I have been discussing Steve Fuller’s new book NIETZSCHEAN MEDITATIONS Untimely Thoughts at the Dawn of the Transhuman Era in a language influenced by my reading of contemporary French Continental Philosophy.
This is not the style that Fuller uses to get across his ideas. He prefers a dynamic supple style, that moves rapidly and repeatedly from one universe of discourse to another by way of provisional translations.
Fuller passes from Nietzsche to literature to epistemology to religion to transhumanism in the space of a couple of paragraphs, renewing our vision of one domain by putting it in relation with several others. Translation is a heuristic process in his work, allowing us to come to surprising insights by multiplying our perspectives.
This raises the problem of the choice of the best language for expressing philosophical insights. Should one stick to, or invent for oneself, a special philosophical jargon, or is it better to keep within the bounds of ordinary language? Both options are defensible, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
An innovative thinker such as Bernard Stiegler chooses to express himself in a singular vocabulary, making massive use of a self-invented jargon. As a result, many interested people cannot understand what he is saying. A further consequence of this choice is that it blocks Stiegler himself from understanding any other thought that is not pre-packaged, or at least readily reformulable, in his own idiolect.
This self-induced blindness is why such thinkers must learn, or re-learn, the skill of translating between languages and registers. Zizek can’t understand Jung, and Stiegler can’t understand transhumanism, their jargon debars them.
A corresponding, but inverse, drawback results from using a language that is as close to ordinary language as possible. If one speaks to people in their own language many have the impression that nothing new is being said, that they already know all that.
Steve Fuller has responded to this problem of the choice between idiolect and demolect (ordinary language) by opting for a language as « natural » as possible. This choice results in many people not even perceiving his innovative content, or being unable to see how its different elements are related. These readers are translation-blind unable to translate between domains and to transpose between registers.
Fuller’s choice is is the Popperian move: if an idea is expressed in natural language it is more open to test and revision. Nonetheless the incommensurability between languages entails that not everything can be expressed in « natural » language, which is itself a socio-historical artefact, adapted to particular needs and contexts.
However, « incommensurability » is only a pragmatic limit, not an absolute one. One may be forced to talk jargon at the beginning, because one has not yet found a way to express one’s ideas in ordinary terms. This temporary impediment should not be turned into a permanent feature defining an aristocracy.
Note: I am grateful to a discussion with Steve Fuller that helped me to clarify my ideas on this subject.
Reading Fuller’s « Humanity 2 » at the moment and finding it a trove of good thinking. And a breath of fresh air . For me it’s absolutely essential to read at both ends and Fuller is so good at the « ordinary language » end. Even more important he writes at the intersection of science, social science and philosophy, an area of enquiry that will be more and more salient to future politics and climate action. And I can always use your work as the cognitive wormhole between incommensurables. Ha!
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