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Using Language to Control Emotions and Thought

Note: this page only supplements the principal discussion of George Orwell's idea of limiting language in order to limit thought ("Newspeak" in the novel 1984), and does not replace it.

Language directs (or misdirects) our thoughts and feelings by setting limits in various ways: it can be used to restrict or to extend boundaries, to muddy or to make meaning clear. It is never indifferent. (Note that some remarks on this page should be marked: Although it may seem plausible, this is not quite right..)

Outline of this page ...

I only know what I don't read in the papers.

Can Language also be used to Limit Emotion?

In Orwell's 1984, a government strategy claims that to limit language = to limit thought. But, if that claim be true, can language also be purposely used to limit emotion?

"If there is no language with which to express an idea ..." and "If there is no language with which to express an emotion ..." -- Is what is true in the one case also true in the other?


Do I force my emotions to conform to the language that I have learned? In the language I inherited from the community of my childhood there are pre-existent linguistic categories: do I categorize my emotions, do I force my emotions, my peculiar psychology, to conform to them?

Could human beings, in Orwell's context, be forced to look at things this way: "These are the emotions -- and these are the words which name them -- of all right-thinking people, and there are no other emotions (except among criminals)"? Of course, we might forced to say that, but could we also be forced not to have certain emotions simply because those emotions have not been given names (or because those names are "criminal")? cf. We might perhaps force human beings not to have certain ideas merely by not giving them a language in which to express those ideas:

If someone does not believe in fairies, he does not need to teach his children 'There are no fairies'; he can [simply] omit to teach them the word 'fairy'. (Z § 413)

But you can't really say, "Just don't teach children the word 'anger' and then no child will ever be angry", because children will still be angry, just now without a name to call what they are. The case of 'fairies' is different in that respect. (Animals are without language, but they do display many recognizable emotions.) But can we claim that our language has names for all possible human emotions or moods? (By what criterion would we know whether or not we have the complete list of emotion-words? Is there such a criterion? On the other hand, words are tools: would we have use for a more extensive collection (tool chest) of emotion-words?)

Obviously our vocabulary for sensations is extremely limited. But sensation-words have a very different "grammar or logic" [The meaning of the words 'grammar' and 'logic' in Wittgenstein's jargon includes rules of sense and nonsense] from emotion-words and disposition-words.

"The poet's aim is to make language conform to his emotions rather than having his emotions conform to language." (Is that possible? does language work that way?)

If there is no name for something, can we experience it? For example, illness -- can someone have a disease that has not been identified or defined yet -- or does such a disease simply not exist? (Mental illnesses.) A dog does not have the word 'scared' in its vocabulary as were, but a dog can certainly be scared (PI § 360).

We might as well say we could eliminate hunger simply by eliminating the word 'hungry'. If a child can't say 'I am hungry', then how can the child be hungry? If there are no dentists, how can anyone have a toothache? Of course it doesn't work that way (although we might describe cases where it might work that way, as e.g. suppose there were no word 'pregnant' but only a word 'with child', and no word 'abortion' but only a word 'infanticide'; of course, simply outlawing the word 'abortion' would not have the effect of controlling thought, but we would have to imagine that word had never existed).

Nameless emotion. How do you know that it is nameless? When do we say that our present emotion doesn't fit into the categories of normal usage? because our language does allow us to say that. But must we ever say that -- because even where there is no specific name for an emotion, there may be many words with which to describe or characterize it. Or are we limited to a list of names or fixed categories? ("Forms of life")

More, but not More Clear

In Orwell's context, perhaps we could describe a vocabulary imposed by government in order to control human behavior that included a limited list of emotion-words. But what would the effect of this limited list be? What would be the effect of simply not including any emotion-words in the vocabulary the children were taught? Now, however, are we suggesting an hypothesis, or asking about the logic of language?

Query: Language is given to us to conceal our feelings.

We could with as much justice say: to reveal our feelings. Think of all the nuances of human anger. Without language would we be able to distinguish one from another (Does the cause of anger belong to the "meaning" of the anger?), or would they all look more rather than less the same?

How much subtlety is there in a dog's barking? Perhaps a lot for dogs; -- but unless those subtleties can be stated in rules of grammar, then they do not have what Wittgenstein called a 'meaning'; a language without rules is not a language.

The passive voice, the query's form of expression: by whom or by what is it given to us? Language allows us to be insincere or tactful, just as it allows the opposite. But can you say that it was designed to be?

What we seek in philosophy is the intelligible; philosophy is limited to the use of reason -- and therefore there are limits to what can be done with it. (In Wittgenstein's view, which I do not share, the more important part of reality is neither reasonable nor unreasonable, although it is certainly not reasonable [cf. LC i, p. 59; Recollections p. 160: "It is impossible for me to say one word in my book about all that music has meant in my life"].)

