Sunday, May 10, 2009

79 Ferdinand de Saussure

For many centuries philosophers had taken the world for granted and developed all comprehensive metaphysical descriptions of it. For that they used language without hesitation. But the days of extensive philosophical systems is over.

There are no "schools" anymore. Modern philosophers nibble on all kinds of limited questions regarding, knowledge, scientific method, logic, moral issues, political matters and so on.

And today we are dealing with a specific question, which indicates the "linguistic turn", that took place in the development of philosophy at the beginning of the 20th century.

What is our philosophical question for today? Although taken for granted for centuries, we now wonder how it is possible that we can talk about the world. How is it possible that we utter a sound, make a word, associate it with some concept in our mind and link this concept with something in the real word?

To quote from "Cours de linguistique générale" (1916), a book written by two of Saussure's students after his death and derived from lecture notes:
"In itself, thought is like a swirling cloud, where no shape is intrinsically determinate. No ideas are established in advance, and nothing is distinct, before the introduction of linguistic structure."

You may see here a resemblance with the Kantian theory that sense experience is diffuse untill brought into shape by apriori ideas. In Saussure's case thoughts are diffuse untill the introduction of linguistic structure.

Language has an intrinsic structure that makes it possible that our words get meaning in relation to the extra linguistic world. It is thus, how we can talk about the extra linguistic world.

A quote from the "Cours...": "A sign is the basic unit of language (a given language at a given time). Every language is a complete system of signs. Parole (the speech of an individual) is an external manifestation of language."

Saussure's philosophical program became the effort to reveal the linguistic structure, the relations between all linguistic signs. And he had the idea that this structure was a kind of general thing, independent of a development through time. And for those who are familiar with the subject, here you read a prelude to Chomsky.

We can go into a lot of more detail about this subject, but the main issue for us to observe is, how this concept of (linguistic) structure mirroring extra linguisitc structures influenced further philosophical developments in Europe, especially in France.

This idea of structure in the linguistic system of signs , was applied to psychological, sociological and antropological matters by men like Lévi-Strauss and Foucault, who are both on our 100 list. Their theories are also known under the name "Structuralism"

Let's conclude with a few quotes from Daniel Chandler's, Semiotics:The basics:
"We seem as a species to be driven by a desire to make meanings: above all, we are surely homo significans - meaning-makers. Distinctively, we make meanings through our creation and interpretation of 'signs'.

Anything can be a sign as long as someone interprets it as 'signifying' something - referring to or standing for something other than itself. We interpret things as signs largely unconsciously by relating them to familiar systems of conventions. It is this meaningful use of signs which is at the heart of the concerns of semiotics.

Other than as 'the study of signs' there is relatively little agreement among semioticians themselves as to the scope and methodology of semiotics.

Although Saussure had looked forward to the day when semiotics would become part of the social sciences, semiotics is still a relatively loosely defined critical practice rather than a unified, fully-fledged analytical method or theory.

At worst, what passes for 'semiotic analysis' is little more than a pretentious form of literary criticism applied beyond the bounds of literature and based merely on subjective interpretation and grand assertions."

