Categories
- Language - Science

Language as Social Convention

In understanding the role of objectivity in language, two types of statements have been presented – personal preferences, which are entirely subjective; and social conventions, which are subjective in their creation or existence yet objective in their influence and knowledge.  Let’s move progressively towards a more objective statement.

Two examples of social conventions presented last post were traffic lights and money.  So, what about the statement “That traffic light is green” or “That dollar bill is green”.  This is certainly not a personal preference, nor subjective – all people looking at these objects can reach this valid conclusion.  Furthermore, this is not societally or culturally dependent; a green light or a green bill taken elsewhere will still hold the property of green color – it is apparently an inherent property of that bulb or that ink.

Is this, then, an entirely objective statement that informs us about reality?  Upon further analysis, this statement still is based on a social convention.  Language, as has been discussed earlier, is itself a social convention.  The main point of the statement about the traffic light or the dollar bill is its green color.  However, the term “green” is simply a name that, like all other names, was at one point or another agreed upon – the naming process of language, being a social convention, is also ontologically subjective and epistemologically objective.  Additionally, languages, both between and even within, contain myriad connotations, subtle meanings, and context-specific interpretations.  In order to understand the concepts, ideas, and underling reality being conveying through the vehicle of language, one needs to go beyond names…one needs to get to the objectivity that those names symbolize.

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Categories
- Language

The Concept of a Concept

All human beings are endowed with certain basic spiritual capacities – derived from the soul, which is the element of the individual that is responsible for spiritual nature. Chief among these capacities is that of intellect, consciousness, the power of thought. In fact, the human mind (a faculty of the soul) cannot exist without thinking. Try it. Try not thinking. When these thoughts, most of which are vague and fleeting, start to take shape, form, structure, and substance, they give rise to ideas. What, really, is an idea?

One particularly important idea is a concept. It allows a mind to distinguish one named thing from another named thing. There is the concept of a “keyboard”, for instance, that is different from a “monitor”, though both can be included in the concept of “computer device”. Most things are associated with multiple concepts – and their uniqueness becomes apparent in the particulars of the interaction of combinations of concepts. These concepts have formed after countless observations using the mind’s ability to categorize according to patterns, commonalities, and characteristics, . Over thousands of years, using language, individuals are able to discuss and refine their conceptions of objects of study, to the point where, now, we have names and definitions for everything – and with concrete objects, like a lamp, only a few words suffice to share one mind’s understanding with another.

With abstract objects of study, however, it is much harder to precisely define them with a handful of words; yet these abstract things are arguably much more important. The concept of space, for instance, is fundamental to thought – it is within a specific position or location that observable phenomena take place. We cannot think outside of the concept of space. Similarly with the concept of time – it is indispensable to human thought. All things are observed to change, and change implies time. Our understanding of reality cannot exist outside the concept of time. And finally, and very closely related, is the concept of causality, which enables the mind to understand relationships between multiple objects within space and time. Otherwise, the world would be a collection of disconnected events.

Concepts, just like language, are social constructs; albeit highly important ones. They help organize thoughts and words so that groups of individuals can reach shared understandings, can form relationships, can build communities, can raise social structures – civilization, on one level, is the expression of concepts into social reality.

What is your conception of a “concept”?

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