Joseph Haydn's music is philosophical; Claude Debussy's is not. Geometric figures are philosophical; clouds are not. Limits are philosophical; the indefinite is not.

The poet's aim. I think we have a picture like this: human feeling is an amorphous mess, a shapeless mass with nothing to grab hold of. Do we not want to say that self-percepts -- i.e. introspection -- without concepts are blind (unintelligible)? [The language we use to talk about our feelings is not a private language, for if it were it would not be a language.] Is it possible, then, to look at human emotions in a "Martian-like" way (Z § 711) -- i.e. without pre-conceptions? Language is part of our natural history: the Martian would be unacquainted with that history; the Martian would not understand our language of feeling -- i.e. our words such as 'sorrow' and 'hope' and 'joy'.

Query: Do emotions need a language if they are to be expressed?

Emotions without concepts are blind? [Is an emotion a percept or "sense datum"? I don't know. Is a cloud moving through the sky a percept -- or must a percept be "simple". One thinks, surely a sensation is a percept, is it not? I don't know.] Can we say: The absence of concepts -- i.e. language -- won't prevent you from having emotions, but you won't understand your emotions without concepts -- i.e. without language? [Does "you won't" = "you can't" here -- i.e. is this a question of logical possibility?] And then the question is: what are we calling 'understanding' here? In some cases even with language you won't understand your emotions, if understanding is knowledge, if it is being able to give an account of it to others (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1).

If there is no name for it, can we feel it? Which type of possibility are we asking about -- empirical or logical? (What would 'empirical' mean here?) Or is it like an all-too-solid object: there may be no name for it, but that doesn't prevent us from running into it; or a new species of deep sea monster: we have many ways to characterize it.

But emotions, being in many, although not in all, cases "inner" or "hidden" or "invisible" [PI § 36: "Where our language suggests a body and there is none: there, we would like to say, is a spirit"] -- i.e. belonging to a different part-of-speech: psychological-words versus e.g. color-words, number-words, and name-of-object-words, -- are not always so easily characterized [The grammatical category 'feeling words' is not so well defined as the other categories].

Query: do words do justice to emotions?

Do emotions always do justice to words? (Sincerity. "My dear Bounderby, I am as distressed by your loss as you could possibly wish for me to be.")

All-too-subtle emotions

Try to "weigh moonlight or analyze grace" (Robert Schumann). Sometimes our emotions are subtle, as the effect of music on us may be -- and we do not know with what language to characterize those emotions; there are "nameless emotions", emotions we don't feel able to put into words. Biological correlations are of no interest to non-clinical psychology (parallel conceptual systems: physiological versus psychological), but on the other hand, behavioral correlations are needed by the logic of language: "An "inner process" stands in need of outward criteria" (ibid. § 580). That is the only limit to such emotions being named.

In the context of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four the questions one asks are: is it is possible to limit political thought by limiting vocabulary, and is it possible to limit [or expand] emotions by limiting [or expanding] vocabulary? What might Orwell's government not want its members to feel? I think: any emotion that would allow an individual to separate himself [step out of line] from the mass (Yevgeny Zamyatin gave his book the title "We"). But can this be done by means of language? Melancholia, undirected unhappiness or depression -- could a government eliminate this emotion or disposition simply by making it impossible for anyone to talk about it? Here we remember instinct: for example, the behavior of some animals resembles the human behavior that in our language we call 'mourning', although those animals do not use language. If there are emotions that require language, maybe these might be eliminated.

Query: Newspeak, to make people believe that they live in the best possible conditions.

As if, if we did not have words such as 'smells bad' nothing would smell bad to us, or, as if, if we had no words for 'being tired' no one would ever feel tired. So, or at least it seems, that in some cases there are clearly limits to what can be done with language, government propaganda.

Query: how do children who are born blind learn emotions?

First we must guess what the querier intends by the word 'learn', for we use that word in more than one sense, e.g. 'to learn' = 'to be taught', but also 'to learn' = 'to naturally acquire' (e.g. an infant learning to walk). Does a human being need to be taught emotions -- is learning emotions like learning to read and write? Does a child need to be taught anger and sadness? Empathy? It has been reported that small children who were abandoned in orphanages in Romania, where they were never held, never spoken to, never loved, neither have emotions nor are capable in later life of acquiring emotions. Is that an object of comparison to the more familiar case here? But again, we must distinguish between 'being taught' and 'acquiring'.