The Discussion

[13:27] herman Bergson: So far on Saussure
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: If i may, i found this site of the web with free past classes on the linguistic subject that you might like to see pring-2005/CourseHome/index.htm
[13:28] herman Bergson: If youhave any questions or remarks, feel free....
[13:28] Ze Novikov: Can there ever be universal signs then?
[13:28] herman Bergson: Well Ze, I guess that is the big problem here
[13:28] arabella Ella: could we not accept though that semiotics is today an important part of liguistics herman?
[13:29] herman Bergson: Semiotics didnt make it nor Structuralism at the end
[13:29] arabella Ella: thanks to ideas of umberto eco, roland barthes and others
[13:30] herman Bergson: semiotics isnt nonsense.....the question still do we connect a sign with a concept with an external object
[13:30] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: did de saussere say anything about the meanings of non-verbal signs, such as paintings or sculpture?
[13:30] arabella Ella: also baudrilliard
[13:30] Alarice Beaumont: one universal sign .. is a smile
[13:30] Laila Schuman: excellent question Bubblesort
[13:30] Cailleach Shan: Or body language
[13:30] herman Bergson: Not that I know of Bubble..he was a linguist
[13:31] arabella Ella: but herman saussure was not interested in external concepts and their link with signs
[13:31] herman Bergson: The problem with this 'structural' approach is that the concept of STRUCTURE hasnt got a clear definition
[13:31] arabella Ella: and st augustine says that is done via ostension, others say agtreement amongst communities of speakers
[13:32] arabella Ella: i personally see structure as the grammatical rules of language
[13:32] arabella Ella: but i may be wrong
[13:32] bundy Razor: i agree
[13:32] herman Bergson: I guess you are in line with Saussure Arabella...
[13:33] herman Bergson: though he might have thought of more universal structures tooo
[13:33] arabella Ella: herman i am not saying i agree with saussere
[13:33] arabella Ella: mainly because i think it is important to emphasise the external world too
[13:33] arabella Ella: and would agree with Kant in that respect more than with saussure
[13:33] Alarice Beaumont: well they rewrite / update the dictionnarys because a new notion becomes popular
[13:34] Ze Novikov: so rules as structure not the descriptive words?
[13:34] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: intonation seems fairly universal... no matter what language somebody is speaking, I can tell if they are extreemly angry or happy through the tone of their voice and their mannerisms
[13:34] herman Bergson: well...I see it thus
[13:34] Alarice Beaumont: yes i agree Bubble
[13:35] herman Bergson: on the one hand we have our sensory experience of the external world...for practical reasons we accept a realism now
[13:35] arabella Ella: mannierisms are not universal though
[13:35] arabella Ella: neither are sounds which we think resemble what for example animals sound like
[13:35] herman Bergson: on the other hand we have a system of signs which we use to communicte about this external world
[13:36] herman Bergson: the fundamental question do this system of signs and this external world relate to eachother
[13:36] arabella Ella: for example the purring sound a cat makes is rwaaaa or similar in portugese
[13:36] herman Bergson: the system of signs is in the first place related to concepts in our mind
[13:37] AristotleVon Doobie: I think a sign relates because more than one person agrees that it does
[13:37] Alarice Beaumont: this comes thru education... during growing up.. observe others
[13:37] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: I like stephen pinker's take on that... language evolved just like we evolved legs and thumbs... it's all from cause and effect
[13:37] Mickorod Renard: are we saying that he thought that anyone bought up without language cannot see reality for what it is?
[13:38] arabella Ella: pinker and chomsky have opposing views on this dont they?
[13:38] Alarice Beaumont: and some persons who tried to give it from generation to generation
[13:38] Alarice Beaumont: it's like a standard
[13:38] herman Bergson: Yes...these are reasonable remarks....and this leaves us with the problems of thruth and certainty of knowledge
[13:38] Alarice Beaumont: on which a lot of people agree
[13:38] Ze Novikov: good thought Mickorod
[13:38] arabella Ella: like the well known Helen Keller mick?
[13:39] herman Bergson: That remark, Mickorod, implies already a description of reality
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: I dont think interpersonal language is necessary for the attainment of personal knowledge
[13:39] herman Bergson: animals have no language in our sense, but they have an awareness of reality
[13:40] Mickorod Renard: yes, ty
[13:40] herman Bergson: indeed Aristotle
[13:40] AristotleVon Doobie: I would classifiy aninal awareness as primitive
[13:40] herman Bergson: that doesnt matter, is an awareness of reality, a reality, otherwise an animal couldnt survive
[13:41] AristotleVon Doobie: but the human mind can think about those delicious abstactions
[13:41] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: are there thoughts that can not be spoken or written about?
[13:41] alial Allen is Online
[13:41] Mickorod Renard: It sounds like language is a prerequisite to being able to think or reason beyond a simple animal?
[13:41] herman Bergson: Wittgenstein would say YES, Bubble
[13:41] herman Bergson: thesis nr. 7
