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There are nowadays
professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.
- Henry D. Thoreau
First, let me lay out
a perspective. It is not philosophers—the seekers of wisdom—but
academic personnel, the clergy, and politicians that are largely in
control of three of
the most powerful or influential facets of our society: education,
religion and government.
At 11:44 PM 2/6/99:
[Dave D. wrote] Pam, you were musing that rich & powerful countries can't get to the
top and remain untainted. The Marxist maxim says it best though, n'est-ce pas?
** ALL PROPERTY IS THEFT **
(now I'm sure I've seen something on Interpres about Mercury & the
origin of money, but I forget the details...)
This was not Karl Marx, Dave (HE didn't want to do away with money and
property), it was Pierre-Joseph Proudhon—the first writer to declare
himself an anarchist—in his "What is Property?" (1840).
[Dave D. wrote] Oh and Ted Bond, I was a bit
disappointed that all you told me to do was read your original post to
Wade. Obviously I didn't like the general drift of that or I'd never
have tried to engage you on the merits of post-structuralism in the
[Ted Bond* wrote]
I don't think there was a general drift, Dave (unless you can name it),
for it was, if nothing else, precise.
[Dave D. wrote] I appreciate that since you are a professor of philosophy, you must
have thought about these things more times than I've had hot dinners
already, and it would be daft for me to think I would suddenly change
your mind or 'prove you wrong' or the like...However, it would be nice
if you'd deign to share some of your expertise. Look at it this way: I'd
like to think I had a good working knowledge of "all that French stuff"
from Saussure onwards, and it seems to me to be an incredibly powerful
and useful way of looking at the world around me... I'm
just interested to know more about why you, as a real bona-fide
academic in the field (well, office), see fit to call it 'silly', 'just
a fashion' and so on.
[Ted Bond wrote]
O.k., I accept your challenge, but I will try to make it short.
Yes, Saussure started it all off, although I can't see that
distinguishing among la langue, le langage, and les paroles is such
a big deal. But anyway it set the tone for structuralism and its
successor post-structuralism—a concern for language and its connection
(if any) to the world (or what anglophone philosophers call 'semantics'
[from Charles Morris's division of language into syntactics, semantics
and pragmatics, semantics having to do with meaning, or the relation of
language to the world]).
The trouble with Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Lacan et al., is that they
see an inability to get from language to the world, from 'signifier' to
'signified' and they conclude that we are lost forever in a world of
language and can never get to truth or objectivity. Their problem is
that they see truth and objectivity or any linguistic contact with
reality as only being possible if language can be shown to accurately
map, picture, or otherwise represent reality. But this is their error.
It is not the business of language to represent pre-linguistic realities
in a 1-to-1 correlation.
Language is a human tool, serving human interests and purposes. But this
understanding of language does not exclude truth! It is true for
instance that today (as I am writing) is Monday, but there is no
'reality' independent of human convention that this true assertion
And this is equally true of the assertion (made today) that the
president of the U.S.A. is now on trial in the Senate! All human
convention, but nevertheless true! Even science is a specialized form of
human activity and interest that cannot go beyond inter-subjectivity
(our shared world).
(The notion of truth, even inter-subjective truth, is dicier in
theoretical science than anywhere else.)
What might be called 'metaphysical realism' is false; linguistic
utterances cannot accurately match or picture some pre-linguistic
reality. Give this point to the post-structuralists! But truth and
objectivity do not require metaphysical realism. We can have a realism
internal to language (as illustrated in the examples above) (internal
realism), and this allows us to refer to things in our shared world or,
if you like, the inter-subjective world, which will give us the only
kind of objectivity and truth we're ever going to get. But that
shouldn't worry us because it's the only kind of truth or objectivity
through language that even makes sense. There is
nothing inferior about it. The notion of language picturing or otherwise
accurately representing a pre-linguistic reality was never anything but
a dream! (We should all have listened to Wittgenstein!)
A similar mistake is made by the American philosopher Richard Rorty. He
denies truth, but the only kind of truth he would recognize as the
genuine article is truth as 'correspondence to reality'! In denying the
validity of the correspondence theory of truth, he assumes it as a
premise. Isn't this—wonderful irony—a beautiful Derridean
deconstruction of Rorty!
Truth is tied to the semantics of a language and that in turn to the
human purposes it serves. The United States—a social construct—does
not exist in any metaphysical reality. Yet it does exist in our
(inter-subjective) reality! And (you'd better believe it), it borders
Canada and Mexico and it contains fifty states!
Welcome back the reality of our shared world and farewell to
E.J.(Ted) Bond, Department of Philosophy, Queen's University,
Kingston, Ont., Canada