Monday, November 26, 2012

The Rectification of Names

It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.

It was not the man’s brain that was speaking it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words but it was not speech in true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness like the quacking of a duck.

--George Orwell, 1984

If the names we call things are incorrect, if the words we use are not tied to reality, what sort of communication can we expect? Furthermore, if there is no mutuality of understanding each other’s words, how can we ever expect anything other than ongoing confusion and conflict? If this is the case—if each is using words arbitrarily – then family, community, society, culture, and business suffers.
Deep, eh? Well, I ripped it off from Confucius who made this point when describing The Rectification of Names:

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.

In seeking “to speak the truest sentence that you know,” attention must be given to the words you are using in expressing your thoughts and feelings: to the Rectification of Words. Words mean something, not just anything. Think of a word as a language-symbol that places boundaries around an experience or idea: “I mean this, not that.”
Think of the breakdowns and breakups caused by the quacking of the word “Love,” romantic or otherwise! Now, consider some other Great Ideas (Mortimer Adler) -- Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, Liberty, Equality, and Justice. All we need do is look around and see the confusion and conflict that are created when people unpack the meaning of these words so as to smuggle some other foreign idea into the conversation.
The Confusion of Names is at the root of many of our individual, familial, relational, and societal conflicts. Or so I believe. For example: What is Truth and is there any such thing as objective Truth? What does it mean to be a Good man or woman? When Jefferson and Co. penned the Declaration of Independence, what were they meaning when they said one of our “unalienable Rights” was Liberty? When they wrote that, “all men are created equal,” what did they understand the word Equal to mean?
These words were originally coined to describe specific experiences, so their meanings are rooted in history. Yes, the meaning of words can evolve, but it can also devolve and be corrupted. What we are after is the uncorrupted meaning of the words we are using.
The Rectification of Names is the only avenue to begin dispelling confusion and conflict, whether in a family or a society, a spiritual community or a business. Arbitrary meanings only add to the confusion and exacerbate the conflict. The destruction of words is only “beautiful” to pseudo-intellectuals, conmen, and tyrants.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012

Next, The Rectification of Names: The Tower of Babel v A Community of Language 

No comments:

Post a Comment