Sunday, September 28, 2008

Keywords for Prof. Alastair Pennycook's Critical Applied Linguistics #2

1 Basic Background Knowledge

Below are basic background keywords that are philosophical (1.1), historical/political (1.2), and linguistic/pedagogical (1.3).

1.1 Philosophical terms

1.1.1 Modern/Modernity/Modernism

These words are not necessarily obvious to non-westerners. It's worthwhile to give a brief look at the concept. Wikipedia gives the following summary for the term "modern era." Item #2 is a standard definition of the modern, but sometimes item #1 is also included as part of a broader definition of the modern, and item #3 gives an important feature to the word. Item #4 in the context of postmodernism makes a contrast with items #1-3.

1. The early modern period lasted from the end of the 15th century to the middle of the 18th century, circa 1450 (moveable type printing press etc) and 1492 (start of European Colonialism) to 1750 (the Enlightenment) and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
2. Modern Times are generally regarded as the period from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century and continuing up to today. The documentation of this time period is often called Modern history.
3. Modernity, based on Modernism, explores the changes of society due to the industrial age.
4. Postmodernity, Postindustrialism are theories to apply the art movement term of postmodernism to social and cultural history, or to refer to the change of the industrial society during the past fifty years when the industry was no longer the most predominant basis of economy and society; the prefix "post-" implies a reaction to modernity and in that sense does not cover all contemporary history.

It is important to notice that several words that are used to define the features of the modern are mutually related: printing press, colonialism, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution. The interactions of these technological innovations (and use of them) made the modern.

As we'll deal with colonialism and the Enlightenment later in #2, let's now have a quick review of printing press and the Industrial Revolution.

Printing press ( is important in this context for its historical impact.

The impact of Gutenberg's printing press in Europe was comparable to the development of writing, the invention of the alphabet or the Internet, as far as its effects on society. ...

The printing press was also a factor in the establishment of a community of scientists who could easily communicate their discoveries through the establishment of widely disseminated scholarly journals, helping to bring on the scientific revolution. Because of the printing press, authorship became more meaningful and profitable. It was suddenly important who had said or written what, and what the precise formulation and time of composition was. This allowed the exact citing of references, producing the rule, "One Author, one work (title), one piece of information" (Giesecke, 1989; 325). ...

Because the printing process ensured that the same information fell on the same pages, page numbering, tables of contents, and indices became common, though they previously had not been unknown. The process of reading was also changed, gradually changing over several centuries from oral readings to silent, private reading. The wider availability of printed materials also led to a drastic rise in the adult literacy rate throughout Europe.

Regarding the Industrial Revolution, we need to remind ourselves again that "The onset of the Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in human society; almost every aspect of daily life was eventually influenced in some way."(Wikipedia

It is rather hard for us to imagine life before the Industrial Revolution, just as it is hard for the young generation to imagine life before the Information Revolution (

Capitalism, Marxism and Romanticism are also what feature the modern and they can be interpreted as reactions to the Industrial Revolution. See the section of "intellectual paradigms and criticism" of Wikipedia.

1.1.2 Descartes / Cartesian

Descartes is often described as the "Father of Modern Philosophy" or "the first modern philosopher."

Discourse on the Method is well-known for the famous quotation "Je pense, donc je suis" ("I think, therefore I am"). He states the four precepts of the Method of Science.

1 The first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.

2 The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.

3 The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.

4 And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted."

Rules for the Direction of the Mind is also an important book to understand the modern Western mind. The first twelve rules in the book might be one of the best summaries of modern Western scientific inquiry.

1.1.3 Rationalism

Wikipedia gives a brief definition of rationalism as "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification" and sees the history of rationalism as which can be represented by the following five thinkers and ideas.

1 Classical Greek rationalists
2 Neoplatonism
3 Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
4 Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716)
5 Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Let's pick up from the above list Kant as (in my personal opinion) a very prototypical philosopher of the modern.

Kant introduced epistemology into metaphysics to understand what the "reality" is.

Pursuing metaphysics involves asking questions about the ultimate nature of reality. Kant suggested that metaphysics can be reformed through epistemology[1]. He suggested that by understanding the sources and limits of human knowledge we can ask fruitful metaphysical questions. He asked if an object can be known to have certain properties prior to the experience of that object. He concluded that all objects that the mind can think about must conform to its manner of thought.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy sees Rationalism in contrast with Empiricism.

