back to the beginning: the limitations of language

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back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sun Apr 24, 2011 9:35 pm

From Bryan Magee's Confessions of a Philosopher:

...all that language can do is to indicate with the utmost generality and in the broadest and crudest of terms what it is that I see. Even something as simple and everyday as the sight of a towel dropped on the bathroom floor is inaccessable to language----and inaccessable to it from many points of view at the same time: no words to describe the shape it has fallen into, no words to describe the degrees of shading in its coliurs, no words to describe the differentials of shadow in its folds....I see all these things at once with great precision...with clarity and certainty, and in all of their complexity. I possess them all wholey and surely in direct experience, and yet I would be totally unable...to put that experience in words. It is emphatically not the case, then, that 'the world is the world as we describe it', or that I 'experience it through linguistic catagories that help to shape the experiences themselves' or that my 'main way of dividing things up is in language' or that my 'concept of reality is a matter of our linguistic categories'.

Imagine applying the phrases just quoted to the experience I have when eating my dinner! Eating, like seeing, is part of our most elemental, everyday contact with the world of matter, even more necessary to our survival than seeing. I distinguish instantly, effortlessly, and pleasurably between the taste of meat, the taste of potatoes, the taste of each vegtable, the taste of ice cream, the taste of wine. What is more, I distinguish instantly and effortelessly between different kinds of meat..potatoes etc. Can there be anyone who seriously maintains that the categories in which these experiences come to me are linguistic, or that my main way of distinguishing between them is linguistic? Is there anyone who can put these experineces into words after he has had them---who can describe the taste of boiled potato, of lamb, of parsnip, in such a way that anyone who had not tasted those things would know from the descriptions what each of them tasted like?

We can...run through all the other senses in the same way. I know the individual voices of my friends, and recognize most of them on the telephone after only a couple of words, but the categories in which I distinguish them are not linguistic, and it is beyond the possibilites of language to put the separate character of each and every one of them into words. This is illustrated by the fact that there is no way I could describe them to you that would enable you to identify them all immediately yourself. The plain fact is that none of our direct experiences can be adequately put into words. And this is true not only of our sensory experiences of the external world. Going on inside me all the time is a complex and dynamic flow of ever-changing awareness, mood, response, reaction, feeling, emotional tone, perception of connections and differences, back references, side references, with flickering thoughts and glimpses and half-memories darting in and out of the various interweaving strands, all flowing endlessly on in some richly reverberating echo chamber of resonance and connotation and implication. I might be able to imagine this being translated into some kind of orchestral music but certainly not into worsds. Just as in the case of our outer experiences, even the most incisive and vivid of our private experiences are unverbalizable. Who can describe an orgasm? Or our response to a great work of art? Or the special quality of terror in a nightmare?

Try telling someone a piece of music.



We use words all the time---as though on automatic pilot. We go into a bank, a grocery store, a day care center, a conference room and the words come out with little or no self-conscious effort. We have internalized the experiences such that the words we use are easily translated back and forth in our routine interactions.

But what happens when the experience is not routine? You walk into a used car lot and begin negociating with the salesperson over the price you will pay for a car. You've done your homework and think you know how to "handle it." But here, of course, you are almost always at a distinct disadvantage because the salesperson has all the inside dope on the car and, even more critically, s/he does this every day while you only purchase a car every few years. There is no ideal or objective or essential manner in which the exchange of words ought to unfold. There is only how it does unfold. And if you were to try to tell someone how the experience unfolded you would, at best, only have the words to encompass your own understanding of it.

It is, in fact, in this rather mundane context that I have to grin and bear it when particular moral philosophers actually imagine [in a Kantian or Randian sense] that "a rational human mind" can, indeed, encompass, a priori, deductions such that they can use them "on principle" to construct a moral or aesthetic edifice that then permits them, in turn, to imagine they can go out into the the world and distingusih Universal Right from Universal Wrong behaviors.

