"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan) (ajrose93) wrote,
"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan)

Another Plug for Semantics

93, all!

I've plugged S.I. Hayakawa's wonderful textbook Language in Thought and Action here before, but while I think about it, want to plug it (and General Semantics itself) here again. What "GS" gives one is a "consciousness of abstracting" -- an awareness that one is constantly selecting details out of a vast sea of largely undifferentiated experience, and that such a process includes pitfalls: conceptual (often verbal) traps, if you will.

Any sufficiently intelligent and articulate person can take any two things (experiences, concepts, etc.) and persuasively argue that (in some respects) they are nearly identical. Any sufficiently intelligent and articulate person can take any two things (experiences, concepts, etc.) and persuasively argue that (in some respects) they are utterly dissimilar. Consciousness of abstracting helps us to see the relativity of language: to tell when we're having a solvable argument (about a fact in nature), and when we're having an insoluble argument (about our own abstractions) -- which latter can be plenty valuable, and very much worth having, but cannot (ultimately) be solved, be made to yield conclusive proof.

What prompts all this is my happening to recall the "Law, Language and Ethics" class at USC Law School that decided me to quit pursuing a law degree, many long years ago. In brief, the prof -- no mean semanticist himself -- pointed out that since (a) any two cases can always be compared, and (b) any two cases can always be distinguished, as a matter of simple logic the notion of "rule by precedent" is an illusion. What we call "the law" isn't completely imaginary (and in particular the closer it gets to concrete physical fact the less imaginary it is*), but it is awfully arbitrary...and the skill of a lawyer is largely the skill of an actor blent with that of a  hypnotist, making something arbitrary seem as indisputable as possible.

Cool. Did it for me. I packed up 'n' left, damn grateful for the insights.  :)

People with a consciousness of abstracting might as well be living in a different world from everyone else...which is part of the reason that lawyers seem so sneaky or tricky to the uninitiated -- in part because they are, of course, but also because they see things from more perspectives than most people do. "Common sense" is that thing which makes it perfectly obvious that the sun rotates around the earth. Those who understand how things actually work are operating on a different plane entirely. That this insight has nothing to do with whether they're decent people or not, makes me want to see a lot more decent people understanding how things actually work.

93 93/93 -- AJ

* Compare (say) "Did the defendant enter the locked warehouse without permission and take stuff out of it?" to (say) "Is commercial fishing a business or a profession within the meaning of Business & Professions Code Sect. No. XXX?"


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