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TALKING BOLLOCKS               

In a sense most talk is sophistry. An example would be the widespread use of fact-stating language to express values. This is a great song they say when what they mean is I like this song a lot. The latter is a statement of personal preferences, the former a pseudo-objective statement of fact.


When using fact-stating language to convey values - words like good, bad, right and wrong - the expressions are metaphors. But because language has such strong psychological import the metaphors are taken to be actual when they are merely linguistic conventions. In short, human beings talk bollocks much of the time, an insight consistent with what the 20th Century language philosophers thought.


Wittgenstein, chief among them, said philosophy was an activity leaving everything where it is. In other words it doesn’t do much, it is just something to play at. Perhaps he was being disingenuous. An activity by definition moves around and leaves things changed as a consequence.


Harvard professor, Michael Sandel, said in a recent televised lecture that reading philosophy carries risks which confront us with what we already know and makes it strange. It provides and provokes a new way of seeing. When the familiar turns strange it is never the same again he said. Self knowledge is like lost innocence. It can be a distancing and debilitating activity. Indeed it does not leave everything where it is.


Language is more than just passive noise-making. It is strewn with meaning and value. It has immense spiritual force in that every word spoken has an effect on somebody somewhere. Even if all of philosophy was merely the analysing of linguistic concepts it is still much more than static practice. It can potentially influence thinking and feeling. If all it does is show the inconsistencies and vagaries of speech, if it exposes the bollocks people talk, then it does good service. Thus at the very least it identifies the enormity of the job at hand in having us be more considered and careful about what we say and how we say it.

language has immense spiritual force