Publication 5340

Diettrich O. (1997) Sprache als Theorie: Von der Rolle der Sprache im Lichte einer konstruktivistischen Erkenntnistheorie. Papiere zur Linguistik 56(1): 77–106. Fulltext at
Theories and languages have in common that they aim at describing the world and the experiences made in the world. The specificity of theories is based on the fact that they code certain laws of nature. The specificity of languages is based on the fact that they code our worldview by means of their syntax. Also mathematics can be considered as theory in so far as it codes the constituting axioms. Language can achieve the objectivity postulated by analytical philosophy only if it can refer to a mathematics and logic being objective in the sense of platonism and based on a definitive set of axioms, or if the world-view concerned is definitive and based upon an objective (and therefore definitive) set of laws of nature. The first way is blocked by Goedel’s incompleteness theorem. The objectivity of the laws of nature being necessary for going the second way is questioned as well by what is called the constructivist evolutionary epistemology (CEE): the perceived patterns and regularities from which we derive the laws of nature is considered by the CEE to be invariants of inborn cognitive (sensory) operators. Then, the so called laws of nature are the result of cognitive evolution and therefore are human specific. Whether, e.g., we would identify the law of energy conservation which in physics results from the homogeneity of time, depends on the mental time-metric generator defining what is homogeneous in time. If cognitive operators are extended by means of experimental operators the result can be expressed in classical terms if both commute in the sense of operator algebra (quantitative extensions). Otherwise results would be inconsistent with the classical worldview and would require non-classical approaches such as quantum mechanics (qualitative extensions). As qualitative extensions can never be excluded from future experimental reasearch, it follows that the development of theories cannot converge towards a definitive set of laws of nature or a definitive ‘theory of everything’ describing the structure of reality. Also the structures of mathematics and logic we use have to be considered als invariants of mental operators. It turns out that the incompleteness theorem of Goedel has to be seen as analogy of the incompleteness of physical theories due to possible qualitative experimental extensions. Language, therefore, cannot be considered as an objective depiction of independently existing facts and matters but only as a theory generating propositions being consistent with our world-view. The competence of language is based on the fact that the mental mechanisms generating the ontology we use in our syntax are related to those generating our perceptions. Similar applies to the relationship between the operators generating perceived and mathematical structures enabling us to compress empirical data algorithmically (i.e. to transform them into mathematically articulated theories) and then to extrapolate them by means of the theory concerned (inductive inference). An analogue mechanism establishes our ability to compress verbal texts semantically (i.e. to reduce them to their meaning) and then to extrapolate them (i.e. to draw correct conclusions within the framework of the meaning concerned). This suggests a modified notion of meaning seing it as a linguistic analogy to theories. Similar to physical and mathematical theories also languages can be extended qualitatively particularly by means of metaphorical combinations of semantically noncompatible elements. The development of languages towards it actual richness can be seen as a process of ongoing metaphorosation. this leads to some parallels between verbal, cultural and genetic communication.


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