Alfred Korzybski


What Is That To Me ?
The layman, the 'practical' man, the man in the street, says, What is that to me?  The answer is positive and weighty.  Our life is entirely dependent on the established doctrines of ethics, sociology, political economy, government, law, medical science, etc.  This affects everyone consciously or unconsciously, the man in the street in the first place, because he is the most defenseless

Alfred Korzybski, The Brotherhood of Doctrines, ( The Builder, April 1924  ),
( part quoted in Science and Sanity 1933, page lxxvii ).


From SCIENCE AND SANITY, 1933 by Alfred Korzybski

We must consider, briefly, the terms 'kind' and 'degree', as we shall need them later. Words, symbols., serve as forms of representation and belong to a different universe—the 'universe of discourse'—since they are not the un-speakable levels we are speaking about. They belong to a world of higher abstractions and not to the world of lower abstractions given to us by our lower nerve centres.

Common experience and scientific investigations (more refined experience) show us that the world around us is made up of absolute individuals, each different and unique, although interconnected. Under such conditions it is obviously optional what language we use. The more we use the language of diverse 'kind', the sharper our definitions must be. Psycho-logically, the emphasis is on difference. Such procedure may be a tax on our ingenuity, but by it we are closer to the structural facts of life, where, in the limit, we should have to establish a 'kind' for every individual.

In using the term 'degree', we . . .  proceed by similarities, but such a treatment implies a fundamental interconnection between different individuals of a special kind. It implies a definite kind of metaphysics or structural assumptions—as, for instance, a theory of evolution. As our 'knowledge' is the result of . . abstracting, it seems . . . to give preference to the term 'degree' first, and only when we have attained a certain order of verbal sharpness to pass to a language of 'kind', if need arises.

The study of primitive languages shows that, historically, we had a tendency for the 'kind' language, resulting in over-abundance of names and few relation-words, which makes higher analysis impossible. Science, on the other hand, has a preference for the 'degree' language, which, ultimately, leads to mathematical languages, enormous simplicity and economy of words, and so to better efficiency, more intelligence, and to the unification of science. . . .  The language of 'degree' has very important relational, quantitative, and order implications, while that of 'kind' has, in the main, qualitative implications, often, if not always, concealing relations, instead of expressing them.

pp. 254-255.


* * *

" . . . . a [non-aristotelian] system . . . should formulate general principles that all scientists in every field could follow. This was practically the case with the A-system until Francis Bacon.  "

p. 541.


Note on the Three-valued and Many-valued Logics

The three-valued logic was created in 1920 by Jan Łukasiewicz and the many-valued logic was created in 1922 also by Jan Łukasiewicz, alone--and not in co-work with another.

That, according to the statements by Łukasiewicz which I have seen, also the statements by his follower Wajsberg. Some relevant data could be found in "Polish Logic" by Storrs McCall, Oxford 1967.

On this matter, many false data have crept into the records. One of them was due to the Master himself, i.e., Korzybski, who in Science and Sanity of 1933 attributed joint authorship of the many-valued logics to Łukasiewicz 'and Tarski'.

I believe this to have been an 'honest error', stemming from mere oversight— still, no credit to K, especially that it had been repeated by many other writers, in some cases with other inaccuracies added.

The circumstances seem to have been : by 1929 a draft of Science and Sanity was largely complete. That year, Korzybski went to Warsaw-Poland and attended a congress of the mathematicians from the Slav countries, and there he first learned about the work of Łukasiewicz, also about the work of Chwistek, Lesniewski, Tarski, etc.

The relevant evidence to this case was a paper published jointly by Łukasiewicz and Tarski. I have not seen the paper : it may be guessed that the first page of that paper contained some ambiguous expressions, 'we have done this and that, and also done this and that' etc. The inside of the paper should contain an article by Łukasiewicz on the many-valued logics.

(I note that one H. R. gives the first page of that paper as evidence of Tarski's contributions, which apparently were not the case, in a very inaccurate account in the late 1940's of the three-valued logic.)

What I could have gleaned from the data available suggest this approximate scenario : Korzybski, who had understood Łukasiewicz's logic very well, and was yet none too fond of the formal logic overall, had from the first page of that paper inferred an incorrect datum and, on his having returned from Warsaw to the U.S.A. had simply pasted a partially inaccurate statement in the draft of Science and Sanity. The uniform error recurs several (approximately five) times, consistently. It is also found in the paper of 1931 titled "Some Non-Aristotelian Data (etc)..

(WPT, 24 March 04)


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Last updated 23 November 2004

W. Paul Tabaka
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