I.A. Richards, born in 1893, is one of the great critics of the modern age, and has influenced a number of critics on both sides of the Atlantic. He and T.S. Eliot are pioneers in the field of New Criticism, though they differ from each other in certain important respects. He is the first-rate critic, since Coleridge, who has formulated a systematic and complete theory of poetry, and his views are highly original and illuminating. In his “Principles of Literary Criticism” chapter 34, he discusses the most neglected subject, i.e. the theory of language and the two uses of language. To understand much the theory of poetry and what is said about poetry, a clear comprehension of the differences between the uses of language is indispensable. David Daiches says, “Richards conducts this investigation in order to come to some clear conclusions about what imaginative literature is, how it employs language, how its use of language differs from the scientific use of language and what is its special function and value.”
According to I.A. Richards language can be used in two ways, i.e. the scientific use and the emotive one.
It is only in recent years that serious attention is given to the language as a science. In the scientific use of language, we are usually matter of fact. All the activities covered by this use require undistorted references and absence of fiction.
We may use a statement, true or false, in a scientific use of language, but it may also be used to create emotions and attitudes. This is the emotive use of language. We use words scientifically or for emotional attitudes when words are used to evoke attitudes without recourse to references like musical phrases. References are conditions for developing attitudes and hence the attitudes are more important, without carrying for the true or false references. Their sole purpose is to support the attitudes. Aristotle wisely said, “Better a plausible impossibility than an improbable possibility.”
In the scientific use of the language, the difference in reference is fatal (a failure) but in the emotive language it is not so. In the scientific use of language, the references should be correct and the relation of references should be logical. In the emotive use of language, any truth or logical arrangement is not necessary – it may work as an obstacle. The attitudes due to references should have their emotional interconnection and this has often no connection with logical relations of the facts referred to.
Richards goes on to examine different uses of the word ‘truth’. In the scientific use, the references are true and logical there is very little involvement of arts. Richards says that the term ‘true’ should be reserved for this type of uses – the scientific use. But the emotive power of the word is far too great for this. The temptations are there for a speaker who wants to evoke certain attitudes.
So Richards goes on to consider the connotations of the word ‘truth’ in criticism. In literary criticism, the common use is ‘acceptability’ or ‘probability’. For example, Robinson Crusoe is true in the sense of the acceptability of things we are told, in the interest of the narrative whether or not such a person existed in real life is not relevant to the ‘truth’ of the novel. A happy ending to Lear or Don Quixote would be false because it would be unacceptable. In this sense ‘truth’ is equivalent to ‘internal necessity’ or ‘rightness’. That is ‘true’ which accords with the rest of the experience and arouses our ordered responses. Keats uses ‘truth’ in a confused way. He said, ‘What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth.” Sometimes it is held that all that is unwanted or redundant is false; as Walter Pater says, ’Surplusage! The artist will dread that, as the runner on his muscles’. But then superabundance is common in all great art, and is much better than contrived economy. The essential point is whether this so-called surplusage interferes or not with the rest of the responses.