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Explaining Naming

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.

ClosedClick here to see the taxonomy that natural scientists discovered.

Periodical Table of the Elements (standard pattern, coloured)

Physical Things and Psychosocial Things

Let us start by looking at a non-specific list of physical things,

LIST-1 contains: ●pure elements ●compounds of elements
●mixtures of elements &/or compounds ●other things.

Some seem very different on simple observation: e.g. Closed 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.Closed 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:Closed hydrochloric acid and spirits of salts are two names for the same thing.

Scientific inquiry has revealed other important differences: e.g.Closed 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.
ClosedExample puzzles:

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,

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?

ClosedWhat is the psychosocial difference between LIST-1 & LIST-2?

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,

Your (Potential) Objections

ClosedCan we really create order in people's use of words?

ClosedDoes the Taxonomy aim to tie down ordinary words?

ClosedHow does a Taxonomy deal with the way words change meanings?

ClosedIs clarity in communication always so desirable?

ClosedIs clarity in communication ever absolutely essential?

ClosedWhat is the practical justification for orderly naming?

ClosedIs there an ethical justification for orderly naming?

Making Names Useful

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:

These terms seem to belong broadly in one domain, that of purpose. 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. Remember: THEE is not about pernickety definitions of terms. It is about …Closed using precision as a pragmatic solution to pervasive confusions that disrupt progress, generate conflict and hostility, and block us achieving what we want.

In LIST-3 we do not want to focus on vocabulary, but rather on purpose 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, purpose is the formal name for: articulations of future states in order to help bring them about.

For every «named thing» found in the realm of purpose, we need to know its distinct 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 can do this by …Closed carefully observing many social situations and associated statements where purpose occurs. In doing so, we seek to identify significant differences associated with various purposive things such as those in LIST-3. 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.

All posted material is part of a scientific project and should be regarded as provisional. Visitors are encouraged to think through the topics and propositions for themselves. Copyright © Warren Kinston 2009-2016.
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