Imagine, for example, abortion is made unconstitutional. It is now a capital crime to either perform or obtain one. Mary and Joe are having a conversation about it. Lots and lots of words go back and forth. Mary is pregnant and wants an abortion. Joe impregnated her and thinks abortion is unethical. Joe, of course, is biologically exempt from ever having to endure the horrific ordeal of being forced to give birth. But he goes on and on and on stringing words together in what he believes to be a logically impeccable manner. He cites Kant and the categorical imperative and deontology and ethical obligations that are "universally applicable". But he just can't seem to understand, given the rational manner in which he encompases the situation, why Mary doesn't seem to "get it".

Alas, the logic of language and the language of logic do not get many things.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby WW_III_ANGRY » Mon Apr 25, 2011 4:00 pm

This gripe it seems you have with the language of logic and a priori knowledge aren't very well critiqued by Bryan Magee's piece, as a priori concepts aren't physical entities to begin with thus, comparing them to describing a physical entity (parsnips, towels) in terms of words really falls short of critiquing a priori knowledge.

For example:

1 + 1 = 2.

Two being a priori knowledge of what understanding the concept of "1" and "+" being which is identified by the symbol (language) of two. However the apriori knowledge here is not invalid because it is indescribable or it falls short due to some reason.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Mon Apr 25, 2011 5:25 pm

..all that language can do is to indicate with the utmost generality and in the broadest and crudest of terms what it is that I see. Even something as simple and everyday as the sight of a towel dropped on the bathroom floor is inaccessable to language----and inaccessable to it from many points of view at the same time: no words to describe the shape it has fallen into, no words to describe the degrees of shading in its coliurs, no words to describe the differentials of shadow in its folds....I see all these things at once with great precision...with clarity and certainty, and in all of their complexity. I possess them all wholey and surely in direct experience, and yet I would be totally unable...to put that experience in words. It is emphatically not the case, then, that 'the world is the world as we describe it', or that I 'experience it through linguistic catagories that help to shape the experiences themselves' or that my 'main way of dividing things up is in language' or that my 'concept of reality is a matter of our linguistic categories'.


This is utter crap. An insult. It's nohing like precise to say we see this with great precision - what does that mean? How great is great? What does it mean to say we "possess" this "wholely and surely"? We are not totally unable to describe this. Nor do we have any great need to.

Magee is a frantic little girl.

Language has limits. I think Magee should maybe just get the fuck over himself and get on with his meal.

The plain fact is that none of our direct experiences can be adequately put into words.


Just what is "adequate"? maybe if he stopped with the wild hyperbole he'd have better luck. It's at once ironic and expected that someone who uses language so poorly thinks it to be so inadequate. I think his best bet is to get back on the anti-anxiety meds.

But what happens when the experience is not routine? You walk into a used car lot and begin negociating with the salesperson over the price you will pay for a car. You've done your homework and think you know how to "handle it." But here, of course, you are almost always at a distinct disadvantage because the salesperson has all the inside dope on the car and, even more critically, s/he does this every day while you only purchase a car every few years. There is no ideal or objective or essential manner in which the exchange of words ought to unfold. There is only how it does unfold. And if you were to try to tell someone how the experience unfolded you would, at best, only have the words to encompass your own understanding of it.


This is true if you're just not good at negotiating. And yes, we have words only for our understanding of it. What more should we expect?

Imagine, for example, abortion is made unconstitutional. It is now a capital crime to either perform or obtain one. Mary and Joe are having a conversation about it. Lots and lots of words go back and forth. Mary is pregnant and wants an abortion. Joe impregnated her and thinks abortion is unethical. Joe, of course, is biologically exempt from ever having to endure the horrific ordeal of being forced to give birth. But he goes on and on and on stringing words together in what he believes to be a logically impeccable manner. He cites Kant and the categorical imperative and deontology and ethical obligations that are "universally applicable". But he just can't seem to understand, given the rational manner in which he encompases the situation, why Mary doesn't seem to "get it".

Alas, the logic of language and the language of logic do not get many things.


They get what they are designed to get. It's not the fault of language or logic that it can't reinvent the universe.

Maybe you should just stop talking to Kantians.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Mon Apr 25, 2011 5:51 pm

WW_III_ANGRY wrote:This gripe it seems you have with the language of logic and a priori knowledge aren't very well critiqued by Bryan Magee's piece, as a priori concepts aren't physical entities to begin with thus, comparing them to describing a physical entity (parsnips, towels) in terms of words really falls short of critiquing a priori knowledge.

