Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Thought requires language

The finger that points to the moon should not be confused with the moon itself, as the proverb has it. Osho wrote, “You become so obsessed with the word God that you forget that God is an experience, not a word. The word God is not God, and the word fire is not fire, and the word love is not love either.”

And yet we do not, cannot, experience things exactly as they are. We experience them mediated through thought, and that seems to require words. Lance Morrow:

”We know what we think when we find words. Language is the vessel that carries us, our home and spaceship, and outside its protection, there is no oxygen for us. Outside the dimension of language lies a void in which the human conscience cannot breathe. To abandon language is suicide.”

Mark Haddon wrote in a novel: "The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it comes from the Greek words meta (which means from one place to another) and pherein (which means to carry), and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn't. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.

Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat:

"In the infancy of language nearly every word is a metaphor and every phrase an allegory. The mind grasps the figurative and the literal sense simultaneously. The word evokes the idea and at the same time the appropriate image by which the idea is expressed; but after a time the human mind becomes so accustomed to using the word in this figurative sense that by a process of abstraction it tends to fix on this alone and to lose sight of its original meaning: and so the secondary and the metaphorical sense of the word gradually becomes its ordinary, normal meaning. The priests, who were the guardians of this original allegorical language, used it in their dealings with the people who were by now incapable of understanding it properly for, having used it so long in only one way, they had come to think of this as the only way of doing so; with the result that when the priests used some expression and meant by it a quite simple truth, the people understood by it heaven knows what absurdity. The priests exploited the written word in a similar fashion, for when they used signs to represent some astronomical phenomena or some incident in the cycle of the seasons, the people saw only references to human beings, animals, and monsters.

Our language deserves to exist as much as anything else has its place on Earth. Alan Watts:

”'Words are noises in the air; they are patterns of thought, patterns of intellect, like a fern. Do you put down a fern because it has a complicated pattern?'
'No,' he said. 'But the fern is real – it's a living, natural thing.'
And I said, 'So are words! I'll make patterns in the air with words, and make all sorts of concepts and string them together, and they're going to be great! So don't put it down – it's a form of life like any other form of life.'”

By allowing us to communicate, language gives us political life. Giorgio Agamben:

”The question 'In what way does the living being have language?' corresponds exactly to the question 'In what way does human life dwell in the polis?' The living being has logos by taking away and conserving its own voice in it, even as it dwells in the polis by letting its own bare life be excluded, as an exception, within it. Politics therefore appears as the truly fundamental structure of Western metaphysics insofar as it occupies the threshold on which the relation between the living being and the logos is realized. In the 'politicization' of bare life – the metaphysical task par excellence – the humanity of living man is decided. In assuming this task, modernity does nothing other than declare its own faithfulness to the essential structure of the metaphysical tradition. The fundamental categorical pair of Western politics is not that of friend/enemy but that of bare life/political existence, zoe/bios, exclusion/inclusion. There is politics because man is the living being who, in language, separates and opposes himself to his own bare life and, at the same time, maintains himself in relation to that bare life in an inclusive exclusion.”


Osho. Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000. p 162.

Lance Morrow. Evil: An Investigation. New York: Basic Books, 2003. p 219.

Mark Haddon (in the character of Christopher). The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2004. p 15.

Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet. Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind. (1794) Translated by June Barraclough. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, Inc. 1955. p 37.

Alan Watts. What is Zen? Novato, CA: New World Library, 2000. p 100.

Giorgio Agamben. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. (1995) Translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford University Press, 1998. p. 8.

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