Algemene semantiek | Kritiek
Net als op alle nieuwe ideeën die ingaan tegen gevestigde waarheden en belangen,
is er ook kritiek op de algemene semantiek. Omdat algemene semantiek weinig
invloed heeft, is die kritiek tot nu toe beperkt, en het meest bekend is de
versie van Martin Gardner in Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science.
Onderstaand de analyse daarvan door de redactie :
Uit: Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, door Martin Gardner (Dover
General Semantics, Etc.
After discussing orgonomy and dianetics, a description of any other cult in
which psychiatric techniques are prominent is certain to be anticlimactic.
Nevertheless, our survey would be incomplete if it did not touch upon the "general
semantics" of Polish-born Count Alfred Habdank Skarbek Korzybski, and the "psycho
drama" of the Rumanian-born psychiatrist, Jacob L. Moreno. Neither movement, it
should be stated, approaches the absurdity of the two previously considered
cults. For this reason, general semantics and psychodrama must be regarded as
controversial, borderline examples, which may or may not have considerable
Er vanuit gaande dat Algemene semantiek nog beoordeeld moet
worden, is dit een eerste redeneertruc: AS wordt geplaatst tussen andere
theorieën die als volledig onwetenschappelijk en cult worden neergezet. Dus nog
voor dat de inhoud besproken is.
Korzybski was born in 1879 in Warsaw. He had little formal
education. During World War I, he served as a major in Russia's Polish Army, was
badly wounded, and later sent to the United States as an artillery expert. He
remained in the States, and for the next ten years drew on his personal fortune
to write Science and Sanity, the 800-page Bible of general semantics. The
book was published in 1933 by the Count's International Non-Aristotelian Library
Publishing Company. It is a poorly organized, verbose, philosophically naive,
repetitious mish-mash of sound ideas borrowed from abler scientists and
philosophers, mixed with neologisms, confused ideas, unconscious metaphysics,
and highly dubious speculations about neurology and psychiatric therapy.
Dit zijn kwalificaties die alleen waarde hebben onder
referentie aan wat in het boek staat. Op dit punt zijn ze volstrekt onzinnig. En
bevooroordelend ten opzichte van nog door Gardner aan te voeren
Allen Walker Read, in two scholarly articles on the history
and various meanings of the word "semantics" (Trans/formation, Vol. 1,
Numbers 1 and 2, 1950, 1951), disclosed that the word had not been used in the
Count's original draft of Science and Sanity. Before the book was
published, however, the word had been adopted by several Polish philosophers,
and it was from them that Korzybski borrowed it.
Most contemporary philosophers who use the word "semantics"
restrict it to the study of the meaning of words and other symbols. In contrast,
the Count used the word so broadly that it became almost meaningless. As Read
points out, Korzybski considered a plant tropism, such as growing up instead of
down, a "semantic reaction." In Science and Sanity he discusses a baby
who vomited to get a second nursing, and writes, "Vomiting became her semantic
way of controlling 'reality.' " Modern followers of the Count tend to equate "semantic"
with "evaluative," defining "general semantics" as "the study and improvement of
human evaluative processes."
De eerste poging tot een inhoudelijke opmerking. However, de
naam die aan iets gegeven wordt zegt niets over de inhoud van datgene dat de
Maar merk ook op dat Gardner hier zijn derde grote retorische
truc introduceert - de aanduiding van zijn onderwerp wordt gewijzigd van "Korzybski"
naar "the Count". Dit is geen inhoudelijke vorm van naamgeving, maar een
emotionele - de persoonsnaam is neutraal, de aanduiding met een adellijke titel
in de context van de bespreking van het wetenschappelijke werk van iemand is
denigrerend. Ten tweede is dit zelfs eigenlijk onjuist, daar wat hier besproken
wordt de Algemene semantiek is, en niet "Korzybski".
