John Locke: Of the Imperfection of Words

Posted: September 3rd, 2013





John Locke: Of the Imperfection of Words

            Communication is an important aspect of human socialization. It is therefore paramount for there to be established modes and forms of communication for it to be effective. Communication involves the use of language to convey information. The language can be in the form of words or body language. Due to the heterogeneity of human societies, the use of words to convey information is met with various issues. This is because words used to convey information might be misinterpreted by the audience. To avoid this, John Locke, discusses on the underlying issues bedeviling the use of words in communication and suggests possible ways of solving this issues.

The author has one problem with words. This problem is segmented into four parts probably for easy comprehension. The author identifies a weakness of words in that they at times tend to invoke a deviated idea on the hearer as opposed to that of the conveyor. The example floated to justify this problem is when the conveyor uses the term “sexual harassment” to only mean sexual assault. The audience may conjure deviated ideas since the term ranges in meaning from sexual assault to an ill-taken compliment. I agree with the author on this issue. This problem is very evident in every day life. This is probably why lawyer jargon tends to be complicated as the profession attempts to capture the very idea into words as accurately as possible (Locke, 45).

The author fronts four remedies on the way he believes language ought to work. The first remedy is that one ought to refrain from using words without full comprehension of its underlying meaning. This is highly prudent as it out rightly leads to the conveyance of unintended information. Ignorance is bliss and thus one should ensure that words are chosen carefully. This is especially if one is in a position of authority since the subordinates will obviously end up executing the wrong orders. Another measure is to ensure words are used in context to the society being addressed. I also agree with the author’s remedies on the issue of words. The orator ought to be aware of the meaning of the words used and the social foundation of the audience. This is also very important since words tend to take up different meanings depending on the people being addressed. Another way the author wants words to be used is for one to define terms or phrases that may be ambiguous. This is also highly recommended to prevent distortion of intended information.

The author seems to have an inherent problem with rhetoricians. He perceives rhetoric as a tool used for error and deceit, often utilized by established professors, and openly discussed in public. The rhetoricians have little preservation and improvement of truth and hence tend to prefer fallacies and pursue pleasure and delight as opposed to truth and real knowledge. According to the author the words used by an orator are mainly used to mark ideas, the ideas these words stand for are referred to as their proper and immediate signification. The words used in speeches and writing properly signify ideas that are in the mind of the speaker. When these words are conveyed, the create signification ideas on the minds of the audience. According to the inherent cognitive and comprehension skills of the audience, the signification properties of words can then create simple ideas and complex ideas.

The author identifies an inherent deviation on the connective words. The signification of these words to stand for actions of the mind, then the intended actions of the mind have to be apprehended for language to have meaning. If the intended actions of the mind were to be apprehended, then the capture of ideas seems to be the only possible way. This is because the author perceives ideas to being always involved in comprehensive processes. The author at this statement cannot be termed as right to its entirety. First, words originate from ideas. People often use words to convey ideas in their minds and these words are supposed to recreate the same idea on the minds of the audience. However, if there were to be ideas for the various actions of the mind, then there fails to be any plausible reason on the lack of connectives to signify these ideas. This is because all other words are taken to signify ideas.

The background of an individual also plays a role on the way the individual communicates. The author indicates that philosophers and other people who are highly educated tend to have their own level of communication. This level of communication is often termed as jargon as it tends to use terms and phrases conversant to those in the same level. The society also plays a role in communication, as those who are born with nothing tend to use very simple levels of language. Communication between philosophers and commoners is therefore hampered since the ideas upheld by one party are difficult for the creation of right words to cause signification of the same idea on the other party.

In conclusion, we then find that the author then fails to perceive that people tend to have ideas that normally correspond to the connective actions of the mind. Unfortunately, this aspect tends to create a great inconsistency, as it needs that we behold the actions of the mind without intervening ideas. This aspect has been termed by the author as an impossible occurrence. This puts the author in a precarious situation as he has the choice of either referring to the actions in the mind as opposed to the ideas of these actions or on the other hand, admits that there are instances where perception can occur without necessarily intervening ideas.


Works Cited

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books, 1995. Print.

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