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A general semantics glossary (part XII).

formulation/formulator; evaluation/evaluator. In writing this Glossary I have necessarily and frequently used the terms formulation and evaluation and their various cognate forms. Here are some examples from our earlier installments. (The Roman numeral in parenthesis tags the installment.) "Korzybski was, well, furious at this misevaluation, this mis-formulation" (I). "Korzybski claimed that if we study and apply general-semantics we can learn to better evaluate what seems to be going on in the world, ourselves included, and, having done so, make new formulations for ourselves to make things better" (I). "Charlotte Read observed ... that I had emphasized "mis-evaluation"; she would have preferred the emphasis to be on "proper" or "more appropriate" evaluations, ..." (II). "... non-verbal abstracting, having given rise to verbal, symbol-creating abstracting, will itself be influenced (restructured) by how we symbolize - how we evaluate how we talk to ourselves and others" (III). "Korzybski formulated time-binding as the defining human act; ..." (IV) "In three decades of studying and teaching general-semantics, I have had to struggle on-goingly with misunderstandings (mis-evaluations) ..." (V). "But, however we characterize these reactions, these evaluations, we are referring to our organism-as-a-whole reactions that constitute 'meanings' for us; our semantic reactions" (V). "By 'non-Aristotelian' Korzybski formulated a point of view which encompasses the valuable aspects of Aristotle while going beyond ('non' in the modern, philosophical-scientific sense) the great formulator from Stagira" (VII). Etc., etc. The terms appear with some frequency.

These terms are readily available in standard English (Latin-derived) vocabulary; formulation, in particular, is much used in scientific writing. But Korzybski used them with special emphasis for focused methodological reasons. They thus qualify as general-semantics terms. This being the case, the editor asked me to include them in the Glossary; I herewith oblige.

To formulate (verb) in standard usage is defined as the expression of (reduction to) some statement in (or as in) a formula; more generally, to express something in a systematized statement. The resulting formulation, then, represents something made by some formulator - a living (or formerly living) human being, a time-binder. Korzybski chose to use the terms formulation and formulator to emphasize that even casual sizings-up (evaluations) are made and, as made, should be assigned to their particular maker. Others may evaluate and formulate about those makings. In all cases we know of, people are doing it. Formulations are made by human formulators.

In my entry on elementalism (IV, ETC. Vol. 50, No. 1, Spring 1993, pp. 69-72) I emphasized that elementalistic terms are best avoided because they are structurally unsound; they mis-label events as static, set-off-by-themselves 'entities.' Three that are especially pertinent here are 'idea,' 'concept' and 'universal.' It's o.k. if the late Mr. Plato wanted to talk about 'ideas' as if they had existence as separate, independent (floating about in the 'cave,' presumably) 'things'; it is not o.k. for us. We know better - or should. The same applies for 'concept' - for all elementalistically 'split off' (to be studied in schizolinguistics) terms. Allen Walker Read has suggested "generalizations" or "observed regularities" as structurally appropriate substitutions for 'universals.' When I was editor of the General Semantics Bulletin, I made it a requirement that submissions that claimed to be 'in' or 'about' general-semantics had to eschew such terms, find a substitute, more structurally sound term(s), or, at minimum, apply the extensional device of the single quote to tag elementalistic or otherwise suspect formulations. (I offer this as a free nudge to the editor.)

'Ideas,' etc., qualify as formulations made by some formulator. Even when merely (supposedly) 'repeated,' some "semantic innovation" (Bloomfield) inevitably occurs; the 'repetition' by some nervous system/brain constitutes, to some degree, a re-formulation. Korzybski urged using the term formulation to remind ourselves that we are talking about a product of some formulator - ourselves included. This can help us to take exquisite responsibility for our talk.

Similarly, evaluations (sizings-up) are made by evaluators. Sorry. There's no escape. When we evaluate, we (we, not Jesus, not Yaweh, not The Old Man of the Mountain, not Shirley MacLaine, and not, heavens to Alfred, Korzybski) assign values to things, to whatever we're talking/writing about. We structure our 'subjects' - our 'objects' of observation or fancy. Korzybski maintained that general-semantics was/is a system of values, a method of evaluation (assigning values to), designed to make us more aware - conscious of our own abstracting. He used "value" in both its ethical and mathematical senses. My reading of him suggests that (most often) when he used that term he intended it in both senses. Indeed, for Korzybski, use of mathematical rigor and structural methods of evaluating qualified as 'moral' behavior, precisely because they implied taking personal, time-binding responsibility for one's utterances.

And, remembering that the title of Alfred Korzybski's major work is Science and Sanity (1), i.e., the methods of science provide the methods for 'sanity,' we can close with this statement:

If we train our children in one-, two-, three-, and more generally few-valued el [elementalistic] A [Aristotelian] reactions based on corresponding languages, 'logics'., [etc.] the result must be that they will have great difficulty in adjusting themselves to a world of non-el [infinity]-valued facts, and that, even if they succeed, this would ultimately happen only after a great waste of efforts and unnecessary sufferings. (2)

How we evaluate, and how we formulate our evaluations, matters.


1. Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity (1933). 5th Edition. Preface by Robert P. Pula (1993). Englewood, NJ: International Non-Aristotelian Library/Institute of General Semantics, 1994.

2. Science and Sanity, p. 464.

Robert Pula edited the General Semantics Bulletin from 1977-1985 and served as Director of the Institute of General Semantics from 1983-1986. He has recently written the Preface for the Fifth Edition of Science and Sanity.
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Author:Pula, Robert P.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Date:Sep 22, 1995
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