Korzybski never tired of knocking over "Aristotelian" habits
of thought, in spite of the fact that what he called Aristotelian was a straw
structure which bore almost no resemblance to the Greek philosopher's manner of
thinking. Actually, the Count had considerable respect for Aristotle (one of the
many thinkers to whom his book is dedicated). But he believed that the Greek
philosopher's reasoning was badly distorted by verbal habits which were bound up
with the Indo-European language structure,1
especially the subject-predicate form with its emphasis on the word "is." "Isness,"
the Count once said, "is insanity," apparently without realizing that such
concepts as "isomorphic," which he used constantly, cannot be defined without
assuming the identity of mathematical structures.
Waar AS bezwaar tegen maakt is het gebruik van "is" als in
"is identiek aan", een gebruik dat dermate gewoon is dat het niet eens meer
opvalt. Inmiddels is bekend genoeg geworden dat dit "is identiek aan" alleen
bestaat, geldig is, in de wiskunde (volledig: formele talen), en niet in de
normale taal - daar bestaat alleen "is ongeveer".
Gardner durft dit niet tegen te spreken, daar hij goed op de
hoogte is van het feit dat de zaken inderdaad zo liggen. Toch weet hij de indruk
van afkeuring te wekken, dat wil zeggen, dat hij een vorm van onderbouwde
kritiek heeft geleverd. Hetgeen absoluut niet zo is.
Another "Aristotelian" habit against which the Count
inveighed is that of thinking in terms of a "two-valued logic" in which
statements must be either true or false. No one would deny that many errors of
reasoning spring from an attempt to apply an "either/or" logic to situations
where it is not applicable, as all logicians from Aristotle onward have
recognized. But many of the Count's followers have failed to realize that there
is a sense in which the two-valued orientation is inescapable. In all the "multi-valued
logics" which have been devised, a deduction within the system is still "true"
or "false. To give a simple illustration, let us assume that a man owns a
mechanical pencil of a type which comes in only three colors-red, blue, and
green: If we are told that his pencil is neither blue nor green, we then
conclude that it is red. This would be a "true" deduction within a three-valued
system.2 It would be "false" to deduce that the
pencil was blue, since this would contradict one of the premises. No one has yet
succeeded in creating a logic in which the two-valued orientation of true and
false could be dispensed with, though of course the dichotomy can be given other
names. There is no reason to be ashamed of this fact, and once it is understood,
a great deal of general semantic tilting at two-valued logic is seen to be a
tilting at a harmless windmill.
Het niet-bestaan van een twee-waardige logica is ook een
hoekpunt van de AS, maar met dezelfde toevoeging als hiervoor: er bestaat geen
tweewaardige logica in de werkelijke, tastbare, wereld. Er bestaat wel een
twee-waardige logica in de wiskundige wereld, maar dat is niet de werkelijke,
tastbare wereld. Die kritiek van Gardner slaat dus op het verkeerde.
One finds in Science and Sanity almost no recognition
of the fact that the battle against bad linguistic habits of thought had been
waged for centuries by philosophers of many schools. The book makes no mention,
for example, of John Dewey (except in bibliographies added to later editions),
although few modern philosophers fought harder or longer against most of what
the Count calls "Aristotelian." In fact, the book casts sly aspersions on almost
every contemporary major philosopher except Bertrand Russell.
Dit zou terechte kritiek kunnen zijn. Maar dan moet Gardner
wel aangeven waar Korzybski welke ideeën van wie heeft gebruikt, desnoods door
enkele voorbeelden. Bij afwezigheid daarvan is de kritiek ongeldig.
Korzybski's strong ego drives were obvious to anyone who knew
him or read his works carefully. He believed himself one of the world's greatest
living thinkers, and regarded Science and Sanity as the third book of an
immortal trilogy. The first two were Aristotle's Organon and Bacon's
Novum Organum. Like Hubbard, he was convinced that his therapy-would benefit
almost every type of neurotic, and was capable of raising the intelligence of
most individuals to the level of a genius like himself. He thought that all
professions, from law to dentistry, should be placed on a general semantic
basis, and that only the spread of his ideas could save the world from
destruction. In the preface to the second edition of Science and Sanity,
he appealed to readers to urge their respective governments to put into,
practice the principles of general semantics, and in the text proper (unchanged
in all editions) expressed his belief that ultimately his society would become
part of the League of Nations.