If the meaning of our questions, of our investigation, is unclear, it is because we fail to distinguish between hypotheses (questions of fact) and rules of grammar (conventions), between empirical and logical-conceptual investigations. (Z § 458; cf. PI § 392)

Limiting Thought by Enlarging Language, by Silencing Language, and by Redefining Common Words

"Slogan swallowers"

Political [philosophical] thought can be limited, not only by decreasing vocabulary, but also by enlarging [increasing] it -- enlarging it with meaningless slogans (combinations of words). George Orwell speaks of "slogan swallowers" who repeat the nonsense formulas of demagoguery. 'Support our troops.' 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.' (Like so many advertisement slogans: 'Things go better with Coke!') What do they mean? They are "suggestive of meaning" but they mean nothing -- because they might be given most any meaning (Cf. Rules of grammar are not random). What are their practical consequences? They have none, or they might have any. The vagueness of Orwellian slogans just set human minds at rest -- i.e. put them to sleep.

'Support our troops' is a slogan intended to put an end to thought and discussion; it throws up a wall of incomprehension that is impenetrable. It is an example of "obfuscation by means of full-stop", a caricature of philosophy's "clarification by full-stop" (DW p. xii). What exactly is 'support' to mean in this instance?

The slogan 'God bless America' is similar to the slogan 'Support our troops' in that it's hard to imagine that anyone would disagree with it, but on the other hand, it's not at all clear what anyone who agrees with it is agreeing to.

The repeated utterance of undefined words ("mere sound without sense")

Similar to slogans are common words that demagogues frequently utter but never define: 'terrorism', 'hate', 'suspicious'. Others are 'democracy', 'security', 'freedom', 'liberal', 'socialism' (What is the public library system if not socialism. Is the public library an example of bad government? What is the state school system (public education), if not socialized education; and Social Security and Medicare, those socialist programs that old people in America would be so much better off without!) This nonsense -- i.e. undefined language --- is often uncritically or as often intentionally repeated by the press.

'Terrorism'. That word now means nothing more than: resistance to the will of a government (It need not even be violent resistance [The British government (Terrorism Act 2006) invented a speech crime called "glorifying terror"]). As such, -- recognizing that this word no longer has any meaning other than the kind called "affective meaning" [or, in this case crude, "emotive meaning"] --, 'terrorism' is no longer a word that a responsible human being uses. It is a demagogue-word that should be retired from the language. If the word 'terrorism' any longer had a meaning, then that meaning could be expressed without that word. Just try.

"Hezbollah builds bombs. Hezbollah also builds homes. What Congress decided was when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs. That's the entire theory behind this statute." (16 March 2010. The U.S. Solicitor General's "theory" as stated to the U.S. Supreme Court, which later voted to accept it. Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement) was also targeted in the questioning and testimony.)

What might the word 'theory' mean here? I have no idea. According to U.S. government policy: If you live under a government which the rulers of the U.S. label "terrorist", then you should be homeless, you and your children should be denied education -- and you should be ill and starve, preferably to death; you have neither human rights nor rights under international law. And anyone who tries to help you -- in any way at all -- is also a "terrorist"; this includes Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., if they teach their principles and strategies of non-violent resistance to you. In other words, some forms of doing good in the world are now illegal in America, and the Solicitor General who advocated that policy is now a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The word 'terror' is used to express condemnation of anything demagogues apply it to: it is intended to make anyone who asks questions appear to be defending evil.

'Hate'. Any individual or group can be categorized as a "hater" or "hate group". It is only a question of how we look at that individual or group. (The "can" is grammatical of course or logical possibility or, in other words: what can be described.)

But is silencing speech also silencing thought?

[Note about Palestine: a personal disclaimer. Note also that the following are language and philosophy remarks -- not political polemic.]

Talking about the following is baying at the moon, but on the other hand "questioning everything" is very often that way.

According to the U.S. State Department:

Contemporary examples of antisemitism ... could, taking into account the overall context, include ...

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Which is it? Is there a Jewish religion (Judaism) or is there a "Jewish people" whose state is Israel? Is there only a religion or is there both a religion and a "people", or is Judaism itself a national identity ideology? If there is not a non-religious Jewish people, then can there be "secular Jews" (as Albert Einstein called himself)?

If the prime minister of Israel demands the expulsion of 42,000 Eritrean and Sudanese refugees because they are not Jews and therefore undermine the status of Jews as the majority in Israel (and therefore as its "democratic" rulers), is that not "a racist endeavor"? (The inhabitants of the state of Italy are Italians regardless of whether their parents were born in Italy or in Africa -- there is no Italian race, not even black or white.) And is suggesting that it is "a racist endeavor" an act of "antisemitism" according to the U.S. Department of State?

