Some quotes from Alfred Korzybski

"In this address Dr. Langmuir discusses some methodological issues which are involved in modern exact sciences and contrasts them with the prevalent methods which we apply in human affairs. Students of general semantics may be interested in this contrast as it turns out to be the difference between the new physico-mathematical orientation which include the principle of uncertainty (divergent phenomena), maximum probability, etc., and the old Aristotelian orientations (convergent phenomena). In the terminology of general semantics we would say it is the contrast between the non-Aristotelian infinite-valued causality and the Aristotelian two-valued causality, which is a limiting case of the former."

"Perhaps, instead of limiting the principle of causality to the two-valued, traditional, Aristotelian one, it would be more in agreement with the history of science, and beneficial, to enlarge the field of that principle to an infinite-valued causality, which becomes a necessity in the more flexible non-Aristotelian system. Something of this kind already happened in 'mathematical logic', where many-valued 'logics' are being formulated to fit the requirements of physics."

  -- AK in the Foreword to Science, Common Sense and Decency by Irving Langmuir, 1943.

QUESTION: Why is the science of General Semantics known as non-Aristotelian? [Proper name spelling corrected.]

ALFRED KORZYBSKI: There are still arguments in that field. It's a handy term. I followed deliberately the non-Euclidean pattern. Non-Euclidean geometries were a revolution. Non-Euclidean geometry, which did not deny Euclid, just made an alteration, a change in the premises, and the endless results followed.

Einstein, for instance, does not like the expression, non-Newtonian, because he worships Newton - a little bit unduly, perhaps. Originally the work stemming from Einstein was called the non-Newtonian system. I used a parallel expression. But non-, mind you, does not mean anti-! Nobody has more admiration for Aristotle than I have. Aristotle is good enough to organize a dinner, even this lecture, perhaps - I am not quite sure. We could do those things very well with Aristotle but when it comes to analyzing our human reactions, the Aristotelian subject-predicate structure of language won't do. I spoke to you about relation. Subject-predicate cannot cover asymmetrical relation and therefore the most important things we have as the foundation of human knowledge where a great deal depends on asymmetrical relation is simply not covered by a subject predicate language.

I deliberately used that term because of the parallel of the revolution from Euclid to non-Euclid. I stress non-Euclid, not anti-Euclid. Euclid remains important as ever; similarly, Newton as important as ever. But we had to progress farther, and this applies to Aristotle who remains as big as ever, except, by now antiquated. We had to modernize Aristotle. So, simply, if you wish by a sort of traditional symmetry, I used the term non-Aristotelian - non-, not anti-Aristotelian. We have a parallel of the whole development of science and mathematics together, with the old systems resulting in the new non-systems.

Some of my friends and students tried to call our work the Korzybskian system. For pity sake, forget it. I would not call the non-Newtonian system by Einstein's name - the Einsteinian system. Einstein theory is all right. A system is much deeper than the Einstein theory. A system is much more broadly elaborated than any single man could do. So this is another reason why I took such a term, non-Aristotelian.

 -- Alfred Korzybski at the Colloquium on General Semantics at Yale University, February 2, 1949.

 


Annotated bibliography of general semantics papers
General Semantics and Related Topics

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