Studies in Communication: Contributed to the Communication Research Centre, University College, London

By A. J. Ayer; J. Z. Young et al. | Go to book overview

WHAT IS COMMUNICATION?

A. J. AYER

Grote Professor of Philosophy of Mind and Logic in the University of London, at University College

It may seem strange that one should begin a discussion of communication by asking what communication is. Surely, it may be said, you must already know what communication is before you can profitably start discussing it. And of course there is a sense in which we do know what it is. We know how to use the word 'communication'; we can understand English sentences in which the noun, or the corresponding verb, occurs. But it is one thing to be able to use a word correctly, and quite another to be able to give an account of its use. We know, for example, how to use the word 'time' correctly. At the level of common sense, we have no difficulty in understanding what people say about time: we are able to handle tenses and to make an informative use of words like 'earlier' and 'later', or 'past', 'present' and 'future'. But that does not mean that we are able to answer the question 'What is time?'. Most of us, when confronted with this question, would be at a loss for an answer. We should be inclined to say, like St Augustine, 'I know so long as you don't ask me.' Much the same applies to such questions as: 'What is freedom?' 'What is sovereignty?' 'What is life?' 'What is consciousness?' Sometimes what is wanted is a definition, but more often, in cases of this sort, a definition would not be of much help, even if it were obtainable. We need an explanation, rather than a definition, a detailed account of the work that the concept has to do, a critical investigation of the territory that it is supposed to cover.

In the case of communication, this territory is very wide. We communicate information, but also knowledge, error, opinions,

-11-

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Studies in Communication: Contributed to the Communication Research Centre, University College, London
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction 1
  • What is Communication? 11
  • Communication in Biology 29
  • 'Communication Theory' -- and Human Behaviour 45
  • Communication in Economic Systems 69
  • The Influence of Language on Medicine 91
  • Interpretation of Visual Symbols in the Arts 109
  • Communication of Thought in Ancient Greece 125
  • The Experimental Study of Speech 147
  • Colloquial English and Communication 169
  • Appendix 181
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