A 'Hermeneutic Objection': Language and the inner view

Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (2-3):257-269 (1999)
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In the worlds of philosophy, linguistics, and communications theory, a view has developed which understands conscious experience as experience which is 'reflected' back upon itself through language. This indicates that the consciousness we experience is possible only because we have culturally invented language and subsequently evolved to accommodate it. This accords with the conclusions of Daniel Dennett (1991), but the 'hermeneutic objection' would go further and deny that the objective sciences themselves have escaped the hermeneutic circle. The consciousness we humans experience is developed only within the context of crossing the 'symbolic threshold' (Percy 1975; Deacon 1997) and one of the earliest and most important symbols we acquire is that of the self, or 'the subject of experience'. It is only when we achieve self-awareness that the world, as such, comes to exist for us as an object (which contains categories and sub-categories of objects). Any consciousness imputed to prelinguistic stages of development is based on projection and guesswork, since we can know nothing directly of it. It can be said that any experience which does not separate an inner subject from an outer world is probably a continuum of sensation in which environmental stimulus and instinctive response are experienced as a unity; it may be 'lived experience' but it is experience 'lived' non-consciously. Speech requires assertion and by learning to speak we find ourselves asserting, in essence, our selves into the world. The narrative form of language allows us to develop life stories, self-knowledge, and, most important, narrative memory coincident with narrative time. All this is made possible with the intersubjective 'net' of language which allows us to know ourselves by first identifying with the viewpoint of others; and, later, such allows us to identify with other minds as we anticipate their reception our communication. These three, assertion, narrative, and intersubjectivity are the essence of what language is and are the keystones that make culture possible outside of nature.

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Gregory Michael Nixon
Louisiana State University (PhD)


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