[FOM] re the meaning of set - here are some down-to-earth examples to consider

Isaac Malitz imalitz at rdic.com
Tue Feb 21 20:00:27 EST 2006

In my opinion, the core notion of a set is
a *very* conservative notion. Some of the OED
examples cited by Joe Shipman already are
"extrapolations" from the core notion.

In an attempt to bring things really down to earth,
here are some examples of set discourse in 
literature. (In some examples, the word 'set'
is used as a verb, however a noun-concept of set may be

Based on a study of examples such as those below,
as well as other considerations, I have been
led to the view that pretty much *all* mathematical
uses of "set" involve various degrees of artifice.

1) ... an absolutely unique set of Ming china.

   -- Doyle, "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client"

2) The crew were a set of Ruffians ...

   -- Doyle, "The 'Gloria Scott'"

3) ... an excellent set of teeth ...

   -- Doyle, "The Adventure of the Yellow Face"

4) A set of instructions for the Delegates were put together ...

   -- Paine, "Common Sense"

5) There are a great many of us like that in these parts, and I
must say that we're a wretched set of people.

   -- James, "Portrait of a Lady"

6) And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the      
goats on the left.                                                
  -- Matthew 25:33

7) And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in    
the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the
covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.                 
  -- Joshua 4:9

8) And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.

  -- Genesis 21:28 
9)  Now these [are] the judgments which thou shalt set before    

  -- Exodus 21:1

10)  And ye shall observe to do all the statutes and judgments
which I set before you this day.                                  

  -- Deuteronomy 11:32

11)  See, I have set before thee this day life and good,    
and death and evil;                                               
  -- Deuteronomy 30:15

12) An offensive and defensive alliance therefore was struck up
between this pair (who were in reality singularly ill assorted),
and Ernest set to work to master the books on which the Bishop
would examine him. Others gradually joined them till they formed
a small set or church (for these are the same things), ...        
  -- Butler, "The Way of All Flesh"

13) He lived as I have said very quietly, seeing hardly anyone
but myself, and the three or four old friends with whom I had
been intimate for years. Ernest and we formed our little set, and
outside of this my godson was hardly known at all.                
  -- Butler, "The Way of All Flesh"

14) I spoke to his publisher about him not long since. "Mr.
Pontifex," he said, "is a homo unius libri, but it doesn't do to
tell him so."
I could see the publisher, who ought to know, had lost all faith  
in Ernest's literary position, and looked upon him as a man whose 
failure was all the more hopeless for the fact of his having once
made a coup. "He is in a very solitary position, Mr. Overton,"
continued the publisher. "He has formed no alliances, and has
made enemies not only of the religious world but of the literary
and scientific brotherhood as well. This will not do nowadays. If
a man wishes to get on he must belong to a set, and Mr. Pontifex
belongs to no set - not even to a club."

  -- Butler, "The Way of All Flesh"

Isaac Malitz
imalitz at rdic.com

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