The easiest way to explain is by comparing how we name physical things (well-developed) with how we name psychosocial things (poorly developed to date). If you are not at all familiar with the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements, start by reading this shorter account of the analogy.
Naming needs to be orderly and unambiguous for effective working, relating, managing and governing, just as much as for technical and scientific activities.
There are innumerable things around us that we can see, touch, eat and use. However, scientists concluded that they can all be reduced to a combination of a rather limited number of different chemical elements. The discovery of THEE indicates that the same principle applies to psychosocial things.
Click here to see the taxonomy that natural scientists discovered.
Let us start by looking at a non-specific list of physical things,
Copper Fat Chlorine Salt Chalk Oxygen Sap Glass Air Ink
Steam Sulphur DNA Water Alcohol Rubber Steam Mercury
Flour Ice Sugar Sand Wood Nitric acid Hydrochloric acid
Spirits of salts Plastic Polythene Caustic soda Oil Paint Chocolate
Uranium235 Uranium238 Syrup Brass
LIST-1 contains: ●pure elements ●compounds of elements
●mixtures of elements &/or compounds ●other things.
Some seem very different on simple observation: e.g. some are gaseous, some are liquid, some are solid—but we now know that this substantial sensory difference has no relation to their elemental nature: e.g. water, ice and steam are chemically identical (H2O).
Physical state may mislead an uninformed observer: e.g. mercury (Hg: an element) is a liquid like water (H2O: a compound), but it is classified as a metal.
The list also contains an entity with two different names: hydrochloric acid and spirits of salts are two names for the same thing.
Scientific inquiry has revealed other important differences: e.g. some things are organic and some are inorganic; two are varieties of the same element (i.e. isotopes).
The determination of chemical elements and their organization into the periodic table was the foundation of chemistry as a modern science. But the periodic table immediately generated puzzles and questions.
► why are there more columns as we go down the rows?
► why are some rows longer than others?
► why do elements in columns have similar properties?
► what causes the similarity and differences in properties?
Such questions are about something quite separate from the Table itself. Answering them led to major scientific advances. But even if no theory had been developed to this day, the objective validity of the Periodic Table would not alter.
Now consider a non-specific list of psychosocial things,
Prioritize Experience Join Inquire Envisage Feel Persuade
Decide Benefit Obey Dedicate Predict Compromise
Cooperate Organize Know Structure Commit Choose
See Intuit Learn Initiate Surrender Instruct Observe
Harmonize Represent Change Help Persevere Trigger
Look at LIST-2 and answer these questions:
► Which things are elemental and which are compound?
► Which things are so closely linked they must be part of a set?
► Which terms are duplicates: i.e. referring to the same entity?
Is it possible to give an answer? Could it be possible in principle?
The principal difference between the two lists is that in LIST-1 we feel more or less confident that we know, or at least somebody somewhere knows or can determine authoritatively, what is being referred to. Whereas in LIST-2, we may be unsure if what we are referring to by, say, envisage or surrender or think or decide, is precisely what someone else is referring to. There is nowhere and no-one to turn to for authoritative certainty. Dictionaries do not help because… they inform us of present usage; and also remind us that words are used in diverse ways and with meanings that evolve over time.
A formal Taxonomy can answer those questions, when it is developed in a rigorous and disciplined fashion. The THEE conjecture is that although there may be a rather large number of will-driven processes, just as there are very many chemical entities,
People instinctively reject authority in language. Would you want to subordinate yourself to rulings on everyday words like those in LIST-2? Not without good reason. No-one wants their thinking, spontaneity and creativity to be disrupted: and rightly so. But to reject THEE simply because it brings order would be to misunderstand its goal, and to deny that sometimes we need clarity, precision and consensus on terminology.
Not at all. The aim is to tie down elements-implicit-and-explicit-in-human-endeavour, or aspects of awareness. This can help us find a way to agree on what we are talking about, especially when we are doing something together or engaging in scientific research.
Any Taxonomy is primarily interested in things, not in words. Words may change, but no fundamental psychosocial category does, at least no more than do sulphur or hydrochloric acid. The names and even the formulae of physical substances have evolved over time. Why not? Words-as-names can and should be changed whenever necessary.
Making language clear and explicit is about devising a reliable and valid (i.e. scientific) tool for perceiving and communicating. Such a tool would be useful for certain situations e.g. projects that are complex, challenging, and involve many people. It would be irrelevant or unnecessary for others e.g. chatting over dinner.
Yes: in systematic (scientific) inquiry. Knowledge cannot advance by way of confusion. Curious inquirers can reasonably insist on assigning each evident entity a suitable unique name to permit precise reference to it subsequently. The challenge is to ensure sufficiently precise valid formulations so that all the names-cum-entities hang together in a consistent and coherent way. At present, only the THEE Online Project can claim to be directly addressing that challenge in the field of human action (endeavour).
Because precision interferes with habits and conventions, it must be demonstrated that benefit accrues in everyday situations. As an example, see how confusion around the term policy created difficulties in the work of a governing board.
Yes: clarity enables each of us to be maximally responsible, reflective, and autonomous. This is especially needed when dealing with officials, politicians or bosses whose unvoiced motto is "Please don't ask for clarity as a refusal may offend."
Once an entity is identified and named acceptably, then the next step is to clarify how that entity resembles and differs from other apparently similar or related entities. The equivalent in the physical world is to compare gold, brass and iron pyrites (fool's gold), all of which look yellowish and metallic. Comparisons help us sharpen our focus, and make recognition of our entity much easier.
The range of things and processes in human endeavours is rather large, so let us narrow our view now to a new list of terms within one domain:
Purpose Target Crusade Aim Goal Value End Vision
Belief Mission Priority Program Object Need Outcome
Mandate Tactic Ideal Plan Policy Role Campaign Growth
Function Directive Program Strategy Criterion Movement
These terms seem to belong broadly in one domain, that of THEE is not about pernickety definitions of terms. It is about … using precision as a pragmatic solution to pervasive confusions that disrupt progress, generate conflict and hostility, and block us achieving what we want.. But we must not go down LIST-3 and try to provide (i.e. impose) a different definition for each word. For a start, perhaps some of the terms are best regarded as synonyms.
In LIST-3 we do not want to focus on vocabulary, but rather on itself. Purposes undoubtedly exist concretely in our mind and in our social world. Our purposes, and those of others, affect us and we affect them. Each form of purpose also affects other forms. Language is the essential tool for referring to, grasping and shaping purpose in all its various important forms.
In THEE, is the formal name for: .
For every «named thing» found in the function. Function is a form of purpose that is the psychosocial equivalent of atomic number for chemical elements. To determine function, we must explore purposes in their natural state i.e. during activities., we need to know its distinct
We can do this by … carefully observing many social situations and associated statements where occurs. In doing so, we seek to identify significant differences associated with various purposive things such as those in . We can observe people and groups as they set and pursue their purposes at work, in organizations, or informally at home; and we can read various academic and philosophical texts that touch on the topic.
In exploring, we may note that there is one class of purpose that specifies preferences so as to affect the allocation of time, money or attention to current activities. What should we call it? Might «priority» be a suitable name? Or «criterion»?
Originally posted: August 2009; Last updated 15-Jan-2013.