Printer Friendly


What human beings do, they do as responses to stimuli, and these stimuli come from two directions. They come from outside the skin by way of the receptors and constitute for us the dynamic, fluid, extensional world; and they come from inside the skin by way of canalizations and learnings and constitute for us a static, symbolic world. These two sources of stimulation are not the same.

A human being confronted with a hostile bear on a mountain ledge, or with a task of engineering, or with a task of administration, is confronted with the dynamic situation in the outer world. A human being confronted with a moralism, a philosophy, or compulsions inside his skin is confronted with a different kind of world, with a different set of stimuli, coming from the opposite direction.

In the task of administering the affairs of people, the internal moralism-and-philosophy set of stimuli is likely to be brought strongly into play. When this happens, the stimuli come from the two directions at once, and the person subjected to both sets of stimuli is confronted with the problem -- indeed, the necessity -- of reconciling and integrating the stimuli from the two directions, in order to take the inevitable action-of-some-kind that is continuously demanded by the space-time world of processes.

When a person is well-conditioned to adequate behavior in actual space-time situations and yet harbors a considerable segment of moralism and philosophy, the reconcilement is likely to take the form rationalizing; the rationalizations will in their turn constitute a new set of stimuli, likewise demanding expression in action.


Since the prevailing concept of wilful and wanton misconduct is too nebulous to be employed as a technique for making a prediction, it is little other than primitive word magic: An opinion or result reached because of unexpressed or unconscious reasons is documented by the phraseology which trails behind the concept. It may serve to permit a plaintiff called "contributorily negligent" to recover, or it may, as in some guest cases, result in a denial of recovery notwithstanding concession of defendant's "negligence." In this role it is interchangeable with the doctrines of last clear chance, comparative negligence and contributory negligence, which, we have seen, can all be manipulated so as to produce any desired result in any case. Abolishing the nonsense inherent in our word magic is not going to produce any miraculous cure for all of our ills, but, at least, it will clear the decks so that we can think lucidly about the orderly regulation of disputes between the citizenry. If we would expend our energies in an attempt to find the real-life situations wherein the prevailing culture permits or denies recovery, we could reclassify the cases so that some measure of predictability would be possible.

This suggestion, however, is pointless unless the lawyers and judiciary as a class have the basic desire to improve the functioning of the system from the ground up. Where a jury trial is involved, some method must be developed so that the jury's conclusion as to what happened -- the facts -- is not obscured by the general verdict. A relaxation of the rules which now paralyze the special interrogatory would permit court and counsel to extract something close to a narrative from the jury. To this the court could properly apply "the law," and, with the elimination of nonsense, both court and jury could be much clearer as to what is believed to have occurred and why the result is reached. While these proposals are more than ordinarily difficult to work out, the alternative is a continuation of the present chaos which will not be lessened by exchanging one type of mumbo jumbo for another.

We are either going to have to acquire a license to practice thaumaturgy and make it work in the public's eyes, or else bring the law down to the realities of living. To implement the second alternative, the first step is to rid ourselves of our infatuation with the sound of our meaningless concepts.


A social scientist confronted with a problem touching upon social policy will usually consider only the technical aspects of the problem and assert that the final decision of what course of action is to be taken rests upon a value judgment. This position is consistent with the customary assumption that any problem of policy is determined by the existence of alternatives, that the choice between these alternatives depends on the best available knowledge of facts and scientific laws, but that this knowledge by itself cannot resolve a problem of policy, that something is left over which is often referred to as "interests," "ideals," "desires," or "ends," and that this something which is left over may be considered the values involved in the problem.

This analysis evokes two comments which are relevant for the problem of studying the role of values in social science:

1. It makes for a strict distinction between ends and means, since the ends, or values, are presumably the implicit practical judgments or goals contained in the process of policy making, while the means are scientifically analyzable facts and laws.

2. It leads one to say that means are morally neutral, i.e., that they are "valueless," that they are passive materials which can be used in achieving any desired goal and applied to any desired content. In practical terms this means, for example, that from the standpoint of physical science, our knowledge of the facts and laws of nuclear fission are applicable to the production of atomic bombs, or to the use of atomic energy for constructive purposes...

In summary, the results of this analysis concerning the relation of means and ends and the relation between values, may be stated thus:

1. If we confine our attention to problems of practical policy, i.e., of decision-making in real life situations (rather than to the solution of problems of knowledge), the strict separation of ends and means falls to the ground. Means and ends are both objects of evaluation, and any decision-making process consists in constant weighing of given and implied alternatives with each other, regardless of whether these alternatives may be labeled for certain purposes "ends" or "means." Although it may be granted that within a certain frame of reference such a distinction between ends and means can be made, the situations of real life requiring the shaping of a policy are of such complexity that the distinctions disappear; means for certain purposes become ends and the ends for certain other purposes become means.

