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Willard Quine – My unapologetic simplification

Willard Quine (1908-2000) was an influential American mathematician and philosopher who rejected Kant’s analytic-synthetic distinction¹ and advocated a form of holism.

English: The OWNER of this passport picture of...

Passport picture of Willard Van Orman Quine (Photo: Wikipedia)

Quine argues that empiricism contains “two dogmas.” One dogma is the distinction made between intellectual constructs and facts.

The second dogma is reductionism—that is, the belief that naming and meaning are the same.

Quine’s thought has been variously championed and critiqued. It seems that whatever way we look at the issues Quine addresses, we encounter the same problem. Language (and arguably all symbols, to include numbers) has conceptual and descriptive limits. It can never be entirely precise nor complete.²

The relationship between symbols and reality is an age old debate with no definitive answer. The discussion can go along ‘horizontal,’ conceptual lines or veer off into deeper, ‘vertical’ lines (as with Carl Jung‘s view of the archetypal image).

The discussion can also exist in a kind of matrix. That is, one could argue – as I do – that all words carry a potential numinous power. Numinosity isn’t something restricted to religious or mythological symbols.

In sociology, Quine’s thought appears in discussions about reification and also about the relation between scientific truth claims on the one hand, and ideology, the profit motive and social power on the other hand.

Healthcare Costs by Images Money via Flickr

Admittedly this is the briefest of brief sketches about Quine. When it comes to Western philosophy, it seems everyone has their own take on what these complicated thinkers are trying to say.³ My interest in Quine is mostly in trying to get people to think critically about scientific truth claims.

Science is becoming a new kind or medieval-style religion. The initial assumptions, selectivity, biases, interpretations and extrapolations built in to science are so glossed over or taken for granted that the average person tends to see science as “truth” and doesn’t even want to discuss any further.

In other words, science has a pretty firm grip on the minds and actions of many people. Too see this in action, we don’t have to look any further than some of the facile placards in the recent “March for Science.”

Making a religion out of science is misguided, authoritarian and dangerous. I think humanity can do better. So that’s how I justify simplifying Quine. I’m taking a poststructural approach. Something that I think everyone does. Although not everyone might be aware of it (or admit it, if they are).

Image by Becker1999 via Flickr

Need I say more?

¹ Kant devised a distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions. Analytic propositions are said to contain the predicate in the subject. Synthetic propositions do not contain the predicate in the subject. An example of an analytic proposition is, “All squares have four sides.” An example of a synthetic proposition is, “All men are athletic.”

² Along these lines the ancient Greek, Heraclitus, once wrote said that we cannot step into the same river twice. So what is a “river?”

³ Not to imply that Eastern philosophy is necessarily simpler or less open to interpretation. Just look at some of the Buddhist logic schools, for instance.

Related » Science, scientism


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The Rosetta Stone – An important key to understanding the ancient world

The Rosetta Stone

Image via Flickr

The Rosetta Stone is a large gray stele naturally tinted blue and pink measuring almost four feet high, over two feet wide and almost a foot thick.

It is a fragment of a larger, original stone, and was discovered in 1799 by a captain of Napoleon’s army, Pierre-François Bouchard, near Alexandria in the proximity of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta.

The stone is inscribed with an order issued at Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC by King Ptolemy V. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic and Demotic scripts; the bottom is in Ancient Greek.

Ptolemy’s decree is mostly the same in all three languages, so the Rosetta Stone was used to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Before the discovery of the stone, the hieroglyphs had been undecipherable.¹

The English scientist, physician and Egyptologist Thomas Young – famous for his double slit experiment – helped to decipher the Rosetta Stone.

Report of the arrival of the Rosetta Stone in England in The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1802 – Wikipedia

The stone was probably first displayed in a temple.  One theory suggests it was moved sometime between early Christian and medieval times, and later used as building material for Fort Julien near Rashid (Rosetta).

Today it sits in the British Museum, along with a replica in the BM’s King’s Library.

Not surprisingly, a contemporary language education tool is called Rosetta Stone.

