September 24, 2012

Further expanding Locke

Ambiguity is not something to be feared. Albeit a challenge to the symbol making animals we, as humans, are and our constant need to determine what something is, or isn't, it is by far our most difficult challenge (Burke, Definition of Man). This is no major issue to me, the ambiguity of words as possibly inaccurate signs of even more ambiguous ideas that are signs of world phenomena. I personally take this, and I believe Locke did as well, as a great challenge that we as humans should take on together. It is by our debate, discourse, agreement, dispute, and refutation that our words have meaning at all. Perhaps they are at times ambiguous, and at other times inaccurate, but they are most vital asset in making sense of our world and all its common, or not so common, occurrences.

I strongly believe in the idea that one of our most respected professors believes in: that nothing exists until it is spoken into existence. Without the discovery of something, the actual acknowledgment of it, and human interaction and ultimate assertion and categorizing of the phenomena, that phenomena has no meaning, at least in the human world. Locke argues that our words are just signs of ideas, both being abstract and ambiguous, and it would very difficult to challenge that assertion, but I believe that what is so great about the ambiguity of words is that can constantly be asserted, challenges, revised, and refuted. Concrete knowledge is only made "concrete" when that knowledge is experienced by enough people to make the knowledge valid. The same must happen for words. A word will only be valid as long as their is a consensus that it is an accurate signifier of what it is attempting to represent. Right now a cat is called a cat because the word cat has been consistently associated to the animal for centuries. Whether or not the word chosen to signify that animal is 100% accurate makes little difference because it is correct to overwhelming majority of people. I believe this idea of signification is fascinating and the connection we may soon draw between it and agent/cy will bring questions, and sometimes answers, that will be even more fascinating.

2 comments:

Ben Barnard said...

Now with your idea of words, would you believe there to be a world, or perhaps society is a better term for it, without the spoken word? As grossly inaccurate as words can be, is there a way around them? Would the issues you presented here be a problem with language in general or perhaps it is just the complexity of language as we know it today. If there are only four words people speak: mad, happy, hungry, sleepy,are those words inaccurate? Surely the people speaking them will adjust their meanings of each word to undertake the job of thousands of words in English today. I personally believe the more we debate about words, the more words we add to the language, the less accurate and more complicated the language gets. In Locke's own words, the more useless words become.

On a side note, I have to wonder what exactly would need to be undertaken in order to make language more accurately and adequately portray our meanings behind them. It should be obvious that each word is going to mean something minutely different to each person based on their experiences with the word. Is it possible to take away this perspective based definition? Let me pull up an example if it wasn't quite as obvious as I supposed, let's say there are two children both age 5, one grows up in Orlando and one grows up in Somalia. They have both met pirates in their life, but these words mean totally different things to each of these children. That initial knowledge of the word, and truly and accurate representation of the word after that, effects and molds the individuals view and definition of that word 'pirate.'

anaistamayo said...

I think it's not necessary to take away perspective based definitions, rather, I think there is a lot to gain from adding more perspectives to the understanding of a word. So, those two kids who have very different understandings of what a pirate is, could learn a lot by sharing their definitions of 'pirate.' Maybe by knowing as much as we can about words, we can better understand others. And even if we don't agree with a certain perspective, at least we know what that things actually means to someone else. By adding to our definitions, I believe we can more accurately portray our ideas.

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