The present day theories of `meaning' are extremely confused and difficult, ultimately hopeless, and probably harmful to the sanity of the human race. Of late in the United States some members of the progressive education movement have written much on `referents' and `operational' methods, in the abstract, based on verbalism. Let us consider some facts, and how the theories of referents and operational methods fit human evaluations. Here is, for instance, Smith1 who, through family, social, economic, political, etc., conditions has become `insane'. Smith1 finally, in ordinary parlance, kills Smith2. From a human point of view it is a very complex and tragic situation. Let us account for it in terms of referents and operations. The body and the heart of Smith2, the hand of Smith1, the knife, etc., are perfectly good referents. The grabbing of the knife by Smith1 and plunging it in the heart of Smith2, the falling down on the ground by Smith2 and the kicking of his legs are perfectly good operations. However, where is human evaluation? Where is concern with `sanity' and `insanity'? Here we deal with some of the deepest human and social tragedies which, in this case, involve not only the killing of Smith2 by Smith1, but the sick, unhappy, twisted life of Smith1, affecting all his life connections, and with which we must be concerned if we are to be human beings and different from apes.
Alfred Korzybski, 1941