A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Language, Practices and Objective Reality

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 11, 2007

Baptizing (giving name to something) is a conscious act done by a conscious person or persons, where a name is picked up to be used for something which appears as intentional target of our conscious intentional act (perceiving, assuming, imagining and so on).

Baptizing is a practice. It is a practice related to the social practice of using names to refer to things, which is in turn related to social practice of other speech acts. Baptizing is one of those speech acts (‘We will call this boy John’ is a speech act), however as a speech act it has sense only given those other speech acts.

What are those other speech acts? Language is used to inform other people, where we use sentences to describe relations of which the listener is not aware through words for things of which the listener is aware. It is used to ask for information, or give orders. It is also a crucial part of other practices, like wedding, betting, giving, promising, threating, appointing, forgiving, apologizing, and so on (to name few of the examples that Austin nicely worked through in his How to do things with words).

This opens interesting question of how can words appear, if we need speech acts for words to appear. I see three possibilities – a)Instead of ‘speech acts’ we can speak of more general ‘communication acts’ which don’t have to involve words, but which would be enough for the practice of baptizing to appear b)The co-evolution of basic speech acts (and words as part of those acts) with evolution of human kind and c)External source of language (God).

The practices are about what people do. What people do is related to what they know that they can do. By being part of the community, we are seeing what people do, and thus becoming aware of what can be done. What can be done is not about us, it is about the world (which contains the social, biological, and other facts). In such way, practices already established in the society are crucial part of extending our knowledge of the world. And not just in the sense that through practices as schooling one can get information, but the practices themselves are showing us open possibilities of what can be done.

But that practices are fundamental to our using language doesn’t make language and thoughts expressed in this language a social construct, less so make reality a social construct. As said, practices are related to what can be done in the world – those are possibilities which are not constructed, but which are discovered. And people from one society can become aware of those practices in another society.

That people can inform each other isn’t a construction. It is a possibility. It is the same possibility in all those cultures. That people can marry, promise, forgive, threat, etc… are also open possibilities. They are not constructions. Some cultures will include those possibilities, some not. Some practices in one society will be different from practices in another. Some practices will be interdependent with other, so a practice in one society might not be possible in another given some other practice.

Some practices might work as a way to prevent awareness of some possibilities in the world, while other societies might boost the probability of awareness of some possibilities. An outsider might easily see, what people entrenched in certain practices can’t see.

Good example of practices boosting some awareness might be where practice of exchanging goods, might make people aware of mathematical notions, or practice of rich art, might make people more aware of different colors. (The lack of those practices may be seen as an explanation why some tribes don’t have many words for math, colors or time determinations).

Given this view, I’m inclined to think that there is no need to talk about conceptual frameworks which reside ‘inside our minds’ or ‘in society’, but that one can address all those things in pure objective terms of awareness of the subjects in the society of some practices, and awareness of things in the world in general.

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