I’d like to bring the reader’s attention to the fact that the word ‘thing’, on its own, is descriptively prohibited, almost to the point of entering the realm of prescriptive laws.
We make do instead with words like “element,” “aspect,” “component,” “object,” and “quality.” Yet, taken out of context, such as herefore presented, don’t these words seem incredibly more abstract?
‘Thing,’ on the other hand, even if mentioned out of context, isn’t really so abstract to us, is it? It sort of just refers to anything we acknowledge.
Those other aforementioned words are so, as I claim, abstract because compared to ‘thing’, they only make sense in more specific contexts. An element is a like a component but will less of a building block connotation, an aspect is a way of seeing something or being, a component is like a part of something bigger, an object is a material thing like a cube (also referred to as thingamabob or thingamajig when it’s name is forgotten), and a quality is, roughly, a feeling or value or qualitative experience. ‘Thing’, however, was always meant to be an umbrella term for all of these definitions.
A ‘thing’ is…well…a thing! You can’t really say that of the other words. Or if that seems unsatisfying, what about agreeing that “a thing is something”. The taboo no longer stands in the case of ‘something’, so why fuss over ‘thing’?
But admittedly, if we have the context, then sure! Let’s be more specific. I’m all for synonyms and specificity. Many times, however, we don’t.
Thus, in the spirit of George Orwell, why beat around the bush and find all these other words and metaphors, arguably more bland, when we have the perfect word for cases in which we want to be general, for which we don’t want to waste time being specific so as not to perturb people’s attention from the main point?
The word ‘thing’ is readily available to us (no need for a thesaurus look-up), it’s easy and we all have a good grasp of what it refers to (i.e. anything…anything). So why not defend the word ‘thing’ like we defend the word ‘said’ in literature?
“Let’s bring ‘thing’ back in, please, and relieve it of the stigma.” said Thomas.
To extend my inquiry, why don’t we see ‘thing’ being used in scientific studies where using it would probably make the most sense?
“Mental states”….”Cognitive processes”…nobody really knows what we’re talking about here. Or at least, no philosopher has put their foot down and decided on the correct term yet. So why not call them “mental THINGS” instead of sparking ontological, epistemological and terminological questions regarding what’s a state, and what’s a process, and what’s a state as opposed to a process when we don’t even know exactly what it is we’re working with? Let’s stick to ‘thing’ and move on, shall we? Why confuse ourselves, positing different entities, different symbols, different signs, all with different senses for the same referent? If we don’t know what ‘the cognitive’ is (the referent), if it is so elusive, then let us remain general when referring to it.
Let’s call it a thing and then from there move on to the more important part: explaining what type of thing it is or what it is most likely to be. If we speak of states and processes instead, then we might be moved to explain the mental in terms of the models we have of ‘states’ and ‘processes’, which would be a mistake.
Someone might argue, however, that using the word ‘mental’ is also in itself deceiving.
“And what if what I’m referring to is not a ‘thing’ at all?”
To this I say, “Then why speak of it at all?”