When language is tortured like this, what does it mean, i.e. not only what is the language's meaning, but what does using language this way amount to?

Political Zionism

A lot of the trouble lies in our way of talking about countries doing this or that rather than of the powerful of those countries doing this or that. Not all Israelis are political Zionists, certainly not the one fifth who are Palestinians (much less the 750,000 Palestinians who were expelled from their homes by the Zionist Jews and now live with their children and grandchildren as displaced persons), nor are all Israeli Jews, much less all Jews, advocates of political Zionism (or of the religious Zionism that now controls the government Israel's land policies). And so it would be clearer if instead of saying "Israel" we said "the rulers of Israel" or even "Israel's Zionist Jews". It would also be clearer if Israel were not called "the Jewish state" rather than "a state for Jews", because the first form of expression implies that the "ideals" of Israel's rulers are the ideals of all Jews, as if there were an essence of Jewish-ness (a common nature as the meaning of a common name), which there is not (as far as I can see).

"Jewish state" -- this identifies political Zionism with "semitism", so that those who attack Jews in Europe think they are instead attacking Zionists. And it is the political Zionists, both Jewish and Christian, who are responsible for this increase in "antisemitic" attacks by people who have not learned to make distinctions.

It is political Zionism itself that is antisemitic, in my view. political Zionism, which is a national identity ideology, an apartheid (or racist by any other name) project, is antisemitism because it is a denial and rejection of the highest development of Jewish thought, namely Jesus' insight that the kingdom of God belongs, not to a nation or race of people, but to those, and only to those, who do God's will, which is to love God with all one's heart and to love one's neighbor as one loves oneself in a neighborhood without borders, as the story of the merciful Samaritan, who asks no questions about the man he helps, shows us who our neighbor is (Luke 10.25-37).

Like having more than one alibi, having too many meanings is worse than having no meaning (The word 'antisemite' is infinitely plastic. It can be stretched to fit anyone and anything; one size fits all.)

On the other hand, it does seem that the word 'antisemitism' is a word that in our time is without any clear meaning -- because it is allowed to mean too many different things; as an instrument it is as blunt as a blanket. Time may have been when by 'antisemitism' was meant 'an uncompromising animosity or even hatred towards Jews or the Jewish people collectively' and not 'a reasoned opposition to the ideologies of either Judaism or political Zionism'. But in the English-speaking world that distinction seems lost, and being opposed to political Zionism is equivalent to being an abolitionist in the South under slavery or later being a desegregationist anywhere in the United States: then one was dismissed as a "n-lover", and maybe now one would be called a "w-lover" -- if the word 'antisemite' were not effective for directing attention away from the wronged (the native population of Palestine and the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees) towards the wrong-doer, whose only real "wrong-doing", as the word 'antisemite' suggests, is being Jewish. (When is apartheid not really apartheid -- when it is political Zionism?) And the word 'antisemitism' is of course only one step away from the word 'Nazi' (Indeed, a sociology professor at Holy Cross College, Massachusetts, escalated his rhetorical attack against Fr. Michael Prior of St. Mary's College, Surrey University, with just that distorted language).

Opponents of political Zionism are in some places free to express opinions, just as political Zionists are also free -- and sufficiently powerful -- to dehumanize, financially bankrupt and marginalize ["send to Coventry"] those who express such opinions, not by refuting those opinions (Plato, Gorgias 458a-b), but simply by calling those people a name, as if a Jewish person could never be opposed because of what he does rather than because of who he is. Labels are powerful tools [weapons]. They can be used to silence speech. But can they also be used to control [limit] what a human being is capable of thinking (Orwell, 1984)?

Well, an example of just that is the strange ideology of Christian Evangelical Zionism ("Falwellism", although it was invented by William Hechler, who pressed Theodor Herzl to make Palestine the place of his future "state for Jews") which sees the "restoration" of the Jews to "the land of Israel" as the fulfillment of the Bible's prophesies about the "end days" and the "second coming of Christ", quite oblivious to the different types of story-telling in the Bible; comparable would be reading Jesus' parables as if they were history lessons ("Where did that family live, in which town and street? I think I knew that prodigal son and his father" [Luke 15.11]). Literalism is a use of language that limits [restricts] thought (Orwell's Big Brother should have had something similar).

