C-22. Anchored concepts

We can pick up any article or book on human behavior in the (so-called) behavioral or social sciences, or any article in a newspaper or magazine, and realistically need to ask for a definition of one or more concepts before finishing the first paragraph.

And no matter what the response given, if indeed a response is available, we can just as realistically expect and/or conclude that whatever is being talked about is not firmly grasped (VII). That there are more than a score of ways used to define terms exemplifies the problem.

Still, we continue to use concepts and ask for definitions. (Or we accept conceptual uses provisionally in the hope that clarification will come later … or we assign it meaning on the basis of our experience with what seems to be talked about … or….) To be sure, we have been concerned to ground concepts, to give instances of their applicability, to give operational definitions of them in empirical research. This attention, however, has been directed primarily to what the concepts include within their purview.

And this use of concepts cum definition as procedural tools (App. VII) has not yielded theoretical productivity, as some have imagined it to be capable of, relying as it does on use of cognition’s inside-outside relation, plus logical necessity’s induction and deduction, to furnish a layered, but only summary, kind of theory (C-19). In a perversion of sorts, concepts have been gathered together within another, “higher order” concept. “System” is now often so used, implying relationships among the “lower order” concepts, employing system’ boundary condition but calling attention to the fact of relationships subsumed rather than specifying them all.

For behavioral concepts it is hard to see realization thereby forthcoming from these practices, not that realization which would be a theory more explanatory and capable of helping us to realize – i.e., bring about – solutions to our problems.

We need to explicate behavioral concepts. But not in the conventional manner of language analysis, laying out the differences and similarities among author usages. We need to anchor concepts within theories. Let theories that are capable of making clear what we are talking about with respect to behavior – generally as well as particularly — help describe concepts.

Put another way, we need to address behavioral concepts not just with the inside-outside relation; we also need to bring the much more complex before-after relation into the picture along with units of relating. Then our grasp of concepts will improve.

Thus any behavioral concept will become clearer and more useful if we can anchor it in the Nature of Things on the one hand, where incomplete instruction and functional needs (i.e., requisites and imperatives) are made apparent and then placed with respect to the developed capability (i.e., the Behavioral Manifold [V]) on the other hand.

Definition as a procedural tool is too much an artifact – and problem (I: Ps) – deriving from the use of language tools. Its emphasis on denotation (the point AT) betrays its functional incompleteness. What’s being talked about, the point AT. Is only part of the communicative and behavioral challenge. What is the point ABOUT the point AT? The point OF the communicative act? Who is the point FOR? Communicative behavior involves consequentiality and cognition, not just focal attention.

Viewed as a concept, communication as a term eludes grasp, despite numerous attempts to define it. “Is as does” is a common resolution, but that hardly does justice to the scope of communication as, say, a field of interest. “Field” may be telling here. Paisley’s point that communication, academically speaking, is a field rather than a discipline may be only partially on target. It is a field, considering that use of the term is primarily territorial, marking out sectors of attention and asserting authors’ proprietary interests. But that it is not a discipline is more a matter of stunted development, a paradigmatic lack of theory united, interdependently, with method. Over-dependence on globby, sloppy concepts dooms theory; depending on borrowed tools from disciplines hoping to discover the order of things dooms method.

Communication and cognition are, geographically and historically speaking, the New World in relation to the Old World of physics, chemistry and biology. The Old World focuses on the order of things, the New World on the Nature of Things. To understand what we are talking about when using the term (communication), we need the Nature of Things’ perspective.

Natural languages are just a beginning solution to the involvement of consequentiality and cognition in communication’s response to the unending problem of incomplete instruction facing behavioral entities given the Nature of Things. Communication as term and focus of attention is better understood when thus anchored.

Can we, should we, do any less for other behavioral terms and behavioral conditions? If, institutionally, it takes a territorial claim in the name of Behavioral Science, even the addition of yet another domain to the growing number of sciences might be countenanced. This, of course, with the provision that conceptual use in this discipline employ anchored concepts, so that constructive, not just territorial, interests are served – and lest theoretically anchored concepts be degraded to loosely grounded concepts, even abused in popular discourse (e.g., Freud’s fate).

(c) 2011 R. F. Carter