Alfred Korzybski introduced his notion of non-aristotelian thinking over three editions of his book Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.

One stumbling block for people learning about his ideas (contained within the subject called “general semantics”) is the term “non-aristotelian.”  Readers probably don’t know what “aristotelian” means.  If they think they do, they might wonder what aspect of Aristotle’s life is negated with the term “non-aristotelian.”  Was Korzybski negating Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics?  Or his Poetics?  Or something else?  Just reading the word “non-aristotelian” offers no clues.

In truth, Korzybski uses the term in a rather particular way.  Fortunately, though, he provides a lot of examples of what is represented by the term “non-aristotelian,” and what is represented by its counterpart term, “aristotelian.”  Consult the Second Edition of his book for a list of what constitutes each kind of thinking, but for some rough synonyms, think “modern scientific” for “non-aristotelian” and “pre-modern scientific (or even pseudo- and unscientific)” for “aristotelian.”

But with these relatively easy synonyms at hand, I find that the word “non-aristotelian” requires maybe a bit more clarification.  If general semantics is considered but one non-aristotelian system, how do we distinguish it from others?

I propose this term: “korzybskian.”  It’s not an unfamiliar term, but it might be unfamiliar within this particular context.  What I propose is that we use the word “korzybskian” to denote the specific kind of non-aristotelian thinking Korzybski talks about in Science and Sanity and in general semantics as a whole.  That is, Korzybski’s non-aristotelian thinking is korzybskian thinking.  And as a result, “korzybskian” inherits the meaning “modern scientific.”

So non-aristotelianism would be korzybskiism.  And the modern scientific thinking that Korzybski promotes would be korzybskian thinking that he promotes.

This suggests that S. I. Hayakawa’s thinking within general semantics (which Korzybski inevitably took issue with) might be termed “hayakawan thinking.”  Or maybe it could be called “korzybskian thinking to an extent.”  Any of us within general semantics probably exhibit korzybskian thinking to varying extents.  We’re non-aristotelians, but we’re specifically korzybskian non-aristotelians.

Should another non-aristotelian formulator come along to take issue with aristotelian thinking, and develop something distinct from korzybskian thinking, then there would be that new formulator’s ism.  Is there as much room for another, as Korzybski suggests?  It’s hard for me to tell.

From aristotelianism to korzybskiism.

Quite an honor, Count.

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