Despite the label that Kant as a Rationalist, he can be regarded as one of the great philosophers to tried to build a bridge over the gulf between empiricism and rationalism.

Kant believed himself to be creating a compromise between the empiricists and the rationalists. The empiricists believed that knowledge is acquired through experience alone, but the rationalists maintained that such knowledge is open to Cartesian doubt and that reason alone provides us with knowledge. Kant argues, however, that using reason without applying it to experience will only lead to illusions, while experience will be purely subjective without first being subsumed under pure reason.

Some philosophers describe Chomsky is a Kantian rationalist, to which Chomsky himself raises no words of disagreement. (One of Chomsky's philosophical work is Cartesian Linguistics, though.)

What Kant did to metaphysics through epistemology is sometimes called "Copernican revolution," because he was one of the first philosophers who turned to our attention from things in the outside world to our mind.

Kant asserts that experience is based both upon the perception of external objects and a priori knowledge[23]. The external world, he writes, provides those things which we sense. It is our mind, though, that processes this information about the world and gives it order, allowing us to comprehend it. Our mind supplies the conditions of space and time to experienced objects. According to the "transcendental unity of apperception", the concepts of the mind (Understanding) and the perceptions or intuitions that garner information from phenomena (Sensibility) are synthesized by comprehension. Without the concepts, intuitions are nondescript; without the intuitions, concepts are meaningless―thus the famous quotation, "Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind."

There are some very good introductions to Kant (particularly on his Criticque of Pure reason written in Japanese.

By Kumano Sumihiko


By ISHIKAWA Fumiyasu

Below are my summary of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason 

1 Introduction and Key terms 

2 Transcendental ideas 

3 'I' as the transcendental subject of thoughts = X 

4 Freedom 

5 Principle of Pure Reason 

1.1.4 Essentialism

Wikipedia explains that essentialism in philosophy is the view that, for any specific kind of entity, there is a set of characteristics or properties all of which any entity of that kind must have.

Wittgenstein is an interesting philosopher in that he committed to essentialism in his early years but converted to non-essentialsim in his late years.

Stanford Encyclopedia describes "the early Wittgenstein" and "the later Wittgenstein" as follows:

The early Wittgenstein is epitomized in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. By showing the application of modern logic to metaphysics, via language, he provided new insights into the relations between world, thought and language and thereby into the nature of philosophy. It is the later Wittgenstein, mostly recognized in the Philosophical Investigations, who took the more revolutionary step in critiquing all of traditional philosophy including its climax in his own early work. The nature of his new philosophy is heralded as anti-systematic through and through, yet still conducive to genuine philosophical understanding of traditional problems.

Contrast the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations according to Wikipedia's concise summary.


* The world consists of independent atomic facts ― existing states of affairs ― out of which larger facts are built.
* Language consists of atomic, and then larger-scale propositions that correspond to these facts by sharing the same "logical form".
* Thought, expressed in language, "pictures" these facts.
* We can analyse our thoughts and sentences to express ("express" as in show, not say) their true logical form.
* Those we cannot so analyze, cannot be meaningfully discussed.
* Philosophy consists of no more than this form of analysis: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daru"ber mu-- man schweigen" ("Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent").

the Philosophical Investigations

In Wittgenstein's view, language is inextricably woven into the fabric of life, and as part of that fabric it works relatively unproblematically. Philosophical problems arise when language is forced from its proper home and into a metaphysical environment, where all the familiar and necessary landmarks and contextual clues are absent ― removed, perhaps, for what appear to be sound philosophical reasons, but which lead, for Wittgenstein, to the source of the problem. Wittgenstein describes this metaphysical environment as like being on frictionless ice:[45] where the conditions are apparently perfect for a philosophically and logically perfect language (the language of the Tractatus), where all philosophical problems can be solved without the confusing and muddying effects of everyday contexts; but where, just because of the lack of friction, language can in fact do no actual work at all. There is much talk in the Investigations, then, of “idle wheels” and language being “on holiday” or a mere "ornament", all of which are used to express the idea of what is lacking in philosophical contexts. To resolve the problems encountered there, Wittgenstein argues that philosophers must leave the frictionless ice and return to the “rough ground” of ordinary language in use; that is, philosophers must “bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.”

