The Power of Language

Check out Mark Pagel’s fascinating speech on how language transformed humanity: (Cut and paste into your browser)

After you watch and process the ideas, consider this talk in relation to the following quotation:

“Language as a supposed science.–The significance of language for the development of culture lies in the fact that human beings used it to set up a world of their own beside the other one, a place they deemed solid enough that from there they could lift the rest of the world from its hinges and make themselves its master.  Insofar as people believed for long stretches of time in the concepts for and names of things as if they were aeternae veritates, they appropriated for themselves the pride with which they raised themselves above the animals: they really believed that in language they had knowledge of the world.  The shapers of language were not so modest as to believe that they expressed with words the highest knowledge about things; language is in fact the first step of the struggle of science.  Here, too, it is the belief in having found truth from which the most powerful sources of energy flowed.  Long afterward–only just now–is it dawning on people that they have propagated a colossal error with their belief in language.  Luckily, it is too late for the development of reason, which rests upon the belief, to be reversed.  —Logic also rests upon presuppositions to which nothing in the real world corresponds; for example, upon the presupposition of the likeness of things, of the identity of the same thing at different points of time: but this science arose out of the opposite belief (that such things do indeed obtain in the real world).  It is the same in mathematics, which certainly would not have come into being if one had known that there was in nature no exactly straight line, no real circle, no absolute magnitude.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human (I)

How does Pagel’s talk compare and contrast with Nietzsche’s view?  How does Richard Wright’s text support Pagel’s case and perhaps undermine Nietzsche’s?



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5 responses to “The Power of Language

  1. Paul B. Ellis

    It should be noted that an l (lowercase letter L) is missing from the end of the url. Add it to see the video.

  2. mrklein

    I’m seeing the “l” on the html from where I’m sitting…(and I didn’t edit the page to make you feel like you are going crazy Paul). Thanks for the heads up. Let me know if you all can see the video.

  3. Paul B. Ellis

    I did see it, though I somehow see the link minus an l. The video was most interesting. It makes you think.

  4. Daniela G.

    Nietzsche sees language as more of a reflection on the human personality and an addition to humanity’s collective ego than as the entirely functional and vitally important tool that Pagel presents it as. In Nietzsche’s view, humans consider themselves superior because they possess the ability to express themselves on a higher plane than other species; Pagel expresses the view that humans truly are in many ways superior precisely because they have language and so can share ideas and develop as a group. Richard Wright’s ability to use language to its fully extent elevated him to Nietzsche’s higher plane, but this was no insignificant instance of hubris as Nietzsche implies. Rather, Wright’s ability to communicate his ideas with others allowed him to become a more fully functioning member of society. Later on, his grasp of language would allow him to contribute to humanity’s development as a whole, displaying in a tiny way the phenomenon that Pagel gives credit to for all of humanity’s success.

  5. Paul B. Ellis

    I would agree with Daniela, and would reiterate that the same effect that humans have on the world due to their grasp of language is seen on a micro scale with Wright influencing many humans through his mastery of language.

    Well said, Daniela.

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