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if a lion could speak, we couldn't understand it

 
 
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 02:46 am
A famous comment by Wittgenstein. Apologies if there's already a thread on it.

Please cancel post and link to thread, otherwise what are peoples views on this?
 
jeeprs
 
  3  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 02:51 am
@Im Confused,
welll if you can handle some input from someone not at all well read in Wittgenstein, what I would say he is commenting on is the 'human' nature of our reality. You might assume that the world is just given, just is as it is, but in fact, it is as it is to us with the particular types of senses we have, and the types of intentions we have towards it. A lion represents such a wholly different type of consciousness-of-the-world that if.....and so on.

As I say, that is probably not the answer of someone well read in Wittgenstein, but it is my intepretation of what the statement means.
Im Confused
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 05:47 am
@jeeprs,
cheers jeeprs - good points

i'm quite happy to for all types of responses

i could never get to grips with wittgenstein when i studied him - so all insights are useful

as you say the way a lion is in the world is very different to the way we are in the and wittgenstein's remark helps us to realise that for sure
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 06:19 am
@Im Confused,
Im Confused wrote:

A famous comment by Wittgenstein. Apologies if there's already a thread on it.

Please cancel post and link to thread, otherwise what are peoples views on this?


This is, indeed, a dark saying. But Wittgenstein held that language is a form of life (whatever that means) so that it is an integral part of the culture of those who speak it. We understand the language we use to speak to others of our kind because we share a basic understanding of the world with them. Language is not an isolated activity. Now, human beings do not share a culture with animals, indeed, animals have no culture to speak of. So, because of this, because of the fact that we have no shared culture with animals, Wittgenstein tells us that even (given the dubious assumption) that lions had a language, we would not understand them (and presumably could not understand them).
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 06:26 am
@kennethamy,
I can just see it. Wittgenstein to St Peter: 'and I said, please don't eat me.......'
0 Replies
 
Sentience
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 07:55 am
At this point, we couldn't. There would be plenty of ways to find out.

Lion growls X way. We give lion water. Lion growls X way. We give lion food. Lion stops roaring. Did lion want food? Try on thirty different lions. Eventually we'd be able to figure out some of their words or speech patterns.

...And then there's the deeper stuff, such as monitoring brainwaves and such.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 09:41 am
@Sentience,
Sentience wrote:

At this point, we couldn't. There would be plenty of ways to find out.

Lion growls X way. We give lion water. Lion growls X way. We give lion food. Lion stops roaring. Did lion want food? Try on thirty different lions. Eventually we'd be able to figure out some of their words or speech patterns.

...And then there's the deeper stuff, such as monitoring brainwaves and such.


Find out what? I already know that when a lion looks at me and he licks his chops, he is think I would be good lunch. But that isn't the point of what Wittgenstein writes. First of all, lions don't talk. Let's ger that settled. Wittgenstein writes that even if lions could talk we would not not understand them And that isn't as if he were saying that if we came across a tribe whose language we could not understand, we could not understand them. For that only means we cannot translate what they say into our language. It is entirely different with animals, for they have no kind of cultural rapport with human beings. I can imagine (as in a fairy tale) a human voice coming out of a lions mouth, and that voice saying something like, "Isn't it a lovely evening?" But that would not be a lion talking. It would be a human inside a lion talking. A very different thing.
josh0335
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 09:55 am
@kennethamy,
Quote:
It is entirely different with animals, for they have no kind of cultural rapport with human beings.


Do you think that if instead of a lion we were to speak of domesticated dogs, Wittgenstein's statement would be different? Pet dogs have something of a "cultural rapport with human beings."
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 10:03 am
@josh0335,
josh0335 wrote:

Quote:
It is entirely different with animals, for they have no kind of cultural rapport with human beings.


Do you think that if instead of a lion we were to speak of domesticated dogs, Wittgenstein's statement would be different? Pet dogs have something of a "cultural rapport with human beings."


No. I think that W.'s point would be the same. But if you asked the same thing about the great apes, that would be a more interesting question. Noam Chomsky (the great linguist) has rather the same view as does W. He thinks that human beings alone have the capacity for language, and he hypothesizes that is because their brains are completely different from animal brains. That view, it seems to me, ignores (or at least downplays) evolution. It seems unreasonable, in the light of evolution, to believe there is such a gap between animals and persons. And Chomsky has (of course) been confronted with this objection, and his reply seems to be that the gap between the human and the animal capacity for language is a strong objection to evolution.
josh0335
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 04:32 pm
@kennethamy,
That is a more interesting question. I tend to lean towards the view that the main reason that the great apes do not have the capacity for language is the limitations of their vocal chords, and not a limitation of their minds. Studies have shown that apes can communicate feelings and concepts with humans using symbols and pictures. The shapes of their throats, tongues and bones in the throat do not allow for a variety of syllables to be strung together, thus denying them speech.



kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 04:40 pm
@josh0335,
josh0335 wrote:

That is a more interesting question. I tend to lean towards the view that the main reason that the great apes do not have the capacity for language is the limitations of their vocal chords, and not a limitation of their minds. Studies have shown that apes can communicate feelings and concepts with humans using symbols and pictures. The shapes of their throats, tongues and bones in the throat do not allow for a variety of syllables to be strung together, thus denying them speech.






