Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Grinding coins instead of knives

Somehow, in all our discussions in the lectures, one thing that seem to underlie or play a subtle role (acknowledged or not, accepted or denied) is that of language.  Therefore really look forward to the course on Wittgenstein the next term.

Anyway here's a quote from Anatole France's Garden of Epicurus
... the metaphysicians, when they make up a new language, are like knife-grinders who grind coins and medals against their stone instead of knives and scissors.  They rub out the relief, the inscriptions, the portraits, and when one can no longer see on the coins Victoria, or Wilhelm, or the French Republic, they explain: these coins now have nothing specifically English or German or French about them, for we have taken them out of time and space; they now are no longer worth, say, five francs, but rather have an inestimable value, and the area in which they are a medium of exchange has been infinitely extended.  
Though sounding amusing and to an extent realistic, there is something fishy about doing away with standards or basics (eg. truth).  Is it the basics themselves or claims of some/most about the basics? Or may be I'm missing something here?

1 comment:

  1. I find this a strange example and I can't understand it. If all the markings are removed from a coin, it no longer has any value in exchange. And its intrinsic value, if made of precious metals as in the old days, would be whatever the metal is worth.

    "they now are no longer worth, say, five francs, but rather have an inestimable value, and the area in which they are a medium of exchange has been infinitely extended."

    The value and extension of the area of exchange of such a coin depends again on whatever markings are put on it. Is that what he means about new languages? That you recycle existing structures and patterns of language and only print new words on it which would extend the validity and life of the language?

    But if the basic coin is the same, its intrinsic value cannot change, only its value in exchange. So we can have new words and languages and to that extent, a change in the underlying experience of life. But the intrinsic experience of life does not depend on the markings at all.

    Damn. I am glad i am not studying this.

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