25 June 2020




Conformity by Carmen


I would propose to deal with the topic Conformism from several points of view:

.survival strategy

.exercise of patience

.lack of criteria to decide for oneself.


But first of all, please think about the different reactions that people had during the period of confinement.


Observing the behaviour of people for having to respect a government order for the benefit of society, has made me reflect on compliance.


Conformity has to do, from my point of view, with the attitudes that I name at the beginning of my essay, however, I would prefer to analyze conformity, from the opposite meaning: Nonconformity.


The nonconformist attitude has generally been associated with freedom, difference and modernity, but do you think it really is so? Or is the nonconformist attitude synonymous with selfishness, lack of empathy and bad manners?







Conformity by Lawrence


There are many situations in life when conformity is a key factor on how we act and what we do. The obvious example would, of course, be conforming to the law. Indeed, we can be made to conform to such laws and regulations. We can also be compelled to conform in a more subtle way, for example the process we have to go through in education and then the norms and practices we encounter at work. Generally speaking society does not really like non conformists; not because they might be wrong but because they don’t follow the norms.


There are also social norm we have to conform such as table manners, festivities and how to fall in love. We might not care to follow these norms but we are certainly made aware of such unruly behaviour. Indeed sometimes conformity is about behaviour, we might be bored at a dinner party but we must behave as if we are enjoying ourselves. This “as if” is a wonderful strategy to deceive others about our mental thoughts and beliefs.


But there is one context and activity that we never consider as being within the scope of conformity and the subject in natural language. We might consider language as just another sphere of human life such as jurisprudence is another sphere of human life.


Whatever we know about a language we assume that it is some kind of opus that is certainly independent of us and certainly an objective entity from us. In effect language is the first activity we seem we have to conform. Learning our native tongue language is so important that our guardians start teaching us their language from the first day we are born. And to compound matters we are forced to learn the structures of our language (grammar) and at some point later the use of the language, from reading books by authors and us writing in our language.


But of course it is not clear whether we learn the so called rules and use of our native language from our classes at school or from the fact that we use our language 24/7. Compare our efforts to learn a second language: without practical opportunities to practice the second language in a real context it should be a herculean task to learn in a vacuum.


Conformity when we apply a language means following the norms, rules and vocabulary specific to the subject and context we are using the language (see e.g: Wittgenstein Language-Games). The Private-Language issue introduced by Wittgenstein reinforces the idea that meaning of a language is a public domain function.


Are we, therefore, justified in our assumption that language is indeed an objective opus or is our attitude towards language a categorical mistake (Gilbert Ryle)?  Why should this matter for our subject? For one thing what are we conforming to when we conform to using the rules, vocabulary and nuances of a language?


The categorical mistake is basically an argument against Cartesian dualism: the idea that the mind is an object made of immaterial substances independent of the physical body. Likewise there isn’t an object called language that is independent of grammar, meaning, context and other aspects. And just because we can codify these functions in a book and call it language it does not mean we are describing something objective.


The problem is that no amount of rules, meaning of words, and context will lead to linguistic conformity or behaviour conformity. And the simple reason for this is that what we call language is indeed a methodology rather than a box of building blocks.


In reality what we are conforming to are the ideas, beliefs and information we communicate to others by using language. What we understand is not the meaning of words but our interpretation of ideas Person A is trying to convey to Person B. I propose that we conform to the use of words not because words have the right meaning, but because we have the right ideas other people or a person is trying to share with us. The “builder’s language” an example given by Wittgenstein in Philosophical Investigations (Section 2) (Wikipedia: Language game (philosophy)) where a builder and their assistant only have a handful of words to communicate, is not a primitive language and “builders languages” are specialised languages. I would argue that a natural language is an amalgam of sublanguages (sub builders language) which help us convey our ideas in that sublanguage/subcontext. And those who are not game players in that sub-activity cannot conform to that sublanguage-game.



Basically, we conform to a language not because all the components of a language lead us to a meaning, but rather they lead us to the ideas of others. What we share in common is not language but “ideas.” I mean, what’s there for non philosophers not to know the meaning of a categorical mistake?


Best Lawrence


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