Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Momentary - Metalanguage

I'm reading Nagel's commentary on Gödel's Proof at the moment. One of the things that is discussed in the section on formal logic is the difference between language and metalanguage. It is quite easy to get confused between them when you are interchanging terms. Now there is language, which we use to talk about something in the usual way.

My chair is brown.

But we can talk about these statements as well, and this is the metalanguage.

'My chair is brown' is a sentence.
'2+2=5' is a false statement.

I have been wondering, since we're reading Hobbes and Locke in class, how often we confuse the intention of language because it is actually metalanguage of a sort. Instead of taking Hobbes or Locke as practical theories, perhaps we should ask ourselves what sort of ideas they are trying to get at about government.

Where else do you suppose this comes up a lot? Do you think we face questions of language versus metalanguage often? If it is a regular cause of confusion or misunderstanding, perhaps we should have a more easily recognizable way of communicating these ideas. How could we accomplish this?