Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Reducing Misunderstandings in Trying to Reach Agreements

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Reducing Misunderstandings in Trying to Reach Agreements

Article excerpt

The kinds of agreements people try to come to would seem to have a good deal to do with the particular ways in which they manage to misunderstand one another. In general, there would appear to be two possible types of agreement - and any number of combinations of these. The one is agreement as to what the facts are, a matter of literally "seeing eye to eye"; the other is concerned with feelings, judgments, and essential decisions, the kind of agreement that we call a "meeting of minds." Correspondingly, there are two general varieties of misunderstanding: those having to do with how the facts are to be determined and which of them are relevant to a given agreement; and those concerned with the particular rules or laws, theoretical frames of reference, and systems of value that are properly to be brought to bear upon the evaluation of such facts as may appear to be present and relevant.

The immediate task we have set for ourselves is that of examining these generalizations within the broad area of jurisprudence. Generally speaking, we are concerned with the practical problem of avoiding misunderstandings and arriving at agreements having to do with, or lying within, "the law." It should be made clear, therefore, and it should be stressed, that the present writer is not professionally preoccupied with jurisprudence or law. As an investigator of the disorders of speech and language and as a worker in general semantics, he is prepared to consider the springs of confusion and conflict, and their prevention so far as possible, in human communication. He assumes that if these matters are in some way different within the profession of the law from what they are elsewhere, this will be recognized and allowed for by students of jurisprudence.

In the meantime it can hardly be less true within the law than in other areas of human experience that facts are inseparable from the points of view from which they are observed and interpreted. As one of the basic truisms of modern science would have it, what is observed depends upon who the observer is, what methods he uses, the platform from which he looks, and what his values, biases, theoretical systems and purposes are, as well as his tendency to welcome or reject "new facts." All this means that disagreements among observers as to what the facts are may be due to a number of factors.

Sensory Differences

For example, within certain limits we may account for disagreements among observers by reference to differences in their capacities to see, hear, smell, taste or otherwise observe the world around them. Such differences in sensory acuity are tremendous, and their practical significance seems far from being commonly recognized and understood. Individual differences in taste and smell are so great as to render testimony in these terms almost universally suspect. This is true even when the semantic aspects of the situation are well controlled. That is to say, for example, even when two tasters are both familiar with the words "sage" and "cinnamon," know what substances they stand for, how these substances are used, etc., they might still in a properly controlled test of taste reactions confuse them or at least respond individualistically to them. The familiar condition known as color-blindness has its counterpart in the sensory modes of taste and olfaction. It is conceivable for the most expensive French perfume to be misidentified as French onion soup.

So far as the auditory and visual modes are concerned, we readily recognize and allow for color-blindness, tinnitus or ringing in the ears, and for blindness and deafness or extreme partial impairments of vision and hearing. We are much less conscious of the far more numerous cases of less severe impairment. It is to be reasonably estimated that there are from four to five million Americans whose losses of hearing are sufficient to render questionable most of the reports they might make concerning what they presumably have heard. …

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