Sunday, March 1, 2015

Thompson, Candrikirti, semantic nominalism

Following up on Thompson's Waking, Dreaming, Being, this article seems to support the notion of self-designation as necessary for humans to perceive something. It notes that the color blue didn't appear in languages until much later than other colors. We may have seen it but couldn't identify it. Or maybe we just couldn't see it until we could designate it.

"But do you really see something if you don't have a word for it? [...]  [B]efore blue became a common concept, maybe humans saw it. But it seems they didn't know they were seeing it. If you see something yet can't see it, does it exist? Did colors come into existence over time? Not technically, but our ability to notice them may have."

Thompson used Candrikirti regarding self-designation. It is consistent with this article by Sonam Thackchoe: "Prasangika's semantic nominalism: Reality is linguistic concept." An excerpt:
"Tsongkhapa claims that the Prāsaṅgika posits all realities through the force of linguistic convention: language and ontology are understood to be mutually embedded within each other. [...] Neither language nor ontology has priority over each other" (427-8).

"Candrakı̄rti argues that all determinate categories, sensory faculties, and phenomenological experiences are dependent on our conceptual constructs, and these in turn depend on the conventional terminologies of everyday language. Candrakı̄rti’s argument, then, is that cognitions apprehend the objects of experience, and those objects that we experienced are conceptually (therefore linguistically) represented in the cognitions as having the representations of some specific categories" (431-2).


My translation using some outside sources is that we cannot help but use our categories in designating anything, hence we can only know or translate reality via such categories. Which is not to say that reality is our categories, only that any reality we can know it filtered through those categories. To know meaning to have meaning, hence semantic nominalism. This is not linguistic nominalism, since our basic categories/image schema are pre-linguistic but have semantic content via our embodied relationships. Hence there is this non-dualistic relationship between our pre-linguistic basic categories and objects which still allows for real objects to exist without that relationship. But when going linguistic we might make two mistakes: 1) forget this embodied grounding and separate the linguistic words from the pre-linguistic meanings; and thus 2) separate embodied meanings in words from reality as such into two distinct and separate ontological realms, one samsara and the other nirvana. Or a formal, metaphysical view by another name.

Image schematic basic categories are our link to experiencing and translating reality, but cannot do so with reality in toto. Nonetheless, reality for us cannot exist without these basic categories. Per L&J language arises from and extends these embodied image schema, so language too has as much claim to our experience of reality once it emerges. There is no going back to some pre-linguistic and pure apprehension of reality as such, since such a chimera never existed in the first place.

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