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Ox bones being cut up with a cleaver.

Language cuts nature at her joints

That...enables us to separate a general idea into its subordinate elements, by dividing it at the joints, as nature directs, and not attempting to break any limb in half, after the fashion of a bungling butcher.

Plato (370 BCE)


Plato’s metaphor is tempting. Our words must have evolved to fit the world if they are to work. A tree is denoted A rosebud with water droplets. Why do we identify the sight of a rose with the rose; but not the smell of the rose? by a word. So surely the structure of our language mirrors the structure of nature. This would be fine if the objects of nature were sitting waiting independently of ourselves, then language could indeed to be mapping ‘that world’. The bust of Peter Scott at the WWT reserve in southern Scotland. The proliferation of 'worlds' in philosophy is a massive problem; a page on Kant's approach. However, ‘that world’ is more a system of conventions linked to sensations which construct our objects, Women beside cupboard in Dong Van market.
To a page on objects.

and it is those conventions that produce the good fit we witness, and not nature. Nature has no joints. Complex of clouds. A page on seeing nature as an undivided, constantly changing whole. It is thought that creates joints in its attempts to grasp the infinite seething dynamism Tumbling waters of a river in Iceland. A page taking up another famous Greek aphorism; Heraclitus' idea that all is flux. with which it is faced. So the joints that language might be seen to cut are those of thought. Mist forming up the valley among the trees of Ae forest. A page which suggests an analogy for the relationship between language, thought, and the world.

The quotation from the Phaedrus is here taken from the J. Wright translation of 1888 published by Macmillan & co. 265e. Different translations use different words: carver/butcher, joints/parts, hack off/cut. Quite where the expression “Language cuts nature at her joints” arose is not clear.

The image shows my friend Lợi cutting ox bones to make the daily stock for the Phở produced in the cafe.

Above hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 16th November 2019

Murphy on duty to this site