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Knowledge having a bearing on human life was placed highest

Knowledge about human life was placed highest

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2 Answers

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From Wiktionary:

bearing (n., pl. bearings)
1. A mechanical device that supports another part and/or reduces friction.
2. (nautical) The horizontal angle between the direction of an object and that of true north; >subject to variation and deviation when taken by a magnetic compass
3. Relevance; a relationship or connection. "That has no bearing on this issue."
4. One's posture, demeanor, or manner.

So, in your sentence, bearing uses the third definition that is given, which I rewrite as "to have a relationship or a relevance with." That is, your sentence might be rephrased as the following: "Knowledge that has to do with, or has a connection with, human life was placed highest."

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How about 'about'? –  dodo Mar 13 '11 at 10:35
    
@user5015 Yes, about would be a fair synonym for bearing here. –  Uticensis Mar 13 '11 at 10:36
    
Why not use 'about'? It's simple and easy to understand. Is there any difference? –  dodo Mar 13 '11 at 10:47
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@user5015 The difference between using bearing and about here is kind of subtle. If you said, "knowledge about", there is an implication that this kind of knowledge could only be applied to questions on human life; about is much more direct. In contrast, saying, "knowledge bearing", would have the connotation that one might use that knowledge for other questions; that that knowledge might apply to other domains as well, say questions about animal life. About sounds more awkward than bearing because it less descriptive, indeed almost too basic for adult speech. –  Uticensis Mar 13 '11 at 10:52
    
@user5015 You should also note that whenever bearing is used in this "relevance" sense, it always takes the preposition on. It is easy to recognize that way. –  Uticensis Mar 13 '11 at 11:01
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The meaning of bearing on is "relation or relevance" (bearing is a noun).
The meaning of about is (among others) "on the subject of; concerning."

The difference between the two sentences is that in the first the knowledge is related to human life, while in the second the knowledge topic is human life.

Bearing on is usually used in sentences such as "the case has no direct bearing on the issues."

If I should choose between the two sentences, I would choose the second one. Alternatively, I would rephrase the sentence, but I don't see any reason to not use about.

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