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Bizzare "Linguistics" Philosophy

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From another poster on another forum:

"Let me break this down and try to make it very, very simple.

No "postmodernist" (using your absurd definition) even cares about truth, not because the truth does not "exist" but because it's existence cannot be demonstrated. That's why these arguments don't even deserve a response.

We aren't engaging with "truth" in having this discussion, we're engaging with language. Language is the only genuinely collective human process. Your "observation" is not a shared process, your "reality" is not a shared process. The "reality" of anything you see or think is meaningless until it can be demonstrated through language.

The only actual evidence I have for your experience, for your "reality", is what you say, and more importantly the way in which what you say can be interpolated and shared. The existence or otherwise of an actual "reality" behind what you're saying is meaningless if the only measure we have of it is a collection of symbols.

This is something which anyone willing to use the term "postmodernism" should already understand. It doesn't matter whether or not you are right, we are not arguing whether or not something is true, we are arguing how we know it is true.

If you genuinely believe that reality precedes language and thus experiences can have an objective value, then demonstrate your "reality" without using language. I'll wait."

I have heard a little bit about this postmodern concept of "everything is just symbols so we don't know reality" but I am having a difficult time grasping the concept. I'm pretty sure Noam Chompsky is big proponent of it. Can someone explain this "linguistic" metaphysics in comprehensive terms?

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I have heard a little bit about this postmodern concept of "everything is just symbols so we don't know reality" but I am having a difficult time grasping the concept. I'm pretty sure Noam Chompsky is big proponent of it. Can someone explain this "linguistic" metaphysics in comprehensive terms?

Just a quick note: Chomsky does not endorse any post-modern doctrine of language creating reality. He is quite the realist.

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The principal spokesmen for ideas you recount in #1 are the guests in the cocktail party scenes in Atlas Shrugged, followed by certain writers in the soft-news sections of the LA Times. If you want working academic philosophers I'm stumped.

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If this discussion weren't held over the internet, you'd be perfectly able to demonstrate reality with speaking a word. You could, for example: tap him on the shouler; point at something; grab his hand and hold it to a flame; pour ice water down his pants; turn off the lights; wave smelly material under his nose. How would he handle this demonstration of reality: hand him a lit firecracker without uttering a syllable, without raising an eyebrow or curving the mouth into a smile. Would his reaction to reality be subject to your explaination of it? Even if he didn't know what a firecracker was, once it exploded in his hand he would learn a lot about it, entirely through sensory experience, without one peep of language coming into play. And more: he would sense EXACTLY what anyone else would sense when a lit firecracker goes off in their hand. Hand him another lit firecracker, after the first, and you will discover that he has learned a truth about reality without language coming into play at all.

Ask him what his language will talk about without reality preceeding his perceptions, which preceed his concepts, which preceed his language. Even his imagination is based on concepts that he learned from perceiving reality -- the very same reality in which we all live. Explaining a firecracker to someone and holding one while it explodes are two different ways of learning about the firecracker. But primarily, SOMEONE had to observe the firecracker and identify it, before any linguistic (oral or written) explaination can be given.

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Another bit from the same author:

"I'm saying that "concepts" (signified) are the only thing whose existence can be shared, and that they therefore form the only possibly category of inquiry and meaning. I'm looking at a tree right now, the only way you can possibly understand that I am doing that is because the word "tree" has value.

What I am saying though, which you seem to have some problem with, is that that this value only exists to the extent that it can be shared. If you didn't understand the word "tree" in the same way I did, it doesn't matter how many times I said I was looking at a tree, I could not demonstrate that to you without the language to do so.

It doesn't matter how many words you pile on. You cannot demonstrate that trees are a natural and stable category without referencing the way they are collated under the category "tree". Without that category, how would you group trees as similar? It's not like trees are all the same. It's not like they share no characteristics with anything else. It's not like there's no point at which the boundaries of the tree arbitrarily end and something else begins.

If language is merely describing objects (incidentally, since we're talking about things which are experienced - I can only see a tree because I have eyes - "phenomena" is correct, but I'll concede if it will help you understand) in the real world, then why is every difference between objects not reflected in the terminology? Why is every similarity not reflected in the terminology? The answer is patently obvious, because we're not dealing with "real" objects in language, we're dealing with signified objects, or "concepts", as you call them, and the organization of those concepts is arbitrary.

The only system of conveying meaning. The system you're trying to use now to prove otherwise, is already arbitrary."

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One can study what exists and how consciousness functions; but one cannot analyze (or “prove”) existence as such, or consciousness as such. These are irreducible primaries. (An attempt to “prove” them is self-contradictory: it is an attempt to “prove” existence by means of nonexistence, and consciousness by means of unconsciousness.)

So there's no point arguing whether or not existence exists, i.e. whether there is an objective reality. What you do is accept that as a starting point, and then consider the process of concept-formation as our way of integrating our perceptions of reality into discrete units. This doesn't depend on language (just on 'measurement'), but language enhances it greatly and allows us to share concepts easily.

Of course the concept of a 'tree' does not exist tangibly, it's just a parcel of measurements and attributes, but that hardly makes it arbitrary. We can follow the same process of concept formation as others do, and we can corroborate our concepts by, you know, interaction with reality and sharing observations.

Have you ever heard of a post-modern scientist? I guess they'd say stuff like 'it doesn't matter how many independent experiments people do, we can never know the boiling point of water at sea level.'

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From another poster on another forum:

You should be asking them for citations.

I don't know why you care or how much effort you want to put into it (I haven't put in much) but Paul Feyerabend (wikipedia, Stanford PLATO) has done post-modern philosophy of science. There is probably a better match to someone else, but I haven't made a study of post-modernists.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Words have no meaning without shared experiences. For instance, my boss says "Go get that can opener from the back". That only ha s meaning because I know what can opener he is talking about (having seen it) and where "the back" is having experienced it. That sentence was rather empty for the rest of you do to the fact that all of those words refered to things you had not directly experienced.

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