Academic journal article et Cetera

Fifty Years Ago in ETC

Academic journal article et Cetera

Fifty Years Ago in ETC

Article excerpt

Communication reduces to the event, both commonplace and awesome, of Mr. A. talking to Mr. B. And most commonplace and strange of all - possibly the most distinctively human occurrence to be found or imagined - is the case in which Mr. A. and Mr. B. are one and the same person: a man talking to himself.

Every speaker is, of course, his own listener, even when (if not especially when) he is speaking in public. In fact, even when he is alone, a man speaking to himself is by no means removed psychologically from his social context. What he talks about, to whom (in imagination) and for what purpose, are matters which are never independent of his concerns, associations and motivations as a social being. Mr. A. talking to Mr. B. is, therefore, a social phenomenon, whether or not Mr. A. and Mr. B. are one or two persons. And it is communication, viewed as Mr. A. talking to Mr. B., with respect to both its individual and social implications, that is here to be examined, with particular attention to the relationship between speech and personality. The essential point to be made in this discussion is that when speech is frustrated, personality is frustrated, too, whether personality be viewed as a process of self-realization or with respect to the role it plays in effective social interaction.

Speech is, of course, a form of language behavior and reflects the characteristics of language regarded in its broader aspects. It reflects, in fact, the basic features of symbolic systems generally, so that whatever we may say in the present discussion concerning speech and personality will have implications with respect to the relationships between personality and the uses of other symbolic forms and media as well. The consequences and causes of speech frustration are in some ways and in some measure the consequences and the causes of frustration of the processes involved in graphic artistic expression, in mathematizing, in the dramatic interpretation of experience, in music, architecture, law, or any of the other facets of symbolic functioning. The science which treats of symbolisms and symbolizations, in themselves and in their interrelationships with one another and with individual and social phenomena, is known as general semantics, and to the extent that it encompasses the scope of consideration here indicated, this discussion presents a general semantic approach to problems of communication.


The separation of fact and value and the apparent limitations of science form the point of departure of these critical studies. Professor Whitehead's genetic analysis begins with the Cartesian assumption of individual independent substances of body and mind, discrete, spatially and temporally located. Then he develops the epistemology that emerged to fit the needs of this dichotomy, and the subsequent devaluation of "matter" and the preoccupation with "brute" fact. Even after William James had annihilated consciousness-asentity and substituted consciousness-as-function and the modal fusion of subject-object in the stream of thought, this outlook still persists. Along with Pierce's studies in logic and metaphysics, James provided one of the matrices of Whitehead's own attempt to visualize the world in organic-process terms. And Susanne K. Langer shows in her investigation of current epistemological assumptions that, as a student of Whitehead, she shares his desire to reassert the union of science and philosophy, of rationalism and experience, or what we might colloquially call mind and heart ....

Whitehead finds the key to the success (and limitation) of science in its adoption of the mathematical ways of handling reality. He points out that "the dominance of the idea of functionality in the abstract sphere of mathematics found itself reflected in the order of nature under the guise of mathematically expressed laws of nature. Apart from this progress of mathematics, the seventeenth century [`the century of genius'] developments of science would have been impossible. …

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