For example:

1 + 1 = 2.

Two being a priori knowledge of what understanding the concept of "1" and "+" being which is identified by the symbol (language) of two. However the apriori knowledge here is not invalid because it is indescribable or it falls short due to some reason.


It's not a gripe about language so much as a gripe about those who refuse to recognize the limitations of language [and the limitations of a priori knowledge] in the resolution of conflicting value judgments. I'm always fishing for arguments that might lessen the limitations.

After all, don't some folks approach value judgments as though even here 1 + 1 = 2?

The way most discussions unfold however is the manner in which you have been debating the truthers regarding WTC7. There is what actually happened to the building and there is the manner in which 9/11 is viewed as a moral/political/religious issue. What can in fact be known for certain and what is known for certain only because knowing it one way rather than another reinforces your own value judgments?
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Mon Apr 25, 2011 6:09 pm

Faust wrote: [Language and logic] get what they are designed to get. It's not the fault of language or logic that it can't reinvent the universe.

Maybe you should just stop talking to Kantians.


Isn't it always the Kantians [the deontologists, the objectivists, the realists, the rationalists etc.] I aim my arguments toward? Isn't that the point of my existential agenda---to expose the inherent limitations of their arguments by prompting them to expose the inherent limitations of mine?

You don't get me at all. But I don't doubt that you think you do.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Amorphos » Mon Apr 25, 2011 6:13 pm

Between language and that it attempts to describe is a more fundamental layer of mind, this holistic thinking is what we mainly think with. So when a man who speaks another language picks up a rock and say in his language, ‘this is a rock’, I may get the ‘idea’ but I may not I could think he is threatening to hit me with it. I think the same applies when we do understand the language, but we still have a similar problem of interpretation, in fact we may get this within our own minds ~ sometimes we think something then say something different.

There has to be a percentage resolution to this in all cases, otherwise we would not even be able to communicate with ourselves. Mostly we think in terms of images [even if not visualised/coloured] and ideas and there only needs to be a medium by which matching images may be conveyed by worded language or such.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby WW_III_ANGRY » Mon Apr 25, 2011 6:43 pm

iambiguous wrote:
WW_III_ANGRY wrote:This gripe it seems you have with the language of logic and a priori knowledge aren't very well critiqued by Bryan Magee's piece, as a priori concepts aren't physical entities to begin with thus, comparing them to describing a physical entity (parsnips, towels) in terms of words really falls short of critiquing a priori knowledge.

For example:

1 + 1 = 2.

Two being a priori knowledge of what understanding the concept of "1" and "+" being which is identified by the symbol (language) of two. However the apriori knowledge here is not invalid because it is indescribable or it falls short due to some reason.


It's not a gripe about language so much as a gripe about those who refuse to recognize the limitations of language [and the limitations of a priori knowledge] in the resolution of conflicting value judgments. I'm always fishing for arguments that might lessen the limitations.

After all, don't some folks approach value judgments as though even here 1 + 1 = 2?

The way most discussions unfold however is the manner in which you have been debating the truthers regarding WTC7. There is what actually happened to the building and there is the manner in which 9/11 is viewed as a moral/political/religious issue. What can in fact be known for certain and what is known for certain only because knowing it one way rather than another reinforces your own value judgments?


Yes I too have a gripe against utilizing value judgements as the truth as you do. I didn't get that from your OP however, but we're on the same side there.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Faust » Mon Apr 25, 2011 9:01 pm

iam - what I am saying is that Magee's is a piss poor argument. All this wailing and gnashing of teeth. It's typical of the politician. It's exactly what you argue against. Magee paints language and its ability to describe the world as an all-or-nothing proposition, which it is not.

.all that language can do is to indicate with the utmost generality and in the broadest and crudest of terms what it is that I see.


Utmost? Really? Utmost? The crudest of terms? What terms would be less crude?

Even something as simple and everyday as the sight of a towel dropped on the bathroom floor is inaccessable to language


Inaccessible?

It's just little-girl hyperbole. It's propaganda for....something. It's horrible philosophy.