2. One of the principle tasks of social science with respect to the study of values is the development of a methodology and of techniques for deriving primary values and motives of individuals and groups from observed overt behavior.

3. Value systems and value hierarchies must be indexed and dated. They change as frames of reference change. The frame of reference may be designated to consist of personality factors, norms or ideologies, and a state of knowledge permitting the application of rational decisions. But since personality types, norms, and the state of knowledge are not static, the frame of reference in terms of which value hierarchies are established changes over time and in space, and value hierarchies of the same individual or the same group change with it.


Operational Ethics

In showing that most of his contemporaries were "haunted" by verbal and mystical sanctions, Stirner exposed himself to attack. His emphasis upon the things called "force," "might," and "power" -- as his tools, as "egoistic" tools -- only added to the number and bitterness of his critics. His insight into the hypocrisy and delusions motivating most people, was considered evidence of a cynical and "inhuman" man. If there were not an extensional idea in his entire work, a century's misevaluation of it would still present a fascinating semantic study. Criticism of Stirner is strewn with evidence of wholesale signal reactions and confusion of abstraction levels, despite Stirner's efforts -- unparalleled in his time -- to anticipate and counteract just such confusion. His reception offers an object lesson to all those persons who are intent upon formulating non-aristotelian systems, and who are compelled therefore to deal with the life-situations among which are those named "force," "might," "power," etc.

The ethical agreement between Stirner and Bridgman is striking. Both men, in denying the sacredness of institutions, are simply demanding, in Bridgman's words, that "society be so constructed that it serves the individual, not the individual serve society." On this matter of force, Bridgman is in exact accord with Stirner: "The only compulsion that society can exert on me is the compulsion of superior and external force." And Bridgman adds that he will have no part of the "conspiracy of silence...which attempts to shield my children from the realization that society must rest on a background of force." Nor should we lose sight of the fact that the "altruist" (an "involuntary" egoist) assumes that he has the right to use force to gain his "altruistic" ends.

Thus, every person is self-motivated, every person uses force, and, furthermore, the interests of individuals and groups making up society are not always the same. What, then, is the individual to do? Having destroyed all institutions as absolutes, is he to resist all institutional dictums? No, say Bridgman and Stirner; that would be to replace absolutes with another absolute. Instead, sometimes we will resist authority, sometimes we will bow to it, but in the latter case we will be using institutions for our sakes, and in terms of concrete situations. Our personal "force," then, is relative, conditional, and present in all of our life-situations, by our own formulation.

The problem becomes one of how to present these life-situations so as to obtain extensional results, without causing people to assume that the "forces," "mights," and "powers" are invariably gross, brutish, barbaric acts -- "physical" in the old-fashioned sense. How to convey the fact that these terms are many-valued, and that the things they represent are ubiquitous? How to make palatable the fact that society is based upon conflicts as much a upon co-operations? Why, for instance, should not people who study How to Win Friends and Influence People understand that they are cultivating personal force, so as to wield personal power? and that for them, as judged by their subsequent actions, their developed "might" is "right"? Why should they not face the fact that a raised eyebrow or a cleared throat may exercise a power of oppression more ruinous for other lives than a thousand trips to the woodshed? And why not emphasize the fact that extensionality, as well as Stirner's "ownness," is one's basic and most po tent property? -- one's personal power?


A Note on Vaihinger

Ogden's English translation of Vaihinger's Philosophy of "As If"... impresses me, at least, as being rough and unfinished. It is repetitive and sometimes obscure and difficult reading, and I think whole sections are of doubtful value. Nevertheless, it is a huge gold mine, and although a lot of the ore is low-grade, it contains some of the biggest nuggets to be found anywhere.

I hardly think Vaihinger would have seemed so remarkable to me if I had not previously spent a good deal of time with the literature of general semantics. To me, Vaihinger and Korzybski complement each other very neatly; each throws much light upon the work of the other. Korzybski's is of course a much greater work, more fundamental and broader in scope, and it forms a more complete, systematic whole. Vaihinger's book is, nevertheless, of such unique value to the study of general semantics as to be almost indispensable.

Two of Vaihinger's notions interested me almost as soon as I began the book, and puzzled me until I was more than half way through, when light from Korzybski began to clarify them. They are, first, that fictions are self-contradictory, and second, that the use of fictions involves the deliberate making of an error and its subsequent correction.