Among the philosophical perspectives Wittgenstein offered in Philosophical Investigations, "meaning as use" and "language-games and family resemblance" are of importance for applied linguists and language teachers.

Notice, however, Wittgenstein does not mean complete destruction of the traditional view of language ("meaning as reference" or "language as a rule-governed system".) He is a philosopher of deconstruction, not destruction.
(See my related article on Wittgenstein and Luhmann, if you're interested.)

On Meaning as Use

"For a large class of cases ― though not for all ― in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language" (PI 43). This basic statement is what underlies the change of perspective most typical of the later phase of Wittgenstein's thought: a change from a conception of meaning as representation to a view which looks to use as the hinge of the investigation. Traditional theories of meaning in the history of philosophy were intent on pointing to something exterior to the proposition which endows it with sense. This "something" could generally be located either in an objective space, or inside the mind as mental representation. As early as 1933 (The Blue Book) Wittgenstein took pains to challenge these dogmas, arriving at the insight that "if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use" (BB 4). Ascertainment of the use (of a word, of a proposition), however, is not given to any sort of constructive theory building, as in the Tractatus. Rather, when investigating meaning, the philosopher must "look and see" the variety of uses to which the word is put. So different is this new perspective that Wittgenstein repeats: "Don't think but look!" (PI 66); and such looking is done vis a vis particular cases, not thoughtful generalizations. In giving the meaning of a word, any explanatory generalization should be replaced by a description of use. The traditional idea that a proposition houses a content and has a restricted number of Fregean forces (such as assertion, question and command), gives way to an emphasis on the diversity of uses.

On Language-games and Family Resemblance

Some properties of language-games can be noticed in Wittgenstein's several examples and comments. They are, first, a part of a broader context termed by Wittgenstein a form of life (see below). Secondly, the concept of language-games points at the rule-governed character of language. This does not entail strict and definite systems of rules for each and every language-game, but points to the conventional nature of this sort of human activity. Finally, Wittgenstein's choice of ‘game’ is based on the over-all analogy between language and game, assuming that we have a clearer perception of what games are. Still, just as we cannot give a final, essential definition of ‘game’, so we cannot find "what is common to all these activities and what makes them into language or parts of language" (PI 65).

It is here that Wittgenstein's rejection of general explanations, and definitions based on sufficient and necessary conditions, is best pronounced. Instead of these symptoms of the philosopher's "craving for generality", he points to ‘family resemblance’ as the more suitable analogy for the means of connecting particular uses of the same word. There is no reason to look, as we have done traditionally ― and dogmatically ― for one, essential core in which the meaning of a word is located and which is, therefore, common to all uses of that word. We should, instead, travel with the word's uses through "a complicated network of similarities, overlapping and criss-crossing" (PI 66). Family resemblance also serves to exhibit the lack of boundaries and the distance from exactness that characterize different uses of the same concept. Such boundaries and exactness are the definitive traits of form ― be it Platonic form, Aristotelian form, or the general form of a proposition adumbrated in the Tractatus. It is from such forms that applications of concepts can be deduced, but this is precisely what Wittgenstein now eschews in favor of appeal to similarity of a kind with family resemblance.

Wittgenstein's argument of "family resemblence" is related to the Prototype Theory, which was "a radical departure from traditional necessary and sufficient conditions as in Aristotelian logic, which led to set-theoretic approaches of extensional or intensional semantics."

Essentialism is sometimes contrasted with (social) constructionism in the context of identity politics.

If you read Japanese, read this introductory essay of mine.

1.1.5 Realism

Realism in philosophy, according to Wikipedia, is the belief in a reality that is completely ontologically independent of our conceptual schemes, linguistic practices, beliefs, etc. Most scientists including Chomsky takes the position of realism.

Realism is often regarded to have married Empiricism in science happily:

In the philosophy of science, empiricism emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Hence, science is considered to be methodologically empirical in nature.

However, as Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, "The question of the nature and plausibility of realism arises with respect to a large number of subject matters, including ethics, aesthetics, causation, modality, science, mathematics, semantics, and the everyday world of macroscopic material objects and their properties."


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