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The sentence:

The very form of the adjective "scientific" might give pause to those who would force the word to cover such topics as the skill of boxer, or a knowledge of the theory and practice of the sacraments.
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What exactly does "form" mean here?
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Nothing, as far as I can see, Taka-- the writer means the meaning of the word 'scientific'-- it is hard to imagine it covers such a wide range of topics as pugilistic skills and religious ceremonies.
Thank you, Mister!
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Hello Taka and MrM

Boxing was once called the 'sweet science', or the 'noble science'; and
'knowledge of the theory and practice of the sacraments' is presumably
a reference to comparative religious studies, or anthropology, both
of which were originally viewed askance in scholarly circles.

So perhaps the writer is scornfully rejecting the notion that either activity
could be classed as a science, by calling attention to the 'form' of the
word 'scientific', i.e. its etymology ('knowledge-producing').

To paraphrase:

'How can thrashing a man produce knowledge? How can the study of
mumbo-jumbo produce anything other than more mumbo-jumbo?'

A quaintly Arnoldian point of view.

MrP
Afterthought:

I suppose the sentence could also appear in a criticism of writers such
as Barthes or Lévi-Strauss. Semiology is sometimes called a science,
for instance.
So you mean it's close to "the essence of science"?
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I would say the writer means: "look at the derivation of the word
'scientific' (i.e. scientia, 'knowledge', + -ficus, 'producing', = 'producing
knowledge'); you will then see that it can't apply to subjects such as
boxing and religion".

So I'm taking 'form' to mean "how the word 'scientific' is constructed".

MrP
That is, in other words, the essense of the word "science/scientific", taking the origin into account, right?
I think the writer is making a slightly different point.

He's saying: "although some people want the meaning [i.e. the essence] of 'scientific' to include XYZ, I would limit its meaning to ABC. To support my argument, I direct your attention to how the word is spelt [i.e. its form]".

In other words, he is using the form of 'scientific' (its spelling, which reveals its derivation) to support his notion of its essence (what it means).

The contrast is between a word's origin (stable form) and its meaning (unstable essence).

MrP
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