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Hermione recited at top speed:"Golpalott's-Third-Law-states-that-the-antidote-for-a-blended-poision-will-be-equal-to-more-than-the-sum-of-the-antidotes-for-each-of-the-separate-components."

"Precisely!" beamed Slughorn. "Ten points for Gryffindor! Now, if we accept Golpalott's Third Law as true..."

... ...

"... which means, of course, that assuming we have achieved correct identification of the potion's ingredients by Scarpin's Revelaspell, our primary aim is not the relatively simple one of selecting antidotes to those ingredients in and of themselves, but to find that added component which will, by an almost alchemical process, transform these disparate elements-"

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince

The phrase "in and of themselves" confuses me. How should we understand it in this context?

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The simplest alternative to "in and of themselves" in this case would be "only", though its not a perfect fit.

It's a slightly awkward, and slightly old-fashioned idiom, and can be compared with "the sum of [its] parts being greater than the whole." Specifically, the speaker is saying that an antidote for one ingredient (or all of them) won't necessarily be an antidote for the combination.

Think of it like a cake - if you dropped an egg on the floor, you would clean it up one way. If you dropped flour, you would clean it up differently, but if you dropped a cake, neither method of cleaning would be appropriate "in and of itself".

  • Does "themselves" refer to antidotes or ingredients? – dan Jul 23 at 11:00
  • Ingredients. (in this case) – Mike Brockington Jul 23 at 11:02
  • I see. What would be the difference if I write: selecting antidotes to those ingredients themselves? – dan Jul 23 at 11:33
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    It wouldn't make sense / not standard usage. A more modern alternative would be 'individually' – Mike Brockington Jul 23 at 11:36
  • It seems to me that the use of "in and of themselves" in this context isn't the standard one as defined in the dictionaries: Intrinsically, considered alone. That's why it confused me. – dan Jul 24 at 0:11

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