Brownian thought space

Cognitive science, mostly, but more a sometimes structured random walk about things.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Values: from Saussure to Pedagogy

While chatting with Pari, it occurred to me that there is a strange similarity between Ferdinand de Saussure and the Bhagvad Gita. The essential idea in both-- the first for Linguistics, and the second for all of human affairs-- is that nothing has an intrinsic value. Like Chomsky said, (via Lila Gleitman; I can't seem to find the quote online): in the absence of humans, there are no garbage cans. As an extension, neither is anything good or bad. Nor is anything noun or verb, or two different words, differing by a phoneme. As Saussure points out, if we have a certain distinction in the mind, we will attempt to externalize this, whether by changing a phoneme, or sticking a morpheme onto it or just maybe gesturing in a markedly different way. Which straightaway suggests why Saussure insisted in the social aspect: if I make a significantly different gesture, you might think that the reason I do so is because I believe there to be 2 units where previously there was only one. So, a kind of social contract (that I make a dissimilar gesture because I want to say something dissimilar) drives the segregation of what was a single sign into two different signs. Thus, from Saussure, we go-- via Relevance Theory-- to Pedagogy.

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