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TotD: Thomas Szasz on Language

Posted by Cyn | Posted in Thought of the Day | Posted on 12-05-2008

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The Untamed TongueReli­gion and the jar­gon of the helping/​hindering pro­fes­sions are com­prised large­ly of lit­er­al­ized metaphors. That is why they are the per­fect tools for legit­imiz­ing and ille­git­imiz­ing ideas, behav­iors, and per­sons.

Ordi­nary lan­guage com­bines all of these qual­i­ties. It can be used lit­er­al­ly and pre­cise­ly, to con­vey mean­ing; metaphor­i­cal­ly or poet­i­cal­ly, to move peo­ple; or ‘reli­gious­ly,’ to blind and numb peo­ple, mak­ing them feel ele­vat­ed or debased.
“In the nat­ur­al sci­ences, lan­guage (math­e­mat­ics) is a use­ful tool: like the micro­scope or tele­scope, it enables us to see what is oth­er­wise invis­i­ble. In the social sci­ences, lan­guage (lit­er­al­ized metaphor) is an imped­i­ment: like a dis­tort­ing mir­ror, it pre­vents us from see­ing the obvi­ous.

That is why in the nat­ur­al sci­ences, knowl­edge can be gained only with the mas­tery of their spe­cial lan­guages; where­as in human affairs, knowl­edge can be gained only by reject­ing the pre­ten­tious jar­gons of the social sci­ences.

Thomas Sza­sz, The Untamed Tongue: A Dis­sent­ing Dic­tio­nary

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