The Count's institute of General Semantics, near the
University of Chicago, was established in 1938 with funds provided by a wealthy
Chicago manufacturer of bathroom equipment, Cornelius Crane. Its street number,
formerly 1232, was changed to 1234 so that when it was followed by "East
Fifty-Sixth Street" there would be six numbers in serial order. The Count - a
stocky, bald, deep-voiced man who always wore Army-type khaki pants and
shirt-conducted his classes in a manner similar to Kay Kyser's TV program.
Throughout a lecture, he would pause at dramatic moments and his students would
shout in unison, "No!" or "Yes!" or some general semantic term like "Et cetera!"
(meaning there are an infinite number of other factors which need not be
specified.) Frequently he would remark in his thick Polish accent, "I speak
facts," or "Bah - I speak baby stuff." He enjoyed immensely his role of orator
and cult leader. So likewise, did his students. In many ways the spread of
general semantics resembled the Count's description, on page 800 of Science
and Sanity, of "paranoiac-like semantic epidemics" in which followers fall
under the spell of a dynamic leader.
This quite large section consists of nothing else but ad
hominums: addressing the person instead of his message. As a method of criticism
total bunk, and pointing to bad faith.
According to the Count, people are "unsane" when their mental
maps of reality are slightly out of correspondence with the real world. If the
inner world is too much askew, they become "insane." A principal cause of all
this is the Aristotelian mental orientation, which distorts reality. It assumes,
for example, that an object is either a chair or not a chair, when clearly there
are all kinds of objects which mayor may not be called chairs depending on how
you define "chair." But a precise definition is impossible. "Chair" is simply a
word we apply to a group of things more or less alike, but which fade off in all
directions, along continuums, into other objects which are not called chairs. As
H.G. Wells expressed it, in his delightful essay on metaphysics in First and
||... Think of armchairs and reading-chairs and dining-room chairs,
and kitchen chairs, chairs that pass into benches, chairs that cross the
boundary and become settees, dentist's chairs, thrones, opera stalls,
seats of all sorts, those miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the
floor of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, and you will perceive what a
lax bundle in fact is this simple straightforward term. In cooperation
with an intelligent joiner I would undertake to defeat any definition of
chair or chairishness that you gave me.
The non-Aristotelian mental attitude is, in essence, a recognition of the above
elementary fact. There is no such thing as pure "chairishness." There are only
chair 1, chair 2, chair 3, et cetera! This assigning of numbers is a process
Korzybski called "indexing." In similar fashion, the same chair changes
constantly in time. Because of weathering, use, and so forth, it is not the same
chair from one moment to the next. We recognize this by the process of "dating."
We speak of chair 1952, chair 1953, et cetera! The Count was convinced that the
unsane, and many insane, could be helped back to sanity by teaching them to
think in these and similar non-Aristotelian ways. For example, a neurotic may
hate all mothers. The reason may be that a childhood situation caused him to
hate his own mother. Not having broken free of Aristotelian habits, he thinks
all mothers are alike because they are all called by the same word. But the
word, as Korzybski was fond of repeating, is not the thing. When a man learns to
index mothers-that is, call them mother 1, mother 2, mother 3, et cetera - he
then perceives that other mothers are not identical with his own mother. In
addition, even his mother is not the same mother she was when he was a child.
Instead there are mother 1910, mother 1911, mother 1912, et cetera.
Understanding all this, the neurotic's hatred for mothers is supposed to
From the context one must assume that this is meant as criticism. In fact, it
is precisely the opposite. The ideas in this section have served as the general
ideas behind the psychological therapies named rational-emotive therapy, and
cognitive therapy (both getting better known in the 80's, well after the
publication of Gardners book). Both of these therapies try to solve the
psychological problems of their clients by looking for corresponding cognitive
problems, and treating the latter. The different versions of cognitive therapy
are now recognized as the most effective therapy for most of the more common
psychological problems. Just this application of Korzybski's ideas justifies
taking his work seriously.
