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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Fencing as You Go


To some degree your words are defined by your use of them, defined, that is, as you use them. Your interlocutors have then to navigate what you say by reference to their knowledge of the language and their intuition of the present situation. (This is not fully recognized in any research I have read on the subject, but it seems to be implicit in the work of Austin.) Wittgenstein informs us that the meaning of a word is its use in the language. Yes, but that means that the words' meanings are being made every time they are used. Add to this the imperfect presence of any speaker’s meaning to himself at the point of the utterance and you see the inherent and practical imprecision of every saying. And this is only the beginning of the complications, but it is as far as I will go at the moment. The deeper we investigate the complexities of the utterance, the worse it gets for what we like to call “communication.” Language affords all sorts of tricks that allow us to think we’re being rational when we are actually saying nothing at all—and to congratulate ourselves on our cleverness.

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