Jonathan Rée at The Guardian:
Over the past hundred years, philosophical interest in language has become, as Charles Taylor puts it, “close to obsessional”. The obsession goes back to a remark made by Ludwig Wittgenstein in 1915: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” If Wittgenstein was right, then language is not so much a device for recording and communicating information, as the framework of all our knowledge and experience.
But the philosophers who drew inspiration from Wittgenstein’s remark could not agree about what it implied. The positivists among them thought of language as a strict map of impersonal facts, dismissing everything else as rhetoric, emotion or superstition. The humanists, on the other hand, saw it as a creative force that gives wings to our perceptions and opens us to the unknown. For the positivists, you might say, language aspires to the condition of natural science, but for the humanists it is essentially a poem.
Taylor is on the side of the poets, and in his latest book he makes the case with eloquence, force and broad historical sweep. He starts withÉtienne de Condillac, the 18th-century proto-positivist who suggested that language came into existence when our ancestors got bored with instinctive grunts and gestures, and decided to share their ideas by means of artificial vocal sounds.