back to the beginning: the limitations of language

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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Sun Mar 07, 2021 7:15 pm

The Private Language Argument
Richard Floyd explains a notorious example of Wittgenstein’s public thought.

What Does Wittgenstein Say?

First, let’s look at Wittgenstein’s direct discussion of the concept of a private language. Having been introduced at §243, private language does not appear again until §256, where Wittgenstein questions what it means to associate a word/sign with a sensation. How does this association take place? How does the association of a name with a sensation lead to that name actually meaning the sensation?


First, of course, we have to agree on the meaning of "sensations":

"Sensations are often ascribed particular properties: of being conscious and inner, of being more immediate than perception, and of being atomic. In epistemology sensations have been taken as infallible foundations of knowledge, in psychology as elementary constituents of perceptual experience." Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Got that?

Then, assuming that we can all agree on the appropriate definition, there's the part where we connect that to any particular sensation that we experience in regard to a particular word that we either hear or use given a particular set of circumstances.

That part of course is nowhere to be seen in this article. Let alone how a distinction might be made between the language that we share begetting sensations that can be communicated back and forth intelligibly and a "private language" begetting private sensations that cannot.

This addresses an issue which has been simmering since Wittgenstein first defined a private language by saying “the individual words of this language are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his immediate private sensations.” Does this mean that the entire vocabulary of the language must consist of words referring to the speaker’s private sensations? How then could such a language have any grammatical structure? There are other problems too. In §257 Wittgenstein claims that the private definition of words lacks the “stage-setting” necessary for language to be meaningful:

“When one says 'He gave a name to his sensation' one forgets that a great deal of stage-setting in the language is presupposed if the mere act of naming is to make sense. And when we speak of someone’s having given a name to pain, what is presupposed is the existence of the grammar of the word pain; it shews the post where the new word is stationed.”


On the other hand, I may well be misunderstanding the point he is making here. Still, aside from the purely personal reasons that someone might feel motivates them to create and then to sustain a "private language", this choice either will or will not spill over into their interactions with others. And that either will or will not cause conflicts.

And it is focusing in on social, political and economic conflicts in the is/ought world that is the main interest of me. What then of a "private language"?
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 iambiguous » Tue Mar 16, 2021 6:19 pm

The Private Language Argument
Richard Floyd explains a notorious example of Wittgenstein’s public thought.

Why does Wittgenstein put forward the concept of a private language and attempt to destroy it immediately? What service would I have done to biology if I were to propose a theory known as ‘Gigantic Toad Theory’, suggesting that some enormous toad existed at some point in prehistory – only to respond myself that there is absolutely no evidence for such an idea and that the entire theory appears to be unfounded nonsense?


Yep. That's basically my own reaction to a private definition and a private meaning for words used in a private language. Sure, if, for whatever personal reason, you choose to do this, either keep it to yourself or attempt to communicate it to others who accept your own subjective codes.

Only if and when this communication has practical implications for those not able to decode the exchange would it become more problematic.

My point instead is that in regard to communication that revolves around conflicting goods, a kind of "private language" can lead to all manner of dire consequences. Your definition and your meaning of freedom and justice revolve around women being able to abort their unborn babies/clumps of cells, while for others they revolve around the unborn being brought into this world.

There are many possible interpretations of Wittgenstein’s motives, and I should be clear about the fact that my interpretation is not the correct one, just one of many possibilities.

One possibility is that he wished to either defend or attack behaviourism.


This behaviorism?

"...the theory that human and animal behavior can be explained in terms of conditioning, without appeal to thoughts or feelings, and that psychological disorders are best treated by altering behavior patterns..."

Of course here language would seem to revolve around an amoral approach to human interactions. Being in a position of power to mold and manipulate -- condition -- human behaviors to serve your own wants and needs. Or the wants and the needs of "society". In that sense what you defend or attack can be seen as largely beside the point.

