Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"...Frege dreamt of a perfect language in which such difficulties could never arise. There'd be no ambiguity, no vagueness, no need for any interpretation. Well that's a dream. We don't have such a language and I don't think we could have such a language. But that doesn't inhibit the communication of thoughts. It just requires communication to engage the intelligence of the hearer as well as the speaker." Michael Dummett, What Philosophers Think, page 221

twist in my sobriety

When I was in high school, we would read books and plays in class for English - we read Lord of the Flies, the Diary of Anne Frank, Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth. Our teachers would explain what the authors meant, when they had in mind when they wrote a certain passage or dialogue. There would be such intricate details, such hidden meanings that we would find them incredulous, we wouldn't believe that the author really could have thought of that when he wrote that. There was something magical, though, in the fact that it could be understood that way, it contained the possibility to actually mean that (and still remain consistent with the broader story).

Although it is sometimes frustrating not being able to know the truth and nothing but the truth, I like the fact that language is a fluid, free thing with varying consistency. There are different ways of telling the truth (and concealing it, for that matter). Language can simply be the bearer of the truth, or it can bend it or veil it as it pleases. Then it is up to the hearer's or reader's knowledge of circumstances and intelligence to guess. If you know the author well enough to see what the symbols mean, if you literally speak their language, then you might be able to see the thought in their head. In its purity. If you don't, you will be wrong. But then, sometimes misunderstandings are more beautiful than the truth, while they last.

If you insist on knowing the truth in a timely manner, it is important to attend, then, as Iris Murdoch once said. Life is not simple or easy. Nor should be people, thoughts, words and sentences.

No comments: