The Language of Dissent

One thing that old Ludwig Wittgenstein got profoundly right was the suggestion that the meaning of language is fixed by use.  What this means is that words have no intrinsic meaning.  They are not defined by the characteristics of the objects to which they refer, they do not even need to correspond to actual objects in the world in order to have meaning, nor do they need to have clearly fixed boundaries in order for them to be useful.  Instead, words acquire their meaning through the social context in which they are used.  As Wittgenstein put it “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him”.  We could not understand him because we have only the faintest idea of what the inner and social life of a lion is like.

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