The New Observer Philosophy A little bit of philosophy

A little bit of philosophy

A little bit of philosophy about the relation between words and meaning.

I was thinking about this when I found on my coffee cup a thought for the day: “There is not a thin line between love and hate. There is in fact a Great Wall of China with sentries posted every 20 feet between love and hate”.

On the other hand, I immediately though of the Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. In this novel there is a great depiction of a young woman who has a ‘love-hate’ relationship with one of the main heroes. You could say it is a description of how love and hate are so close.

So; two seemingly opposing views.

Anglo-Saxon philosophy may do something like the following: establish two statements; “love and hate are very close” and “love and hate are far apart”. Then they may try and refine these to get to a point where they can be compared logically; for example, “love and hate are very close” and “love and hate are not close”. Now; you can show that these statements are contradictory and thus only one of them could be true. And the other is wrong. A second approach with be to try to define the words very carefully. Here, for example, we may decide that ‘love’ is used in each sentence to denote in fact two different forces. For example; perhaps in the statement “love and hate are close” we are talking about passionate love, romantic love. And in the second statement, “love and hate are miles apart” ‘love’ means caring love or spiritual love. And now we see that both statements could be true. This is not an unproductive approach.

However, there is an alternative. In this approach we see that in both sentences the author is pointing towards something, some understanding/insight (which may be somewhat ephemeral, hard to pin down); the words trigger the realisation. How exactly this process works is difficult to describe, but the words somehow prompts the realisation. There is no fixed relationship between the words and the realisation; different words could trigger the same realisation and the same words may or may not trigger the realisation in different people or even the same person on different days. In this view words are not representative of meaning; they are potential triggers for meaning. There is no direct, consistent relationship between the words and meaning. Obviously, it follows from this that there is no epistemological distinction between, say a philosophical statement-claim and a verse of poetry.

Needless to say, I prefer the latter.

The next step in this line of thinking would be to try to trace the connection between Anglo-Saxon philosophy and Western imperialism. That will be a task for another post.