[13:42] Ze Novikov: like Helen early in her life?
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: no way Mick is my belief
[13:42] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: what are they? or can't you tell me? :)
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: to communcate your knowledge with others is wher language becomes important
[13:42] herman Bergson: yes Mickorod...we need signs to think
[13:43] herman Bergson: I wonder Aristotle...the mind needs a representation of reality...concepts
[13:43] Mickorod Renard: I find that hard to believe
[13:43] arabella Ella: it is only through languge that we can think of the distant past and the long term future, something animals are not capable of doing
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: I think we can only see this theory from this side of the fence
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: because we have established langueages already
[13:44] Laila Schuman: a baby does not have language right away...yet i believe they do "think"
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: try to think with int inhibitance of language
[13:44] Ze Novikov: yes
[13:44] Laila Schuman: on a baby level
[13:44] Mickorod Renard: yes, I think it is dificult to imagine an inteligent life without language
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: without*
[13:44] herman Bergson: Just a moment..hold on..
[13:44] Alarice Beaumont: think that is instinct Laila
[13:44] herman Bergson: Imagine yourself..all alone in a never have learned to speak
[13:45] herman Bergson: in front of the cave is a need water
[13:45] Laila Schuman: no there is a point when it is not is thinking
[13:45] herman Bergson: the first time you left the cave you were attacked by an animal but survived
[13:45] herman Bergson: now you are back in the cave and need water
[13:46] herman Bergson: you have no language...but you have concepts to use
[13:46] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: babies communicate emotively, though... when they cry they aren't saying "please, father warm a bottle of milk and bring it to me. You are two hours late for dinner." They're saying "I'm HUNGRY!" Perhaps language is needed for higher thought to happen
[13:46] herman Bergson: you can plan a strategy to evade the animal
[13:46] Mickorod Renard: yes I see that herman
[13:46] herman Bergson: So I wonder if language is a necessary condition for thinking
[13:47] Ze Novikov: hmmm
[13:47] Mickorod Renard: I think its become too entwined in our thought processes
[13:47] Alarice Beaumont: mmhh.. to name the things you think about .. iwould say
[13:47] Laila Schuman: they have memory and curiosity.... and you can have that without language
[13:47] arabella Ella: humans without language tend to use ostention ... pointing ... which is what we all do anyway when trying to communicate to someone who speaks another language we cant understand
[13:48] herman Bergson: yes arabella indeed
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: if we had no vocal chords we would all speak a specific and different language to ourselves
[13:48] herman Bergson: Well..I think we can conclude our discussion with the observation that we have plenty to study on the relation between language and reality
[13:49] herman Bergson: and a number of philosophers to come will keep us busy with this ubject
[13:49] Cailleach Shan: Herman, do you differentiate between spoken language and internal, non-verbal thought.
[13:50] herman Bergson: Difficultl question Cailleach..I tend to answer: no
[13:50] Alarice Beaumont: mmhh... sorry.. Herman.. ..I think in Gemran.. but cannot express it in english
[13:50] Laila Schuman: i think artists often deal with non verbal thoughts as they look inside and in the creative process... non verbal
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: but the only one to have to agree with the structure of language would be the internal thinker if spoken language did not exist
[13:51] Alarice Beaumont: isn't that a difference?
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: I agree Laila
[13:51] Mickorod Renard: do you think the developement of language has a direct correlation with the developement of Human existance from primitive man to today
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: a visual artist is not concerned with 'words'
[13:51] herman Bergson: I think Yes, Mickorod..
[13:51] Laila Schuman: right
[13:52] herman Bergson: language enables us to abstraction
[13:52] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: just because an artist's expression of the thought is non-verbal, doesn't mean the thought itself is necissarily non-verbal
[13:52] Alarice Beaumont: helps to exchange knowledge
[13:52] Laila Schuman: true
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: if I were talented enough to be an artist I would want to convey a feeling
[13:52] Mickorod Renard: Its interesting that Aborigonies have no language for numbers,,I think I read
[13:52] Laila Schuman: but it is often not able to be verbalized...and the is teh exact reson it is done in whatever medium the artist uses
[13:53] arabella Ella: yes Laila like the emotions which music for example may evoke cannot always be expressed in language to convey the precise specific emotion felt during the performance
[13:54] Laila Schuman: absolutely... as in bel canto
[13:54] arabella Ella: exactly
[13:54] herman Bergson: Hello Rodney!
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: oh yes, music is like visual arts
[13:54] herman Bergson: Right on (your) time..^_^
