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September 23rd, 2006

Trivial Grammar: Deducing -ism's

originally posted to philosophy where a discussion followed.

jeffrock's recent entry reminded me to ask a trivial question about grammar and semantic: if logic is a(n important) branch of philosophy, then why do the philosophical -ism's not follow logically from their roots? 

I give some examples that reveal why I believe some "lovers of wisdom" find the vocabulary used in the formal study of philosophy an insuperable and frivolous barrier to their sincere, philosophic interest.  In philosophy of education circles, for example, my identification of this hurdle is called "illteracy" and students cannot always overcome it be memorizing the unique definition of every word.  I offer logical deduction as a consistent alternative to memorization, despite the semantic inertia of the English language bent against this alternative.  The vocabulary of philosophy has a decent set of words to exemplify.


My first examples demonstrate a logical alternative for deriving meaning from any root word.  I would like to assume a root word and logically deduce the words that modify the root towards properties, systems and subject meanings.  What I mean by deduction is demonstrated below.

1) ratio -> rational -> rationalism,  rationalist

Here I assume ratio is the root word and I would like to logically deduce the abstract, general and subject meanings of "ratio".  Let ratio be a noun that means "blah" (the meaning doesn't change my argument).   I assume the first deduction will be a state or property -- an adverb -- of the root word "ratio".  So "rational" means "blah-ness".  I assume the second deduction will be a system -- in some sense, a philosophy -- of the adverbial word "rational".  So "rationalism" means "of blah-ness".  This last deduction sounds meaningless because it is a proposition (in the grammatical sense of "propositional phrase"), and it should not make much sense without a subject.  The meaning "of blah-ness" makes sense when given a subject like members or adherents of the system.  So "rationalism" means "idea(s) of blah-ness" and "rationalist" means "person of blah-ness".

When one substitutes the mathematical meaning "a relation or comparison between things or quantities" for "blah", one arrives at a definition for "rationalism" incongruent with the philosophy vocabulary.  People write confusing or meaningless words to a philosophy community, so they are told the philosophical definition and file it away under "Philosophy Vocab" in their infallible memory banks.  Hah!  (If we are rational beings, then we cannot forget the logical deductions of a smaller set of root words that are more successfully stored and retrieved by memory).

2) class -> classical -> classism, classist

This deduction from the root "class" breaks down with contextual constraints like common (classical) music, the philosophical study of "the classics", and a sociological (re-)definition.  It's a hog-pog that demands more memorization despite the alternative, deductive ability for "classist" to mean "person of classes" or "believer of class".  I prefer the later deductions because they generalize the root word "class" so that it is free of the constraints imposed by context.  The alternative allows me to say "all forms of discrimination are classism; if race is a class, then racism is classism, if sex is a class, then sexism is classism". ... I can then back-fill or recursively address racism, sexism and other types of discrimination via one word: classism.

3) relativism <> relativistic

For some reason, a relativistic person does not necessarily believe in relativism. WTF?!  So we start shouting about "new age relativism" misunderstandings and find ourselves resurrecting contextual meanings to demand that relativism stay within the philosophy community and relativistic things stay over there with physics.  How esoteric.

The history of the English language is against me and our reliance -- our crutch -- on contextual meanings establish hurdles against logical communication*, but if any field could justify a consistent method for defining words, then I believe it is philosophy's duty to compel this alternative system on itself and eventually all grammar and semantic.

*Note: and hurdles against logical thinking, so don't bash me for missing some deductive step.  By using the (illogical) English language to convey my complaint, some inconsistency is inevitable.</lj>