Sunday, December 05, 2004
- All higher levels of thinking are dependent on language.
- The structure of the language one habitually uses influences the manner in which one understands his environment. The picture of the universe shifts from tongue to tongue.
As to 1, Chase's formulation might seem to be worryingly tautological. The threatened difficulty has to do with how we make the distinction between 'higher levels of thinking' and other cognitive processes. Probably what we will appeal to are such things as reason, logic, mathematics, and so on. Since these are linguistic activities, it's really no surprise that they would be dependent on language. Whorf's point, though, has to do with the kind of connection that these activities have to the world. That is, it has to do with how strongly the world constrains the content of linguisic expressions. Whorf's method of supporting it was admirably empirical. For example, he sought to devise methodologies for mapping connections between ideas with the aim of showing that different linguistic commitments would yield different sets of connection, and therefore different chains of reasoning, and so different theories of the world. This strikes me as a reasonable and fruitful procedure, but it would show rather less than is claimed by Chase's formulation of the thesis.