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Language as an imperfect conduit for thought

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anyone know of any (credible among the academic community) authors who make the argument that language is a (woefully) imperfect conduit for thought? you guys have always been helpful in this type of situation. keep in mind that i'm going to use it for an honors thesis on constitutional interpretation. thanks a bunch.

 

brennan

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I think that anyone who writes about language at all (we're still talking credible authors here) would agree with that statement...

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i figured as much. given that my time is necessarily limited in this regard, and given that my knowledge of who writes about what is particularly what is in deficit here, do you have any particular suggestions?

 

brennan

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Pierre Schlag writes about this sort of thing in terms of normative legal thought. Here's a full cite to look for.

 

Pierre Schlag, Professor of Law@ Univ. Colorado, 1990, Stanford Law Review, November, Page Lexis

 

Hope that helps.

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One problem though - the logical end of his critique means that the very things he critiques NLT for (decision/action paralysis and intellectually masturbatory justifications for merely thinking) end up being the end results of the alternative to NLT. Ergo, his criticism is viewed as generally invalid and inapplicable to a coherent understanding of modern jurisprudence by most of the present academy. I ran a lot of Schlag in high school and found when I got to college that he's laughed at by most of his Political Science peers. I really do appreciate the effort though. If you know of any other authors who make similar claims, I'd greatly appreciate it!

 

brennan

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One problem though - the logical end of his critique means that the very things he critiques NLT for (decision/action paralysis and intellectually masturbatory justifications for merely thinking) end up being the end results of the alternative to NLT. Ergo, his criticism is viewed as generally invalid and inapplicable to a coherent understanding of modern jurisprudence by most of the present academy. I ran a lot of Schlag in high school and found when I got to college that he's laughed at by most of his Political Science peers. I really do appreciate the effort though. If you know of any other authors who make similar claims, I'd greatly appreciate it!

 

brennan

The reason Schlag is laughed at is not because of his critique of language as a signifier but rather because of his other criticisms of the legal community. This is one of the few arguments that schlag kinda has "right".

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true, but the fact that this criticism of language is couched in terms of a critique that is not accepted, it taints it as questionable in the eyes of the academic world. in other words, it doesn't really matter that he got this right; he got it right, but did so in the context of an almost universally rejected criticism.

 

brennan

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Schlag isn't an expert in linguistics, or comm theory in general, so who really cares what he says about these issues? You might as well quote yourself. If you want to make this particular argument, the best sources for it will be the folks who've spent their lives studying it...

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Zizek writes about this in his book The Paralax View. However, he specifies that the inherent shortcomings of language can be overcome when language is used poetically, or as a liberating tool of expression.

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Elaine Scarry - she talks about the imperfections of language - and she specifically refers to the body as well as torture language --- but i'm sure there is alot of literature u can find helpful!

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i talked about zizek my freshman year in a social philosophy class. my professor told me never to call him a philosopher or social theorist again. he said that the appropriate term was "pop culture critic and pseudo-philosopher." haha. thanks - you've been quite helpful.

 

brennan

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anyone know of any (credible among the academic community) authors who make the argument that language is a (woefully) imperfect conduit for thought? you guys have always been helpful in this type of situation. keep in mind that i'm going to use it for an honors thesis on constitutional interpretation. thanks a bunch.

 

brennan

 

I don't think anyone meaningfully contests this proposition, actually.

 

If you're writing for an academic paper, you probably would want to ignore Schlag and Philosophy for Dummies, and cut directly to Derrida's treatment of Ferdinand de Saussure.

 

Specifically, you should probably cite Of Grammatology, Writing and Difference, and Speech and Phenomena.

 

Limited Inc also matters.

 

This set of texts - and his engagement with your cited problematic - probably constitutes Derrida's most-cited work. The later ethico-political stuff gets more airplay in debate, because they're more directly applicable to questions of public policy.

 

Most people who have read Godel, Escher, Bach (Hofstader) would probably agree that it

a. speaks to your question and

b. is a lot of fun

 

The contrast between the Wittgenstein's Tractatus and the subsequent Philosophical Investigations (the latter's more in line with your arg) is both interesting and directly relevant.

 

The list is potentially endless, as this question's been absorbed and addressed in lots of ways.

 

If you intend to impress your professor, I promise that you're a lot better off with the aforementioned works, even secondary lit on them, than you are with fucking Schlag. Schlag is purely a debate anomaly; you're better off citing the DRG or Shanahan, even.

 

This is totally divorced from any substantive engagement with SCHLAG. It's equivalent to citing your dog. Maybe your dog is dead on right, but no one cares.

 

Incidentally, if this is for constitutional interpretation, you probably want to run Derridean questions through the filter of law reviews, mostly, meaning that you'll probably wander into Drucilla Cornell as well. I imagine, actually, that you could get away almost exclusively with cites from Cardozo articles.

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i talked about zizek my freshman year in a social philosophy class. my professor told me never to call him a philosopher or social theorist again. he said that the appropriate term was "pop culture critic and pseudo-philosopher." haha. thanks - you've been quite helpful.

 

brennan

 

People need to lighten up. Zizek does not claim to be a philosopher per se, but a Lacanian psychoanalyst. He applies Lacan's theories to various aspects of pop culture, and in doing so makes some interesting conclusions. He actually has pretty firm philosophical framework, drawing on the work of Hegel among others.

 

I'm pretty sure negative opinions of Zizek are rooted in the unfortunate "Zizek!" movie, which portrayed the scantaly clothed obese Slovene in bed, discussing capitalism. For many this may be a blow to his credebility.

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it is best to just change your opinions so that they align with your professors

True.

 

The question is really: what does it mean for an author to be credible?

 

Some thoughts:

The agreement among those who you might call "post modernist" (derrida, lacan, etc) is that language always fails. It is clearly true that words often fail to communicate. The question of the philosophy of language is: what is meaning? What would it mean for langauge to be an effective conduit for human thought? Friege's deffense of philosophical realism provides a simple answer to this question: when I tell you tell me about the moon, clearly you are telling me something. We would not engage in language if you werent telling me anything. Most of the American philosophers of linguistic would agree. On the otherhand, the Lacanian response is that we engage in language percisley because we can never communicate true meaning, if we could we would have nothing left to say.

 

The lack of meta-language, accepted by all but chomsky :-), suggest that a perfect conduit for human thought is impossible. Much of the theorizing of academic disciplines related to language is on how language communicates anything. The essential question for you is: what does it mean to communicate? Or possibly: what does it mean to be a conduit for thought? What is thought? I am not sure thought with out language is thought. I gues I am just overly semeocentric.

 

A decent discussion of these issues is contained in Stravrakakis' "Lacan and the Political" around page 65-66.

The academic community is large. No one is credible across the entire community, especialy not in issues of meaning.

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One might strictly say that language is the possession of concepts, and thus one can't think without language, making irrelevant the question of whether or not the conduit is imperfect. Of course you mean communication, so this is just being nitpicky.

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To qoute Zizek: "The only meaninful sacrafice is the sacrafice of Meaning itself". This sums up the whole post-modern view of defenition of meaning duscussion.

 

For Lacan, language is the barrier that seperates us from the Real, and constructs this system of purely relational structure of meaning. This is to say that a given object is defined by its relation to another object, and this alone. We cannot assign coordinates to the Real, because it is a concept outside the plane of language. However, Lacan explains that event though it cannot be articulated, it can still influence our unconvious, etc.

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