Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wittgenstein's Concept of Showing, Part 2

It is difficult for a person to understand a word or concept in a language game in which they are not fluent. An example of this can be seen in the film The Gods Must be Crazy. The film opens by introducing a tribe of bushmen in the Kalahari Desert. The tribe is happy because they are provided for and they believe that the gods only put good useful things on the earth for them. Their world is interrupted when a pilot flying overhead throws a glass Coke bottle out the window, which falls to the earth unbroken. The bushmen, who discover the bottle, had never seen a bottle before so they try to discover its use. Some used it to cure snake skin, one man used it to make music, and others used it for a variety of other tasks. Since there was only one bottle which had proven to be useful for multiple tasks, the people, for the first time desire to own something as property and start to become jealous and fight over the bottle. One of the bushmen, Xi, begins to call the bottle the “evil thing” and decides to leave the tribe and throw the bottle off of the edge of the earth to restore peace.

This does not mean one cannot learn a new language game or come to understand a different culture. Kallenberg says, “Namely, one can also get a grasp on a form of life as an outsider by being shown, not told, the form of communal life.”[1] Kallenberg goes on to argue, "Proximity to and recognition of a group’s characteristic form of life, as might be the case for an anthropologist who lives among an aboriginal tribe for a decade or two, prove enough of an insider’s grasp of the form of life—even if from the outside—to allow an understanding to occur."[2]

This means that for fluency to take place, a person must not only learn the vocabulary of a people group, for, “fluency also requires familiarity with activities.”[3] For, activities give sense to the vocabulary used.[4] For example, if someone had come and shown the bushmen how to drink from a bottle, the bushmen would have come to understand the use of a bottle.

[1] Kallenberg, 116.

[2] Ibid., 117.

[3] Ibid., 122.

[4] “Post-liberal theology in the vein of McClendon and Hauerwas reminds us that claims about God are claims about God. However, in order for these claims to be intelligible, they must find a home in the context of practices (for example, confession, worship, and witness) which give to all forms of Christian language their sense” (Ibid., 233–234).

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