To What Extent Does The Nature Of

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To What Extent Does The Nature Of Language Illuminate Our Understanding Of TheRelation Between Knowledge Of Ourselves And Knowledge Of Others? Essay, Research Paper To What Extent Does the Nature of Language Illuminate Our Understanding of the Relation Between Knowledge of Ourselves and Knowledge of Others? More than any other thing, the use of language sets humankind apart from the remainder of the animal kingdom. There is some debate as to where the actual boundary between language and communication should be drawn, however there seems to be no debate as to the nature of Language, which is to communicate, using abstract symbols, the workings of one mind to one or more others with a relatively high degree of accuracy. It could perhaps be said that we are all capable of

expressing or representing our thoughts in a manner that is only meaningful to ourselves. Wittgenstein says that ?..a wheel that can be turned though nothing else moves with it is not part of the mechanism.?1 The idea of a uniquely personal language is not relevant here and so will not be discussed further. Language is a system of symbols which represent thoughts, perceptions and a multitude of other mental events. Although the meaning of a given word or expression is by no means fixed, there is a sufficiently high degree of consensus in most cases to ensure that our thoughts are to a great extent communicable. This essay will concentrate on two aspects of language. Firstly that it gives our own thoughts and those of others a certain degree of portability and secondly that

because it has a firm (though not rigid) set of rules governing the relationships between symbols it allows what would otherwise be internal concepts that could not be generalised, to be made explicit, examined in detail and compared. If we did not have language we would be able to surmise very little about other humans around us. Non-verbal communication has evolved to instantaneously communicate ones’ emotional state, and generally succeeds in this, however although it can reveal what a person may be feeling at a particular time, it says nothing about why those feelings are present and in any case is most reliable with strong emotions such as anger, fear, disgust &c. The less intense the emotion the more vaguely it is portrayed. If we are aware of the events preceeding

the display of emotion we may be able to attribute a cause to it, but as psychologists Jones and Nisbett (1972) showed, these attributions are quite likely to be inaccurate due to the predilection that humans have for attributing behaviour to the disposition of the person being observed. In addition to all of this, non-verbal communication is limited to observers in the immediate area at the time of the behaviour. In contrast to this, language allows us to group ideas and perceptions together and compare them in order to reach a high degree of consensus about their meaning. Wittgenstein says that ?You learned the concept ?pain’ when you learned language.?2 The portability that language imparts to thoughts and perceptions allows us to compare our own response to various

experienced stimuli with anothers’ report of their response to a similar event which we may or may not have witnessed. Over time it becomes possible to discern certain trends and so, for example, the sensation that we feel when we strike our thumbs with a hammer, the characteristic ?pain behaviour? and such things as the anguish that people feel at the end of a romantic liaison all become part of the general concept of pain, even though they are all dissimilar in form (this point will be discussed subsequently). By using language humans can vicariously partake of the experiences of another (e.g. when one watches a play or a film or when one listens to an account of a friends experience.) In short, language allows us to make comparisons between our own thought processes and