Western thought contradicted?

Esa eitkonen at UTU.FI
Thu Jan 14 13:21:52 UTC 1999

In a recent message to Funknet George Lakoff asserts that the new book
by Lakoff & Johnson 'contradicts most of Western thought'. What follows
is a brief and preliminary comment, based not on this 1998 book but on
earlier writings by Lakoff and Johnson.
     The main target of Lakoff & Johnson's historiographial critique is
'objectivism' or the view that extramental reality is reflected as such
in the human mind. They correctly claim that objectivisim is
characteristic of common-sense thinking (e.g. Lakoff 1987: 174-175, 270;
Johnson 1987: xxi). However, they also claim that 'objectivism' is
characteristic of the history of Western philosophy as a whole. Now,
everybody who has even a superficial knowledge about this topic knows
that Western philosophy has been - rightly or wrongly - DOMINATED by
sceptical or idealistic schools of thinking, i.e. schools which either
question or deny that humans are able to acquire any (trustworthy)
knowledge about extramental reality. (And having more-than-superficial
knowledge about the topic makes it even easier to accept what I am
saying here.) Do I really have to recall Demokritos (= 'primary' vs
'secondary' qualities anticipated), Hellenistic sceptics from Pyrrho to
Carneades, Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Marx &
Engels, the sense data theorists (e.g. Carnap of the 'Aufbau'), and
many, many more? Considering the 'embodied mind' thesis it is
particularly interesting that Marx & Engels (in 'German Ideology') state
that it is the bodily organization ('koerperliche Organisation') which
determines how people think. Also, the rejection of the mind-body dualism
was not invented by Lakoff & Johnson, but by Aristotle and  - somewhat later
- by Hegel, Marx & Engels, the later Wittgenstein, and many, many more.
     Obviously, there is more to be said. Stay tuned.

Esa Itkonen

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