Saturday, January 21, 2012

"How About 'Evaluatics" – A Letter from the ETC. Archives


I don't particularly care for 'general semantics'—that is, the term 'general semantics'. And I'm not alone. Many of the most dedicated students of and builders-upon Alfred Korzybski's work, popularly know as 'general semantics' have had to deal the problems associated with the term 'general semantics'. 

Because of how people tend to automatically interpret the term—as an elaboration of 'semantics', the linguistic/philosophical study of 'word meanings'—there has always existed the tendency to understand the work as 'all about' language and linguistic 'meaning'—an excessively limiting viewpoint for those of us who have studied Korzybski's "up-to-date epistemology" with any significant seriousness. 

At the time when I was most active at the Institute of General Semantics, Korzybski's co-workers such as my friend and mentor Charlotte Schuchardt Read, were still teaching and working there, and for them the term 'general semantics' remained as much of a problem as ever. For a time, those of us involved in the scholarly publishing and teaching then going on at the Institute, decided to insert a hyphen as in 'general-semantics' to at least mark it more clearly as a unified term. However we later decided against imposing this usage in any formal way, and stopped it as an Institute policy. (Although I prefer the hyphenated spelling and sometimes still use it, definitely correct and clarifying according to the Chicago Manual of Style when using a two-word term as a modifier as in "a general-semantics approach.") In my Radical General-Semantics classes today, I keep a special contribution box for any student to deposit a fine whenever they use the term 'semantics' when actually referring to 'general semantics'. (Writing or saying "GS" provides another way to avoid triggering  automatic reactions associated with seeing or hearing the word 'semantic(s)'.) 

As I fully document in Korzybski: A Biography, the confusion between 'general semantics' and 'semantics' had become problematic even for Korzybski. In the final years of his life he had come to realize the difficulties caused by people's signal reactions to the term 'general semantics' for his general theory of evaluation and to the term 'semantic' used as a modifier synonymous with evaluational. By the time of his sudden and unexpected death on March 1, 1950, various methods were being considered by him and his students to deal with the problem. If he had lived longer, it seems very likely to me that he would have changed the name of the discipline he had founded and modified the terminology even more than he already had done.

Here is a terminological solution proposed by one student, J. Russell Bruff, printed in the Correspondence section of the Spring 1949 issue (Volume 6, Number 3) of ETC.: A Review of General Semantics (published at that time, not by the  Institute of General Semantics, but by the Society for General Semantics.) The Editor of ETC. at that time, S. I. Hayakawa was one of the people whom Bruff was referring to as using 'semantics' when talking about 'general semantics' and thus helping to perpetuate the confusion. (To his credit, Hayakawa did publish Bruff's letter.) However you evaluate Bruff's proposal, he pinpoints quite well some significant aspects of what remains an ongoing problem for those of us in 2012 who want to promote and develop Korzybski's work. 
Sirs: In getting started in general semantics, I found myself seriously misevaluating the discipline at first depending solely on the printed word, I progressed but slowly. Gradually I came to understand that I was unconsciously permitting my older evaluation patterns of 'the meaning in the word,' etc ., to block my efforts to develop the new pattern in which the emphasis is placed upon the individual evaluating the symbol. And it became apparent to me that writers on general semantics were often encountering the same difficulty and fostering it by what they wrote. Thus 'language' was observed to be linked with 'action,' implying that language may function as an operationally effective agent influencing the passive object, the individual. 
To free myself from this frequent unconscious reversion to the former orientation toward human behavior in sign-symbol situations as the outcome resulting from the effective operation of sign and/or symbols upon the individual, and to maintain more constantly the orientation toward human behavior as primarily an evaluation process occurring in an individual, I have found it helpful to avoid the use of certain terms. The words avoided were those which, because of past and present usage, I seemed persistently to associate with the older evaluation patterns. 
Among these terms were the words meaning (as applied to symbols), significationand, most important of all, semantics. The use of these words seemed too often to be associated with a misorientation and a misevaluation when judged in terms of the basic formulations of general semantics. Whenever I used these terms I seemed to be implying that in a situation involving a 'human individual in a sign-symbol field' the effective operator causing action was located outside the individual in the signs and/or symbols.
I finally considered the advisability of discarding the label 'general semantics.' Because much of my own difficulty in getting at the essential features of this discipline seemed traceable to my evaluations when the word semantics was encountered, I now feel that a new term should be selected to refer to this field. This conviction has been reinforced by my experience in trying to explain it to others. I have found myself faced with the difficult task of separating general semantics from semantics. Since general semanticists are frequently referred to as 'semanticists' and the term 'general semantics' is frequently shortened to' semantics,' it now seems to me that the verbal foundation has been laid for much unnecessary confusion.
In other areas of scientific work the scientist does not hesitate to discard a term when its use seems no longer suitable. If the use of the words 'meaning,' 'signification,' and 'semantics' is customarily associated with a misorientation in which the effective agent in behavior, occurring in a sign-symbol situation, is projected into the sign and/or symbol, then these terms should be avoided. And along with them the adjective 'semantic .' It may seem presumptuous of me to suggest discarding a well-established label such as 'general semantics.' But one should bear in mind that all I am attempting to do is to clarify my own thinking, to make the formulations of this new 'science of man' more effective in my own life, and also to facilitate my helping others to achieve a similar result. 
The label which I have adopted as a replacement for 'general semantics' is derived from the word 'evaluate.' The process of evaluation in this discipline seemed to occupy a key position in relation to which the various other operational phases of general semantics were tributary. Therefore, from the word evaluate I have coined the term evaluatics for my use, and now whenever I encounter the expression 'general semantics,' I translate it, for my own use, into evaluatics or symbol-evaluatics. Where 'semantic' occurs as an adjective, I substitute the term 'evaluatic.' I should be happy to accept any other label than evaluatics if it should seem more appropriate. But with the current growth of the field of 'semantics,' which differs fundamentally from 'general semantics,' it seems to me imperative to adopt a new label to replace 'general semantics' if workers in this area are to escape unnecessary confusion .
—J. RUSSELL BRUFF Santa Ana College, Santa Ana, California

3 comments:

Ross said...

"Korzybskiism" or "Korzybskianism" might be ideal names for Korzybski's system. (Consider Buddhism, Marxism, Maoism, Freudianism---all named after the individuals who founded those systems and movements.)

Bruce I. Kodish said...

Korzybski commented to his literary assistant Charlotte Schuchardt (Read): 'Whatever you do, don't make a Buddha out of me.'*

*paraphrase

Devkumar Trivedi said...


1 In my article titled 'Primary Colors',Vol.65 no.1 of ETC I had mentioned anthroposcope semantoscope and axioscope as factors which color constrict and confuse evaluation.
2 In my paper 'The Epistimoscope presented at AKML symposium in New York and published in GS BUlletin Vol.74/75 at P.80 para 6[f] 3 alternative names were suggested. One of them, distinctly preferred,was Evaluology.
3 Like Leibniz and Newton independently conceiving differential calculus, it seems J.R.Bruff and Devkumar are thinking similarly.
4 At Jaipur seminar-workshop in Jan.2013 while discussing the subject I had insisted that the subject should be called Evaluology or Evaluatics.
5 To fully give AK his due credit and retain historical facts the subject may be referred as General Semantics [ Evaluology ].The Board of IGS can consider this and pass an appropriate resolution. This will help create clarity of thought, of expression, of communication and comprehension in common parlance.
Devkumar Trivedi