The fact is that it's impossible to be thoroughly Kantian and coherent at the same time. You give Kantians too much credit. Joe may believe he is being logical, but he's not - not if he's using Kant as his basis. The simple fact is that you can attack Kant's logic, and you will always win, if you're good enough.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Only_Humean » Mon Apr 25, 2011 9:20 pm

iambiguous wrote:Isn't it always the Kantians [the deontologists, the objectivists, the realists, the rationalists etc.] I aim my arguments toward? Isn't that the point of my existential agenda---to expose the inherent limitations of their arguments by prompting them to expose the inherent limitations of mine?


Are you using the Magee quote to support your arguments? Your worldview seems to be at base Kantian, from where I'm reading it. There's something Beyond, some formthingsinthemselves that our language scrabbles inadequately to capture, leaving us flailing about trying to reach the most primitive of understandings with each other, and only managing when we're at our most cliched and unthinking. The difference between this view and Kant's being that he thought he'd sorted it all out, whereas the existentialist gives up before even trying to. But it's all predicated on confusion about what language is, in the first place.

As for the abortion debate, that's a matter of core values, not a problem with language. Logic is a tool for finding those value differences, not a helpless pawn in the power struggle.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby anon » Mon Apr 25, 2011 9:37 pm

I guess I don't really understand what this thread is about. That language doesn't do justice to my experience seems pretty uncontroversial. That some people are better at describing their experience than others also seems pretty uncontroversial. What does Kant have to do with anything?
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby statiktech » Mon Apr 25, 2011 10:01 pm

anon wrote:I guess I don't really understand what this thread is about. That language doesn't do justice to my experience seems pretty uncontroversial. That some people are better at describing their experience than others also seems pretty uncontroversial. What does Kant have to do with anything?


The proposal of a 'noumenal' realm, or something of the sort. In other words, language is only able to capture so much, and, in turn, our descriptions will not be of things in their totality [but, rather, how we perceive them]. Kant said noumena are inherently unknowable for that reason -- language can't capture what we can never obtain or understand. So, descriptions can only get so good before they hit a wall.

On the other hand, we've got folks who say the descriptions do capture things as they truly are, but are limited by understanding. The more we understand, the more we might perceive and eventually 'know'. There is no inherent wall, so to speak. The limits to our understanding come from our methods and not the object itself.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby anon » Mon Apr 25, 2011 10:08 pm

statiktech wrote:
anon wrote:I guess I don't really understand what this thread is about. That language doesn't do justice to my experience seems pretty uncontroversial. That some people are better at describing their experience than others also seems pretty uncontroversial. What does Kant have to do with anything?


The proposal of a 'noumenal' realm, or something of the sort. In other words, language is only able to capture so much, and, in turn, our descriptions will not be of things in their totality [but, rather, how we perceive them]. The difference is that Kant said that noumena are inherently unknowable for that reason -- language can't capture what we can never obtain or understand. So, descriptions can only get so good before they hit a wall.

On the other hand, we've got folks who say the descriptions do capture things as they truly are, but are limited by understanding. The more we understand, the more we might perceive and eventually 'know'. There is no inherent wall, so to speak. The limits of our understanding is in our methods and not the object itself.

But is Iambiguous talking about a noumenal realm? I thought he was talking about experience.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby statiktech » Mon Apr 25, 2011 10:16 pm

Not by name, but something of the sort, as O_H pointed out.

It's just another way of saying it is impossible for us to capture what is truly being experienced. We falsify experiences through language, in a sense. Thus, we never capture the experience in language [experience is "inaccessible" to language]. We just make arbitrary designations for the pieces/parts that we happen to notice.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby anon » Mon Apr 25, 2011 11:31 pm

I agree that experience can't be captured in words. But it's not all or nothing. Some people are great with words. But some people live in their heads - they think the sky is blue and shadows are black.

I still don't understand what this is about.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Only_Humean » Tue Apr 26, 2011 8:29 am

anon wrote:I agree that experience can't be captured in words. But it's not all or nothing. Some people are great with words. But some people live in their heads - they think the sky is blue and shadows are black.

I still don't understand what this is about.


My take on it is that it's about whether it's all or nothing. Which you've answered.

