we found back in section 7.3. Some words are really common and they stay that way through the data set. What’s more interesting is to look at words that are more common in a particular decade than they are in general. And this in turn requires picking a domain of words.

I’ll start with the one thousand most common words (stop words excluded) from the data set. (I’m not going to do the graphs that I did in section 7.3, because they would just be repetitive; it’s very often just the same words.)

Table 7.22: Most distinctive words in each decade (among 1000 most common words)
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
pleasure consciousness reality organism propositions art
consciousness reality consciousness minds soul men
sensation unity unity reality quality phenomenological
sensations absolute absolute quality plato inquiry
unity feeling movement essence art modern
feeling ultimate whole qualities method ethical
conscious conscious conscious immediate ultimate sciences
movement activity universe soul qualities war
reality series soul whole immediate method
feelings experience appearance universe substance procedure
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
ethical statements quine rights intentional epistemic
statements statement rawls utility strategy models
statement logically jones realist rawls population
analytic jones legal rationality worlds normative
art aesthetic predicates death cognitive selection
men analytic wants frege water intuitions
aesthetic criteria criteria rawls david agents
descriptive legal descriptions persons modal strategy
inquiry wittgenstein justice intentional beliefs semantic
philosopher saying obligation equality probabilities david

I guess nothing there is too surprising. The keywords in the first few decades are basically what we’d expect if there was a lot of idealism going on. Then there is much more attention to aesthetics in the middle decades, as well as a huge focus on statements. (I think the term statement is too ambiguous between sentence, utterance and proposition to be used nowadays, but that clearly wasn’t the view then.) And then Rawls shows up, along with some people called David. Probabilities shows up in the 1990s but not later because it is replaced, as we’ll see, with credences. The boom in the topic norms looks a little less surprising when you see normative is used so much, especially in the 2000s, that it ends up on the list of one thousand most common words.

Let’s increase the domain to the three thousand most common words in the data set.

Table 7.23: Most distinctive words in each decade (among 3000 most common words)
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
volition psychical psychical apprehension esthetic esthetic
motor bradley intellect essences verification whitehead
psychical volition individuality spiritual whitehead dewey
pleasures idealism duration alexander datum peirce
pleasure consciousness bradley religion symbol democracy
consciousness reality apprehension stimuli postulates mankind
intensity connexion acquaintance existent characters signs
nervous apprehension connexion esthetic spinoza organization
organic presentation idealism psychical symbols arts
impulse succession recognise individuality philosophic peace
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
ryle austin marx nuclear twin williamson
ayer hare popper nozick computational scenario
dewey strawson hare parfit fodor luck
esthetic ayer hempel dummett supervenience credence
ethical ryle strawson market processing global
usage verb utilitarian preferences consensus populations
theology verbs discrimination rights fraassen epistemically
whitehead hempel geach dworkin liberalism representational
conscience statements criminal kripke bell epistemic
statements statement searle labor salmon testimony

The main auditorium at Monash University is the Alexander Hall. Graduations are there, but it isn’t otherwise a major part of student life. I think I went there more often as a high school student than as a university student. But still, it was nice to know that a big part of the university was named after a philosopher, Samuel Alexander. There was also a nice sketch of him on the wall of one of the seminar rooms in the philosophy department while I was there. That didn’t mean that we actually talked about Alexander’s work; I don’t remember ever being assigned one of his papers in a class or seminar. That was perhaps a bit too bad, since he’s arguably the second most important Australian philosopher for the first half of the twentieth century.

Let’s expand this list to the five thousand most common words.

Table 7.24: Most distinctive words in each decade (among 5000 most common words)
1890s 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s
muscular psychical bergson bosanquet esthetic esthetic
spencer presentations schiller instincts sensa hartmann
volition spencer bosanquet santayana verification emotive
presentations stout royce sensa schiller morris
motor bradley instinct instinct whitehead whitehead
antithesis schiller instincts apprehension verifiable civilization
nerve pragmatism psychical essences datum dewey
instinct volition apprehended spiritual physicist peirce
instincts sidgwick stout stout verified sociology
psychical hegelian pragmatism existents symbol positivists
1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
emotive malcolm illocutionary nuclear churchland hawthorne
stevenson austin marx deterrence twin contextualism
ryle grue lakatos exploitation burge scanlon
historian hare capitalist nozick pettit williamson
santayana strawson torture smoking computational chalmers
poem ayer lorentz parfit fodor normativity
philosophies ryle metric soviet laudan woodward
royce verb privacy laudan usa egalitarianism
weber verbs crimes rorty supervenience korsgaard
historians judicial hintikka dummett externalism scenarios

When I was cleaning out the data I thought that sensa was some kind of OCR error. But it’s a really common word in 1920s and 1930s discussions of sense data. In later years, the distinctive words tend to be more and more to do with names.

That said, we also see here a word that I should have filtered out: basil. Some uses of it are legitimate, but most are because Basil Blackwell turns up in bibliographies. I wish I’d caught that one.