Saturday, March 6, 2010

Linguistics and Philosophy ~ Etienne Gilson

Father Jaki's interest in the writings of Etienne Gilson prompted him to ensure that some of his best works were translated into English. I have regularly referred to the rare book Methodical Realism and From Aristotle to Darwin has been recently republished by Ignatius Press. However, the final book of the trio, Linguistics and Philosophy should not escape our notice.

While father did not write an introduction to this book, he is suitably acknowledged by the translator, John Lyon:

"To Father Stanley L. Jaki, O.S.B., I owe the suggestion that this work be translated. His influence and inspiration are deeply felt and appreciated." [L&P p. vii]

Indeed I am grateful that father continues to influence our studies to this very day!

So, why is Linguistique et philosophie of particular interest? According to father, "even in its philosophical purism, that book remains a mine of arguments against those who think that language, and with it the human intellect, is a mere binary counter with feedback mechanisms." [P&P p.196]

Here below is a long extract from the preface for us to enjoy!

~ Jakian Thomist

My book has taken shape and been provoked into being by the liberty which numerous linguists grant themselves of philosophizing as linguists and presenting their philosophy as if it were a matter of the science. This same attitude is not unknown to physicists or biologists either. It does not bother them if the philosophy thus bandied about under the name of science often consists in a denial of the validity of philosophical positions accepted by those whose metier is philosophy. A scientist who, with good right, would become indignant upon seeing a philosopher with a casual acquaintance with science uttering supposedly scientific opinions, will not himself thereupon refrain from philosophizing. Holding reasonably that it is necessary to have learned a science in order to be authorized to speak about it, he does not for an instant doubt that it is a matter of indifference who may be authorized to speak of philosophy, provided only that he knows some other discipline.

For the philosopher nature is what the physicist and the biologist tell him it is. Language is for him what the linguist tells him it is. In these two cases he comes across two kinds of scientists. All of them agree to hold all philosophical speculation in the background, and as scientists, they are reasonable to refuse to go beyond the realm of reasoned observation and experience. But all of them do not observe the same attitude toward reality. Some of them, for whom the fear of philosophizing is the beginning of science, methodically ignore or deny on principle the aspects of language use which provide reflection for the philosopher. Whether or not this attitude is of use to linguistics is for linguists to decide among themselves. Others - a short time ago Edward Sapir, today Emile Benveniste and Noam Chomsky for example - are equally solicitous to prevent their science for losing its way in the indistinct landscape of philosophy, and in particular metaphysics. These, however, have great concern in their descriptions to maintain the mysterious aspects of language for him who observes it merely as a scientist. These are precisely the aspects which retain the attention of the philosopher, for whom the philosophical constraints of language are but a particular case of metaphysical constraints.

[E. Gilson, Linguistics and Philosophy, pp. xvii-xviii]

1 comment:

Jakian Thomist said...

I would like to say thanks for all the celebratory messages from my last posting. Indeed it has been a wonderful year reading so many of Jaki's books.

Just to let you know that a very affordable copy of Bible and Science (out of print, a difficult book to find) is on Abebooks at the moment: