Re-action (1832)
The opening section of English freethinker Job Nott's 1832 article "Re-action", wherein he describes the compound term "re-action', philologically, mathematically, and morally, using an early variant of verbal human chemical reaction theory. [1]
In famous publications, “Re-action” is an 1832 article by English freethinker Job Nott (Ѻ), a fan of Thomas Paine and Voltaire, wherein he describes the term “re-action” (or reaction) three ways: philologically, mathematically (or physically), i.e. as defined by the second law of motion, and lastly, and most-interestingly, “morally”.

In 1832, English freethinker Job Nott (Ѻ), a fan of Thomas Paine and Voltaire, in his article “Re-Action”, described the term “re-action” philologically, mathematically (or physically), and morally, as follows: [1]

“As these are days in which great pains are taken to explain terms, and to bring them down to the lowest capacity; and as Job is always anxious to take his cue from the bias of the public mind, and to season, or embalm, or conserve, or pickle his observations according to the prevailing smack of the public palate, he has selected a few choice popular terms and phrases, which he purposes to analyze. The term ‘re-action’ is a very important one, but is very imperfectly understood. Re-action may be considered philologically, mathematically, and morally.

l. Let us first consider it philologically. But, perhaps, you may not understand what philology is. Then I must endeavor to explain. Philology, in its proper acceptation, is the science of language, whereby the meaning of terms, and the grammatical construction of language is accurately defined; but the new reformed philology is the art of mystifying words and sentences, so as to make them mean any thing or nothing, according as may best suit our purposes. Job being an old fashioned fellow, and having contracted his notions of philology before the reformed practice came up, must be permitted to carry on his researches by the old fashioned plan. Now in treating a term philologically, the first process according to the old school, is to reduce compound words to their simple elements. Re-action, then, being a compound word, must be reduced to its compound parts, ‘re’ and ‘action’; these being understood, we shall understand the word which is compounded of them.

Now we all know what ‘action’ is; it is energy as opposed to supineness; it is work as opposed to idleness. Action is the very life and soul of labor, and therefore is the delight of laboring men. Now the little particle ‘re’, though it means nothing of itself, yet when put before another syllable, assumes a great importance; thus combined it has the signification of ‘again’, as re-form is to form again, re-turn is to-turn again. In like manner re-act is to act again, and re-action is the coming again into action.

Now as we have seen that action is energy, as opposed to supineness, it is clear that re-action is a restoration to energy those principles which had lain dormant, and bringing once more into operation those energies which had been paralyzed. Then, again, as we have seen that action is labor or work, as opposed to idleness, it follows of course that re-action is the return to labor and employment of those who had been idle and unemployed. Now, my good fellows, this is Job's view of re-action, philological considered, and I do assure you that 'tis as accurate a definition as any philological dry-salter has served out to you for many a long month; and you can't wonder that viewing the subject thus, Job rejoices in the prospect of a general reaction, or acting again, or returning again to work, employment, activity, energy, and all the blessings that are included in this comprehensive term. I might here show that re-action, philologically considered, signifies a return, or retracing a course that has been rashly entered upon, and the dangers of which have been timely discovered, but this view will come out more distinctly under our second view of the subject.

2. Let us then consider this term mathematically. Re-action is pre-eminently a mathematical term. In this view re-action is defined to mean ‘the reciprocation of any impulse or force impressed.’ Perhaps you don't understand this explanation; but you will easily understand the thing. If a tennis ball is thrown against a wall it will rebound, that is re-action. If a man strike another man with his fist, he hurts his own fist in proportion to the violence of the blow which he gives, that is re-action—the action returns upon himself. If a ship at full sail strikes against a rock, she will be driven back by the blow in proportion to the force with which she struck the rock, this is re-action. Now it is a mathematical axiom, or first principle [see: second law of motion], that ‘action and re-action are equal and opposite’, i.e. that the rebounding or reverberating impulse is equal in force to the blow given, and acts in the precisely opposite direction; as, for instance, if a man be so blind and stupid as to run his head against a wall, he is driven backward by the force of re-action just in the opposite direction to that in which he was going; and with whatever degree of force he knocks his cranium against the wall, with just the same degree of force and violence (if happily his skull sustains the shock) will he be driven back again.

This is true, you may depend; and you better take my word for it than try the experiment. Now this accounts for the sudden changes which we constantly witness in public opinion.

3. To consider the subject morally. It will be manifest from the observations which have been made, that he who goes about to effect any object by violent appeals to men's passions, is sure in the end to defeat his own object [see: Adolf Hitler]; and it is well for him if he do not work his own rain, for as the tennis ball violently projected against the wall, rebounds against the head of him who hurled it; so he who rashly employs the power of passion to give an impulse and direction to public opinion, is in danger of its rebounding upon himself with a re-action equal in its violence, and opposite in its tendency. Public opinion may be gently drawn forward by the strong but soft cords of persuasion and sound argument, without any danger of evil consequences; but if it be urged onward by the blind force of passion and prejudice, it will sooner or later come in contact with the firm opposing rock of truth, and be driven back with a force and velocity proportioned to the undue impulse that had been given to it. The inference then as respects those who wish to act upon others is, that it is much safer to draw than to drive—to guide men’s judgments by sound reason, and to lead them by the hand of kindness and conciliation, than to drive them into any particular course by inflaming their passions.

But there is another inference as respects those who are operated upon; and that is, that though by the power of re-action they regain their old positions, and so escape the ruin that they were rushing upon, yet they are left to feel the smart. The man who, when rushing over a precipice, runs his head against a post, and is driven backward is saved indeed—and saved by re-action; but he comes off second best, and is left to smart for the folly and impetuosity of his headstrong course. Take my advice, then, my dear fellows; know your friends—they are those who treat you friendly; not those who fire your passions—but those who convince your judgments; not those who drag you by the ears—but those who fill your bellies; and I will add, not those who merely talk about re-action, by those who set you upon re-acting; i.e. those who give you employ—that in quietness you may work and eat your own bread.”

(add discussion)

The following are related quotes:

“For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action. When connective sets of action and re-action pairs occur near an activation barrier, a chemical re-action occurs.”
Libb Thims (2015), mental rumination on the second law of motion and chemical reactions; following seeing the term ‘re-action’ during video at gym, 3:49PM CST 17 Dec 2015

1. Nott, Job. (1932). “Re-Action” (Ѻ), The Bristol Job Nott: Laboring Man’s Friend, No LI, Nov 29.

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