C-28. Explication and thingks

The literatures of the humanities and the social sciences overflow with concepts, many of which are thingks. As does popular discourse. And thingks pertaining to thingks, as new pointed questions are raised about thingks. Enough layers of thingks upon thingks can accumulate (and have accumulated) to defeat the most diligent linguistic anthropologist. “Ivory tower” hardly begins to express the remove from human problems sometimes encountered in conceptual discourse.

Approached simply as terms needing definition, thingks frustrate us. Explication is called for. We have already seen that many of these terms that deal with behavior resist simple and easy definition because they can refer to any stage of capability development between needed capability and perfected capability – and to the need and/or the ideal as well (V: Behavioral manifold). They can also differ according to whether they pertain to body or step conditions and/or whether they pertain to a general or particular condition (III). Now we see a new definitional complication because thingks introduce a two-part historical aspect for such a term – i.e., the question for which it is an answer and the problem which occasions the question (C-27).

What we are beginning to see is that ordinary definitional practices are giving us an acquaintance kind of knowledge. Explication may improve that acquaintance, as by parsing various authors’ use of a conceptual term (e.g., ala Hempel). But we need to bring theory into the picture if we want the superior kind of knowledge that an explanation represents. (That BFPS comprises and articulates all four of the considerations noted above is promising.)

Theoretical explication, it seems, is required here because theory must help us read (aka interpret) such concepts. Concepts can be strung together or nested like a Russian egg but they lack the implicative strength to produce a theory. Those who string and nest rely too much on an underlying order of things to emerge – sometime and somehow – as the long-awaited theory that will provide the definitive definitional key to conceptual meaning.

Current definitional difficulties are further compounded by the fact that our languages are inventions … and the languages we have available are neither complete nor all that accurate with respect to the Nature of Things (from which the consequentiality of the behavioral manifold and of thingks derives). Something more than shadows on the wall of a cave is going on here?

Much is being said without a firm grasp of what is being – or should be – talked about. Too many concepts that we are using are not all that useful as “building blocks” for theory construction. In this they are empty promises. They don’t even resemble pottery shards … as which they would require a theory to assemble them into a useful vessel. Their uneven edges owe more to contesting territorial claims and ambiguity than to anything like fragments of a whole.

So what are we to do? How about dismissing the appealing simplicity of some tertiary tells (e.g., modeled “causal” strings of concepts) that focus on conditions as objects even though they may be objects only in the sense of their being foci of attention and objectified only as, and in, words? First things first: Let’s work out the theory which will provide a useful explicatory key – and in this process of clarification also begin to erode the unproductive intellectual practices and products that now smother the fires of understanding.

These concepts do have something as an aggregate to tell us. If we read that message well we shall see that we have not done justice to the potential productivity of historical reductionism. “Roots” sounds a helpful keynote, in suggesting that reductionism re bodies could benefit from a parallel reductionism for steps, all the way back to the Nature of Things (C-12). The history of thingks, a history of abuse as well as use, argues for such an intellectual development. Physics, chemistry and biology find consequentiality in a reductive approach to bodies (App. VIII: procedural tool). Communication, cognition and behavior could, and should, do as well with a reductive approach to steps.

Defining a conceptual term like “communication” may be a frustrating experience and an unproductive classroom exercise, but explicating it need not be, if we take it back through its generating questions and into its problematic genesis. Learning and knowledge will be enhanced and better research questions asked, optimizing applicability – i.e., relevance.

(c) 2011 R. F. Carter