Can a collection of words, that by themselves have no meaning, produce more than a ‘closed box’ understanding limited by those words and those associated things that give them meaning?
Are words no more than the ‘shadows on a cave wall’? Are words only useful in our day-to-day lives but then when relied upon, that very same language, leads to confusion when deeper questions are asked of them, never producing any fundamental truths?
Two great interrelated questions, igm!
Several philosophers have argued that human language was invented to describe sensible objecta and may therefore be inadequate to address abstract concepts.
I think that this gets at what is central to this debate very nicely.
I think the problem thus far is that 'word' and 'concept' are being equivocated.
A 'word' can be a label for a 'sensible object'. [I think we all agree to this.]
The question you bring up is if 'word' should be allowed to label a 'concept' which is not necessarily about 'sensible objects'.
I would contend that no such restriction on 'word' is necessary
because 'concepts' cannot arise without first being built up from sensory experience.
The concepts which apparently
are not about 'sensible objects' are actually extrapolations of patterns which have been observed about 'sensible objects'.
I think that igm
has much interest in the concept of 'Self', so I will use an example that touches on this:
A 'persective' concept is not a sensible object. However through observation of other beings who have sensory ability, such a concept can be extrapolated.
Imagine two monkeys each locked in a separate cage in a laboratory. We will call one monkey "Monkey Matt
" and the other "Monkey Mary
Between the two cages is an room with many boxes and barriers so that some places in the room are visible to Monkey Matt
that are not visible to Monkey Mary
. There are also other areas of the room that are visible to Monkey Mary
but are not visible to Monkey Matt
is much stronger than Monkey Matt
. If he does not share food with her, she will attack him.
While both monkeys are sleeping tall tail-less fur-less monkeys enter the room and place fruit throughout. Monkey Matt
is not very smart, so when the cage doors are opened in the morning he rushes over to the nearest piece of fruit and promptly eats it. The nearest piece of fruit was in a place that Monkey Mary
could see, so she attacks him.
The first lesson that Monkey Matt might learn is "If you don't share food, you will be attacked." Monkey Matt learns this lesson, but he is also stubborn and selfish, so occasionally violates the lesson he learned. Usually he gets attacked but sometimes
Maybe Matt notices while savoring his 'stolen' fruit that he can't see Mary. New lesson "If you don't share fruit while you can see Mary you will be attacked". This lesson works out well for Matt for a while and he is able to steal lots of fruit.
One day Matt finds a piece of fruit and does not see Mary, so he eats it. At this point Mary drops down from above him and attacks (Matt wasn't looking up). Matt is really confused at this point. How to fix the lesson "If you don't share fruit while you can see Mary you will be attacked" since he couldn't see Mary this time and was still attacked. Oh dear! What to do?
The next step in modifying the lesson actually requires a huge intellectual leap forward. The monkey equivalent of a Aristotle, Newton or Einstein. Once the lesson is found, however it gives a an equivalently huge payoff in ability to navigate social situations.
Matt, if he is smart enough, needs to invent a concept of 'self' for Mary. He needs to imagine that just as he can see things, perhaps Mary can also see things, and that the things that he sees are not always the things that she sees.
Matt needs to invent the concept of perspective
Good luck Monkey Matt... good luck...
I'm rooting for you