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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Distinction between the ontological and the linguistic level

The naive view, the one istinctively shared by people not trained in philosophy of language is that there is no gap between language and the reality it describes. Things are the way we talk about them. This approach presupposes, thus, a precise correspondence between linguistic entities and real ones, although it does not consciously postulate it. By contrast, the direct realism approach consciously claims that the world is the way we see it and might also maintain that it is also faithfully represented by language. The difference is the same as the one between naive people saying that "the sun has raised" and Ptolomeus claiming that the earth is the centre of the universe. It is no surprise that one finds everywhere people saying that "the sun rises" or "the sun sets", and this does not represent the degree of advancement of their cultural milieus. In order to understand how much advanced are the scientifc knowledges of a certain country, one should ask scientists rather than men of the street (who could answer that "the sun has just set" in the Middle Ages just like in the XXI c.). The same procedure applies in the case of ancient civilization. In order to understand whether it was aware of the mutual position of sun and earth, one cannot rely on its plays or novels. Hence, in order to judge about the Indian belief in a correspondence between language and reality, one cannot ask lay texts (which represent the naive, default, stance), but linguistic ones.

On the "principle of correspondence" as a guide-line throughout the entire Indian philosophy, one might wish to read Johannes Bronkhorst's Langage et réalité: Sur un épisode de la pensée indienne (summary available here).

What do readers think? Are linguistics and ontology distinguished in Indian philosophy? Or do Indian philosophers just conflate the two?

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