[13:54] Mickorod Renard: hiya Rodney
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: hi Herman
[13:54] Alarice Beaumont: Hi Rod .-)
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: Hi Mick
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: touches the individual mind
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: Hi Alarice
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: Hey Rodney !!!
[13:54] arabella Ella: music is said to evoke more abstract inexpressible emotions than the visual arts altho the latter should not be excluded
[13:54] Rodney Handrick: Hi Ari
[13:55] herman Bergson: Well, friends, I would thank you for this good discussion
[13:55] Laila Schuman: true arabella
[13:55] Mickorod Renard: Thank you herman
[13:55] Ze Novikov: TYVM!
[13:55] herman Bergson: Let's keep an open eye for the language issue during the coming lectures
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: maybe so, but I tell you VAn Gogh touches those emotional wires in me
[13:55] herman Bergson: the linguistic turn still has to be made ^_^
[13:55] arabella Ella: could you tell us who the next philsopher is herman please?
[13:56] Laila Schuman: ari... it is interesting to disect van gogh...and see WHY and HOW he evokes those feeling in you
[13:56] herman Bergson: Next philosopher is Edward Moore
[13:56] Laila Schuman: he has yet another language...
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: I still have two ears Laila LOL
[13:57] Laila Schuman: smiles
[13:57] arabella Ella: and Ari your views on agreement of meaning for words is in line with Donald Davidson's ideas on triangulation where language is concerned where at least two people agree on a common meaning related to an object in the world
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: smiling
[13:57] herman Bergson: analytic linguistic philospher
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Arabella
[13:57] arabella Ella: thanks Herman ;)
[13:57] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: aren't emotions thoughts? I mean, I can identify my emotions through the use fo words... the painting makes me experience happiness or the symphony makes me experience sadness
[13:58] Corona Anatine is Online
[13:58] Alarice Beaumont: the words describe the feelings to another person...
[13:58] Laila Schuman: i think what you are saying needs more information...
[13:58] Alarice Beaumont: that's why one needs language..
[13:58] herman Bergson: keep in mind that thought / emotion is a distiction made by our mind....whether it is real or not isnt proven by that
[13:58] AristotleVon Doobie: emtions and thougst are like dinasaurs and rockerts
[13:58] Alarice Beaumont: and a same understanding of the words
[13:58] arabella Ella: but hapiness and sadness are similar to collective nouns and they do not adequately descrie the specific emotions experienced
[13:58] Laila Schuman: yes...need more words...
[13:59] arabella Ella: they may be expressed in language but is the language adequate to capture the precise emotions?
[13:59] Laila Schuman: that is why we have poets
[13:59] Alarice Beaumont: no.. but it shows the direction of the feeling Arabella.. and there are more words to make difference even in the same feeling
[13:59] herman Bergson: here we are at the core of the problem...we talk about emotions and thoughts as if it were real identifiable objects in reality
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: it takes the duet of emotion and thought to create communication
[13:59] Laila Schuman: poets...
[13:59] herman Bergson: We use it as a system of signs some extend....but yet
[14:00] Cailleach Shan: Have to go Herman..... thanks everyone. Good discussion..
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Cal
[14:00] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: IMHO thoughts are just patterns of electrical impulses in the brain... and emotions are a mode of thoughts
[14:00] herman Bergson: Bye Caileach, thnx for coming.;-)
[14:00] Alarice Beaumont: that's why we still have wars... language is sometimes not enough
[14:00] arabella Ella: yes poets use metaphor and analogy as we tend to look for similarities when we find it difficult to express something such as an intense emotion
[14:00] Alarice Beaumont: See you Caileach :-)
[14:00] Laila Schuman: yes
[14:00] arabella Ella: hey Bubble ... are u a Skinnerian?
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: thts too cold Bubble
[14:01] Cailleach Shan is Offline
[14:01] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: I haven't read any skinner... sorry
[14:01] arabella Ella: salivating dogs and all that jazz?
[14:01] Ze Novikov: lol
[14:02] herman Bergson: Skinner is on the 100 list you'll get to know him soon..:-)
[14:02] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: oh, good
[14:03] Laila Schuman: need to run... baiee all... great to see you all again!
[14:03] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your attention....this was a great start of the new course ^_^
[14:03] arabella Ella: bye Laila
[14:03] Mickorod Renard: bye laila
[14:03] herman Bergson: Bye laila
[14:03] Alarice Beaumont: thank you Herman :-)
[14:03] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: thanks for the class!
[14:03] Osrum Sands: Cheers all ... must away
[14:03] arabella Ella: thanks Herman very interesting lecture
[14:03] Ze Novikov: bb everyone
[14:03] Alarice Beaumont: Bye Laila
[14:03] Laila Schuman is Offline
Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-09-03 15:43:43

No comments:

Post a Comment