dormitive principle

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It has been requested that this entry be merged with dormitive virtue(+).


A modern translation of Latin, virtus dormitiva, coined by Molière in The Imaginary Invalid (1673). In the play, he lampoons a group of physicians providing an explanation in macaronic Latin of the sleep-inducing properties of opium as stemming from its "virtus dormitiva". The currency of this phrase as a critique of scientific claims is due to Gregory Bateson (1976, Steps to an Ecology of Mind p. 5), as is the translation of virtus as 'principle'.


dormitive principle (plural dormitive principles)

  1. (idiomatic, rhetoric, logic, linguistics) A type of tautology in which an item is explained in terms of the item itself, only put in different (usually more abstract) words.
    • 1988, Doreen Kronick, New Approaches to Learning Disabilities: Cognitive, Metacognitive, and Holistic:
      We note Bateson's (1968) dormitive principle at work in which behaviors are described as traits such as LD, which then are used to explain the behavior.
    • 2000, “Rational Choice and Rationallity”, in The Paradox of Social Order: Linking Psychology and Sociology, page 14:
      For Arrow, many socioeconomic phenomena are explained in terms of the "dormitive principle", which, he says, simply repeats the phenomenon being explained.
    • 2002, Bradford Keeney, Aesthetics of Change, The Guilford Press,, →ISBN, page 33:
      If we examine traditional explanations of behavior through the lens of recursion, we will sometimes find what Bateson called "dormitive principles," a form of circular description. A "dormitive principle" is a more abstract repackaging of a description of the item you claim to be explaining. To paraphrase Bateson, this occurs when the cause of a simple action, as for example, when aggression is explained as being caused by an "aggressive instinct" or psychotic symptomatology is attributed to "madness."
    • 2003, Ian Glynn, An Anatomy of Thought: The Origin and Machinery of the Mind:
      And to any intelligent reader, explanation of an 'inherent ability' was reminiscent of Molière's mock explanation of the soporific effects of opium - that it contained a 'dormitive principle'.
    • 2017, Bradford P. Keeney, Aesthetics of Change, page 38:
      Similarly, to view “leadership" as something that resides in a person is to generate a dormitive principle. This would inspire such pseudoexplanations as “He leads because he possesses leadership qualities.”
    • 2018, Roberto Pereira, Juan Luis Linares, Clinical Interventions in Systemic Couple and Family Therapy, page 215:
      Prevent disability from becoming a dormitive principle that can, per se, justify any conduct or event in the interaction of the disabled person
    • 2018, Michael D. Reiter, Systems Theories for Psychotherapists: From Theory to Practice:
      To say that "he only uses drugs because he is the black sheep” is to mix up these logical types, also called invoking the dormitive principle.



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