Ian Andreas "Diaphanus" Miller (diaphanus) wrote,
Ian Andreas "Diaphanus" Miller

  • Mood:

De Verbo Pantheism

"De Verbo Pantheism"
"About the Word Pantheism"

At one point during my CFI Conference trip this sumer, Jakob Liljenwall and I were talking about the etymology of the word pantheism. Specifically, we were talking about the word element pan-. If I am remembering correctly, Jakob suggested that the word ought to mean the belief of all gods, rather than the identification of the universe as a deity (or variants of that description). The word has been used in the former sense, but the latter one is much more common.

This seemed like a cogent argument to me at the time. The Greek word πᾶς, "all," "every," "each," is a strange word because it appears in various forms in compounds. It can appear as παν- [pan-], based on a shortened version of its stem, παντ- [pant-], as in πανάγαθος [panagathos], "altogether good." Before a labial consonant, παν- becomes παμ- [pam-], and before a guttural consonant, παν- becomes παγ-, as in πάμφιλος [pamphilos, etymon of English pamphlet] and πάγκρεας [pankreas, English pancreas]. The full stem παντ- can be used in compounds as well, and it becomes παντο- before a consonant, παντ- before a vowel, and πανθ- before an aspirate: παντοδαπός [pantodapos], "of all kinds"; πάνταρχος [pantarkhos], "all-ruling"; πάνθειος [pantheos], "relating to all of the gods." The last example I have there, πάνθειος, certainly supports Jakob's suggestion.

Later, I began to think more about the use of the pan- in pantheism. Yes, it is true that it could be used in the way that Jakob suggested, but it is by no means the only way. One of the potential weaknesses of using Greek and Latin for learned language and scientific terminology is that, in many cases, despite the precision in meaning that the Latin- and Greek-derived word elements used in compound words can offer, there still exists a kind of vagueness and ambiguity of exactly how those word elements interact with each other semantically. I suppose this is partly due to the fact that compound words can either be directly formed from phrases, specifically showing the inflections and case relations of the word elements, or be formed from stems of the words, which does not show the case relations because this method of word formation is much older than inflection. So, on one hand, we have the compound word agricultura, which is really just the phrase agri cultura, "cultivation of the field," showing how agri is semantically related cultura, while a word like homicida, "murderer," which does not specifically show the semantic connection of the two words homo and caedere, and has to be guessed at (perhaps implying a phrase "qui hominem caedit").

Jakob's suggestion was based on the latter method of word formation, whereby the pan- is modifying the the- word element without any particular semantic connection. This is not wrong, of course. On the other hand, I think pantheism could be interpreted the other way. The pan-the- can stand for the phrases πᾶν ἐστι θεός [pan esti theos], "everything is god," or θεός ἐστι πᾶν [theos esti pan], "god is everything" (the ἐστι can be omitted, as it is in terse phrases and old sayings). This seems to be more relevant to the more common sense of pantheism:


Pantheism is a metaphysical and religious position. Broadly defined it is the view that (1) "God is everything and everything is God … the world is either identical with God or in some way a self-expression of his nature" (Owen 1971: 74).

On the other hand, what Jakob suggested seems to be more relevant to the less-common sense of pantheism.

Suggestions and comments on this are welcome.
Tags: etymology, greek, latin

  • Non Dicis!

    "Non Dicis!" "You Don't Say!" Yeah: A sophisticated theologian claims that religion can’t be falsified And a good comment: Gilkey makes a…

  • Argumentum ad Famem

    "Argumentum ad Famem" "The Argument from Hunger" Augh, Coyne found some grade-A nonsense: More theological criticism of atheists: we’re not…

  • Coyne Dixit

    "Coyne Dixit" "Coyne Said" Nice: Jerry Coyne On Justifying Science We justify science rather than faith as a way of finding out stuff not on…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.