And that restriction is dangerous (although anyone who is unable to believe that there are people who take religious belief seriously by acting in accord with it will not understand that it is) because if the political Zionist state is God's will, as is the belief of the U.S. president and his advisors (and all other followers of the founder of Liberty University), then any organization or government (Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iraq, Libya, Syria, BDS), indeed the Palestinian people themselves, and any individual human being that opposes political Zionism is acting contrary to God's will, i.e. it is doing the work of the devil, and therefore must be destroyed. That ideology is similar to the ideology of "Islamic State". (Neither is the Christianity I know, nor the Islam I know, both of which teach to love God, who is everything good and true, with one's whole heart and to love one's neighbor, who is every human being without distinction, as oneself, to forgive and seek reconciliation, be merciful and make peace. I cannot see any difference between worshipping the god of Deuteronomy 7.1-6, a god who demands not only the dispossession of a native population of its home, not mere "ethic cleansing", but actual genocide both physical and cultural, and worshipping the devil: if God demands that, then what would the devil demand -- if that is the Word of God then what would the word of the devil be!)

Further "obfuscation by means of full-stop" is the phrase 'Israel's right to exist'. The moral right? Only if "morality comes from the barrel of a gun" (The complement or corollary of that phrase is that, due to its inferior fire power, the native population of Palestine does not have the right to exist).

(Of course, the thing is that if Israel were the Dutch state in Palestine, no one would be defending it who did not also defend Apartheid South Africa. Indeed, it would no longer exist. Why it would be different for the Jewish state in Palestine is not a question about language.)

The existence of a symbol and the existence of the thing it symbolizes

Word magic ... As if, if we just make the word disappear, what the word symbolizes will also disappear.

Can the removal of a symbol remove the thing it symbolizes? e.g. can it make racism disappear? If people cannot express racist ideas, can people feel racial animosity or practice racial denigration?

When people don't recognize the difference between referring to a word and using a word, as if to say: Just don't say the word 'n-', because not saying that word will make racism go away. On the other hand, the very word (sound, ink marks) 'n-' is itself a powerful symbol, which is why I have not spelled it out here. (Words even when only referred to rather than used can nonetheless be in themselves offensive, e.g. the four-letter expletives of the English language.)

[A word written on a wall without context is meaningless in Wittgenstein's logic of language, which shows that Wittgenstein's meaning of 'meaning' is a selected meaning of that word. It is not the same as e.g. the symbolic meaning of a word, which is another meaning of the word 'meaning'. There are many other meanings of 'meaning' than the one Wittgenstein chose for his work in philosophy.]

Here we have a word that is not only mere marks on paper or spoken sounds ('signs' in Wittgenstein's jargon) but is also a powerful symbol (cf. national flags as symbols), that is to say the sign -- that concatenation of letters or sounds -- is itself a symbol: even the bare sign -- i.e. the sign divorced from its use in the language -- is in this case a symbol (for those who speak the language, of course; otherwise it is "mere sound without sense"), and a symbol has the power to give deep offense ... or approval:

Controlling thought by broadening the meaning of words

"What's in a name?"

Marriage. You can call an elephant a giraffe, but that doesn't make it one. Indeed, no word magic can make it one. Changing the name does not change the thing, although it may affect how we look at it. And that is the point here: to make propaganda for a different way of seeing things. "What's in a name?" Juliet asks, and not always but sometimes quite a lot.

When abnormal psychology beomes normal psychology, has a society found its way or lost it?

"But 'marriage' doesn't mean ...," Alice says, but Humpty Dumpty replies: "When I use a word it means whatever I want it to mean." We can change the label from 'pears' to 'peaches', but that doesn't change what is inside the container. Or in some sense, does it? In which sense? In the sense, not that pears become peaches, but that people stop making a distinction between pears and peaches. The relation between language and thought: language can be determinate.

"The label you paste on a package doesn't determine its contents." Can we always say that? Use your imagination. (Labels are language.)

Name-calling. We can pin any label on a box, but that label doesn't change the content of the box. The label is without effect and it is without truth unless it can be verified by the content of the box; but then we can drop the label altogether and simply refer to the content of the box directly; and indeed anything else is dishonest. Suppose there were no such labels as 'antisemitism' and 'antisemite'. Try to think without them. Try to say exactly what you mean without using those words. Now imagine that the word 'hate' didn't exist, and further that there were no word 'Jewish'. What if there were no such words as 'race', 'racism' and 'racist'. Set aside the labels and say exactly what you mean. (Then you will see just how far labels are a substitute for thought.)

Do you mean by 'antisemitic', then, 'any act that causes, and any statement that expresses a desire for actual harm to come to all the members of a particular group of human beings'? Which group? By 'antisemitic' do you mean 'criticism and actions, such as Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS), directed at political Zionism in Palestine'? Is the second possible without the first -- are the members of both groups the same?

The language of lies

Statements of fact are not all of the kind 'The book is on the table'. When the words 'under occupation' are replaced by the words 'under control', the word 'settlements' with the word 'communities', the word 'wall' with the word 'security fence', the word 'resistance' with the word 'terrorism', what is evil becomes bland, what is just becomes evil. ("What's in a name?" Subject: the myth of unbiased language. Even the proposition 'The book is on the table' is not neutral in all contexts.)

