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Exception and rule

Posted by Ward Fredericks on February 23, 2004

In Reply to: Exception and rule posted by ESC on February 23, 2004

: : : : I am trying to find the meaning of this phrase "exception and not the rule" or the other way around "the rule and not the exception". Thank you

: : : Neither of those is a standard phrase that I know of. There's a saying "The exception proves the rule," in which "proves" has the old meaning of "tests."

: : Something out of the ordinary which does not conform to usual behaviour is an exception to the rule. For example; This shop is open every day except Christmas Day. Christmas Day is different and 'proves' the rule.

: : Yes, beware the meaning of 'prove'! It is widely misunderstood in this context. Christmas Day 'proves' the rule that the shop is open every day. In this sense it does not demonstrate that the rule is correct, it tests whether it is correct or not. In this case it shows that the rule is not always true.

: Here's all I know:

: EXCEPTION PROVES THE RULE, THE - "The original meaning of this proverb turned on a philosophical fine point, namely that an exception, by its very nature, proved that a rule existed. The early L*tin phrase, 'An exception claimed in the case of matters or persons not excepted strengthens the rule,' made the slightly different point that exceptions only strengthened the case for having the rule. John Wilson recorded the saying in its modern form in 'The Cheats' .In 'A Student's Pastime' ' W.W. Skeat took issue with the general understanding of the original Latin saying, holding 'The exception 'tests' the rule,' instead of supporting or demonstrating it. But Arthur Conan Doyle in 'The Sign of the Four' took what amounts to a rigorous scientific position on the matter with the matter-of-fact 'An exception disproves the rule.'" From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).

:: Dr. Karl Popper, a splendid 20th century philosopher, was one of the most influential thinkers in our modern time. His position, simplified, is that we can know nothing for certain --- we can only reject concepts which have been demonstrated to be untrue. This simple idea is at the heart of science today, and the tentative proof of a hypothesis is that is is not shown to be untrue. All knowledge, therfore is tentative--- subject to later information and test.
In a world where we now think, in science, that we only can observe and name about 4% of the matter in the universe, and the cosmological constant predicted by Einstein seems to be a real phenomenon pushing the universe apart -- I must say that I agree with Popper. The exception does not prove the rule -- it disproves it absolutely!