A crowd of visitors examining the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum – Wikipedia

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_Stone

 Alleged Louvre attacker’s father says son is not a terrorist (kron4.com)

 Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone Paperback on Amazon (griffinwords.com)


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Sanskrit – Does God have a special language?

Sanskrit blogging on the rise by Debashish Chakrabarty

Sanskrit (samskrta = cultured, perfected, in contrast to prakrta = uncultured, popular) is the sacred, ancient language of Hinduism.

One school of thought believes that an early form of Sanskrit originated with Aryan invaders and their Vedic hymns around 2,000 BCE.

Another view suggests that an early form of Sanskrit existed within the Indus valley. And the entire Aryan invader thesis has been questioned.

Regardless of its disputed origins, the speakers of Sanskrit believed, as do many Hindus today, that the correct pronunciation of this language may elevate individuals to higher planes of consciousness, leading to greater spiritual awareness.¹

In Hinduism the Vedas, Shastras, Puranas and Kavyas were composed in Sanskrit.

Although Pali is the primary language of Buddhist scripture, some Mahayana texts were composed in a hybrid Sanskrit.

Sanskrit has also found its way into Jain scripture.

The earliest surviving character of its unique Devanagari (language of the gods) script is dated at 150 CE.

Not unlike Latin in the Catholic Church, Sanskrit remains sacred and prestigious among teachers and students throughout India and beyond.²

¹ This kind of claim is not unique to Hinduism. Not a few adherents of different religions believe that their own special language is the key to higher consciousness, awareness or God. I personally think it’s a joke to assume that God would prefer one “special” language over another. In Catholicism, some speak of the Latin Mass as if it has some kind of special sanctity. But what these people forget is that Jesus and his message is for anyone who wants to hear it. That’s why I applaud Catholic Bibles translated in any language and see them as equally valid as ancient Greek (original language of the New Testament) or Hebrew (original language of the Jewish scriptures and the Christian Old Testament) manuscripts. Some contemporary religious scholars use the language-game-power-trip to try to raise themselves above and literally intimidate others. But again, that is contrary to the Christian message.

² See https://www.highly.co/hl/58014caafb56eb5a9b00007e


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The changing face of scholarship

Pierre Bourdieu at an unemployed demonstration in front of ‘Sciences Politiques’ and ‘Normale Superieure’ schools in Paris, France on January 16, 1998.

Like most things in life, the idea of scholarship has many meanings. Many people are delighted and proud to receive advanced degrees. In some way it tells them and others that they are “smart,” worthy” and not just part of the crowd.

But when looked at another way, isn’t this an elitist view? And is it realistic or mostly a social construction, relative to our point in history?

If these questions sound unusual, consider the thinkers Pierre Bourdieu, Karl Marx and Max Weber. These and other sociologists maintain that two central functions of social institutions are to  legitimize and reproduce themselves.

Perhaps a slightly jaded view, some see universities as places of knowledge dissemination that, by virtue of what they are, tend to justify high tuition fees and not a few uninspiring, second and third-rate instructors. As part of the legitimization and reproduction process, universities must produce a quota of scholarly publications, many of which wouldn’t survive in the free market. And because university textbooks are often required for assignments and exams, students feel pressured into paying wildly inflated prices for these books if they want to get good grades.

The other side of the argument is that universities are specialized training centers, making tailor made textbooks necessary (and costly) by virtue of their relatively low circulation. Just as a detailed jet engine repair manual may never be a bestseller but is necessary for the airline mechanic, university textbooks in the Humanities are needed for the trade of “critical thinking.”

Glasgow University via Flickr

In fields like history and religious studies, students – some of whom might not realize they are, in part, consumers of education – are implicitly or explicitly lead to believe that a knowledge of original languages is linked to scholarly legitimacy and coherent thinking. This fallacy is often overlooked by those dazzled by a phalanx of references in non-English languages. And it is easy to find utterly shoddy articles which, perhaps, in part try to impress students and colleagues with a slew of references in different languages.

