Is the truth obscured by language? Essay
Is the truth obscured by language?
Truth is public, independent of anyone’s belief and eternal.1 Language allows us to convey knowledge from one person to another by recording our thoughts and feelings and communicating these to others. However, I think that our knowledge can be affected by our capacity to communicate through language. Truths are obscured and our understanding of them is influenced by the language that they are expressed in. A truth may be deliberately concealed or misrepresented. The context in which it is expressed will also affect our understanding of it.
Our understanding of something may be obscured by the ambiguity of language. A word could have a range of meanings. Often the context in which a word is used determines its meaning. We use language differently and respond differently to the various uses of language, depending on the context in which it is expressed. But in some cases, because of ambiguity, it is possible to get confused. If I say, “Visiting relatives can be so boring” it could mean two different things. I may be expressing that I do not enjoy going over to visit a relative, or that I get bored when relatives come to visit me. Both interpretations are relevant to the same context and thus the possibility of confusion arises from ambiguity. The truth, that is, how I really feel, is obscured when the sentence is interpreted in a different way.
The use of language leads to classifications, which determines our attitude and behavior. I think that in the case of generalizations, often the words may not mean anything but it is our conventional reactions, which determine our response towards that which is being generalized. As well as reflecting reality, language may also create it. Blondes are classified as being dumb. This has given rise to the widespread use of the phrase “dumb blondes” and innumerable “dumb blonde jokes”. The words create reality to the extent that whenever someone meets a blonde person, his/her initial reaction is that he/she will be dumb. Such stereotypes exist in most aspects of everyday life.
They contribute to our opinions and these preconceived notions lead us to make assumptions, which may not necessarily be true. Despite this, we still cling to our notions and as a result, our understanding of the truth has been altered. This also happens when we make inferences and judgments. Whenever we come to a conclusion about something based on what we know, it may not be valid. Once we make our judgment and express it in words, we are forced to think along those lines and reduce the possibility of arriving to a new conclusion.
When I say that Jack hurt Jill, we think that Jack, a boy, has physically hit Jill or perhaps has been the cause of emotional pain for Jill, a girl. But the only information presented in the statement is that Jack is a living being and did something that could cause Jill to suffer. Jack and Jill may both be dogs, or Jack may have hurt his dog Jill. We cannot be sure of what the true facts are. Nevertheless, we assume more than the information presented in the statement. Therefore, I believe that language can create and maintain reality and make us believe something even if there is no basis on the true facts.
People may deliberately avoid telling the truth and employ language to do so. We say that children tell fibs, accused persons and criminals tell lies, witnesses commit perjury, politicians mislead the people, and lawyers misrepresent the truth. These are all different ways of expressing that a person has said something that is not true. They may do so to persuade others of a certain point of view or win an argument, or simply to sell a product or make a profit. Politicians, particularly, use words, not to enlighten or reveal the truth but often to conceal and deceive. Politicians are adept at using phrases that fall soothingly on the ear but are empty of meaning. These phrases have been so commonly used that they cease to mean something, but they still create the feeling of reassurance and the politicians succeed in gaining the people’s trust.
For this purpose, they may use long, hard to define and ambiguous words. Politicians, with the help of the media, have even perverted the meaning of certain words. For example, in the recent refugee situation, through the articles in the newspapers and the statements of various politicians, the people have been led to believe that “boat-people”, “refugees”, “asylum-seekers”, “illegal immigrants” all mean the same thing. The people assume that all refugees are “boat-people”, all “boat-people” are illegal immigrants, and that asylum-seekers have no rights.
2 The word “freedom” means to be free from political oppression, but now it means freedom from wants and needs, huger, unemployment, illiteracy, sickness, etc. – something promised by the government. The politicians may also use vagueness in language. A statement like “My government will take strong countermeasures…” is vague and does not really promise anything but it gives the effect that they will try their best. Thus, I believe, that language can be used to deliberately conceal the truth.
I think that the truth can be obscured by the language in which we express them. The extent to which it is obscured would depend on the context. Classifications would lead us to make assumptions, which may not be true. Our interpretations and the judgments we make from them would create a difference between what is the truth and what we understand from the expression of that truth. People may deliberately use language to obscure the truth. The language of politics is designed to conceal the facts. Advertising misleads the consumer. The truth remains the same. It cannot be changed but it can be misrepresented. I believe that when communicating the truth through language, it is our understanding of the truth, which leads us to believe something that is not true, therefore obscuring the true facts.
1. Philosophy – An Introduction to The Art of Wondering
2. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – http://plato.stanford.edu/
3. Ways of Knowing – An Introduction to Theory of Knowledge. Michael Woodman
4. Thinking About Thinking. Antony Flew
5. Introductory Readings on Language. Wallace L. Anderson and Norman C. Stageberg
6. The Story of Language. Merio Pei
7. A Nice Line in Bigotry [Article] – Philip Adams
8. The Corruption of Language [Article] – Leslie Snyder
9. Perrault’s Durable Myth Cinderella: Female Role Model Propoganda – class handout
1 Ways of Knowing – An Introduction to Theory of Knowledge. Michael Woodman
2 A Nice Line in Bigotry [Article] – Philip Adams
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 7 July 2017
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