Thursday, December 04, 2008

Philosophy 118: 28 November, 2008

These notes were taken from my class with Dr. Reyes for Philosophy 118 last Friday...

.:An Explanation On The Critique Of Language...:.

Most thinkers prior to Nietzsche assume that there is a natural connection between the language and the reality. In truth, it is more likely an accident, rather than an actual inherent connection between language and being. This connection is established arbitrarily, and over time, becomes the convention. There is a value judgment presented in language, and as such, the connection is not natural, per se.

As an example, you encounter a certain kind of food with a strong odor. You present it to a Filipino, his initial reaction is “sniff, sniff, hmm...” an American would probably say, “sniff, sniff, hmm...” yet when a Filipino finally eats this food, they'll say, “masarap”, while an American would say “rotten”. This food, we understand is bagoong.

What Nietzsche underscores here is that due to the arbitrary nature of language, there is nothing that prevents one from naming an object as they please, save that the judgment is going to become consistent with one's initial judgment upon initial contact. This of course presupposes some measure of relativity between the one who says something and the one who is understanding what is being said. It is not a correspondence between language and reality, but a correspondence between the initial judgment one comes up with, and the subsequent linguistic pronouncement.

Truth or falsity is not the important thing in language. What is important is whether or not your language is creative.

Recall the “pain” example, where is the creativity in language? Suppose you say that “life is all pain and all suffering.” Suppose you say “no pain, no glory.” We see that language is allowed to elaborate on something beyond a direct experience. Both instances are creative ways of looking at the same thing, albeit the latter is “creative” in a more literal sense, vis-a-vis how “destructive” the former exhortation actually is.

After a while, this creative language one fashions becomes worn out. The metaphor is exhausted. This is why it has to be destroyed at a certain point, much with how a coin is melted after some time to be reshaped into a new coin after its design is worn out over the years. The language has to be able to catch the uniqueness of each moment, and this leads to the wearing out of language over time, and hence, the call for what Derrida ends up calling a “deconstruction”.

Each language, as we see, represents a certain worldview, complete with a certain matrix of values. This is why we can say that a language cannot easily be translated from one language to another, such as the verse or harmony of a poem, when translated to another language, insofar as the rhyme, meter, even the imagery of one cannot be transposed to another.

Try translating this into Filipino: her scarlet dress stood out in contrast to her maroon blush and her auburn hair. The crimson trail of her blood followed her as she struggled to open the vermillion curtains.

.:The Limits Of Language:.

We say that through language, we can penetrate all of reality. As we see in a rather extensive discussion of language, we understand that this is simply not as true as we wish to believe it to be. Each language precisely limits you to a certain worldview and a certain context that is not a simple matter of correspondence or transposition, much like the “ka-” phenomenon that seems very unique to Filipinos in most of its interpersonal vocabulary.

It is the rules of the language which determines what is real and unreal to it. These rules are not necessarily going to correspond with the actual reality, much like the rules of football prohibit a player from holding the ball with their hand, but this is an artificial imposition that does not stand in every single situation in life, particularly for those outside the context of a football game.

Language stands as a filter, a barrier of signs that we have to undertake in order to communicate from one subjectivity to another. It is not a soul-to-soul communication, but a mediated communication through a system of signs, that is, language.

Each language is composed of elements or signs, and these elements form a certain system, mostly a correspondence of opposition, such as true-false, right-wrong, good-evil. The way to communicate between subjectivities is to pick certain signs among a myriad of them, and you cannot directly open yourself without any mediation. That you cannot open yourself to each other without this mediation means that there is room for misinterpretation, miscommunication, and distortion in our attempt to string together signs to convey what we intend to convey.

As a philosophy student, you don't just jump into philosophizing. You have to mediate through specific thinkers, be it Plato or Aristotle or Aquinas or Descartes or whoever else. Each thinker couches language in a certain way, and eventually, we find ourselves falling within the same limitations that they found themselves in. As such, things become a matter of interpretation, as these discussions are not entrenched in reality, but within a specific context.

For instance, if you've never read a comic book, exactly what is the real identity of Robin? More often than not, the answer would be Dick Grayson, despite the fact that he has not been Robin since 1970 or so. Only people who take the time out to know about comic books would be able to know it's Tim Drake at this point, and it has been this way for two decades already. We only know what presents itself to us, and this knowledge, much like the useless trivia we read about daily, simply does not present itself to us, and the same can be said of language: there are things that will never present themselves to us because we cannot truly encounter them in our linguistic world.

.:Quotable Quotes:.

“Mr. President, what is your favorite color?”


“Sir? How do you spell that?”

“F-u-c... -s-... anak ng fuchsia! My favorite color is red. R-e-d. Red!”

- Classic Erap joke, as told by Dr. Reyes

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