Inquiry into Inquiries: Essays in Social Theory

By Arthur F. Bentley; Sidney Ratner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
Memoranda on a Program of Research into Language

We desire a General Theory of Language.

This does not mean a specialized phonetics, linguistics, philology, or semantics, nor a specialized logical, aesthetic, or ethical discussion.

I assume that our inquiry will take place within the framework of the world, and within knowledge. I assert that I am justified in assuming this for any serious research today. Let us say that we are to confine ourselves within the ranges of a known world. This known world includes the operating systems of physics in a framework of sidereal and terrestrial space and time, within which organisms are viewed as being evolved. It includes men among these organisms; and among the behaviors of men it includes their various aesthetic, moral, and logical procedures, as well as their industry and politics.

For preliminary designation of the subjectmatter of our inquiry we may describe Language as a manner of behavior of organisms in a known world. I know no theory of Language that is constructed within this framework. I find it necessary to undertake to construct such a theory for my personal purposes. I believe it desirable that such a theory should be constructed for the most general purposes of knowledge.

The words I have used above for preliminary designation of the subjectmatter of inquiry will hardly carry the same implications to any two persons in this room. The terms "organism," "behavior," and "known world" will exhibit sharp differences of application as between any two of you. You can test this by carrying on a one-minute conversation in which you use them, and immediately thereafter writing down as carefully as possible what your respective intentions have been in the use of them. In such a background as this, successful research is impracticable

____________________
MS essay, dated October 14, 1941. Introductory lecture before Seminar on Language in the Philosophy Department, Columbia University, as Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy, 1941-42.

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