The Role Of Language

The Role of Language
Can contemporary discourse presume a community of interest? In order to answer this question, one is forced to first answer the question, can language be used to reveal anything new? If the answer is yes, then how can it do this and how can we employ it to do this for us. Also, one is forced to ask what is it exactly that we are looking for? Once we’ve found it, how can we use it to improve our present condition? Plato and Descartes both believe that language can indeed improve our conditions through it’s revelation, and both give methods to attain new knowledge. Although vastly differing, in that Descartes builds knowledge from the ground up, while Plato works from a distorted view, and seeks to clarify it, their philosophies mean the most, and have the highest practical purpose when they are employed together. By basing a Socratic argument on Descartes’ pre-established truths, one can attain undoubtable new knowledge. This knowledge can, and will improve society. The reason it will do this is explainable by looking at the tendency that man has to correct himself once he knows in certitude that he has been mistaken in his actions. Any enlightened individual who has, in the past, made mistakes due to their own ignorance, would, upon learning the error of their ways, not return into err, but use the knowledge to correct their previous mistake. So it is with society. Once we find out where we are in err, it would be ignorant of us not to correct ourselves. Before we can look at finding knowledge, however, we must first look at how we should properly use language.
Socrates and Plato see language mainly as the mechanism to provide truth and knowledge. In engaging in argument, Socrates is given a definition of a word such as courage, justice or piety. Then, rather than giving his own definition in retort, he offers a situation in which the given definition is incorrect and then challenges his opponents to find something which is common to all courageous, just or pious acts. The commonality in things is the goal that Plato and Socrates are striving for. What makes things, like just acts, the same even though they all differ in some way? What is it that all separate just acts have in common so that they are recognizable as just acts? Knowledge is to know what isn’t evident in the object or action, but to know what it is that makes all objects and actions of the sort be what they are, despite all of their internal differences. For Plato and Socrates, one can attain this knowledge only through proper language use. In Plato’s most recognized work, the Republic, his cave analogy describes a prisoner who has spent all of his life in bondage looking at nothing but shadow puppets on the back of a cave wall. For him, all, which he believes to be true, are the actions and reactions of the shadow puppets. His entire reality is essentially a shrouded image of the truth. Somehow it comes to pass that the prisoner is released from bondage and, for the first time, stands up, exits the cave and sees the light of the sun. The prisoner will gaze on his body and on all things in the suns light and for the first time see the truth of what actually is and realize the falsities with which he has lived for all of his life. In a sense, Plato is using the sun as a metaphor for the focusing lense provided by dialectic. In the prisoner’s case, the sunlight provided the ability to see the incompleteness of his reality. For Plato and Socrates, language enables us to see the incompleteness of our own way of thinking and provides a means with which to fill in the blanks or see things in their completeness. Socrates devised a method of argumentation, now called the Socratic method, in which he uses language in argument to enhance and expound upon a given definition, and then to amplify and refine what is said until all parties understand and agree.
Language, in Protagoras’ view, is nothing more than a tool of power, capable of creating civilizations and