I’ve been pondering a lot on what language, symbols, art, beauty, metaphors and other forms of meaning and communication truly are, as they relate to our attempts to connect with and to communicate with each other.
The study of semiotics, which is the umbrella for most symbolic forms of communication and the meaning attached to it, has been an essential part of most intellectuals ontology (understanding of the human condition) throughout history.
“Isaiah Berlin was often described, especially in his old age, by means of superlatives: the world’s greatest talker, the century’s most inspired reader, one of the finest minds of our time… there is no doubt that he showed in more than one direction the unexpectedly large possibilities open to us at the top end of the range of human potential.”
-“The Independent”, in its 1997 Obituary to the Scholar
Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997), thought by many to be the dominant scholar of his generation, identified two basic Conceptual Frameworks through which intellectuals organize and express their ideas. Ones conceptual framework, similar to a Schemata or Worldview, is employed at the fundamental level to make conceptual distinctions and organize ideas.
Berlin termed the first type the “Hedgehog“, or those who use a single idea or organizing principle to view the world.
(Examples include: Dante, Pascal, Dostoevsky, Plato, Ibsen and Hegel).
The other designation, the “Fox“, incorporate a type of pluralism and view the world through multiple, and even sometimes conflicting, lenses.
(Example include: Goethe, Joyce, Shakespeare, Aristotle, Herodotus, Molière.)
Both the Hedgehog and the Fox may be brilliant and offer up great ideas to the world, but the Hedgehog has to one extent or another, sacrificed their full measure of creative brilliance to their singular revolving focus and has therefore allowed their thinking to be hemmed in.
In his treatise, “Three Critics of the Enlightenment“, Berlin argues that human cognition as language is an Essentiality, language being the articulation and use of symbols.
Berlin recognized the rationalist’s Cartesian fallacy, or the notion that there are “clear and distinct” ideas “which can be contemplated by a kind of inner eye”, without the use of language.
Berlin also believed that most human values are contrivances of mankind, and not products of nature waiting to be discovered, as many have suggested.
From the broader perspective, we have the empathetic access to other cultures across history, and can see that the nature of mankind is such that certain values, such as the importance of individual liberty, will hold true across cultures and are not the abstractions that men disguise as intrinsic human values. Berlin called this view objective pluralism.
In Berlins Essay, “Two Concepts of Liberty“, he described two forms of Liberty, or freedom, that often clash with each other, but are consistent intrinsic human natural values, not abstractions or adaptations.
‘Negative Freedom’, or freedom from interference from others.
‘Positive Freedom‘, or freedom as self-mastery, which asks not what we are free from, but what we are free to do.
In other words, Berlin was illustrating the inherent human need to express oneself as they truly are and to be free to masterfully create, as the Artist inside all of us passionately yearns to do.
Regarding our use of Language socially, Berlin believed that a subtle and nuanced understanding of political and social discourse was needed to unmask the plurality (or deeper meaning and possible confusing duplicity) that could appear to the many as a single straightforward concept.
Berlin argued that these multiple and differing concepts, otherwise masked by rhetorical conflations could be thinly veiled contrivances, and illustrated their incompatibility with intrinsic human values.
The need to parse out and make distinctions between the meaning of political and social professions, rather than intermix the concepts, could prevent them from becoming watered-down, or disguised value-conflicts for individuals and ultimately civilizations.
“The Private Language Argument“
As described by Ludwig Wittgenstein in his work “Philosophical Investigations”
The private language argument is of central importance in the debate about the nature of language.
Wittgensteins idea, a language that is understandable by only a single individual is incoherent, unlearnable and unteachable to any other than the individual who possesses it. A language that no one else can make sense of, it is untranslatable because one cannot use words to communicate experiences and feelings as they are experienced and felt by another, no matter their eloquence. A picture is worth a thousand words is a gross understatement.
If the idea of a private language is inconsistent, then a logical conclusion would be that all language serves a social function. This would have profound implications for other areas of philosophical and psychological study.
If one cannot have a private language, it might not make any sense to talk of private experiences or of private mental states.
There would be no individuals, there would only be shared experiences known by all without the need to communicate though language any unique perceptions or interpretations or separate feelings.
Language then, is an evolving creation of we humans to exchange information by employing shared agreed upon meanings, that no two people could possibly ever fully agree upon. But we hold the importance of language and the meaning and intent of the words and symbols that we attempt to communicate with, to the highest levels of importance in our reason and logic based civilization. We fool ourselves into believing that our sharp wit is what brings us what we think we need from outside of ourselves.
Because of this flawed idea and the “value-conflicts” it engenders, our truly intrinsic human values, such as negative and positive freedoms as described by Berlin become sacrificed for simpler and less taxing vernacular. We look outside of ourselves and adopt what is generally accepted as true and come to rely upon what others think and say literally, in our social dealings with them.
Rather than employing the loving energy and time to empathetically connect with and understand others as best we possibly can, we give up and give in to the expediency of assumed generalizations and beliefs that require little or no effort, to reason our way through life.
On my last perusal of First Corinthians chapter 13, I didn’t read anything about expediency, though there was some mention made about immaturity and a darkened view of many. Love wants to see, not dispense out labels and assign flaws with some curt judgement, whose next?