Friday, October 15, 2010

Bringing order through language, a la Pico

Just two paragraphs about a Renaissance rhetorician named Pico in James Herrick's "The History and Theory of Rhetoric," p. 162, made me wonder if I hadn't stumbled across some of the forgotten roots of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Kenneth Burke.
The paragraphs describe Pico as an Italian humanist, with the "conviction that humans employ language to order the world and to work cooperatively within it." Language, in Pico's mind, gives humans the freedom to create their destiny and choose their paths in life, as a unique trait of the species. Our power to choose, and to create civilization, he reasoned, is a direct consequence of our "linguistic capacity" and our abilities to "probe the 'miracles concealed in the recesses of the world, in the depths of nature, and in the storehouses and mysteries of God.'"
There might not be a direct connection, but I sense traces of Wittgenstein's language games (the contextual symbolic manipulation traditions we use to bring order to the world) and Burke's symbolic action (the connecting and disconnecting of symbols as a form of sense making) in those overview statements. I would need to read more by Pico and directly compare and contrast those thoughts to the other two. But that could be an interesting exercise in philosophical genealogy.

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