And language becomes "private" more in terms of "one of us" vs. "one of them".
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 iambiguous » Sat Mar 27, 2021 7:20 pm

Question of the Month
How Does Language Work?
The following answers to the question of linguistic meaning each win a random book.

The human vocal tract can make a wide range of sounds, which allows us to move beyond the grunts and shrieks of our primate cousins, at least some of the time. As many as fifty regions in the human brain are involved in language, controlling the complex movements needed to produce speech, translating vibrations in the air into neural activity in the brain to hear, and manipulating the symbols that make up the thoughts and ideas of our minds to reason. These adaptations of the individual are all necessary for full language use, but language isn’t much use to a solitary individual, and would never have arisen were we not a social species.


Clearly then the starting point in regard to any discussions of human language are the biological imperatives necessary to create the sounds we call words. It's like trying to imagine the "human condition" had there not been the mutations that led to opposable thumbs. Some things are [on a fundamental level] our genes all the way down. At least to begin with.

So, sans any particular birth defects, we all come into the world with the capacity to make those sounds that become words that are able to communicate the sort of information and knowledge that accounts for the existence of human history.

What's left then, after accepting this, is focusing in on all the reasons why, if this is the case, there are in the historical record so many instances of our "failure to communicate". Precipitating any number of conflicts up to and including world wars.

Sounds alone, of course, are not enough to create meaning, since a non-English speaker won’t understand the word ‘cat’ although they hear the sound. Language works by attaching a symbol e.g. ‘cat’ to the idea of a cat, which itself is produced by the reality to which it refers (i.e., a cat). When language doesn’t work, we can sometimes revert to pointing – say, at a cat. But this also requires shared intentionality, ie, a common recognition that the pointing is about something. This perhaps tells us something about the origins of language, and how language works at a very basic level. The small bands of hunter-gatherers who first developed language would have first pointed to animals and objects in their environment. But given that making physical movements in the line of sight of a predator is dangerous, it’s far better to represent that action with a sound that can be whispered, like “Lion!”

Jon Wainwright


Again, if you keep all of this philosophical "analysis" anchored to the either/or world -- cats and lions -- you can manage to communicate with a minimal amount of dysfunction. After all, these points will certainly seem reasonable to most of us. But if the discussion shifts to contexts that members of, say, Peta are more inclined to pursue -- how ought human beings treat other animals? -- you can whisper or shout your points all day long and the communication can continue to break down.

Why?

That's my own interest in language here.
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
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Re: back to the beginning: the limitations of language

Postby iambiguous » Mon Apr 05, 2021 5:18 pm

Question of the Month
How Does Language Work?
The following answers to the question of linguistic meaning each win a random book.

Ivan Trengrove, Victor Harbor, South Australia

Fish swim, birds fly, and people talk.


Talking however is only really useful to a species that has many different things to talk about. A species that thinks on a level far, far beyond fish and birds. Or even chimpanzees. While most species of animals are able to communicate with sounds, they don't invent philosophies to to talk about on the internet.

How do we display this talent for language? As Noam Chomsky argued, for language to work, there must be an innate biological linguistic capacity. We are born with a ‘universal grammar’ in our brains, which is the initial condition through which the grammars of specific languages arise, and which allows us to learn particular languages.


No doubt about it. Biological imperatives are the starting blocks. We only communicate as we do here because whatever is behind the biological evolution of life itself, has culminated in the human species here on planet Earth. But, again, biology is behind all species of animals. With our own however the communication becomes considerably more...problematic?

For example:

This is the prime mover for all language. There are many other essential components in how language works: phonetics, morphology, etymology, pragmatics, graphology, lexicography and semiotics, to name but a few.


But a few indeed. And that's because it's not only the technical aspect of language communication that explodes in complexity among our own species...but the actual subjects that we can talk about as well. The part where social, political and economic memes come into play. Anthropology, ethnography, sociology, psychology, political science, philosophy, ethics and on and on.

In other words, the part where communication begins to break down and distinctions can be made between objective truths and subjective opinions.
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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