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Much knowledge of the world comes from reading - books, magazines, newspapers et al. Obviously these are written by writers and writers have a certain mindset. This mindset has invariably been shaped by the fact that the writers have spent a large chunk of their life processing words. I think working with words can contaminate a mind. That mind starts to see the world in particular ways, ways that are then perpetuated by the process of more words generated, ways that are not always good.

Philosophers have shown that most language is made up of universals. Universals are all the nouns, verbs, adjectives used in common discourse. They are called universals because they allude to a generalised version of the entity being depicted. CAT for example is not this or that particular cat but refers to an indefinite cat. WHITE is not a particular white thing but a certain quality of whiteness attributed to a thing. The words CAT and WHITE themselves are kind of abstract entities used for the purpose of pointing to the actualised versions.

Spending too much time dealing with abstract entities, as writers do, might colour a person’s thinking in a way increasingly removed. That person is dealing with life too much in its universalised form rather than its actualised form and over time might develop a world view too much influenced by this. If you then add to that the historical supremacy given to intellectual life and people with a developed capacity for words, then the potential for a powerful sophistry to take hold is palpable.

There are no shortage of examples. The Bible would be a perfect case. It is interesting that this, one of the most powerful authorities in human history, is a collection of written pieces much of the content of which has references to absolutes and transcendent realities. In the beginning was the WORD. Perhaps not. Perhaps too much value has been accorded to words and language. Perhaps language is redolent with mock authenticity and false perspective. And numbers too of course, about which the same can easily be said.

Could minds preoccupied in such ways be subject to a kind of pollutant that clouds the intelligence as Wittgenstein suggested? Would humans under such influence live in a perpetual delusion? Whether that should be upheld as an appropriate way to be is open to question. It could be that the existentialist predicament is alleviated by delusion. Or does delusion ultimately undermine potential? Questions leading to questions as ever. Questions asked in words leading to more words.

has too much value been accorded to words and language?


philosophy • 26.01.03