Monday, June 16, 2008
Words and knowledge
When I just had finished my last blog, I happened to read Martha Nussbaum’s “ ‘Where the dark feelings held sway’. Running to music”. Actually, I started to read it not because I was interested in what she said about the relation between intellectual knowledge and practical knowledge, but in what she said about running. However, her ideas there appeared to agree well with what I had expressed in my last blog. Nussbaum calls “the tendency that all intelligence is essentially linguistic” language imperialism. There are, according to Nussbaum, different ways to express what one thinks, ways different from language: visual art, gesture, dance, music. When I make a photo, I do that because this photo “says” what I want to tell in a way that is different from when I would write an essay describing what is on the photo. The essay can tell “exactly” what is on the photo, and still it is different. Or sometimes it happens to me that I want to say something, but I cannot find the words. I get the feeling that I must make a gesture, and then, suddenly as it seems, I know what I mean. The thought pops up, by way of speaking. Must I say then that the proposition that describes my gesture would do as well? If we describe a non-linguistic expression in words, we must not forget, as Nussbaum maintains, that these words are a translation, not a faithful replication. It is a bit like a translation from one language into another one, I would say: the translation may look verbal, but how often doesn’t it happen that we have the feeling that the translation is actually not exactly like the original. Some linguistic meanings are impossible to translate from one language into another one. This must be the more the case, when we try to translate meanings from other realms of knowledge into linguistic knowledge.And then we are back to running. “The body has its own ways of perceiving the world” (Nussbaum). And it is not only a matter of perceiving the world; I would rather talk of experiencing the world. But in the end it is as simple as this: I know how to run but I cannot say how I do it. I just do. It would be absurd to say that here is no knowledge only because it cannot be expressed in words (cf Nussbaum’s article).