Gender identity. This may be defined physiologically (by the body) or psychologically (as a condition of mind) and, again, these are parallel vocabularies that do not intersect (i.e. that cannot be translated one into the other). The runner's experience of "second wind" is a psychological phenomenon that cannot be dismissed as unreal simply because it does not have a physiological correspondent. And the same is the case with gender identity, that a psychological phenomenon may not, or need not, have a corresponding physiological phenomenon. Male and female bodies may say one thing, but the mind may say the contrary. Both are real, but which is treated as defining is a question for politics.

For who or what decides whether gender dysphoria and same-sex attraction are mental illness or mental health? For how can what was long mental illness become overnight mental health? The flexibility of the concept 'mental illness', that something can go from being a mental illness to being a human right in a single generation. What does this show about the concept 'mental illness' (and about the concept 'human rights')?

Rubble as a symbol

The removal of the stained-glass windows from Washington's National Cathedral that were dedicated as symbols of reconciliation between North and South by an age of self-righteous mediocrity, a cultural trough unable to create anything of lasting value, but only able to destroy the lasting values of the past: throwers of first stones smashing all symbols dear to the past.

Event versus Event-meaning

Facts may be "theory-laden" but nonetheless they can be distinguished from the meaning [significance] that someone has assigned to them. (This is the distinction between event and event-meaning.) The categories to which things are assigned by common names may be helpful or unhelpful to human understanding (cf. CV p. 55: "concepts may lessen confusion -- or encourage it"). But even educated people very often neglect to call the categories that are common currency into question [to "question everything", as their schooling should have taught them to do], and the majority of voters are not educated people, something which is well-known to demagogues. [Democracy and demagoguery.]

The word 'suspicious'. Things are not suspicious in themselves. Human beings are suspicious of things. That is, suspiciousness is a human attitude, not a quality of anything. (These are of course grammatical remarks, reminders of how we use the word 'suspicion', of that word's definition.) It is not that there are not circumstances in which the word 'suspicious' is learned; it is rather that it is logically-grammatically possible for any facts to be suspicious if someone fits them into a picture (frame, context) that makes them suspicious: as is a scientific theory, a suspicion is selected facts plus imagination.

"Freedom is Slavery" (and other strange propositions)

Comment: the strange thing about Orwell's slogans: whether we write "Freedom is Slavery" or "Slavery is Freedom" -- either way we can easily invent arguments to prove that they are true. All of them seem this way, that they are consistent with some point of view. (But can't this be said about every proposition, slogan or statement of fact? Context (frame of reference) decides the game, like the king in chess.)

When the German Democratic Republic (DDR, East Germany) called itself a democracy, its rulers were not using 'democracy' in a different way from everyone else; they had not redefined the word 'democracy' (revised the concept 'democracy). No one calls "dictatorship of the proletariat" democracy; no one who is not lying, that is. By the word 'democracy' everyone means 'rule by the people', not 'rule by the communist party over the people'; the latter is what the Greeks called 'tyranny', and what everyone calls 'dictatorship'.

And everyone knows this, and everyone always knew it. The communist party tried to pretend that it was "true democracy" -- that is, modern "representative democracy" which, following elections (whether single- or multi-party), claims to be "government by consent of the people". But everyone knew this was not true. Everyone knew that the communist party was lying, even the communist party itself. It called dictatorship democracy for propaganda purposes, not for any other reason. It thought like Mao Tse-tung, that if a lie is told a thousand times it becomes the truth. But it doesn't.

"Dictatorship is democracy" | "War is defense"

After the Second World War, in the United States of America the Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense. The U.S. government had not redefined the word 'defense'; quite the contrary: it was telling a lie. Just like the DDR's Communist Party had done.

Calling representative-democracy democracy is no different from calling communism democracy. Both claims are deliberate falsehoods; both are lies; both are deliberate deception. Both are marketing campaigns, advertisements directed at the ignorant. Is the slogan "Governments [derive] their just powers from the consent of the governed" anything other than demagoguery, for "the governed" of representative-democracy is no different from communism's "the People", a substanceless abstraction?

H.D.F. Kitto wrote that the Greeks would have regarded modern "representative democracy" as simply another form of dictatorship, of being ruled by someone else (The Greeks (Penguin 1951) vii, p. 129). The advocates of representative democracy call "direct democracy" -- i.e. democracy -- mob rule. But democracy gave birth to Pericles, to the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes, the buildings on the Acropolis, and Socrates willingly died for the Athenian way of life. There are few societies of which it can be said that if they had never existed we would not be who we are. And it is not only of the classical world that Schweitzer's question about Socrates can be asked: "Where would it have been without him?"

