The culture wars: a simple linguistic misunderstanding?

  • Speech is violence
  • Science is biased
  • Knowledge is perspectival
  • Reality is socially constructed


The above sentences are generalizations. As it happens, language provides us with a variety of means of generalizing: of talking about how things stand generally with a chunk of reality. Here are some:

  • All ducks are animals
  • Every chip is made from potato
  • Most chairs have a cushion
  • Many books have over 200 pages
  • 40% of people flunk out of basic army training
  • Some colours are bright
  • Prime numbers are divisible by themselves and one
  • Ducks lay eggs
  • Mosquitoes carry West Nile virus
  • Gold is shiny
  • Water is potable
  • Laughter is infectious
Cats confusingly drinking milk — the cause of the culture wars?

That does indeed get confusing.

Consider these two perspectives on the world. On the one, we look out at the world, survey how it is, and describe what we survey by saying something. On one, we hear somebody say something, and on the basis imagine what the world must be like.


Here’s a hypothesis: something like this explains the wars over sentences like the ones we started with. Here’s how it could go: a liberal witnesses some instances of speech being violent, science being biased, knowledge being perspectival, or reality being socially constructed.



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Matthew McKeever

Matthew McKeever

Novella "Coming From Nothing" at @zer0books ( Academic philosophy at: