Rhetoric and Discourse

Edappel8@cs.com Edappel8 at cs.com
Mon Sep 8 14:12:09 EST 2003


In Response to Clarke and Bob:

Let me follow up on what Clarke said contra Bob (my "imaginary friend"?) on 
the question of whether or not language "intervenes" in the material world, 
therefore can be said to "shape" or "modify" it.  Bob says no.  Clarke says yes 
and offers up a pretty compelling example of how language so impinges on the 
"real" world, excites a physical body to "action."

You're being pretty persnickity in your use of language, Bob.  Obviously, 
human muscles and their extensions DIRECTLY move the earth, air, fire, and water 
that the world is made up of.  How come, though, that human muscles do such 
markedly DIFFERENT things to the material world than those of preverbal or 
nonverbal animals?  And talk about cutting to the very bone on this question, what 
about speaking and writing themselves?  Language serves only as a "vent or 
conduit of action," but does not "modify" in some way the material world, when I 
say the words, "Language doesn't modify materials in the physical world," or 
when I tap out those words on a keyboard?  What's causing my throat and facial 
muscles to "act" in such a way?

Don Cushman published a good article in COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY in 1977 on 
action looked at from the "rules perspective."  Such philosophers of action as 
Stephan Toulmin, Theodore Mishel, and Charles Taylor were referenced.  Cushman 
says in that piece that "action," according to these theorists, consists of 
two parts, an internal part and an external part, to wit:

(1) An internal intention or purpose rooted in past experience and oriented 
toward rules of behavior, written and/or unwritten (obviously expressed in 
language), oriented, of course, either piously or impiously,

(2) And an external part which consists of two aspects, (a) muscular activity 
or contractions that interfere with causes in nature---modify, deflect, 
channel, oppose, sometimes even intensify those natural causes---and (b) the 
results of that interference in the form of morally purposive motions and sometimes 
the artifacts that those language-driven motions produce.

Now, you can SAY that words or the language that informs those initial 
intentions and purposes that "cause" the morally purposeful motions and artifacts 
that follow does not "bag the groceries."  Your words will sit their on the 
screen.  But it takes a pinched, intensely abridged, almost "sense"-less 
punctuation of the process of human action to make such a statement.  It tells us 
virturally nothing useful or explanatory about what's going on.  For the philophers 
of action of the rules persepctive, "action" consists in the whole process, 
otherwise the end results and consequences of "action" would remalin 
inexplicable.

Gotta go bag some newspapers for garbage pickup tomorrow.



Ed

   

      




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