"Representative democracy is democracy"

Hegel: "What is real is rational, and what is rational is real." When I told someone what Hegel had said, unlike me, he immediately grasped its implications: "Why, you could use that to justify anything!" As indeed Marx did, including the extermination of entire social classes (as if social classes were human races). Everything works towards "progress". As the Spirit, or History, works itself out, everything works to serve it, including war and genocide. All that is real is "rational": and all will be good, in the end. Metaphysics guarantees that it will, because it must be so.

"Bad is good"

All these slogans are instances of the Italian saying, "Everyone takes advantage of the ignorant", and it is true that these slogans are not subtle: they only deceive the ignorant or thoughtless. Market capitalism is free trade. Wage slavery, tax slavery, debt slavery is freedom. Unions, collective bargaining is slavery. Those whose lives are dedicated to death and destruction rather than to life and creation give their campaigns of invasion and occupation slogan-titles like "Enduring Freedom". But it is only the freedom of the grave for the native population. "They make a desert and call it peace" (said of the ancient Romans in England). "Neither did they repent of their murders" (From the Book of Revelation). The entertainment industry, the music industry, the fashion industry, the snack-food industry, all are permitted free access to children. Exploitation is freedom.

Desecrating the image of God in man (The allusion is to torture) is a holy and pious act.

The Rule of Law

There are also slogans that seem to explain something, but actually explain nothing. For example, "We are a nation of laws, not of men." What does it mean? Aren't judges men? And is it not men who write the laws? -- What is the justification for those laws? And who is to judge that? Such slogans enable the deeper questions [nomos versus physis] to be passed over in silence.

[Anacharsis the Scythian told Solon that laws were like spiders' webs, good for catching the weak but easily broken by the powerful. In democracy as in trial by jury, learned men argue the case -- ignorant men reach the verdict. (Plutarch, Life of Solon). And as we see once again in the early years of the twenty-first century, "Laws are silent in time of war" (Cicero): the sovereignty of the rule of law (Supreme Court) gives way to the tyranny of the commander-in-chief (Executive).]

"Fitting up"

[The following is not an example of the rule of law: "If we your rulers do not like what you do or have done but there is no law against what you do or have done, we will search our law books until we find a law that we can somehow apply against you for what you do or have done." That is called being "fitted up". It is instead an example of the arbitrary rule of men. For a Protean law is no law, just as a Procrustean law is no law (A measuring-stick that shows anything and everything to be the same length is no measuring-stick).]

The slogan might also be: we are a society of laws, not of ethics. The legal rights of the individual may count for something, but the individual's conscience counts for nothing. The ethics of the individual has been replaced by the laws of society's legislators.

Conscience and Legal defense

What we can say about "the rule of law" is that individual conscience is not a defense if someone chooses to break the law, except in the case of non-violent civil disobedience (although even in that case conscience only mitigates; it does not absolve). That itself is a law [a rule of this game-like business: whether the basis of law is convention or nature (or divine authority), the rule of law may be compared to a game, as can anything else in which obeys rules (We are characterizing a 'game' by its rules)]. But as to the origin and justification of the laws -- that is a different "rule of law" question entirely.

Sophocles' Antigone is not a play about individual conscience as such, but about "laws of the state" versus the "laws of the gods" [Again, I think, this is the distinction between nomos and physis; cf. 'law' versus 'equity']. Antigone accepts the consequences of breaking Creon's law:

".... Thy writ, O King,
hath not such potence as will overweigh
the laws of God ....
What though man rage, I must obey that law
and count it but a little thing to die."

(Translated by C.E. Robinson in his book Zito Hellas (1946) [Hellas, Beacon Press, vi, 9, p. 100])

If there are laws of Heaven, should not the laws of the state be identical to them? But how is one to know what the laws, of which Sophocles says that they are "immutable which whence they are none knoweth, not of today nor yesterday, but fixed from everlasting to eternity" (ibid.), are and what one must do if the laws of the state conflict with them? Here the conscience of the individual must [of logical necessity] reign -- if there is no standard more ultimate -- or what would it be? This is what is recognized by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: freedom of conscience. (Sometimes men are later praised for illegal acts of conscience, e.g. Saint Thomas More, but at other times they are vilified ...)

Maybe it could be said that in the case of Antigone, the individual conscience is the voice of God.

Radicals are turned into Statues

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson. -- They were radicals, revolutionaries, and most certainly "terrorists" in the eyes of the British government, which would have hanged all the signers of the American Declaration of Independence ["For reasons of security", none of these men would be permitted to visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia today]. But now in Britain's former colony, state schools are named after these "terrorists" and monuments are dedicated to them. And they are treated as symbols of orthodoxy.

