Language/Thinking: A query

kenneth.mackendrick at kenneth.mackendrick at
Sat Nov 6 09:08:34 PST 1999

On Sat, 06 Nov 1999 10:11:49 -0600 Carrol Cox <cbcox at> wrote:

> Consider the old example:
> All men are mortal.
> Socrates is a Man.
> Therefore Socrates is mortal.

> Consider someone who understood the first two propositions, but
> who could not see that *therefore* the third was true.

> The failure of this person to make the leap from the first two
propositions to the third is *not* a failure that takes place in language. That is, one of the most elementary moves of the intellectu is extra-linguistic or non-linguistic. It is an instance in which clearly knowledge exists independently of language.

Absolutely not! It is absolutely incoherent to say that *knowledge* exists independently of language. Yes, *STUFF* might exist independent of language, as we assume that it does, but *knowledge* does not (Lacan calls this stuff "the Real"). Knowledge is knowledge of something - it involves both the content of the thing speculated upon and the relation between the speculator and the speculated upon - between the knower and the known. This relation might not completely exist alone in language, but it is *only* forumlated within and by language. We know things because we are able to formulate an idea of knowledge first. In effect, we have an idea: knowledge ("the truth is out there). Then we determine what this idea relates to - something concrete (the X-files). From the concrete, which contains its opposite (this or not this) we make evaluations about the truth of one thing against another - we make distinctions. This is that, that is not this. In other words, knowledge comes into itself - from the idea of knowledge, to the stuff of its content, to a judgement about the content in light of the idea - both together. So we have knowledge about something. And this relation isn't expressed outside of language.

Take, for instance, the volcano on Mars - Olympus Mons. Without knowledge of this volcano, Olympus Mons does not exist. At least it does not exist *for us* - and this is exactly what knowledge is. Knowledge *for us* - not knowledge in and of itself. The distinction you are making here is purely Platonic - that knowledge exists in and of itself apart from human activity. This is false. Knowledge exists for us, we "actualize" it (this is just a crumby summary of Hegel's Logic).

> It is a failure of intuition. Faced with a failure of intuition no
explanation can be made verbally.

It's a matter of informal logic, which has both structural and intuitive aspects. Structurally, the problem has only one solution (if all of the linguistic elements possess static dimensions) (ie. you've defined all the words and harmonized their meaning with other people) (which is Hobbes approach - argument by definition). Apart from this, because this is clearly a counterfactual situation, there is an intuitive or speculative element as well. It is a failure of language insofar as language is dialogical and not technical. In other words, as long as communication relies on a preunderstanding (which is shaped by context, power, and so on) a failure to grasp this logic *is* a linguistic problem - its a problem of preunderstanding, of the constitutive elements required to make logical propositions intelligible. If this preunderstanding is not shared between speakers, then no agreement can be reached. In other words: this is a *hermeneutic* problem.


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