Language

Language is a concept used for communication. There are roughly 6,500 different languages spoken around the world, however 2,000 of them have fewer than 1,000 speakers. Nevertheless, there are huge differences in many of those languages, and these differences in language change the way we think.

Language is a result of sense perception, as the concept of communication requires different senses like hearing, and often sight (non-verbal communication). As we were discussing sense perception in class, we said that the result of sense perception is influenced by interpretation. Does this mean, that language, a concept resulting in the interaction of different senses, is also influenced by our interpretation, and, if every human being interprets things differently, or at least everybody who speaks a different language interprets things differently from people who speak a different language, think differently?

As the article ‘How language shapes thought’ says, there is a connection between the native language we speak and our perception of the world. This is particularly interesting for me, since I am not a native english speaker, and although German and English are quite similar languages, they have their differences. So I wonder now, whether I, even now that I have learned to speak the language better, can think like my english friends and whether, although I might understand the literal meaning of what they are saying, I can really say that I can speak English due to the differences there may be in the interpretation of their speeches.

As I have said before, German is quite close to the English language, therefore I don’t think there are going to be major differences in the interpretation of what is being said. However, at my school, there are also many students from Hong Kong and China, and there are big differences between English and Mandarin/Cantonese, which implies that their interpretation is very different.

The article I have mentioned earlier, which we were discussing in class, language has a huge impact on how we perceive our surroundings. For example, people that speak a language where there is no left or right, only north, east, south and west in general have a better orientation because they need to know the cardinal direction just to be able to speak properly. This implies they have a better perception of their surroundings simply because it is required by their language.

Language can also influence the way we think about concepts like time. There were experiments investigating the effect of language had on the speakers perception of time. For example, British and German speakers would always regard time going from left to right; and show the process of ageing using pictures starting left with the picture which shows the object when it was the youngest at the left and finishing at the right showing the object when it is the oldest. This is due to the fact that both of these languages are written form left to right, i.e. processes from left to right. However, a Hebrew speaker would arrange the pictures from right to left because he regards time as advancing from right to left. Hebrew is written from right to left which explains this phenomenon.

This shows that language has an impact on our interpretation of different languages, but also on our interpretation of the whole world and concepts as time.

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Shared and Personal Knowledge

Knowledge can be divided into two categories: shared and personal knowledge.

Shared knowledge refers to knowledge which is, as the name already states, shared with other people. This is done using communication, i.e. it is articulated. The most common way to do so is using ordinary language (words etc.), but also other techniques which help people to communicate with each other, for example blind or deaf people. Shared knowledge is often available to and discussed by the public, which gives it a certain amount of objectivity as it is not only the knowledge of one person, but that of many persons combined. However, shared knowledge always requires evidence, and if new evidence suggests that that what people used to think is wrong, it can be adjusted. Therefore shared knowledge develops over time, using the opinions/beliefs/knowledge of a wide variety of people.

Personal knowledge however refers to knowledge which is and sometimes can only used by certain individuals. It often requires skills, and sometimes talent. Because of that, it is said to be tacit as it might be explainable, but that doesn’t mean that every person knows how to do something or is able to do it. Since it involves a skill, often a physical one, it can be shown, but is often hard to explain. Some people do not want to share their personal knowledge, for example Stradivari, a famous luthier (violin maker). He did not want to share his knowledge on how to make violins, therefore it was lost with his death. This individuality makes personal knowledge subjective. Personal knowledge improves the over time, just like shared knowledge, as you get better at something the more times you have done it.

Both kinds of knowledge can be based on experience, for example knowing that gravity makes us stay on the ground can be an example of experience based knowledge, because one person discovered it and then shared it because it affected everybody.  According to me, personal knowledge is even more based on experience, because, as I said, the more often you do something i.e. the more experienced you are at something, the better you are at it too.

 

Is knowledge objectively good? And what constitutes good?

As we have already notices in class, knowledge is hard to define, to such an extent that we are even unsure whether we have any knowledge – or if it is simply a belief. Whichever answer you pick for yourself, it does exist – in one form or another. Therefore the question arises, if we can say that knowledge is objectively good.

In order to attempt answering that question it is necessary to work out what constitutes good.

There are many types of good,  but regarding knowledge, I would say that good describes knowledge as certain information or ability which is

  1. overall helpful and purposeful
  2. and that the knowledge itself is not harmful to anybody, although it might be used by some people to harm others.

Thereby I mean that the people’s intentions need to be bad in order to use knowledge in a bad way. For example, knowing how to make fire is of a great use for everybody. But, it can also be used against people, for example by setting something they like on fire. Although it was then used to hurt somebody, the knowledge itself is still good as it is overall useful.

 

Considering this, I think knowledge is objectively good – it depends on the intentions of the person using it whether it is used in a good or a  bad way, but that does not means it is objectively bad, only that it can be subjectively used to do bad things. According to me, the saying ‘Knowledge is power’ is true. Just like knowledge, power is objectively good because it is useful to people. It depends on the people whether they decide to use their knowledge and/or power to help others or against others. For example, if somebody knows something about someone else which would be awkward for them if it came out, it depends on the person that has the knowledge whether it is used for good or for bad things. In this case, keeping this knowledge to himself/herself would be of no harm to anybody, and therefore knowledge could be classified as objectively good, although it is not of any use for the other person. However, if that person decided to share this knowledge with all of his or her friends, which in turn would share it again or even make fun of that person in while she is present, then it has been used in a bad way.

 

To sum up, I think knowledge is objectively good, if you define good with the criteria I used above. Because even knowledge that can be used to harm people, is not bad itself.