Beethoven, whose music was revolutionary, has also been made a symbol of orthodoxy. As have the philosophers. "The Philosophy of Aristotle at 9 AM, Descartes at noon, Kant at 2 PM ..." I can't see Socrates as the head of a university's Department of Philosophy, can you? The university: philosophy in the hands of Sophists.

Revolutionaries are made to serve the very institutions or ways of life that they rebelled against. Yesterday's revolutionaries are made to foster today's conformists. Men who never sought safety are set up as safe ideals for students to follow -- although, of course not to follow by becoming revolutionaries themselves; living revolutionaries are locked up or cast out.

The present U.S. regime would add the Continental Congress of 1776 to its list of "terrorist organizations". And when George Washington with his Revolutionary Army was engaged in a battle against the British Monarch to establish the way of life Abraham Lincoln spoke of in his Gettysburg Address, the present U.S. regime would call for "both sides" to "show restraint" and "seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict" (while meanwhile providing military support to the British). The present U.S. regime would have the same statement to make if a child were being raped. (Palestine)

Turning radicals into statues amounts to defining history's proper names: who was Thomas Jefferson? Cf. "We may say, following Russell: the name 'Moses' can be defined by means of various descriptions ..." (PI § 79; the allusion is to Russell's "Theory of Descriptions"). Who supplies the descriptions, as it were, defines the name 'Thomas Jefferson'. And that is what the textbooks given to school children are for.

Finally, Christ is made the partner of Caesar, as the Christian Church aligns itself with the rulers of this world and calls on Jesus to bless the troops as they are sent off to war. The revolutionary of Nazareth, whose kingdom of God was to be ruled by love rather than by power, is made to serve the very powers he condemned for their oppression of the poor.

"Nullification by nomenclature"

Herzl's Die Judenstaat also had ignored the needs and rights of the indigenous population, and much of the Zionist public discourse proceeded as if Palestine were a terra nullius, or a land at the free disposal of the imperial powers ["a land at the free disposal of the international community", "A land without a people for a people without a land" (George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, 1876)]. In Balfour's ignominious phrase, the 670,000 indigenous Arab population became the "non-Jewish communities in Palestine", that is, they were defined in terms of the 60,000 Jews living there. As we shall see, nullification by nomenclature would soon be followed by ... (Prior, Zionism and the State of Israel (1999), p. 190 [Prior, The Bible and Colonialism (1997), p. 187, 179 (115)])

Balfour's aim was to write the Palestinian people out of history, meanwhile refusing the many requests made to the British occupying power by the native Palestinian population to be allowed to form a democratic government in the land that was their own home.

"Language is determinant"

Language is determinant. It frames the problem and defines response, rights and therefore responsibilities. It defines whether a medical or humanitarian response is adequate.... No one calls a rape a complex gynecologic emergency. A rape is a rape, just as a genocide is a genocide. And both are a crime. (James Orbinski, Médecins Sans Frontières, 1999 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture)

Yes, language is determinant, because note that men are also raped, or threatened with rape as a method of torture, and this has nothing whatever to do with gynecology, although both are also a crime.

There is no such place as Palestine, and there is no such people as Palestinians. (Golda Meir, Political Zionist; Menachem Begin later made the same pronouncement; cf. Deuteronomy 7.22-24. Try replacing 'Palestine' and 'Palestinians' with 'Israel' and 'Israelis': There is no such place as Israel, and there is no such people as Israelis.)

When the press refers to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship as "Israeli Arabs" or to Palestine as the "Palestinian Territories", this is another example of "nullification by nomenclature", and of complicity in the perpetuation of a false account of history. Al-Nakba of 1948 ("The Catastrophe") denial, however, is not a crime in Germany, Austria, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Poland, Romania or Slovakia.

When is a nation-state not a nation-state?

A Palestinian state must be demilitarized, without control over its air space and electro-magnetic field, and without the power to enter into treaties or control its borders. (Agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the U.S. Congressional Delegation [CODEL] that met with him. Source: U.S. Embassy Cable dated 28 April 2009, Paragraph 8)

In other words, any Palestinian state must not be a Palestinian state. But maybe that is more an example of grammar stripping (cf. "essence reduced") than of nullification by nomenclature. For what is a state stripped of all sovereignty -- is it what anyone calls a 'state'? Can there be a "two state solution" with only one state? Cf. Bertrand Russell's imperceptible hippopotamus that is nonetheless in the room. (These are "grammatical remarks" of course.)

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