Language captures the aspects of experience that we've agreed we can share. It's not a profound source of information tapping into the fabric of reality and nature itself, or machine code for the brain; that train of thought seems to be predominantly reserved for small children, magical thinkers and philosophy professors. Most of whom end up disillusioned at some point.

To go to the first paragraph of the OP: "the towel is on the bathroom floor" is a perfectly accessible way of describing things. A two-year-old can access that. If his point is merely that the strongest version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is lacking, that's fairly uncontested these days - that's the all-or-nothing argument the other way.

But "no words to describe the shape it has fallen into, no words to describe the degrees of shading in its coliurs, no words to describe the differentials of shadow in its folds..." is clearly, patently, completely false. I'm not wondrously gifted at languages, but I could describe degrees of colour shading in at least four languages; anyone with a basic vocabulary can. "Who can describe an orgasm?" Mr Magee needs to start Googling the seedier side of internet fan fiction. :P

It's a false dichotomy - either everything we experience is defined by language, or nothing can be. Language is (among other things) the way we share our experiences. It already rests on the assumption that the experiences themselves, and the contexts in which we experience and describe them, are common. It defines a few basic points of contact, adds a lot of refining detail, and we go from there.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby anon » Tue Apr 26, 2011 12:44 pm

Only_Humean wrote:
anon wrote:I agree that experience can't be captured in words. But it's not all or nothing. Some people are great with words. But some people live in their heads - they think the sky is blue and shadows are black.

I still don't understand what this is about.


My take on it is that it's about whether it's all or nothing. Which you've answered.

Language captures the aspects of experience that we've agreed we can share. It's not a profound source of information tapping into the fabric of reality and nature itself, or machine code for the brain; that train of thought seems to be predominantly reserved for small children, magical thinkers and philosophy professors. Most of whom end up disillusioned at some point.

To go to the first paragraph of the OP: "the towel is on the bathroom floor" is a perfectly accessible way of describing things. A two-year-old can access that. If his point is merely that the strongest version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is lacking, that's fairly uncontested these days - that's the all-or-nothing argument the other way.

But "no words to describe the shape it has fallen into, no words to describe the degrees of shading in its coliurs, no words to describe the differentials of shadow in its folds..." is clearly, patently, completely false. I'm not wondrously gifted at languages, but I could describe degrees of colour shading in at least four languages; anyone with a basic vocabulary can. "Who can describe an orgasm?" Mr Magee needs to start Googling the seedier side of internet fan fiction. :P

It's a false dichotomy - either everything we experience is defined by language, or nothing can be. Language is (among other things) the way we share our experiences. It already rests on the assumption that the experiences themselves, and the contexts in which we experience and describe them, are common. It defines a few basic points of contact, adds a lot of refining detail, and we go from there.

Ok, I'm with you except for your second to last paragraph. The towel on the bathroom floor is a good example to use actually. Of course there are words to describe various aspects of how the towel looks - there are words we can use for all the particulars of how it folds over itself and heaps up and the variety of colors, of light and shadow, that together make up this object. And there are poetic descriptions that might do some justice to the overall experience of seeing a towel on the bathroom floor. The poetic description likely conveys too much even, if the point is to see the towel in its mundaneness - the way an ordinary person sees it, without investing it with any significance. But good luck describing the towel in such a way that I can actually picture exactly how a particular towel sits on the floor. That's what pictures are for. Practically speaking, words are insufficient to certain tasks.

A towel on the floor, an orgasm... I don't believe you can describe these things, in words, to someone who has never experienced them. Words are memory triggers. Or we can construct simulacra using memories as ingredients, as dreams are constructed. I think many people take the power of words so much for granted that they fail to really attend to direct experience. Isn't that the power of some poets? That they cut through conceptual mind by presenting familiar things in fresh and strange ways? Many poets and artists have been guided by the belief that it is better to see things "as a child". A philosophy like that isn't about hidden worlds - it's about seeing this very world, again, but as if for the first time.

Apologies to Iambiguous, but I don't know anything about his philosophical views. And I've never heard of Magee before. Maybe people who know them better know something I don't know. But I don't see how Kant or noumenal realms or Beyond has anything to do with the difference between words and direct experience. Except that it is beyond the ability of words to replicate direct experience.

