Creative Commons License

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Context Dependency: Introduction

What is context?
Three main choices:

Worldly: That we are human beings embedded in a World with interconnected human cultural structures.

Historical: The set of facts of circumstances surrounding a certain historical event that might further enliven the description of said event. (Note: there is a radical distinction between facts and circumstances, but more on the Historian's failure to distinguish these later.)

Linguistic: How a particular word (language unit to linguists) is used within a larger discourse.

There are other uses of context, i.e. in Biology and Computing (picture below from a computing project, which seems oddly accurate and relevant) to name just two, but these three are for now our main considerations.

Problems with the Worldly.
It is certain that most things happen as the result of earlier actions and that if we were to see the context in which they happened then we would gain a greater understanding of how things occur. Seems obvious, but it has several problems.

Just how inter-related is it all? This doesn't seem to matter at close quarters but comes to be increasingly more pressing as our 'distances' increase. These distances are linguistic and historical, but could be thought to be surmountable in that there must a similar relation at some point to allow a connection.

Do these connections maintain sufficiently over time and cultural shift? Because if they do not always maintain then the prospect of making a false connection is introduced. Of course they cannot maintain indefinitely, this would be nonsense (as it would imply absolute determinacy and knowledge) but we might not need to worry about falsity. If we don't mind abandoning Truth that is. Wasn't the primary impetuous that there was a Worldly truth?

If our perspectival view is one from a being that is embedded in the World does this mean we are embedded in ALL Worlds? I don't mean this astronomically, but in terms of possibility. All possible Worlds. Certainly not we might say, but if we are happy to abandon absolute certainty what level of certainty are we left with?

Problems with the Linguistic.
Well, we have linguistic certainty. I can communicate with you; I am doing so right now. This can sometimes go wrong (crossed words, mistranslation, etc) but that it doesn't always go wrong and that we can discuss these differences (even without a proper conclusion) surely shows that we have linguistic certainty at any rate.

Language then must be a structure whose construction we can examine and adjust to make it completely, rather than partially, successful. This we only carry if we allow that language is indeed something a structure, like a building or a mathematical formula, it can be certainly made to appear to be so.

We are able to deconstruct the use of certain words at certain times and in certain cultures. So, while our use of language might be cultural/historical that nonetheless it might still be said to have some fundamental structure we might investigate. As we are all interconnected and potentially capable of communicating in some manner (as we are Worlded beings) then it must follow that there must be some similar linguistic root.

Aren't we capable of rebuilding the Tower of Babel in a sense? We might be able to build the 'Tower' in that we could all learn the same language, but it doesn't follow that we must have started from the basis of the 'Tower'. Although surely it does if we believe the formulation of having a necessary pre-existent context of use for language, indeed we might all the learn the same language but this does not need to imply a meta-language, just the capability to learn language at all and this might be explained by our being creatures with a basis in community. This might be the only contextual certainty we have with the linguistic.

Problems with the Historical.
This is a much larger area (problem) and will be further detailed in its own post. There is also coming (tomorrow) a conversation between myself and the Ent about the need to use context in philosophical understanding.