If there is a cosmos, then language/logos is a communicative part of the cosmos. When we speak of cosmos, we mean a well-ordered whole, and if logos is a part of that, then language, including a part of mathematics, is a natural part of the well-ordered whole. Aristotle teaches that language communicates thought, volition, and emotion. Volition is rooted in desire and what St. Thomas calls appetition. We have language because we can think.
In Aristotle’s cosmos, thought thinking itself was the very sphere itself that generated everything. Our thinking, however, was part of the separate intelligences of his cosmos. Sadly, we know empirically that his cosmos is wrong (for more on Aristotle’s cosmos, see part 1). That Aristotle was wrong does not mean we don’t have a cosmos. The modern assumption is that we don’t have one, but moderns also believe that we all are materially based in every way. There is no true thinking: There is only the operation of the brain working with our environment, and, inexplicably, all the belief in immateriality somehow serves us in our indeterminable evolution.
I will make the non-modern assumption, that there is a cosmos, but that it is different from the Aristotelian one. However, I will use a Latinate Aristotelian vocabulary in this discussion, for the most part, because it is so well known and traditional.
We have language because we can think and we think because we are rational and we have something to say to our other human beings, which is why we are social beings. We are not angels, because we are physical animals and thus we need a physical medium of communication from one mind to another. According to Aristotle, there are two means by which we communicate, by imitation and by symbol. Imitation is simply a likeness of something. A picture of a horse resembles a horse. A fist in the face has a distinct meaning. A symbol is an arbitrary sign that has a meaning imposed on it by convention or by nature. A cloud can mean rain, while smoke may indicate fire; these symbols come from nature. Conventional symbols are both temporary and permanent. We agree to a certain password to get through the lines of an army. We agree on permanent symbols like numbers, street signs, and hieroglyphics. Some symbols are international, like many mathematical and chemical symbols. They are understood in any language once they are learned. Common languages have common spoken symbols and signs. The written language is a substitute for speech.
Language communicates through symbols that express our thoughts, volition, and emotions. A word is constituted of a form and matter. A word is a symbol: Its matter is the sensible sign, its form the meaning imposed by convention. When we speak of matter and form, we are speaking metaphysically, i.e., everything material whole must have a form and matter. Matter, Aristotle tells us, is the first intrinsic and purely potential principle of corporeal essence. It cannot exist without form, for it is not body, but the principle of a body, intrinsically constituting it. From is the first intrinsic and actual principle of a corporeal essence. The form of words and language is their meaning. Words can symbolize individuals or essences, generalities, universals,. An individual is an existing thing and each existing thing is unique, individual. The essence is that which makes a being what it is and without which it would not be the kind of being it is. The essence of an individual is that which makes that individual a part of a class, species, genus. However, a class must be distinguished from aggregate, i.e., a group of individuals like the residents of California or the trees of Redondo Beach. All men and women are a part of the species of man at any time or place. Tree is the genus that includes every tree. An aggregate is simply a group which includes individual who may or may not share the same essence.
Words symbolize ideas of reality. Here is where the problem is. There is a very great divide over what constitutes reality. But even if there is a disagreement over what reality is, there is an oddity about language is that we have to disagree over reality by conceptualizing which is a part of our psychology. We first generate a concept from our senses as they operate on an individual object. They produce a precept. The internal senses, particularly the imagination, produce a mental image or phantasm, which the intellect abstracts common features that are necessary for other similar individuals to have. A tree must have certain properties to be a tree. We retain all these images and essences in our memory.
Aristotle teaches that the general concept is a universal idea existing not only in the mind, but exists in the individual and makes it the kind of individual it is. When we know something, there is a coincidence of the subject and object, which we know by the idea. Human beings know by knowing the concepts and ideas that make up the entire up everything.
There is something about language, although it is artificial in individual languages, that its structure and wholeness imitates something larger about it. It is an interesting analog for the cosmos. In Plato’s Philebus, Socrates updates a bit of Pythagorean thinking. He talks about the one and many problem, the unlimited and the limited, the infinite and the finite. These terms are cosmic principles, which are part of the ordering the cosmos.
Socrates generates a cosmos out of a very fascinating interplay between these principles. First there is an indeterminate source of all things, a non-limit, i.e., a non-numerical infinite. Its counterpart is an absolute limit, a determining principle. The next step is that that the non-limit contains within itself the many, which are dispersed monads. Its counterpart is the One, the unity of monads. The one and the many, in turn, generate numbers, 2, 3, 4, 5… With numbers, there is order.
This seemingly strange approach to cosmos indicates that all opposites in life somehow are analogs to the way the cosmos is. The discussion in the Philebus is about pleasure, and, of course, pain. It is also about good and bad, body and soul, about comedy and tragedy, and so on. It is about mixtures as well of opposite things. Of course, human life is a mixture of pleasure and pain, the finite and the infinite. The infinite domain is in the more-or-less, a mixture of both infinite and finite. Certain opposites can be harmonized, just as certain opposites are complements. One of the things that can make a mixture is sound, which is an indeterminate made determined through ratios. Using the traditional Pythagorean musical analysis, Socrates notes that there are certain ratios, 2:1, 3:2, etc. that make for various sounds and harmonies. Music is a mixture of the limited and unlimited. Then, Socrates brings up an example of mixture that is all his, Sound, an infinite, when spoken is divided into letters. Now consonants cannot be said without a vowel. A consonant is a limit, while the vowel that is contained within the consonant is an infinite. We can understand this problem by pronouncing the letter “k”. You and I do not say the letter the same way, and in truth there is an infinite number of ways to say “k,” but it is always the letter “k.” Individual letters cannot be discerned without other letters. The entire alphabet is a suppression or a limit of the infinite. Socrates says that there is an art that discovers what is perceptible in what is totally imperceptible. In effect, what he is saying is that the consonants are the ideas, mental ideas totally imperceptible, but when an infinite is internalized within like the vowel within a consonant, then you make the imperceptible perceptible. What makes this notion is fascinating is that there is a unity not only in the art of discerning this infinite and finite, but there is in actuality within the example itself. Letter is a cosmic bond, while language serves as a natural whole. Within language and the art of putting letter and words together, we find the species and genus are natural, even though every individual language is conventional.
The ultimate infinite is actually the cosmic unity of all things. It is the Good in the Philebus. It is beyond all being(s). It is a non-numerical infinite which is also completely ineffable and imperceptible. Yet, it is also one, a unity. This dyadic structure becomes perceptible to us, because there is a way to make the imperceptible perceptible, the ineffable effable. What is remarkable is that language itself has a cosmic side to it that is a clue to how the entire cosmos really is ordered.
That also means the physical universe is born out of the non-physical order of things where what is infinite and unformed is given form by imperceptible ideas. In turn, the physical universe is incorporated into the cosmos and although we live in a physical world the very construction of the physical world is made of imperceptible objects which we perceive through our minds and through our reason, logos, speech.
It also points to something else, which I will discuss later, that everything is mind, as the Buddhists say.