People can describe things with more or less success, depending on their skills. But there is a real difference between direct experience and description of experience. There's an ILP member who presented an idea on time travel, here. He says if you can create the illusion of time travel, then you have traveled in time. I think that's bonkers. People can create that illusion with more or less success, depending on their skills, but there is a real difference between the illusion of time travel and actual time travel.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby statiktech » Tue Apr 26, 2011 3:51 pm

A towel on the floor, an orgasm... I don't believe you can describe these things, in words, to someone who has never experienced them. Words are memory triggers.


Words are also conceptual references. Sometimes it is a matter of how well someone can relate to what you're saying. The description may not evoke an exact representation, but what description does? The audience can take pieces/parts of their own experiences and formulate them into some new concept, which is a representation that will be refined as more information is gathered.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby WW_III_ANGRY » Tue Apr 26, 2011 4:04 pm

There are things people don't utilize when even looking at certain objects that are differentiated, remembered, or even recognized about objects. Seeing an object isn't seeing the object in all its glory so to speak, as well.
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Tue Apr 26, 2011 5:41 pm

Only_Humean wrote:
iambiguous wrote:Isn't it always the Kantians [the deontologists, the objectivists, the realists, the rationalists etc.] I aim my arguments toward? Isn't that the point of my existential agenda---to expose the inherent limitations of their arguments by prompting them to expose the inherent limitations of mine?


Are you using the Magee quote to support your arguments? Your worldview seems to be at base Kantian, from where I'm reading it. There's something Beyond, some formthingsinthemselves that our language scrabbles inadequately to capture, leaving us flailing about trying to reach the most primitive of understandings with each other, and only managing when we're at our most cliched and unthinking. The difference between this view and Kant's being that he thought he'd sorted it all out, whereas the existentialist gives up before even trying to. But it's all predicated on confusion about what language is, in the first place.


I'm using Magee only to point out the obvious: that in many respects---some mundane, some momentous---language is of limited use and value in expressing or encompassing our experiences to others.

Not only that but for those who embrace one or another objectivist/essentialist point of view about human interaction, words can become quite dangerous when others are expected to take literally what we describe with them.

Only_Humean wrote:As for the abortion debate, that's a matter of core values, not a problem with language. Logic is a tool for finding those value differences, not a helpless pawn in the power struggle.


How does one discuss "core values" that come into conflict without the extensive use of language? And, in particular, regarding those who insist the words they use are the words others must in turn use if they are to be deemed rational.

My point is that such descriptions are largely embedded in dasein and that dasein is largely embedded in ever evolving [and thus changing] historical, cultural and experiential contexts. That is what language conveys here, not the logic needed to determine what can be known about the relationship between abortion and...justice?
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

Start here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=176529
Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
And here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=194382
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Only_Humean » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:22 pm

anon wrote:Ok, I'm with you except for your second to last paragraph. The towel on the bathroom floor is a good example to use actually. Of course there are words to describe various aspects of how the towel looks - there are words we can use for all the particulars of how it folds over itself and heaps up and the variety of colors, of light and shadow, that together make up this object. And there are poetic descriptions that might do some justice to the overall experience of seeing a towel on the bathroom floor. The poetic description likely conveys too much even, if the point is to see the towel in its mundaneness - the way an ordinary person sees it, without investing it with any significance. But good luck describing the towel in such a way that I can actually picture exactly how a particular towel sits on the floor. That's what pictures are for. Practically speaking, words are insufficient to certain tasks.

A towel on the floor, an orgasm... I don't believe you can describe these things, in words, to someone who has never experienced them. Words are memory triggers. Or we can construct simulacra using memories as ingredients, as dreams are constructed.


Right, language is not experience. I could find a mathematical manifold that described the towel shape perfectly, and yet the description is not the thing. But it is the description. Saying all descriptions are inadequate as descriptions because they're not the thing they're describing is misleading, they're adequate (or not) as descriptions. A map can be adequate as a map, but it can´t tell you the view perfectly, and there are never any trees growing on it. All descriptions need references, so you can't describe sight to a blind man. As I say, it's not all or nothing, either way.

