(great posts, Khethil and the-PQ.)
The Pentacle Queen wrote:
What is the relation between language and self-consciousness?
Is it only through language that we can critique our experiences and therefore be self-conscious?
I do appreciate this attempt to focus on a major philosophical problem, which is not traditional but very present to our minds - at least to mine.
I don't think there's any reason to believe that language is required for self-consciousness. But my sense is that there is a connection - though not perhaps a hard-wired one.
I believe that self-consciousness pre-exists language. There is definitely a relation between language and the way we represent our consciousness, but language does not define self-consciousness, only its representation. (Btw, it's clear from the above that I posit that self-conscousness is not representing oneself as a subject, I doubt that self-consciousness can be defined as the synthetic unity of perceptions. Structural self-consciousness can be safely assumed only as the limit whence it is no longer "us", but something else).
The Pentacle Queen wrote:
Could it be posited that this critique arises from the 'gulf' between the world as we experience it, and the way we represent it to ourselves through language?
I confess that I do not understand the question.
What is the critique
of experiences? If it is meant that natual language provides a tool to describe perceptions or, rather, to interpret our perceptions, I fail to see how self-consciousness would arise from that - although the fact that we can speak of our perceptions (probably) implies that we are self-conscious. There is no therefore
as it is put in the first sentence. It is not because we can describe (or "critique") our experiences through language (which is not even quite true) that we are self-conscious.
Probably language is the major responsible of our idea of the subject. But this is not hardwired, structural. I see it as fundamentally historical.
We have the default assumption that we are subjects with certain features because we speak in a certain way.
There is a basic layer in our representation/belief in the subject which is closely connected to grammar, a more articulate idea of it derives from cultural inheritage. It is doubtful that people with different jurisdictional references would elaborate an idea of the subject similar to ours.
(Natural) language is just an option that we have to process perceptions. There are other signs, like pictograms or mathematical formulae. (And these other classes of signs could be seen as somehow more accurate in the description of perceptions).
Language is outside us, although men have evolved to use it quite intensely. But, ultimately, running a program it is not being that program (this is just to cut a long story short, I am not really supporting this analogy).
As Khethil says, it can enhance our processing of experiences as well as blinding (and shielding) us from our experiences (and that is probably the very same function, only in different degrees).