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The Word “Class”

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Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.
In the Western world, the word "Class" derives from Latin, Classicus ("group"). Yet, its original ancient concept was that of a ‘Characteristic' (whatever identifies individuality). Later, its purpose was as an ‘Umbrella' (or Canopy) word for a host of dissimilar ‘class-type' things-like the work products of elevated civilizations and cultures--products deemed to be Classic, Classics, or Classical. These offspring terms appeared suddenly, as if exploded out of those fireworks that burst into showers of stars. Although out of that burst flowed practical processes (e.g. Classifications), there was no specific evolving chronological "Class" history. So let us start the story with Servius Tullius, a 6th century BC king of Rome who subdivided the ancient Romans into six classes. The Classicus was any citizen belonging to the highest rank of taxpayers (and hence to the rich). They and others on the highest rung of the social ladder declared themselves to have "Class" in the abstract sense of a standard of value-a sense conveying the special commonality of the pursuit of money, possessions, recognition (if not fame), privilege, and power. Thus, to have "Class" was to possess high level purposes, attributes, and characteristics. But also they were seen as arrogant and having "a slight touch of snobbery." The earliest and most widespread use of the word "Class" probably began in the sense of a "group of pupils" and then to a division of pupils in a school-implying that a number of boys learned the same lesson in the same class. The terms ‘school class' and ‘classes' naturally followed.

Nevertheless, when Roman citizens were drafted into service, given a rank, and placed in some useful order, the military personnel were said to have "Class" compare to the populace-i.e. the Infra Classem (un-classed who, in fact, did represent a ‘Class'). The Infra Classem was a homogeneous totality of persons having one or more common characteristics-things like nativity or possibly age, occupation, and income commonalities. In this social status sense, the word Class was viewed as a neutral word-not itself denoting levels of quality or of rank. This means "Class" was used as a way of describing the position of different groups in society so that people would "know their place" on the totem pole of status. Membership in each class and the ranking of that class was based on the amount of land, and later, the money they held. This provided the modern application to social classes.

Meanwhile, initially "Intellect Class" depicted things in the world that formed natural groups-like the Tree Class of Plants. Such a group was a collection of any kind that is typically specified by giving a condition for belonging to those of like-kind. The similar things grouped together are called a Class. Each Class has distinct or defining features--as seen in cats, horses, and houses.  Since to arrange them in order means to classify, this process led to the Science of Classification which, in the Western world, is called Taxonomy (the classification of living things). Because a Class is those defining dimensions common to the separate things within it, to learn what those distinct or defining features are is the process of forming a Concept. Put another way, a Class is the totality of objects, individuals, events, or abstractions distinquished from others by some selected mark or marks. A Complementary Class (complement) is the collection of all things which do not belong to the original class. The important point here is to note the arrogance contained in ideas of ‘Class' as used by the ancient Romans. Just because a person or a group declare themselves to be the best does not make it so. Nor does it mean something is wrong with you simply because you are not included in their group. The basic questions to always ask: "What is your proof for superiority and how is that determination made-and by whom?"


 website: www.jablifeskills.com

Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D.

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