The Humanity Of Words - online book

A Primer Of Semantics

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KORZYBSKI                                    105
the shift ... I am remembering the night I talked for hours with a friend about education. The conversation didn't seem to be getting anywhere. I suddenly realized that he was talking about "education" for everyone, formal and informal, whereas I was talking about "education" in the universities. The scope of the broad context of education was, in each case, different. We were using the same word, but were talking on different levels of abstraction. Our words traveled in parallel lines that did not meet.
Korzybski uses the term "multiordinality" to describe a word that may be used on "multi" (many) "orders" (levels) of abstraction. Most of our discussions center around such terms. It is important to note that we must, frequently, move from one order of abstraction to another. I may, for example, be talking about "civil rights" and the equal right of everyone to fulfill himself to the best of his ability. But say that you are remembering with heartache and bitterness the cold hard fact that you were denied admission to a medical school because the "quota" for your "race" or religion had been filled. It is quite possible to move, profitably, from the lower level of your personal experience to the higher levels concerning "civil rights" in general and back again, if need be. Our only responsibility here is to stay together, to know just what level we are on and to make it clear to other participants.
It is the responsibility of the user of words to clarify, for himself and for others, the level of abstraction of a multi-ordinal term that is relevant to the discussion.
Only man can move from the reading lesson of one child to high order abstractions about education, formal and informal, for everyone. Only man can move from a particular personal problem to the general problem of civil rights for