Sunday, 25 March 2012

Private matters


As both Lugwig Wittgenstein and B F Skinner have observed in their different ways, language is necessarily public. There is no such thing as a private language and we can’t speak or think outside of socially constructed modes of expression. Even so that does not rule out private events. It just means they may be difficult or even impossible to express in a public language..

So it is quite reasonable to suppose that a person might become convinced of some matter for private and socially inaccessible reasons. As long as they don’t mutilate the established uses of language in describing their private certainties, then who can possibly gainsay their point of view?

So one person may have their god and another person may have no god or a different god, but these matters may be driven at least in part by private events. We cannot automatically decry such experiences, merely because we ourselves do not seem to touch reality in quite the same way.

These private differences seem to be important and authoritarian attempts to iron them flat are doomed to fail. Equally mistaken is the idea that science covers everything and, at least in principle, will tell us all we are equipped to know. These days that particular myth is not even worth demolishing, but there are still important principles at stake. We should not lose sight of them.

Reality touches us in different ways - it always has, so these differences must be important. We should study and try to understand them, but to deny or dismiss them is foolish, leading us into disaster after disaster.

We may not mutilate the competent and moral use of language, but that does not necessarily restrict what we know or suspect to be true. Private matters. 


Sam Vega said...

I'm not sure whether I agree that we can't think or speak outside of socially constructed modes of expression. if that were so, then how would thought or language evolve? Must it always develop via interaction? And is it not possible to innovate a new mode of expression?

As for the points about private differences, I entirely agree. Science is often an attempt to iron out these differences, just as political and social authoritarianism are. Regardless of whatever is best in scientific practice, most people who invoke "science" in a social context are just interested in explaining things away.

Demetrius said...

Do I say what I think? Or are there thoughts that I will not say and reserve to myself as private? Many people seem to say but not think beforehand. I confess, I support Accrington Stanley. I cannot think why.

A K Haart said...

Sam - "is it not possible to innovate a new mode of expression?" Maybe. Bargle thrump me about it (:

Demetrius - Accrington Stanley is a good example. Put your support into words and it never quite works. There is something not quite expressible about Accrington Stanley (:

Sam Vega said...

AKH - Is something wrong with your Bargle Thrumper? I know it has definitely arrived in your mental space, and I have been throngling for hours, but you are not responding...

James Higham said...

I respect science - it tries to make a reasoned guess, based on years of data, as to how things are. Abstracts require metaphysics though and that's a different set of parameters. I don't know why the two need clash.

A K Haart said...

James - I agree, they shouldn't clash and those who try to promote conflict in this area are doing nobody any favours, including themselves.