Dumb Beasts and Dead Philosophers: Humanity and the Humane in Ancient Philosophy and Literature

Dumb Beasts and Dead Philosophers: Humanity and the Humane in Ancient Philosophy and Literature

Dumb Beasts and Dead Philosophers: Humanity and the Humane in Ancient Philosophy and Literature

Dumb Beasts and Dead Philosophers: Humanity and the Humane in Ancient Philosophy and Literature

Excerpt

Dumb beasts and dead philosophers. This much they have in common: that we find it hard to be sure how effectively we are communicating with them. They do not speak to us in our language.

But is this our fault or theirs? Is it they who have nothing to say, or we who have no means to listen? It is easy to suppose that because other animals 'lack language' (as we put it), they must have nothing to say to us. But the impression that they lack something, a faculty that we possess, is created entirely by our anthropocentric perspective. Perhaps, if language were the only way to communicate, then lacking such language might be equated with having nothing worth communicating, though even that seems unsafe as a general inference. In practice, language may be a restriction as well as a facility, since language users, accustomed to reading or hearing truths expressed in words, may find it hard to recognize communication conveyed by other mechanisms.

Our dependence upon verbal discourse, preferably couched in a language that we understand, restricts our capacity to understand what is not expressed like that. So perhaps it is our disadvantage to be languageconfined, to be unable to hear what others can hear, unable to read what others can read. If there is communication without words, who is better placed to comprehend, those who do or those who don't talk only in language? Do we close ourselves to forms of communication that we once had fully in our control—once, before we learned to talk? At the risk of sounding pathetic, we need to remind ourselves that there are many things, human things included, that can be conveyed by other forms of communication besides the systems of vocal sounds or written signs that make up what we call human language (or the artificial sign language substitutes, which are derivative from natural spoken forms). Human communication is much more extensive than what we narrowly call language. Or, if we extend the term 'language' to cover the nonlinguistic methods of imparting information and sharing thoughts within a social community, then language is a much more widespread form of . . .

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