Of course there is more to the non-Aristotelian orientation
than just indexing and dating. To understand levels of abstraction, for example,
the Count invented a pedagogical device called the "structural differential." It
is a series of small plates with holes punched in them, connected in various
ways by strings and pegs. The "Semantic Rosary," as it was called by Time
magazine, is impressive to anyone encountering epistemology for the first time.
Obviously there is nothing "unsane" about the various general
semantic devices for teaching good thinking habits. In psychiatry, they may even
be useful to doctors of any school when they try to communicate with, or
instruct, a patient. But Korzybski and his followers magnified their therapeutic
value out of all sane proportions. At conventions, general semanticists have
testified to semantic cures of alcoholism, homosexuality, kleptomania, bad
reading habits, stuttering, migraine, nymphomania, impotence, and innumerable
varieties of other neurotic and psychosomatic ailments. At one conference a
dentist reported that teaching general semantics to his patients had given them
more emotional stability, which lessened the amount of acid in their mouths. As
a consequence, fillings stayed in their teeth longer.
Korzybski's explanation of why non-Aristotelian thinking has
therapeutic body effects, was bound up with a theory now discarded by his
followers as neurologically unsound. It concerned the cortex and the thalamus.
The cortex was supposed to function when rational thought was taking place, and
the thalamus when emotional reflexes were involved. Before acting under the
impulse of an emotional response, Korzybski recommended a "semantic pause," a
kind of counting-to-ten which gave the cortex time to arrive at an integrated,
sane decision. For a person who developed these habits of self-control there was
a "neuro-semantic relaxation" of his nervous system, resulting in normal blood
pressure, and improved body health.
It is interesting to note in this connection that a special
muscular relaxation technique also was developed by the Count after he observed
how often he could ease a student's worried tenseness by such gestures as a
friendly grasp of the student's arm. The technique involves gripping various
muscles of one's body and shaking them in ways prescribed in The Technique of
Semantic Relaxation, by Charlotte Schuchardt, issued by the Institute of
General Semantics in 1943.
Het verschijnsel dat de eerste formuleerders van een idee of
theorie willen toepassen (ruim) voorbij hun gebied van geldigheid is dermate
veelvoorkomend, dat men zich zelfs kan afvragen of het misschien niet normaal is
- van dezelfde soort als dat ieder moeder haar baby de mooiste van de wereld
vindt. Dus zelfs als het bovenstaande allemaal waar is, is het van geen belang
voor de waardering van de waarde van het idee zelf. En over het idee zelf wordt
in dit stuk weer niet gesproken. (En wat één of andere tandarts beweert, is
natuurlijk volstrekt irrelevant, en de vermelding ervan een teken van kwade
Modern works of scientific philosophy and psychiatry contain
almost no references to the Count's theories. In Russell's technical books, for
instance, which deal with topics about which Korzybski considered himself a
great authority, you will not find even a passing mention of the Count. This is
not because of stubborn prejudice and orthodoxy. The simple reason is that
Korzybski made no contributions of significance to any of the fields about which
he wrote with such seeming erudition.3 Most of
the Count's followers admit this, but insist that the value of his work lies in
the fact that it was the first great synthesis of modern scientific philosophy
Dit is dus inmiddels achterhaald door nieuwe ontwikkelingen.
Zoals dat vaak gebeurd bij echt nieuwe ideeën: naarmate het idee radicaler
afwijkt van het voorgaande, duurt het langer voordat er iets van aanvaard wordt.
