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I am reading a book and it says

The new Unemployment Insurance Act, 1971, differed little from the White Paper, which contained the legislation's philosophical roots.
Source: Pal, Leslie A. 1988. State, Class and Bureaucracy: Canadian Unemployment Insurance and Public Policy (p42).

What does "roots" mean here?

Does it mean "ideology", "tenets", or "values"? In that case, is the following the right interpretation?

The white paper laid out the core philosophical tenets that led to the new act.

It seems to serve no real purpose in the sentence except to really be just annoying and cryptic. Why not use a clear word like the ones above if that is what the author means (rhetorical question).


"Root" means "the origin or source of something" (Cambridge).

"A white paper is an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter. It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision." - Wikipedia

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Root in this sense means something that was the basis for causing/creating X, or was instrumental in doing so. It's a vague term so you can't evaluate it directly as ideology, tenets, or anything else.

The new Unemployment Insurance Act, 1971, differed little from the White Paper, which contained the legislation's philosophical roots.

This means the White Paper contains the philosophical basis of creating the legislation. This basis can be anything. We won't know exactly what until we get more information on the text of the White Paper.

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  • Thanks for the answer LawrenceC. But I have to say that I slightly disagree with you. Yes, "roots" is a vague term, and that is exactly why it is inappropriate and just lazy writing. A white paper is a physical representation of a set of principles. Even "basis" means "the most important facts, ideas, etc. from which something is developed" (Cambridge). There are actual statements in a white paper, which I would rather call ideology, tenets, values, basis, ideas, etc., instead of the horrible "roots".
    – AIQ
    Jan 15, 2020 at 0:21
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    Vagueness has value - sometimes it's better to abstract details if they aren't germane to the main point, or if they are so complex the reader should investigate them independently if really interested. Tenet, ideology, values - these three words mean three different complex but overlapping things so I can see the case for abstracting it using the term "roots".
    – LawrenceC
    Jan 15, 2020 at 0:31
  • To add to my frustration, google Ngram lists "philosophical roots" at the top of other alternatives. The second being the "tenets" alternative. Okay, if you were to pick an alternative (any word not just the one's I mentioned), what would it be?
    – AIQ
    Jan 15, 2020 at 0:53

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