Tok on the Limits of Knowledge

2 February 2017

“the vocabulary we have does more than communicate our knowledge; it shapes what we can know’. Evaluate this claim with reference to different areas of knowledge. ” At first glance this title seems to be ridiculous. Our vocabulary can have complete control over what we can know’. It seems unlikely that there is knowledge that cannot be obtained due to the limits of our vocabulary. However when you look at this in depth it seems to be true. What is vocabulary? Vocabulary are the words we use. Vocabulary has a connection to the word itself and what’s behind it.

Say the word cow. The word “cow” is merely just a noise. But we automatically connect this word to the animal. Every word has this “magical touch” to it. Thinking about vocabulary this way we can begin to see that knowledge is shaped by vocabulary because the words we have have individual meanings behind them.

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Without any vocabulary to represent unfound knowledge is there no way for it to be discovered? Different areas of knowledge argue against this idea. Human sciences allow us to perceive and have different observations of vocabulary.

If vocabulary can hold different meanings and perceptions to different people and cultures this could potentially allow knowledge to break past the barrier of language. Language also holds its own set of rules. These rules (Context, comprehension, grammar… ) can alter the meanings of words to once again allow for different meanings. Language seems to be solid and rule bound. But this is not the case, Language is creative and open-ended. One problem it is faced with is that what one person means when they say something may not be what another person understands when they hear it.

This allows for millions of different interpretations. interpretation is very important to the understanding of knowledge. Knowledge runs hand in hand with language, If we fail to interpret On the basis, a general understood meaning allows us to maintain knowledge whereas these new meaning can help us discover knowledge. Language surrounds us wherever we go yet we fail to realize it, yet again it plays one of the biggest roles in human life. We use language in almost everything we do. Language is so important because it allows us to break out of our own self knowledge and enter into the minds and understandings of thers through communication. Communication is the foundation of knowledge. But communication has its flaws that allow knowledge to become hazy and hard to acquire. One example is what one person says might not be what another person understands. This is a huge barrier in communication, which correlates to a huge barrier in knowledge. Think of trying to learn something and having no background or understanding of the vocabulary used. You are not able to understand this knowledge because you don’t understand meaning. Meaning is the basis to understanding vocabulary.

So to not understand meaning of vocabulary, we cannot learn knowledge. This is one way vocabulary begins to limit what we can know. You might think an easy solution to this problem would be to just consult a dictionary or ask for a further explanation of the unfamiliar vocabulary. Although this seems promising and easy, we do not always get the result we look for. Communication has its way of being interpreted. Different people and different cultures have their own understandings of words. Words have fuzzy undefined edges to them. Try explaining the word love.

Without much thought you can understand that what it means to you could be completely different to someone else. Looking at vocabulary this way you can see that it creates a viscous cycle that cannot be conquered. Another problem similar to this one is that vocabulary has words that have something to show for them and some that don’t (denotation theory). An example I used earlier is cow, You can look at a cow. Words like these help communication which makes knowledge seem to have fewer limits, But its words like wisdom, pride, or freedom that bring up issues in understanding knowledge.

Look at the word pride. You can look at examples of pride, but it does not represent one singular thing that is understood by everyone everywhere. Once again this creates the viscous cycle I mentioned earlier, Until we learn to have a fundamentally sound definition for these words like these will vocabulary no longer limit our knowledge. Now that we have looked at some problems of vocabulary itself we can begin to apply the problems found in communication that limit what we can know. The poet Robert frost observed that rarely do humans ever say exactly what they mean.

What he means is that humans during communication will include five problematic meanings. These five are vagueness, Ambiguity, secondary meanings, metaphor, and irony. These five problematic are a huge limitation on communication, if they are not immediately picked up on during communication our knowledge is greatly impacted. First is vagueness. Consider the word tall. While taken out of context this word has infinite possibilities. Tall means completely different things while talking about how tall you are or talking about how big buildings are in major cities.

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