But is it? Few philosophers or professional psychiatrists
think so. On matters relating to logic, mathematics, science, and epistemology,
Science and Sanity is far less successful as a synthesis than scores of
modern works. It is more like a haphazard collection of notions drawn from
various sources accessible to the Count at the time, and bound together in one
volume. Many of the Count's ideas give a false illusion of freshness merely
because he invented new terms for them. For example, his earlier book, The
Manhood of Humanity, 1921, describes plants as "energy binders," animals as
"space binders," and men as "time binders."4
When this is translated, it means that plants use energy in growing; animals,
unlike plants, are able to move about spatially to meet their needs; and man
makes progress in time by building on past experience. All of which would have
been regarded by Aristotle as a set of platitudes.
It is true that Korzybski made a valiant attempt to integrate
a philosophy of science with neurology and psychiatry. It is precisely here,
however, that his work moves into the realm of cultism and pseudo-science.
Teaching a patient general semantics simply does not have, in the opinion of the
majority of psychiatrists, the therapeutic value which followers of the Count
think it has. Where the Count was sound, he was unoriginal. And where he was
original, there are good reasons for thinking him "unsane."
Een herhaling van eerdere standpunten. En twee keer een
ongesubstantiveerde standpunt maakt niet één gesubstantiveerd standpunt. Gardner
verkondigt hier meningen, geen feiten, en waar wij feiten verkondigd: Algemene
semantiek heeft geen toepassingen, is hij dus onjuist gebleken.
Samuel I. Hayakawa, in many ways a saner and sounder man than
the Count, is still waving the banners of general semantics in Chicago, even
though he made a break with Korzybski .. shortly before the Count moved his
headquarters to Lakeville, Connecticut, in 1946. Hayakawa continues to edit his
lively little magazine, Etc., ...
Als Gardner hier consistent was geweest, dan had hier
gestaan: 'Samuel I. Hayakawa, in many ways a saner and sounder man than the
Count, is still waving the banners of general semantics in Chicago, even though
he made a break with Korzybski shortly before the Count moved his headquarters
to Lakeville, Connecticut, in 1946. The Jap continues to edit his lively little
magazine ...', want waar Korzybski een Count is, is Hayakawa a Japanner (van
Amerikaanse geboorte) maar zijn afkomst is natuurlijk net zo relevant voor dit
stuk als die van Korzybski. Nogmaals: Gardner blijkt zeer te kwader trouw - en
hoeft alleen op direct waarneembare feiten geloofd te worden, en die geeft hij
nauwelijks of niet.
... and work with the International Society of General Semantics, founded in
Chicago in 1942 and not connected with the Lakeville group. His Language in
Action, 1941 (revised in 1949 as Language in Thought and Action)
remains the best of several popular introductions to Korzybski's views. One
night in a Chicago jazz spot-Hayakawa is an authority on hot jazz-he was asked
what he and the Count had disagreed about. Hayakawa paused a few moments
(perhaps to permit a neurological integration of reason and emotion), then said,
Volkomen oninteressant dus, wat Korzybski en Hayakawa van
Since the Count's death in 1950, the cult seems to be
diminishing in influence. An increasing number of members, including Hayakawa
himself, are discovering that almost everything of value in Korzybski's
pretentious work can be found better formulated in the writings of others.
De tweede herhaling van deze bij publicatie al
ongesubstantiveerde, en sindsdien als onjuist bewezen uitspraak.
Then too, many of its recruits from the ranks of science fiction enthusiasts,
especially in California, have deserted general semantics for the more exciting
cult of dianetics.
The case of A. E. van Vogt of Los Angeles suggests the new
trend. Van Vogt is the author of many popular science-fiction novels of the
superman type, including one called The World of A, the action of which
involves a future society that has adopted A, or Korzybski's non-Aristotelian
orientation. A few years ago, van Vogt was proposing that general semantics go
underground on a cellular basis. The United States might have another great
depression, he feared, and fall into the hands of the Communists, who do not
care for Korzybski's views. He even toyed with the notion of a General Semantic
Church, with its own sacred literature, but this idea proved abortive and
nothing came of it. At the moment, van Vogt has lost his former enthusiasm for
semantics and Dr. Bates' eye exercises. ...
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