THEOSOPHY, Vol. 43, No. 5, March, 1955
(Pages 206-210; Size: 15K)


[Part 20 of a 29-part series]

THE role of logic in theosophic study, as indicated in this series last month, is a vast subject indeed. Among other things, the recognition that theosophic tradition encourages exactitude of speaking and thinking, in a manner uncommon among religions, helps to clarify the means by which one may come to be "scientifically religious" as well as "religiously scientific." Robert Crosbie's familiar maxim; "Make clean and clear the mental conceptions and perceptions," is a useful summary of the obligations of the philosopher -- who never rests content with any verbal structure of doctrine, but instead, by persistent analysis, endeavors to refine and elevate all meanings afforded by the symbols of communication.

It is interesting to note that, during the past several months, the same idea in the Preface of H.P.B.'s Key to Theosophy has been mentioned by a number of contributors to this magazine. When H.P.B. writes, in respect to the Key, that "it is hoped that the obscurity still left is of the thought, not of the language, is due to depth not to confusion," she builds a strong case for a theosophical application of semantics. The fact that numerous Theosophists have been impressed by such works as Wendell Johnson's People in Quandaries, by some of the works of Stuart Chase, and by the impact upon philosophical education of Korzybski's Science and Sanity, may indicate that a widespread intensification of intellectual effort among the philosophically inclined coincides with a necessary development in the larger Theosophical Movement. Some of the points of emphasis chosen by the semanticists, therefore, are worthy of remark, and it is not unprofitable for the student to become acquainted with them.

Logic and Language, as affirmed by A. G. N. Flew's book of that title, cannot be separated. The manasic principle, working through the labyrinth of words in which philosophies and religions are couched, is either helped or hindered by the ways in which a person is taught to use a language. As Joseph Shipley points out in his Dictionary of Word Origins, "in Greek, Logos shifted its meaning from 'word' to 'reason', hence, logic." This "shift" expressed the flowering of intellect in Greek civilization, it being increasingly recognized by the Greek philosophers that language conveys constructive meanings only when used both wisely and artistically. In this context, however, Aristotle was something of an anachronism from the Greek point of view, since this one-time pupil of Plato spent much of his energy developing classifications and "categories." Now, to quote Stuart Chase, a pupil of Korzybski, "The systems of Aristotle, Euclid, and Newton are now special cases, and outmoded as general systems." Semanticists have shown that the rigidities of Aristotelian thought instituted habits of mind which eased the acceptance of theological categories, thus explaining why Aristotle may be called a progenitor of medieval dogmatism and authoritarianism.

To indicate how some of our modern semanticists labor to free men from rigidities of expression, so that individual evaluative capacities may flower, we draw attention to Stuart Chase's summary of the first seven basic propositions outlined in Korzybski's Science and Sanity. These propositions, as Chase shows, can hardly be regarded as being the discovery of the author of Science and Sanity, since the background of their formulation had been developing for years. But, in any case, Theosophists will note how closely these propositions, developed as a part of the science of Semantics, correlate with the theosophical purview in general:

1. No two events in nature are identical. This proposition is accepted by modern scientists. It runs counter to the "is of identity" in Indo-European languages, and to the "A is A" of formal logic.

2. Nature works in dynamic processes. Accepted by modern scientists and by some schools of philosophy. It disagrees with the linear, cause-and-effect structure of our language.

3. Events flow into one another in nature by "insensible gradations." Nature is all of a piece, though our language tends to separate it into classes.

4. Nature is best understood in terms of structure, order, relationships. Einstein helped to establish this through the principles of relativity. Indo-European languages, with substantives, entities, absolutes, are at odds with the proposition.

5. Events in nature are four-dimensional. Modern physicists think in terms of space-time. Indo-European languages are structured for three dimensions, and those who speak them have great difficulty with the concept of time.

6. Events have unlimited characteristics. Our languages leave many of them out and thus often distort a judgment.

7. There is no simultaneity in nature. Western languages assume it as a matter of course.

To move from such abstractions to an explanation of why it is that modern savants consider semantic study to be of pressing importance, we refer to Irving J. Lee's Language Habits in Human Affairs, an analysis of authoritarianism, both religious and political. This writer stresses particularly the danger of all purely emotional responses to word symbols; readers will no doubt recall, in this connection, the statements of both H.P.B. and William Q. Judge in respect to the dangerous power of words. Dr. Lee writes:
Our public life is perhaps tragically transformed by this obeisance to words. Mention should be made of but one area. It is not strange that the terrible exhortings of our Hitlers and Mussolinis achieve acceptance by millions. People having been trained to respond to words will respond readily to the skillful manipulators too often without regard to the "realities" which those words represent. It is not surprising that the magician-like orators should be called spellbinders, men able to affect and unleash the forces of human beings in almost any direction by the hypnotism of their verbal rituals. All the savagery and brutality of which men are capable can be released once they believe in the word as spoken or written, without regard for what that word represents.

