Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

The meaning of a word

March 7, 2009

Wittgenstein and Joe are walking along a quiet road when they see  a railway crossing, about 20 metres away.

They also see a sign and slow down the pace of their walk. The sign says “Achtung.”

Joe cautiously stops and asks, “What does that sign mean?”

Wittgenstein, continuing to walk ahead of Joe, replies “The meaning of that sign is its use in language.” He proceeds to walk onto the crossing when, unexpectedly, a train steams by and cuts Wittgenstein from the face of the earth.

The moral of the story: The meaning of abstract-minded (AKA absent-minded) philosophy is not its use in life. Its only use is for Occam’s Razor.

What are languages for?

January 17, 2009

Santi Tafarella writes:

I agree with the philosopher Richard Rorty that languages are tools.

And in the context to which these tools are applied, their value—including their truth value—can then be judged.

You fly airplanes with scientific language, and you fly romances with poetic language. You recite Dawkins to biology students, and Shakespeare to your girlfriend or boyfriend.

Both languages are vehicles for certain kinds of truths.

That is only part of the truth. Language is not just there for me to use it – what a sickening utilitarian reductionism! Do not treat Pragmatism as an idol!

Taken from another perspective, language is there to impress and awe us. It can be there to save us, warn us of danger. It uses us as much as we use it; our very thought and interaction with others is shaped by it. Language exists before we do!  Teleologies of language can be constructed as coming from various different directions and meeting multiple end points. Why presume that we are the controlling party when it comes to our relation to language?

What myopic, unsupportable foundational assumptions is the bigoted analystician (Rorty) unwilling to declare in regards to language? We must always ask this of analytic philosophers as they are such a dishonest and pretentious mob.

What’s all this about language?

December 20, 2008

There are two views of language.

The first, the more popular, is that language is a mostly-transparent screen through which meaning flows, largely without issue. Meaning is overwhelmingly more important than the screen in this view, although we can investigate the screen in order to appreciate it and adapt it so that meaning flows more freely.

The second view places much more emphasis on language, often to the detriment of meaning. The screen is much more opaque and complicated; at times it is a labyrinth. Meaning has much more difficulty flowing through this screen and indeed can be lost for all time, as the screen continually contorts itself in new directions. This is the view of many Postmodernist philosophers.

Which view is more ‘correct’?

Neither view can be said to be completely correct, but the first is more pragmatic and ‘commonsense’.

But Postmodernists reject ‘commonsense’ in their language of language. Is their incredulous perspective worth listening to? Absolutely, they offer an interesting perspective with important ethical implications. (I would argue that the ethics can be separated from the conceptual framework and that the former is far more important). But theirs is only a perspective and a contrived one at that. One can easily become suspicious and think they are only out to glorify themselves through being ‘innovators’*, and Sophist-like argumentation that makes them look more clever than others. Certainly, we see this dimension in zealous, post-graduate deconstructionists. However, the more serious criticism is they tend to downplay and obfuscate meaning for the mere sake of argument, which I believe is downright unethical.

*this innovation may be motivated by Oepidal factors