Monday, April 28, 2008

The Case against Structuralism

"The fundamental value which is lost, obscured, made not to be, by structuralist theory, is truth, language as truthful, where 'truthful' means faithful to, engaging intelligently and responsibly with, a reality which is beyond us. This is the transcendental network, the border, wherein the interests and passions which unite us to the world are progressively woven into illusion or reality, a continuous working of consciousness. ... It is impossible to banish morality from this picture. We work, using or failing to use our honesty, our courage, our truthful imagination, at the interpretation of what is present to us, as we of necessity shape it and 'make something of it'. We help it to be. ... Our ordinary consciousness is a deep continuous working of values, a continuous present and presence of perceptions, intuitions, images, feelings, desires, aversions, attachments. It is a matter of what we 'see things as', what we let, or make, ourselves think about, how by innumerable movements, we train our instincts and develop our habits and test our methods of verification. Imagery, metaphor, has its deep roots and origins in this self-being, and an important part of human learning is an ability both to generate and to judge and understand the imagery which helps us to interpret the world. ...

"We must check philosophical theories against what we know of human nature (and hold on to that phrase too) and feed philosophy with our ordinary (non-theorised, non-jargonised) views of it. Language is meaningful, ergo useful, it performs its essential task, through its ability to be truthful; and its truthfulness is a function of the struggle of individuals creatively to adjust language to contingent conditions outside it. ... [T]he limits of my language which are the limits of my world fade away on every side into areas of fighting for concepts, for understanding, for expression, for control, of which the search for the mot juste may serve as an image. Everyone, every moral being, that is every human being, is involved in this fight, it is not reserved for philosophers, artists and scientists. Language must not be separated from individual consciousness and treated as (for the many) a handy impersonal network and (for the few) an adventure playground. Language, consciousness and world are bound together, the (essential) aspiration of language to truth is an aspect of consciousness as a work of evaluation."

--Iris Murdoch, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992)

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