Regarding the second point - Just as language isn't experience, memory isn't experience either. Can you remember perfectly how a towel on the floor looks, or an orgasm feels? This is where experience gets shaped by the concepts you work with, of which language is an important part. Experience and language can both evoke memories.

iambiguous wrote:Not only that but for those who embrace one or another objectivist/essentialist point of view about human interaction, words can become quite dangerous when others are expected to take literally what we describe with them.


Could you explain what you mean by this?

Only_Humean wrote:As for the abortion debate, that's a matter of core values, not a problem with language. Logic is a tool for finding those value differences, not a helpless pawn in the power struggle.

How does one discuss "core values" that come into conflict without the extensive use of language? And, in particular, regarding those who insist the words they use are the words others must in turn use if they are to be deemed rational.


You explain to them why you disagree with their choice of words. You're on to political and not philosophical problems. Philosophy can't force anyone to listen to you; it's also no help if they attack you, or if you have to change a flat tyre on a rainy night.

My point is that such descriptions are largely embedded in dasein and that dasein is largely embedded in ever evolving [and thus changing] historical, cultural and experiential contexts. That is what language conveys here, not the logic needed to determine what can be known about the relationship between abortion and...justice?


If you agree on values, you can use logic to argue for the working-out of those values to practice. If you disagree on values, you generally have to use other methods to find compromise, tolerance or domination. They're overwhelmingly methods with language, though. I still don't see any fundamental problem with language.

Could you explain how you think logic could tell us about the relationship between abortion and justice?
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby anon » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:29 pm

I'm convinced we're all discussing different things here. :-k
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Only_Humean » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:49 pm

anon wrote:I'm convinced we're all discussing different things here. :-k


At least we're staying on topic by doing so :)
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby anon » Tue Apr 26, 2011 9:52 pm

Only_Humean wrote:
anon wrote:I'm convinced we're all discussing different things here. :-k


At least we're staying on topic by doing so :)

True! :lol:
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby Amorphos » Tue Apr 26, 2011 11:28 pm

What if we do understand everything perfectly, but the process of linguistification [for want of a better term] or making meanings into words and other informations, is itself flawed. …and it is flawed because things cannot be truly represented by language.

What is it you don’t understand about these simple words ~ that you may attribute different meaning, yet you may not, you could understand them perfectly. Same goes for the outside world, you wouldn’t say a computer with a camera cannot ‘see’ the world, you may at most say it has limited resolution, but one day computers wont have. The brain is a vary good computer, at most we may be limited by its instrumentation, but once you have the idea of a box you know it’s a box.

We are talking resolvable limits.
The truth is naked,
Once it is written it is lost.
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the fully painted picture, reveals an empty canvas
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sat Apr 30, 2011 2:56 am

quetzalcoatl wrote:What if we do understand everything perfectly, but the process of linguistification [for want of a better term] or making meanings into words and other informations, is itself flawed. …and it is flawed because things cannot be truly represented by language.

What is it you don’t understand about these simple words ~ that you may attribute different meaning, yet you may not, you could understand them perfectly. Same goes for the outside world, you wouldn’t say a computer with a camera cannot ‘see’ the world, you may at most say it has limited resolution, but one day computers wont have. The brain is a vary good computer, at most we may be limited by its instrumentation, but once you have the idea of a box you know it’s a box.

We are talking resolvable limits.


Language of course is an essential component in philosopical discussions. It does not, however, mean it can encomapass as true anything it wishes to. Any more than it can resolve every conflicting understanding of what is alleged to be moral.

Suppose, for example, a Marxist and an Objectivist are discussing the nature of human freedom and moral justice. They all use exactly the same words. Yet they understand the meaning of those words in very different ways.

Or I can say, "the monkey wasn't hanging from the pig's entrails until the President shot the purple moose on the holiest Wednesday of the Venusian lunar calendar". Now, you can go to any dictionary and look those words up. They all exist, right? But, put in that particular sequence they are gibberish.

Or someone can say, "aborting a human fetus is immoral". You can look all those words up too. It's not gibberish. But: is it logical? is it an epistemologically sound argument?
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

Start here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=176529
Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
And here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=194382
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