Wednesday, April 12, 2006

metaphysics and linguistics

whether knowledge and belief
entail the same type of truth value,
or whether one entails the other...

if one knows something must one also believe it?

are knowledge and belief subject to
different standards of validity?

knowledge is traditionally defined as
true justified belief...

what if one overhears a stranger using
bigoted language? one may then believe that
this other person is a bigot. how can one then
acquire knowledge of whether or not one's belief in this
case is true (such a belief is justifiable, since it
is supported by linguistic evidence) or whether
one's anger at hearing such language is

in a sense, one's orientation towards such a
situation is entirely dependant upon what is
in one's own mind: it is a product of both
what one has heard another person say and do,
as well as what one believes oneself.

one is then left with a metaphysical problem
and a practical imperative: one may feel one ought
to address the use of bigoted language without
being as radical oneself (lest one be hypocritical,
or more intollerant than that which offended one
in the first place).

although one, in such a situation, may be uncertain
how best to behave - in part, perhaps, for fear of
causing a scene over what may be a bad joke -
one may be left with the sense, however one
chooses to behave, that one ought not to have been
faced with such a problem in the first place.

bigotry is rooted in corrupt language.
a practical approach in a collective sense is
to take the power of bigoted language away from
the bigots. this effort was advanced by parts of the
homosexual community with words like "fag" and
"queer." by using these words freely themselves,
many homosexuals advanced a program to "normalize"
derogatory terms, to defuse this language of its incindiary
power. such an approach is fundamentally american
in its sensibility: if one american can use a word,
any american can. connotation is to an extent
consensus. there ought not be any privelaged
vocabularies: we all speak the same language, and
we're all americans.

this is not to suggest we ought to be frivolous or
irreverent with words that have a painful history,
but merely that exclusivity - in language as well as
economics or politics - breeds a power that will be

a practical approach in a personal sense is to
remind oneself of the importance of tolerance:
the use of bigoted language by one person, if
addressed reasonably, may inspire another to
change his or her habits. otherwise, anger just
breeds anger, and anger is blinding.

if one is angry all the time, it is hard
to let love life beauty and satori into one's
life, and the bigots win.

a good place to start perhaps is by discussing
language, by finding out what a word means to
the person using it, what that person understands
his or her words to mean...

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