This question complements the question:
Do higher level comprehensive Laws, which govern the phenomena of Nature, exist?

One philosophical debate in epistemology and ontology is whether knowledge exists objectively, or whether the existence of knowledge relies on a conscious intellect in physical beings.

I am curious to find out whether epistemology and ontology are even more closely related.
Humans learn about nature via identifying, observing and studying objects and finding connections between those objects.
Humans assign names to those identified objects and observed connections, thus developing languages...

"Since any human language describes realities which exist independently of the human mind, does language therefore contain some knowledge of those realities ?"

PS Some issues related to my question are discussed in the following literature:

1)"Knowledge and Language" Eric Reuland, ‎W. Abraham, ‎F. R. Ankersmit

2)"Language, Mind, and Knowledge" Keith Gunderson

  • 1
    Can I get you to clean up the question? As it stands it is terribly unclear. I tried editing it best I can but I am unable to figure out what you are asking. The top two voted answers currently answer different questions and the third appears to be a comment. You also provide no context other than a link to a previously asked but currently closed/deleted question. Can you move the context to this question so it remains self-contained?
    – stoicfury
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 1:21
  • @stoicfuryn- I'm not sure if your inability to understand my question is because of your ignorance, arrogance, or a combination thereof ...
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 2:13
  • 1
    I see you've developed a sense of humor — at least we're getting somewhere with understanding one another. :) Your snide attempts at provoking my anger, however, will fail. Please try to be civil even if you are frustrated with the site. No one here has a personal vendetta against you; we just enjoy learning philosophy and strive to maintain certain levels of lucidity and unambiguousness which you appear to have difficulty with. If you have an issue with a mod, post your issue to meta.stackexchange.com. I have no desire to quarrel with you further.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 8:56

5 Answers 5


If you mean do actual human languages reflect Nature and its laws, yes, of course! As one of very many examples, that we have names for objects reflects laws of nature (mostly electrostatics, in the context of available elements on the surface of the Earth).

If you mean is it impossible to create a language utterable by humans that is independent of laws of nature, no, of course not! We're good enough at verbalizing arbitrary symbol strings. But the language would be profoundly useless for practically everything (by construction!).

  • I was targeting at your first (not the second ) interpretation - thanks . And if you would oblige me and read my essay - you will see that my answer to your "first" is also "yes".
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 23:48
  • would appreciate if you would look at my other two questions (in spite of the fact that both of them are put on hold :-) ).
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 23:55

True. Wittgenstein's argument against a private language (simpler wiki version) is relevant: without an external reference which establishes the meaning of signs (words), one does not have a 'language'. This external reference must be external to at least two people in order for actual communication to happen.

The issue's significance can be seen by considering how the argument is embedded in the structure of Philosophical Investigations. Immediately prior to the introduction of the argument (§§241f), Wittgenstein suggests that the existence of the rules governing the use of language and making communication possible depends on agreement in human behaviour—such as the uniformity in normal human reaction which makes it possible to train most children to look at something by pointing at it. (Unlike cats, which react in a seemingly random variety of ways to pointing.) One function of the private language argument is to show that not only actual languages but the very possibility of language and concept formation depends on the possibility of such agreement.


I think that a thorough review of the development of language in its primitive state would be very beneficial. If, for example, one could establish a connection between an object's name and the nature of the object itself by understanding how the name of the object came about (or using any other means), this would answer your question. Certainly, the basic example giving evidence to the connection between and name and the object's nature would be onomatopoeia, that is words reflecting (primitively) the sounds (or other evident features) those objects make. For instance "buzz" reflects the sound a bee makes and it is quite evident that people created this word based on the sound they heard. This is an example of primitive knowledge stored in a word. In addition, your theory in my opinion should only be applied to "root words", that is the basic set of words from which other, more complicated ones, developed. If there is to be any knowledge stored in language, it must be stored in the main precursors. Every word must be traced to its primitive origins and those origins must be analyzed for some primitive effects in the formation of those words. Only afterwards, it is possible to comprehensively analyze each and every "generation" or addition of knowledge to those words.

  • 2
    Is this actually an answer, or a comment?
    – stoicfury
    Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 1:17
  • 1
    This is an answer, stoicfury.
    – user8669
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 19:45

Trivially True

Languages work because we construct shared meanings to associate with specific patterns of symbols to form words (syllables for spoken languages, gestures for sign languages, etc.). As such:

  • Human languages are restricted to drawing on the range of symbols that humans can both produce and perceive. The laws of physics and human biology are hard constraints on what we can and cannot do with our languages. In this sense, we can study language to learn about our nature (though there are arguably more efficient ways to do so, depending on the research task in question).
  • There is a wide range of invented symbols (both words and gestures) for simple objects across different languages. What I call an oak you might call a Xiàngmù or Hrast or Bān̄ja. There is no 'oak-ness' quality of the tree that suggests a specific word association. The only imprint of nature on the meanings of our words is that which we construct ourselves.
  • We express abstract ideas through language, and when encountering a new phenomenon we need to either adapt existing words to new usages or coin new words to express them. Newton's theory of universal gravitation came from careful observation, study, and the development of a new subset of mathematical language. We invent terms and concepts to describe nature, not the reverse. Languages used 800 years ago cannot be used to derive (nor, I would posit, even adequately describe) natural phenomena such as radioactive decay, interactions between subatomic particles or the cosmic microwave background.
  • We describe many things using analogies to things we already know. Sometimes analogies suggest new phenomena to look for, but this is only a form of 'best guessing' and often leads to misunderstandings if taken too far or too literally (such as describing the cosmic inflation as 'like blowing up a balloon with coins to represent galaxies', atoms as 'like a mini solar system', the brain as 'like a computer', etc.). Again, the only imprint of nature on the meanings of our words is that which we construct ourselves, and misapplying analogies can hinder our understanding of natural phenomena.
  • There is no way to use language study to derive 'laws of nature' that we don't already know (with the trivial exception of language use/language evolution itself). Attempting to do so would yield a 'Bible-Code' style post-diction at best. With complicated enough search tools we can find anything we're looking for anywhere we want to look, but these techniques only work if we've decided what we're looking for ahead of time As evidenced by the book's sequel, we cannot use such sloppy methods to predict as-yet unknown facts.

In short: While we can use our languages to describe nature to the best of our abilities, we cannot use pure language study to derive new knowledge about nature (with the aforementioned trivial exceptions).

  • I did not mean that deriving knowledge from language should be the practical method of knowledge acquisition. The question was strictly theoretical.
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 17, 2014 at 2:57

The answer is "yes".

This answer is based on the philosophical views that human intelligence reflects the objective reality through the language construction.
Specifically, when the knowledge (understanding of Nature) is absorbed by humans, new lexical attributes get constructed as the reflection of that newly gained knowledge …
Therefore the reverse is also theoretically might be possible - the possibility of retrieving this knowledge from the constructs and specific objects of the language.

See Søren Brier: "Information and Consciousness: A Critique of the Mechanistic Concept of Information" (CYBERNETICS & HUMAN KNOWING A Journal of Second Order Cybernetics & Cyber-Semiotics Vol. 1 no. 2/3 1992)

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