Thursday, April 02, 2020

Games, Names, and Shadows

Part I 


When we consider how to share our thoughts and ideas with those around us we turn to the abundance of language to express ourselves. If we have taken the time and made the effort to develop a command of our language, we believe we can say those things that we think and feel with the precision of expression that will leave some trail of meaning among our community.

How is it that our playing is like naming? A game of words becomes the life we live—or is it the reverse? So often our lives seem to be merely games with words—our conversations veer into debates over both the ideas represented by our words and the objects that our words seem to signify.

Is not this play a form of education? Education: from the Latin ducere, meaning to lead. Educate—out from ignorance. This is the movement from the shadows into the light (The Republic, 514a - 520a).

To learn, for Socrates, was to gain knowledge—to achieve wisdom (sophos). (Theatetus, 145d) Learning can be considered the “right use of words”, which is the way it is put in the Cratylus (277e). He also refers to the notion of learning as a game (278b). In the twentieth century the general use of language has become a game according to Wittgenstein (1989, para. 67).

When we are learning we put what we know into words. We name the thing as we play the game leading ourselves onward toward understanding (Theatetus, 146a)

Plato, Complete Works. John M. Cooper, ed. Hackett, 1997.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophical Investigations. G.E. M. Anscombe, trans., MacMillan, 1989 (1953)


Brian Joseph said...

Thousands of years after he lived, Plato continues to be a source of important and intriguing ideas.

I believe that many young animals, play in order to learn survival skills, especially hunting and defense. Human children probably do too. I think that Plato is probably correct that there is a relationship between game playing and learning that even goes beyond this. I am sure folks have studied this. I am curious to know more.

James said...

Brian, thanks for your pertinent observation. There is more to come from this series.