Final Vocabulary

I read this the other night. It is from Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity by Richard Rorty. It sang out to to me. Here, you read it first:

All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes. They are the words in which we tell, sometimes prospectively and sometimes retrospectively, the story of our lives. I shall call these words a person’s “final vocabulary.”

It is “final” in the sense that if doubt is cast on the worth of these words, their user has no noncircular argumentative recourse. Those words are as far as he can go with language; beyond them there is only helpless passivity or a resort to force. . .

I shall define an “ironist” as someone who fulfills three conditions: (1) She has radical and continuous doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses, because she has been impressed by other vocabularies taken as final by people or books she has encountered; (2) she realizes the argument phrased in her present vocabulary can no neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts; (3) insofar as she philosophies about her situation, she does not think that her vocabulary is closer to reality than others, that it is in touch with power not herself….

Can I believe that my education so far has amounted to the end all of what I need to know? Can I righteously state that the world I live in is the final way and the language I speak is the all-encompassing way of expressing all I believe? This is such an interesting philosophy. I don’t want to talk myself into circles or be unable to defend myself, especially to my daughters that have yet to form their final vocabulary, and may not adopt mine. I don’t want my daughters to remember things I said repetitively to exhaustion, and wonder what I was even talking about. I want to be able to communicate without solely using Pinterest friendly sayings, and if they rhyme, all the better! I want to discuss thoroughly, communicate visually, and by example. I want to show them more ways of saying, seeing, and understanding.

You know, I think I idolize Clarisse’s family from Fahrenheit 451 more than I am conscience of.


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