You have probably often heard this statement greeted with fiery approval or fierce resentment. “Fascism” today calls up more emotional associations than “Divine.” The possibility of finding referents has perhaps improved slightly, but there is little disposition either to look for them or to agree upon them. Does the statement mean that Mussolini must be destroyed? All black shirts destroyed? All black and brown shirts? Their wearers? All dictators abolished? Including South American dictators? Including Stalin? All expressions of nationalism put down? Including Senator Borah? Or what? The maker of the statement does not clearly know what he means by it. No hearer knows clearly what is meant. In the next chapter we will prove the ambiguity of the term
by citing the results of asking a number of people what it means to them.
“Consumers’ co-operatives are more efficient than private business.”
This produces another turmoil of assent and dissent. But here there appears to be a real glimmer of meaning. Consumers’ co-operatives are definite organizations. Perhaps an operation can be performed comparing them with private enterprises? No, not at this point, unfortunately. The statement as it stands is meaningless. What kind of consumers’ co-operatives are more efficient? Where are they more efficient? When are they more efficient? What is meant by “efficient”? If a group of Rochdale co-operatives operating grocery stores in Milwaukee for the five years 1930-34 are compared, in respect to certified proflt-and-loss statements, with a group of chain stores in Milwaukee of similar size for the same five years, and are found to make more money per dollar of turnover—then we might make a qualified statement about the superior efficiency of co-operative societies which would have some meaning. But the statement under consideration, while it may be good propaganda, is bad language. (It was taken verbatim from a 1937 news release.)
“America supports the New Deal.”
This statement, made in November, 1936, is capable of operational test. Count the votes for President Roosevelt. As it stands, however, it does not carry precise meaning. It needs a date. It needs referents for “Amer-
ica” and for “New Deal.” Probably 40,000,000 Americans who were not in favor of re-electing the President may have been in favor of one or more of the measures inaugurated by his administration. Meanwhile very few of those who voted for him were in favor of all his measures. Again, what are the referents for “New Deal”? Are they all measures enacted since March, 1933, or only the “progressive” measures? Or laws plus the execution thereof? Or execution alone? Under analysis, the statement is vague, but at a given date it probably carries enough meaning to warrant using it. President Roosevelt obviously relied on it for his legislative program in 1937. Observe how important a correct semantic interpretation may become.
“My dog has four puppies.” Here at last we have a reasonably clear and concrete statement. See the dog, count the pups, establish the “my” relation. The only aspect which is not altogether clear is whether that dog gave birth to those puppies. There are ways of establishing this, but it may take a little time. Disagreement in statements of this kind is rare.
“Water is at its maximum density at 4 0 C.”
Go into the laboratory and prove it with your hands and eyes. In scientific statements of this nature, agreement is universal at a given date. The operational approach is conclusive, and meaning is found in its most precise form.
In the sequence above we have taken a leaf from
Bridgman when he says: “Let anyone examine in operational terms any popular present-day discussion of religious or moral questions to realize the magnitude of the reformation awaiting us.” As one gains in semantic understanding he begins to hear grown men and women, presumably sane, trying to describe and settle social and political problems in words which have no more application to the grave situations at issue than the bedtime stories of children. The dream world which the eager imagination of the child builds may or may not assist the child’s development. When one hears adults solemnly employing similar fantasies in trying to cope with wars, strikes, depressions, one stands appalled at the thought of where this infantile process will lead.