The ladder of Abstraction as described by S.I. Hayakawa in "Language in Thought and Action"

It's gonna be a long election season and we will not only have to deal with the obscenity of war but the unpleasant sensation of politicians blowing smoke up our collective asses... the Ladder of Abstraction, developed by S.I. Hayakawa to explain the concepts of General Semantics Founder Alfred Korzybski. Korzybski's Science and Sanity looked at the difference between "insane" and "unsane" made clear the difference between the thing and the name of the thing ("the map is not the territory") and, while largely unreadable to most people, made possible modern thought from Hayakawa to Marshall McLuhan, Quantum physicists, and Matt Groening.

So here's the basic guide -- the ladder can be used to see the forest instead of one tree, or to send you into the forest when the press is asking about that one particular tree you sold to developers.

It is commonly used by politicians in such cases as when being asked "Why are you tapping the phones of Americans?" "For Security." "What do you mean by Security?" Democracy" and? "Freedom." Always going into larger and less definable concepts, saying words that are less and less able to ever be defined in real terms except by going DOWN the ladder to specifics.

Level Four: Abstractions
Examples: life, beauty, love, time, success, power, happiness, faith, hope, charity, evil, good.

Level Three: Noun classes: broad group names with little specification.
Examples: People, men, women, young people, everybody, nobody, industry, we, goals, things, television.

Level Two: Noun categories: more definite groups.
Examples: teen-agers, middle-class, clothing industry, parents, college campus, newborn child, TV comedies, house plants.

Level One: Specific, identifiable nouns.
Examples: Levi 501 jeans, my blue, three bedroom house on Hollis Street, In Living Color, Bud commercials, African violets, Tina's newborn sister, Mina.

Sample Abstraction Ladders:
Level Four society human endeavors economy
Level Three most people industries farm assets
Level Two spoiled child cosmetic company cattle
Level One my sister, Tracy Max Factor, Inc. Bessie, the cow

*Source of chart


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