Introduction to General Semantics


by Laurie Cox, M.A.




Language and culture were formed, let us say, by people living in tribal societies, such as hunters and gatherers. Thus, our language had primitive beginnings.


The "classical" Greek philosophers lived and wrote around 350BC. Aristotle was a key figure in that society. His work is referred to as the "Aristotelian System". But because this system is nearly 2,500 years old, it contains a lot of out-of-date ideas. Despite this, the Aristotelian System lives on. Indeed, it forms a large part of our Western language and culture today.


But, in 1933, a revision was made, and is now referred to as General Semantics. This new approach challenges and tests us, because it asks us to drop many ways of "thinking", or evaluating, and adapt new ways, in other words, changing habits. Some changes are:

        Changing argument into constructive dialogue,

        Being aware of the vital part language plays in decision-making,

        Respecting, though not necessarily agreeing with, others' opinions,

        Firmly focussing on the perceptions and responses of others,

        Dropping the idea that we have only one or two choices, when we may in fact have many choices,


General Semantics also focusses on the use and value of conversations. We can learn a lot from these.

We can, for example, reflect on:

        Which conversations went well? In what way?

        Which conversations did not go well, and what did we do or say to turn a simple conversation into an argument?

        What can we learn from both outcomes?


Thus, from "ordinary conversations", we learn lessons on strategies to apply in the important or complex ones.


We also need to apply, or use, our theories or assumptions, thus testing them, as often as possible. Therefore, the new habit of applying or using these GS principles can teach us many things.


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What is General Semantics?


by Laurie Cox, M.A.




One way of understanding General Semantics is to see it as a method of assessing or examining a complex situation, and communicating effectively about it. Both our sight and our hearing are limited. We do not pick up everything in our immediate environment, especially other people's meanings, and we have at best, a partial knowledge of significant world events.


So we must necessarily carry a good deal of uncertainty and a spirit of inquiry. We can always improve our skills of:


        Asking carefully-formed questions,

        Listening attentively,

        Recognising assumptions that we will inevitably draw,

        Knowing how to test the assumptions that we are aware of, and remembering that we are making further underlying assumptions of which we are not aware; (It is unconscious assumptions that can give us a lot of trouble, even disaster!)

        Being aware that other people are also constantly making assumptions.


I have found these points to be a good starting point, but of course, the discipline of GS is much wider than this. The foregoing, that is, may be viewed as a rough starting point, but nothing more!


For further information, please contact

Laurie Cox (0415) 496 483, or (02) 9713 7950

Robert James (02) 6241 1099

Ags soc @ hotmail . com (without the spaces)


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