Posted by Sigismund on June 23, 2008, at 1:49:52
In reply to Linear A and B (For Sigismund), posted by Racer on June 22, 2008, at 12:08:25
The earliest forms of writing preserved many links with the natural world. The pictographs of Sumer were metaphors for sensuous realities. With the evolution of phonetic writing those links were severed. Writing no longer pointed outward to a world humans shared with other animals. Henceforth its signs pointed backward to the human mouth, which soon became the source of all sense.
When C20 philosophers such as Fritz Mauthner and Wittgenstein attacked the superstitious reverence for words they found in philosophers such as Plato, they were criticising a by-product of phonetic writing. It is scarcely possible to imagine a philosophy such as Platonism emerging in an oral culture. It is equally difficult to imagine it in Sumeria. How could a world of bodiless Forms be represented in pictograms? How could abstract entities be represented as the ultimate realities in a mode of writing that still recalled the realm of the senses?
It is significant that nothing resembling Platonism arose in China. Classical Chinese script is not ideographic, as used to be thought; but because of what AC Graham terms its 'combination of graphic wealth with phonetic poverty' it did not encourage the kind of abstract thinking that produced Plato's philosophy. Plato was what historians of philosophy call a realist - he believed that abstract terms designated spiritual or intellectual entities. In contrast, throughout its long history, Chinese thought has been nominalist - it has understood that even the most abstract terms are only labels, names for the diversity of things in the world. As a result, Chinese thinkers have rarely mistaken idea for facts.
(I dunno if Mao Zedong passes muster as a Chinese thinker. I wonder if Gray sees his thinking as part of the Enlightenment that the Chinese took up when they took up Marxism.)
From "Straw Dogs"