What does the word "hypostatize" mean?

I have read various dictionary definitions, with examples, but I'm not sure I understand them.

For example, Merriam-Webster:

hypostatized; hypostatizing
transitive verb
: to attribute real identity to (a concept)

Greek hypostatos substantially existing,

A comment below this question said it comes into English via "hypostatic".

Different people use hypostatic/hypostatis in different ways -- Wikipedia for example suggests it has a perplexingly diverse set of meanings -- physical and metaphysical, and (within metaphysics) both real being and its opposite (illusion or fallacy) -- yet it sounds like a word that ought to mean something specific.

To help me understand how it comes to mean different things, could you perhaps explain how the meaning of the word relates to or derives from its etymology (its Greek roots)?

  • It is the American spelling of "hypostasize". You should find it in any reasonable dictionary. – WS2 Jun 12 '18 at 19:20
  • Dictionaries state (assert) its meaning and etymology, but I don't understand (and would like you to explain) how its meaning relates to its etymology. – ChrisW Jun 12 '18 at 19:33
  • Are you asking to have its meaning explained or its origin? If it's meaning, what particular part of the definition is unclear? – Jason Bassford Jun 12 '18 at 19:38
  • I've read dictionary definitions of its meaning, but I don't (and would like to) understand how that meaning relates (or those meanings relate) to its etymology, how its meaning derives from or relates to its root words. – ChrisW Jun 12 '18 at 19:45
  • 1
    I think this question calls for a warning: a word’s current meaning has no obligation to relate to the roots it originated from. An oak looks nothing like an acorn, and neither can you substitute one for the other in any application of either. You should treat meaning and etymology as independent. A word means what people use it to mean. Most people don’t know or care where the word came from, and still use the word to mean what they intend it to mean. Insisting a word’s current meaning should clearly or causally relate to its origins is a quixotic quest, and will only end in heartbreak. – Dan Bron Jun 13 '18 at 12:52

I get the impression from this footnote #6 ...

here are only five occurrences in the NT, in gereral used in the sense of assurance, substance, reality. Definition (lit: an underlying): (a) confidence, assurance, (b) a giving substance (or reality) to, or a guaranteeing, (c) substance, reality. The occurrences are: 2 Corinthians 9:4 – ἐν τῇ ὑποστάσει ταύτῃ (by this confidence); 2 Corinthians 11:17 – ταύτῃ τῇ ὑποστάσει τῆς καυχήσεως (in this confidence of boasting); Hebrews 1:3 –χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ φέρων (and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds); Hebrews 3:14 –ἀρχὴν τῆς ὑποστάσεως μέχρι τέλους (the beginning of our assurance firm); and Hebrews 11:1 – πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος (faith is the assurance of [things] hoped). See: http://biblehub.com/str/greek/5287.htm

... that the derivation from the roots is: "stand under", hence "substance" and "underlying", also "support", also "confidence" (as in, "a belief is substantiated or justified by some reason").

In that context, hypostasis is viewed as a good (desirable, or at least reasonable or sensible) thing.

I think that should be contrasted with (not confused with) one of the modern usages of reification, where that's viewed as (or used to denote) a type of logical fallacy.

So its meaning can be a bit broad: ranging from (logical) substantiation to (illogical) reification.

  • I think readers of this answer should also be aware of the warning I left under the question which was asked by the same user. – Dan Bron Jun 13 '18 at 12:56
  • My Dad was a classicist, told me Latin and Greek roots of English and French words. Obviously people can and do use words without having that information, but IMO it helps one to "understand" a word. In this case (hypostasis) I was puzzled, because it almost seems to have two opposite meanings. Also hypo/hyper is usually simple enough to understand in a word, and meaningful -- I wanted to know what it's doing in this word. – ChrisW Jun 13 '18 at 13:31
  • The fact that the meaning and the etymology seemed like opposite meanings, and puzzled you, is the very heart of the Etymological Fallacy. Instead of helping you “understand” the word, as you say, it did the complete opposite. You had read the dictionary definitions and already knew what the word meant. It was only on seeking a connection to etymology that you lost hold of that understanding. That’s the problem. The Etymological Fallacy is just another example of what are called “genetic fallacies”, improper reasoning from “origins”, an eternal cognitive bias that has much trouble. – Dan Bron Jun 13 '18 at 13:38
  • This looks like it should have been included in the question as part of what's confusing you, not written up separately as an answer. – 1006a Jun 13 '18 at 13:55
  • @DanBron The etymological "fallacy" is the assumption that the etymology defines the meaning, that the antique meaning is more true than the modern meaning. I want to be informed by a knowledge of the etymology. FWIW that's because it's used occasionally in the translation of a Pali or Sanskrit word (i.e. papañca or prāpaṇtya) so I wanted to survey the several meanings/usages of this word. – ChrisW Jun 13 '18 at 14:00

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