What is the meaning of distilled in the following sentence?

It is from the contingent that the unchanging laws are distilled.

The Cambridge definition:

distill verb [ T ] us ​ /dɪˈstɪl/ ​

1 chemistry to heat a liquid until it changes to a gas and then make it liquid again by cooling:
distilled water/whiskey ​

2 To distill something said or written is to reduce it but keep the most important part:
She distilled the report into a paragraph.

  • 1
    Your sentence would seem to reflect sense 2. What's the problem?
    – WS2
    Feb 10, 2018 at 9:28
  • OK. You mean that it means summarized?
    – amjahan
    Feb 10, 2018 at 9:54

1 Answer 1


It is from the contingent that the unchanging laws are distilled.

Your difficulty stems from a more figurative use of distilled than the dead metaphor of merely revising a written text into a more concentrated form. Getting from the contingent to unchanging laws is thus really more like making distilled spirits than you think.

Scotch whiskey starts with barley which has been sprouted and dried (malted), then mixed with warm water and yeast into something called mash, an unappetizing and rather stinky mixture that's then allowed to ferment in wooden casks before distilling to purify it and concentrate its alcohol.

The contingent — organic, messy, apparently random or fortuitous, much like life itself — is the mash from which, once purified and concentrated into a more universal essence, unchanging laws are distilled.

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