Monday, 14 January 2013

Opening up language opens up the world

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein argued that the way we think about the world and report to others what happens in the world is limited by the language we use. Indeed, he stated that the limit of language is the limit of the world. Inspired by Kant’s proposal that the viewer imposes structure on the world (e.g. the manifold sense data we receive from our senses are sorted and organised into predetermined structures that we then experience as the world), Wittgenstein proposed the speaker also imposes the structure of language on the world (e.g. the world is logical because the language we use to describe it is logical). Everything in the world that does not fit into the logical structure of language is left unsaid and therefore unknown and unknowable. This emphasis on the active role of the viewer/speaker gives us the flexibility in shaping our own perception of the world.

It follows that speaking negatively inevitably creates a negative world. Sometimes a negative reaction to the sense data we receive is appropriate. But only reacting negatively reduces the size of our world. In contrast, opening up the language we use opens up the world and generates the possibility of knowing the world in greater depth. We must use both positive and negative descriptions to fully inflate the world.

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