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Chapter 4 Language

Extract

We are all philosophers. At some point in our lives we have asked the deepest questions it is possible for a human being to ask. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What is the meaning of a life? Does time have an end? What is right action? What does it mean to be free? How should I act towards others? What is the meaning of death?

Since recorded history philosophers and religious teachers of all cultures have debated these questions. Some cultures have offered answers based on religion or mystical revelation. Others have created complex overarching systems of thought. Some philosophers answer these questions with yet other questions. Others seek closure and completeness and wish to create a single philosophic approach that will encompass all questions and all answers.

Some religious and philosophical systems deal in poetic images as they seek to express the transcendent. Others, particularly in the West, espouse the goals of clarity and directness. On the other hand some philosophical writings become dense and convoluted as philosophers attempt to express the ineffable in words and force language into tasks for which it is not normally adapted.

And thus we arrive at another great question. How is it possible to say something that means something? How do we make sense of the world when we speak about it? How can we communicate the essence of what we feel and think about the world? How can we speak in ways that are not misunderstood? What is the correct way to use language?

 

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