A postmodernist might argue that scholars should be just as concerned with recent language theory instead of conforming to the age-old tradition of upholding proficiency in languages as an emblem of scholarly legitimacy.

Further to Bourdieu’s claim that most scholarship doesn’t exist in isolation but takes place in institutions laden with cultural connotations (by virtue of their being accredited as universities and colleges), one might ask: What are these places really like? How do they really function? How effective are they? And how meaningfully do they connect with other social institutions and practices?

Historically, centers of so-called higher education and their resident scholars take various forms. From the Confucian courts, the Old Academies of Plato and Aristotle, the ashrams of Sankara and Gorakhnath, the early Oxford and Cambridge, the University at Salamanca, the Renaissance University of Padua, the New Florentine Academy, to today’s Visva-Bharati and other unique centers around the world, the definition of “quality education” is not fixed to one ideal.

Connections among pedagogy, language, societal legitimacy and, last but not least, morality are well summed up by Confucius, who in The Analects says:

A gentleman would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words.

A woman photographs a giant silicone sculpture of the ancient and famous chinese philosopher Confucius made by the Chinese artist Zhang Huan at the Rockbund Art museum on December 13, 2011 in Shanghai, China.

Related » Digital Scanning, Equal Rights, History, Individual Rights, Sociology


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Semiology (or Semiotics)

Dimitri dF discriminación

Semiology (or Semiotics) is the study of signs. The term was coined by Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), and semiology was originally taken to be a science.

But more recent theorists in several disciplines have questioned the entire notion of the “scientific enterprise,” which some regard as just another sign.

Indeed, semiology includes or, one could say, branches off into postmodern deconstruction, an approach which questions the distinction between denotation and connotation, along with many other culturally implied truth claims, normative structures and practices.

Some argue that pioneering semiologists like Roland Barthes contained the seeds of what would become known as a postmodern approach.


Funnily enough, Wikipedia on one page argues that

Semiotics (also called semiotic studies; [is] not to be confused with the Saussurean tradition called semiology which is a part of semiotics).”

But in the link to Ferdinand de Saussure Wikipedia combines the two:

“He is widely considered one of the fathers of 20th-century linguistics[4][5][6][7] and one of two major fathers (together with Charles Sanders Peirce) of semiotics/semiology.

Related » Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Signified, Signifier, Structuralism, Wittgenstein


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Sign

Sign not in use by Joe Dunckley

Sign not in use by Joe Dunckley

In semiotics, the sign is the relation between a signifier and signified.

When introducing the concept of the sign, Jeremy Hawthorn outlines a distinction between sign and symptom. The conventional understanding of the sign, he says, is entirely cultural while the symptom is entirely natural.

But Hawthorn notes that some theorists see the symptom as a subset of the sign. For instance, Michel Foucault‘s study of the history of medicine and the “medical gaze” suggests that an ironclad distinction between sign and symptom is questionable, at best.

Speaking about the sign, itself, Hawthorn says that theorists like Jacques Lacan regard the relationship between signifier and signified as problematic because meanings are “shifting, multiple and context-dependent.”¹

M. H. Abrams, defines signs as “conveyors of meaning” and notes that they apply not just to language and text but to a wide array of human activities and productions—e.g. morse code, traffic signals, what clothing we wear, bodily postures, what we serve to guests for dinner, neighborhoods where we live, etc.²

¹ A Concise Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory, New York: Routledge, 1992, p. 161-163.

² A Glossary of Literary Terms, eighth edition, Boston: Thomson, 2005, p. 289.

On the Web:


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Signifier

Sign not in use by Joe Dunckley

Sign not in use by Joe Dunckley

In semiotics the signifier is part of the sign. The signifier is usually taken to be a word or image that represents a signified.

M. H. Abrams says

In the area of semantics, Saussure introduced the terminology of the sign (a single word) as constituted by an inseperable union of signifier (the speech sounds or written marks composing the sign) and signified (the conceptual meaning of the sign).¹

¹ A Glossary of Literary Terms, eighth edition, Boston: Thomson, 2005, p. 149.

Related » Jean A. Baudrillard, Semiology, Zeno