09 Aug


Language and Manipulation

” One of the main theses is that our use of language cements the dominant interests of our society, helping to oppress a large segment of the population. A key concept here is that of linguistic manipulation. I compare language to a screen or a veil, whose role it is to keep life’s ugly reality out of our conscious perimeter. As long as we don’t notice the presence of the screen or the veil, we are being manipulated. One should keep in mind, however, that it is not language itself, or its use as such that does the oppression. The true oppressor is society, or more precisely: the way it organizes itself. “- Jacob L. Mey, “Whose Language”

…mass-oriented use of language not necessarily, or even at all, represents the masses’ interests, but rather those of a small circle of influential people, the ‘mass moguls’ and their friends in politics and business. Such use of language identifies with the interests of the ruling classes rather than with those of the ruled masses; it is always manipulative.”Jacob L. Mey, “Whose Language”.

…”… le discours de la science, en tant qu’il se recommanderait de l’objectivité, de la neutralité, de la grisaille, voire du genre sulpicien, est tout aussi malhonnête, aussi noir d’intentions que n’importe quelle autre rhétorique.” Jacques Lacan, ‘La métaphore du sujet’

distinction between empirical-analytic and reconstructive sciences

– with the distinction between sensory experience or observation and communicative experience or understanding –

1. Epistemic relations between experiential acts and their objects. In this sense, the act of understanding relates to the symbolic expression (here of the observation sentence), as does the act of observation to the events observed.

2. Relations of representing an aspect of reality in a propositional sentence. In this sense, the interpretation represents the semantic content (here of the observation sentence), as the observation sentence in turn represents certain events.

3. Relations of expressing intentional acts. In this sense, the understanding (here of the observation sentence) is expressed in the propositional content of the interpretation, just as the observation is expressed in the propositional content of the observation sentence.

The two pairs of concepts—perceptible reality versus symbolically prestructured reality and observation versus understanding—can be correlated with the concepts of description versus explication.

By using a sentence that reports an observation, I can describe the observed aspect of reality. By using a sentence that renders an interpretation of the meaning of a symbolic formation, I can explicate the meaning of such an utterance. Naturally only when the meaning of the symbolic formation is unclear does the explication need to be set off as an independent analytic step. I n regard to sentences with which we describe events, there can be questions at different levels. If the phenomenon described needs explanation, we demand a causal description that makes clear how the phenomenon in question comes to pass. If, by contrast, the description itself is incomprehensible, we demand an explication that makes clear what the observer meant by his utterance and how the symbolic expression in need of elucidation comes about. In the first case, a satisfactory answer wil l have the form of an explanation we undertake with the aid of a causal hypothesis. In the second case, we speak of explication of meaning. (Of course, explications of meaning need not be limited to descriptive sentences; any meaningfully structured formation can be subjected to the operation of meaning explication).

Descriptions and explications have different ranges; they can begin on the surface and push through to underlying structures. We are familiar with this fact in regard to the explanation of natural phenomena—theories can be more or less general. The same is true of meaning explications. Of course, the range of explication does not depend on the level of generality of theoretical knowledge about structures of an external reality accessible to observation but on knowledge of the deep structures of a reality accessible to understanding, the reality of symbolic formations produced according to rules. The explanation of natural phenomena pushes in a different direction from the explication of the meaning of expressions.

I want to distinguish two levels of explication of meaning. If the meaning of a written sentence, action, gesture, work of art, tool, theory, commodity, transmitted document, and so on, is unclear, the explication of meaning is directed first to the semantic content of the symbolic formation. In trying to understand its content, we take up the same position as the “author” adopted when he wrote the sentence, performed the gesture, used the tool, applied the theory, and so forth. Often too we must go beyond what was meant and intended by the author and take into consideration a context of which he was not conscious.

– Jürgen Habermas: Communication and the Evolution

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