To the argument that spellbinders sometimes evoke action for "good" by their words, this should be said: Whenever we toy with human beings, seeking to get them to respond to words only without regard for the fact that they represent something else, we shall be breeding people ever at the mercy of those who would play with words -- and with the people, too. Far better would it be to train men and women in proper evaluation, in the recognition of the duality of words and what they represent. Let us train our people in human responses to other people, in the methods of construction and achievement and analysis -- and not in obedience to a non-existing "magic," no matter for what purpose it is used. When people have been trained to distinguish the living effects of what they do and think from the apparatus of verbal magic, then those who argue the good effects of word play will have what they want without the awful dangers that lurk in waiting.

A lack of balance in the use of words, as shown by Dr. Wendell Johnson, plays an important part in the development of serious personality dislocations. One way of describing schizophrenics, for instance, would be to say that these psychotics have reached the ultimate in "verbal irresponsibility." As Johnson puts it in People in Quandaries, "He [the schizophrenic] has reversed the process of abstracting: words come first, and if the facts do not correspond to the words, so much the worse for the facts. In a deeper sense, he appears to act as though his words were facts." He continues:
The maladjustive significance of words gone wild, as seen in the language of schizophrenia, lies mainly in the fact that assumptions and beliefs go unchecked. They are not tested against non-verbal observation and experience, because they are identified, in value, with observation and experience. The orientation of the schizophrenic appears to be, in the main, not two-valued, but one-valued. That is, he seems to evaluate all levels of abstraction as the same, as one. And he appears not to recognize that there might be even two sides to a question; there is only one side, his own. It is not that he views his own assertions as right and all others as wrong; for him there simply are no other assertions except his own. Hence, the incredible verbal irresponsibility of schizophrenics, and their baffling unresponsiveness to reality or to statements about reality. They appear to have carried identification to such lengths that they make scarcely any differentiations at all as between levels of abstraction.

The point to be emphasized is that schizophrenia merely represents an extreme degree of something which, in lesser degrees and in certain forms, is well-nigh universal in our culture. As has been pointed out, our common subject-predicate language implies a relatively static world of absolutes, generally two-valued, and it is more or less conducive to identification. These features of our language are most in evidence in the more advanced stages of maladjustment, and are least conspicuous in the language of science as general method. Schizophrenia happens to be probably the most grave form of personality maladjustment in our society, and the language of schizophrenia is for that reason particularly instructive.

Another illuminating perspective furnished in People in Quandaries results from Dr. Johnson's analysis of the goals of "success" and "failure," as commonly understood. This, Dr. Johnson says, is "a necessary consequence of Aristotelian orientation." Although his reasoning is a bit involved, it is not difficult to catch the general drift as Johnson proceeds to a unique sort of castigation of most societal goals. Of the majority of maladjusted persons, he writes that "since their notions of 'success' and 'failure' are ultimately of an absolute character and are consequently vague and two-valued, they tend to assume that they have 'failed' until they have unquestionably 'succeeded.' It is this urge to out-snob the snobs, that is appealed to -- and stimulated by -- advertisers generally, and by Hollywood producers, popular magazine writers, etc. All of which means that this reaching for the moon is not a unique characteristic of the maladjusted individual; it represents, rather, a characteristic of our society, and the maladjusted person simply reflects it. And it is one of the influences of his semantic environment that contributes definitely to his difficulties."

Another theosophical note is struck by a paragraph in the same chapter of People in Quandaries, referring again to the millions of "maladjusted," who may finally pass the rest of the way into schizophrenia:

Now, what these people have not learned is the simple fact that there is no failure in nature. Failure is a matter of evaluation. Failure is the felt difference between what you expect and what you get. It is the difference between what you assume you have to do, what you demand of yourself, and what you actually do. It is what you feel when your expectations exceed your realizations. If your ideals or goals are too high, in the sense that they are too vague, or too highly valued, or unrealistic, then you are likely to experience a sense of failure. Eventually you are likely to suffer from an inferiority complex, a low opinion of yourself. You are likely to be more or less overwhelmed by what you will call "the general impenetrability of things."
This sampling of the writings of the semanticists should suffice to demonstrate why H.P.B. labored to make sure that "the obscurity still left is of the thought, not of the language," in her presentation of theosophical doctrines. As Korzybski has also insisted, an inference is not a fact, a value judgment is not necessarily an inference, and a value judgment may be so far removed from anything demonstrable that it exists at the opposite pole from anything that may correctly be called "fact." Thus the many claims made by Theosophical students in regard to the teachings presented by Madame Blavatsky are best checked by both logical and semantic evaluation. The three fundamental propositions of The Secret Doctrine, for instance, are presented as such -- not as claims or dogmas, and in respect to the many transmitted doctrines also contained in her major work, H.P.B. often goes to great pains to distinguish between that which is transmitted as doctrine and that which is directly approachable by logic. Finally, it is only through the disciplined use of words that men may come to see crucial distinctions between doctrine and knowledge, between reason and belief. Since Theosophical literature evokes both, in almost equal measure, a knowledge of the lines of demarcation between the two is prerequisite to making the study of religion "scientific."

Next article:
[Morality. Ethics. Moral. Immoral.
Social Customs. Principles. Conventional Morality.
Moralistic. Vested Interest. Established Order.
Popular Categories of "Good" and "Evil".
Selfishness. Lie. Hypocrisy. Non-Conformist.
Self-Reliance. Emerson. Gautama Buddha.
Morality by Social Agreement.]
[Part 21 of a 29-part series]

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