Some idea of what Vaihinger means by the "self-contradictory" nature of fictions began to dawn somewhere around the middle of the book when a number of examples began to occur in the text, together with explanations of the "contradictions" which they embody. Among others, the mathematical fictions of surface, line, and point were offered for illustration. On page 235, the following passage occurs:

A line, in the mathematical sense, can never be sensuously represented, for it is a matter of abstraction and imagination and, in all cases, remains a contradictory construct.

The same naturally holds for the point which we are accustomed to call the limit of a line. Here, likewise, mathematics, on the basis of certain sense-experiences of which there are many both in nature and among mankind, has constructed the non-sensuous, we might say the super-sensuous idea, of a point without extension in any dimension -- an idea in itself both untenable and contradictory, a monstrous concept despite its infinitesimal size, of a something that is already a nothing, of a nothing that is nevertheless supposed to be a something. The mathematical point is, in all respects, a true and complete mathematical fiction.

The creation of such self-contradictory ideas is what Vaihinger appears to regard as the deliberate making of an error. The fictions are then manipulated symbolically to give some sort of a result, and when we come to apply the result, they are discarded; the discarding of the self-contradictory fictions then constitutes the correction of the initial error.


The author sees in pragmatic science a powerful weapon against totalitarian ideologies. Those who have had a scientific education, says Frank, do not absorb totalitarian propaganda as do those who lack it; and the follower of pragmatism will never carry out a principle because it is "right" in itself. Since, according to Masaryk, "democracy means discussion," there can be no democratic ideology worthy of the name that would feel disturbed by the existence of science as an indifferent and critical system of propositions. Totalitarianism, on the other hand, finds free discussion intolerable and is inevitably embarrassed by the presence of inquisitive scientists possessed of a body of stubborn, impersonal "facts."

The final sections of the book constitute a rational plea for the unification of the sciences and their ultimate integration with human endeavors-at-large. Looking toward these ends, Professor Frank perceives the necessity of fashioning a language that can be readily employed in passing from one field to another, e.g., from physics to psychology to sociology and back again.

He expresses the opinion that the envisioned integration of knowledge cannot be accomplished by philosophic or religious creeds. Such integrations as have been achieved up to the present (e.g., the laws of conservation of matter and energy, natural selection and increasing entropy; statistical principles; relativity; the notion that all types of matter are fashioned from a few kinds of elemental particles; and scientific method itself) have come from scientists themselves, exercising experience, reason and imagination; not from philosophical discussion. Dr. Frank asserts without equivocation that interpretation can never be independent of fact-finding. For this reason he expresses grave doubt that philosophers, whose technical knowledge he considers to be often as much as fifty years behind that of scientists, can be depended upon to reach significant interpretations of the latter's findings. He looks malnly to scientists and scientific method to accomplish the integrations. He believes, however, that philos ophers can contribute in important ways to this work by helping fashion the common language envisioned so many years ago by Ernst Mach.



Count the Signal Reactions

Patrolman John R. Schleuning, 28, was wounded in the neck and shoulder today in a mistaken identity shooting by a fellow officer.

The shooting started after the radio car team of officers Raymond J. Rush and Cornelius E. Mahoney stopped to investigate a couple of pedestrians at Jefferson boulevard and Central avenue.

They were questioning Jess Thomas, 30, 934 52nd street, and Vance Cabiness, 36, 1028 East 28th street, who the officers believed were scuffling.

Thomas and Cabiness were in the act of explaining they were friends, and were only being playful, when Schleuning, who was enjoying a night off duty, drove up to the scene.

He leveled a .38 automatic at the group on the sidewalk and announced:

"All I want is your hands out of your pockets."

Schleuning subsequently explained he was talking to the suspects, but officer Rush didn't wait, under the circumstances, before going into action.

He ordered Schleuning, whom he in turn had taken to be a holdup man, to drop his gun. When Schleuning failed to comply, Rush reported, he fired twice. Both bullets found their target.

An ambulance was called and it was only when he was en route to the hospital that Schleuning managed to identify himself as a policeman.

Schleuning, who lives at 1026 1/2 Florida street, was not in critical condition, hospital attendants said.

Cabiness and Thomas were dismissed and sent home.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Institute of General Semantics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 1999
Previous Article:Fictions of Business: Insights on Management from Great Literature.

Related Articles
Fifty years ago in etc. (Retrospect).
Fifty years ago in ETC. (Retrospect).
Fifty years ago in ETC.
Fifty years ago in ETC.
Fifty years ago in etc.
Fifty years ago in ETC.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters