Thursday 20 February 2014
Language is one of the most pervasive and yet mysterious of human activities. It is our tool for so much of human life that it (and our ability to acquire it) can miss the attention it deserves. Yet it raises profound and timeless philosophical questions, such as whether or to what extent it is “natural”; how it may connect with our neurobiology and our experiences; how it began; and how we use and change it, and the role elements of human consciousness, such as intention, play in such processes.
In this dissertation, I consider the question of how we project words into new contexts. I rely on the contemporary work of such philosophers as Ludwig Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin, but particularly Stanley Cavell, to consider this question. I outline the aspects of their philosophy that inform such an investigation, especially Cavell’s “projective imagination,” which, he argues, is what we use when we project words forward. I give an account of this imaginative aspect of human life, enlarging on Cavell’s account. I explain how it works and why it can be called “imaginative,” and I provide examples of language use that support my interpretation of language projection. I also argue that the projection of language is analogous, in many respects, to our use of metaphor. This explanation constitutes my contribution to original research. My primary conclusions are as follows: these philosophers have provided better avenues to the exploration of language than recent, previous efforts in the philosophy of language (for various reasons, including their treatment of context and intention); the imagination is functioning much more widely and in more complex ways in our use of language (and doubtless other areas of human life) than has hitherto been recognized; and the timeless, fascinating process of language projection, borne out by the centuries of change we see in our languages, is not occurring because we operate with language according to determinate rules.
See online : The Projection of language