In the course of Western intellectual history, the particulars relationship between language, thought, and truth has been hotly contested without ever coming to a firm agreement. On the one hand, intuitive understandings of language pulling back to the Medieval theology1 has suggested that language refers to something we think. However, more modern views of language have reversed that polarity, such as the Sapir-Whorf linguistic relativity hypothesis and Wittgenstein’s language games, in which language controls the way we think. Similarly, the distinction between our thoughts and what is true and rule has been argued against the backdrop of Platonic philosophy, who Allegory of the Cave that metaphorically framed thought as an appearance. From there, the debate has been how to relate thought and truth in terms of naive realism, critical realism, idealism, relativism, etc. as they all try, implicitly or explicitly, to respond to the haunting specter of skepticism, that always whispers “but appearances may not be real knowledge.”
What if, however, the relationship between language, thought, and truth were all reflexive? That is to say, what if language forms our thoughts and thoughts from our language? What if reality molds our thinking and thinking molds our sense of reality? What if the sensory perceptions we take in evoke certain language concepts to come to mind and the concepts also impact how we make sense of perceptions? What if causation runs both ways but there is no clear manner by which we can always designate which way the causation runs? We may notice clear, glaring examples of each type of causation, such as how our expectations a person may project their thoughts upon another and how we are startled by reality in something entirely unexpected that we do not comprehend. However, aside from certain instances where the causal relationships are obvious, we would never able to fully dissect the chain of causality between language, thought, and truth.
This might be a problem if we are haunted by skepticism, that can never give confidence to what we believe. However, if we reject the ghost of skepticism that haunts us primarily because of the way we have metaphorically frame our thinking as an “appearance” that may or may not be connected to reality, the inability to always determine the direction of causality should not concern us. If we thought of thinking in a more ecological metaphor as a part of the whole, wherein which somehow what we think is connected to other things, whether it be subjective linguistic structures, objective, external realities, etc. we could look at thought differently. It exists as a blend of perceptions of reality and subjective concepts, and through the process of discovery, we learn how the part we are aware of can relate to other things we have been aware of, such that through the successive addition of these “parts,” we can begin to discern the general interconnections of our thoughts to our neuro-biological systems and the rest of the world external to us, without ever being able to absolutely dissect any singular experience and precisely defined how it is connected to the rest. Skepticism in this framework serves only as a tool to be used to help increase the reliability of exploration of the “parts” and their connections in order to form a widening sense of the whole, rather than as a haunting metaphorical whispering ghost in the back of the mind, always saying “are you sure?” without any knowledge itself.