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How does language allow hypothetical thought?

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bertyfitz | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted August 4, 2012 at 1:50 AM via web

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How does language allow hypothetical thought?

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wordprof | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted June 9, 2013 at 8:56 PM (Answer #1)

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Language, being a system of symbols, allows metaphor, example, and parallel construction, to utter “speech-acts”, one important one of which for humans is “what if?” known as the speech-act of speculation.  When two persons share the “code” of the same language, one can perform the “thought experiment” involved in hypothetical construction and then convey it to another.  There is a school of philosophy that posits that we cannot think of anything without words  -- Wittgenstein for example, says “Of that which we cannot speak, we must remain silent.”  Donald Hall says “The definition of a word in another word.”  Language consists of two distinct acts, according to these theorists:  the formation of an idea, and the expression of an idea, which cannot take place until the “thinker” has formed the idea into words in his own head. 

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