dormitive principle

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A modern translation of Latin, virtus dormitiva, coined by Molière in The Imaginary Invalid. 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".


dormitive principle (plural dormitive principles)

  1. (idiomatic, rhetoric, logic, linguistics) A type of tautology in which an item is being 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.
    • 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'.



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