"In this book, Charles Taylor explains linguistic holism to people who believe language needs to be thought of as bits of information. According to one influential view of language, one that originated with Hobbes, Locke, and Condillac, language serves to encode information and to communicate it. This theory has been rendered more sophisticated over the last two centuries, but it still gives a central place to the encoding of information. The thesis of Taylor's new book is that this view neglects crucial features of our ...
"In this book, Charles Taylor explains linguistic holism to people who believe language needs to be thought of as bits of information. According to one influential view of language, one that originated with Hobbes, Locke, and Condillac, language serves to encode information and to communicate it. This theory has been rendered more sophisticated over the last two centuries, but it still gives a central place to the encoding of information. The thesis of Taylor's new book is that this view neglects crucial features of our language capacity. Sometimes language serves not just to encode information, but also shapes what it purports to describe. This language is more than merely 'descriptive;' it plays a 'constitutive' role."--Provided by publisher.
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Near Fine in Very Good jacket. Clean and bright; no owners' marks; there is a small wrinkle and some mild shelf rubbing at the spine heel and bottom corners of the hard cover, and the dust jacket bears very short wrinkles and shelf rubbing at corners and spine ends along with a shallow crease at the bottom right rear, otherwise excellent.
The works of the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, are inspiring for their broad learning, understanding of history, and thoughtful effort to explore difficult issues in modern life, particularly those issues involving religion and the search for meaning. I have learned a great deal from two of Taylor's earlier books, "Sources of the Self" and "A Secular Age". In 2007, Taylor received the Templeton Prize, awarded for his "exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." In 2016, Taylor received the first Bergguen Prize for Philosophy for his contributions that have "fundamentally shaped public discussion of the nature of multiculturalism, secularism, and contemporary religious life." These are high honors indeed for a philosopher.
Taylor's most recent book, "The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity" (2016) explores the nature of human language to develop themes similar to those of "Sources of the Self" and "A Secular Age." Language has been at the center of philosophy since the beginning of the 20th Century. The philosophy taught in the United States and Great Britain, which I studied in the 1960's is known as analytic philosophy which tries to use careful use of language and distinctions to clarify or resolve philosophical problems. Continental philosophy and other rivals to analytic philosophy use language in a different, hermeneutical way, focusing on the nature of interpretation. Taylor shows great familiarity with both types of contemporary philosophy. With his considerable analytical skill, his sympathies clearly are with the latter. Taylor sees this book as the first of a two-volume study, with the second volume to explore the Romantic theory of language he develops through a study of post-Romantic poetry.
Just as Taylor explored differences between secular and religious views of life in "A Secular Age", in "The Language Animal" he develops two competing views on the nature of human language. He calls the first the "designative" view , which he finds derived from Hobbes, Locke, and Condillac ((HLC). He also calls this view the "enframing" theory under which language is used to point to or describe pre-linguistic objects separate from language, such as dogs and cats. In this theory, "the attempt is made to understand language within the framework of a picture of human life, behavior, purposes, or mental functioning, which is itself described and defined, without reference to language. Language is seen as arising in this framework, which can be variously conceived as we shall see,, and fulfilling some function within it, but the framework itself precedes, or at least can be characterized independently of language."
The second theory of language Taylor calls "constitutive" because it emphasizes language's role in the formation of reality. Taylor finds this theory first articulated in the works of the German romantics Hamann, Herder, and Humbolt (HHH) as a response to the designative theory of language. The constitutive theory, for Taylor, "gives us a picture of language as making possible new purposes, new levels of behavior, new meanings, and hence as not explicable within a framework picture of human life conceived without language. "
In his study, Taylor develops both the designative and constitutive theories in depth and shows how each leads to separate, diverging views of language and reality on a number of important issues. He describes the designative theory as "instrumental" -- using language as a tool to get things done and the constitutive theory as "expressive" -- emeshed in meaning and in ways of life. "Besides this", Taylor writes, "they even end up differing on the contours of what they are trying to explain, viz. language; as well as on the validity of atomistic versus holistic modes of explanation. They belong, in fact, to very different understandings of human life."
In the opening chapters of the book, Taylor parses out the history and development of both views. He finds the designative theory suited to post-Galilean science in that it seeks to identify and describe the properties of objects independent of the mind. He finds this theory carried through, with some important modifications, in contemporary analytic philosophy with the modifications of the Hobbes-Locke-Condillac view in the work of Frege, whose work became of seminal importance to modern logic.
The burden of Taylor's argument is to show the incomplete, inadequate character of the designative theory. He views the theory from a variety of perspectives and finds it inadequate to account for the origins of human language or for the differences between humans and the higher animals in communication. He agrees with the German romantics that language use is communal and holistic and shapes thought rather than merely designating a prelinguistic reality. He finds an almost mystical or "Cratylan" (after Plato's dialogue "Cratylus") quality to language use in its search for rightness or fittingness that cannot be explained by a theory which has its strongest paradigm in a scientific context. Taylor offers striking examples of what he sees as the "expressivist" character of language to shape reality in a way that goes beyond the designative theory. For example, he refers throughout to the macho young male motorcyclist who in his posture, gait, and language "expresses" who he is or who he is trying to be in a way "designation" cannot capture.
In the latter chapters of his book, Taylor broadens his approach to show how the nature of language use influences the way different people and cultures see matters of ethics and morality and of fitting human behavior in ways that are not mere designations. Some of the best sections of the book involve language and the arts where Taylor's position is at its most appealing. Scientific does not constitute the only meaningful form of language use. Taylor develops his position through discussions of works such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Mann's "The Magic Mountain" and Dostoevsky's "Devils". The short of the discussion is that there is a mystery and a wholeness to human life and language use that is suggested by ethics, art, and religion that a purely scientific, designative view of language fails to cover.
Taylor's book is suggestive if not always convincing in detail. At times the two basic positions become stretched and ill-defined. On one side, a more sympathetic, broader treatment of the "designative" position would be welcome. The account of the "constitutive" position contains many obscurities. On another side, Taylor is committed to a position of philosophical realism which, I think, supports the "designative" position. He claims that science and ordinary common sense study independently existing objects such as cats, dogs, and atoms that exist outside any self. The constitutive position in the German romantics and elsewhere generally is part of a more idealistic position in which reality is mind-dependent. I am not sure how Taylor squares his romanticism and support for the constitutive position with his metaphysical realism.
The book is difficult, erudite and sometimes obscure. But it may be read with benefit by readers who are not professional philosophers. I have read a review of this book in the "Notre Dame Philosophical Review" an online source of academic philosophical reviews. Professor Michael Forster, a scholar of German romanticism at the University of Bonn, offered a long, detailed analysis of Taylor's book in his September 12, 2016, review. Forster concluded: "Taylor's book is a richly informative and admirable attempt to delineate "the full shape of the human linguistic capacity" (as its subtitle has it). More than that, it affords a model of what it is to be a genuine philosopher: at an age when most philosophers have either given up altogether or else fallen into dogmatically repeating
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