In that case why have they not developed some other way of communication (say) sign language?
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 05:35 pm
I am sure animals communicate - bees dance, birds have complex songs, and chimps have proto-language.

None of them have the power of speech, though, because language requires abstract thought, the ability to grasp meaning. The distinction is that animal communication is strictly routinized - think of it as a behavioral sequence.

This incidentally is out of scope for philosophy as such. I think I remember touching on it in cognitive psychology.
talk72000
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 05:38 pm
Go on a safari near the lions. When a lion roams near your tent you will understand them well enough soon. You will be shivering when you hear the roar.
0 Replies
 
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 05:39 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:

I am sure animals communicate - bees dance, birds have complex songs, and chimps have proto-language.

None of them have the power of speech, though, because it requires abstract thought. The distinction is that animal communication is strictly routinized - think of it as a behavioral sequence.

This incidentally is out of scope for philosophy as such. I think I remember touching on it in cognitivie psychology.


Language, as we know it, has a syntax and a semantic. No animal systems of communication that we know of has a syntax and semantics. They are, at best, complex systems of signaling.
0 Replies
 
Sentience
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 05:57 pm
@kennethamy,
That's my point, we could only find out what message they were trying to get across, not what words they were using. X growl means hunger, not X growl means 'I have waited far too long since I last had gazelle, lioness, could you bring me back a gazelle?' They just don't think on the same level.

Lions do 'talk' depending on your definition of talk, but I agree that lions do not have a fixed language.
kennethamy
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 06:23 pm
@Sentience,
Sentience wrote:

That's my point, we could only find out what message they were trying to get across, not what words they were using. X growl means hunger, not X growl means 'I have waited far too long since I last had gazelle, lioness, could you bring me back a gazelle?' They just don't think on the same level.

Lions do 'talk' depending on your definition of talk, but I agree that lions do not have a fixed language.


Everything anyone ever says depends on what the words they use mean. How could it be any other way? Of course, it is not true that whether what one says is true depends on his definition of the words he uses. What it depends on is the meaning of the words he uses. For instance, suppose my definition of "talk" was "eats meat". Then of course, it would be true that lions talk, for that would then mean (according to my definition) that lions eat meat. And that is certainly true. But as you can see, the fact that I happen to define "talk" as "eats meat" would simply be irrelevant to the question, do lions talk? So, it follows that whether lions talk does not depend on some individuals definition of "talk". Don't you agree?
I don't know what a "fixed language" is, so I would not know whether or not lions have a fixed language. I might be able to say something about the matter if you were to explain to me what a fixed language is. I have never heard the term before. It is in common use even among linguists?

Sentience
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 06:35 pm
@kennethamy,
Talk may refer to:
* Conversation, interactive communication between two or more people.
* Speech, the production of spoken language.
I believe lions can converse (though in an incredibly oversimplified version of what we generally consider conversation), but do not have a language.

Fixed language as in; "I am going to break your leg if you do that!" While casual conversation allows exceptions, this means that you have the intent to break the leg of the individual to whom you speak. However for lions, it's much different. A pride master might spot a cub trying to do something he disliked, and growl threateningly. This does not necessarily mean that he would break the leg of the cub, it could mean that he would give him a slap, or tear his jugular out and watch him bleed to death, even if that's unlikely. The cub doesn't know exactly what the lion will do, but he knows that if he does whatever it is displeases the pride master, he will be hurt. So whether or not the language is fixed, we can clearly see the same general intent in both situations.
0 Replies
 
ughaibu
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 Jul, 2010 08:34 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
josh0335 wrote:
Studies have shown that apes can communicate feelings and concepts with humans using symbols and pictures.
In that case why have they not developed some other way of communication (say) sign language?
It's a good question, assuming that, in the studies, they communicated about "feelings and concepts" which they dont, amongst themselves, communicate about.
0 Replies
 
OmSigDAVID
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 Jul, 2010 02:01 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
welll if you can handle some input from someone not at all well read in Wittgenstein, what I would say he is commenting on is the 'human' nature of our reality. You might assume that the world is just given, just is as it is, but in fact, it is as it is to us with the particular types of senses we have, and the types of intentions we have towards it. A lion represents such a wholly different type of consciousness-of-the-world that if.....and so on.

As I say, that is probably not the answer of someone well read in Wittgenstein, but it is my intepretation of what the statement means.
The basic needs of lions r the same as ours:
water, food n air, etc. If we knew what thay were saying,
presumably their comments woud relate thereto.

Additionally, their plans must relate to co-ordinating hunting tactics
and social commentaries among themselves.





David
thack45
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 Jul, 2010 06:54 am
@Im Confused,
I'm sure Wittgenstein had some higher philisophical point here, but if a lion could speak, it would never be inclined to say anything as it does not seem to possess the capacity of emotion, and it would never seek to exploit the emotion of others as that is what speech does.
 

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