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Language influences the way we perceive reality

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/2/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,374 times Debate No: 37279
Debate Rounds (5)
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The claim is straightforward: "Language influences the way we perceive reality"

One argument to support my claim is that language, among other things, registers at an emotional level. This emotional content of language, apart from tonality or other sound aspects, also registers with certain words to the extent that the use of such words may cause someone to feel fear or shame. If someone feels fear he has a natural tendency to react in a "different way" than someone who is not afraid, for example by distorting aspects of reality in his mind, i.e. to exaggerate certain characteristics or ignore others.

Anyone is welcome


Instead of viewing this as unidirectional, I contend that it's more bi-directional. Language influences how we perceive reality but is also a manifestation of how reality is perceived. If we are walking through Camden, NJ at night, and we feel afraid, then hear somebody use language that we don't quite understand, an association of fear may be linked to that particular use of language.
Debate Round No. 1


I thought that the position that you would take would be to claim that language doesn't influence the way we perceive reality, but your view is also welcome.

Let me explain why I think that the example that you are proposing fails to defend your view. Your claim is that language is also a manifestation of how we perceive the world. First of all, we would be able to perceive and react to the world even without knowledge of language; this doesn't make language a pre-requisite for perceiving the world. To do this you must prove it is a manifestation of how reality is perceived. But reacting to a language that we don't understand does not mean that it has the ability to shape our understanding of the world any more than hearing a dog barking has, or a gunshot. To all these we would probably react in fear, and to other examples without fear, this does not mean that language shaped our understanding, although it caused a reaction. Other senses can have exactly the same effect too, for example we might see something strange and react although we don't know what it is. Eyesight is a way that we perceive the world around us and can cause the same reaction. I can accept that we use our senses to form representations of reality and react accordingly but this doesn't prove that it has an impact on our language and that it is a manifestation of how we perceive our world.

To this I add. If language is a manifestation of how reality is perceived, then how are going to account for the variety of languages in the world. If reality is one and the same for everyone, then by what you are saying, everyone would be expected to speak the same language. If reality changes all the time then why does a word have the same meaning when it should always be changing its meaning?


i'm terribly sorry. This is my first debate so i'm not familiar with the process nor the formal debate process in general.

So here is my reaction. I don't see everybody as sharing the same reality, but i do see everybody responding to their perception of reality. We use language to desccribe this perception, not to create it.

we experience our perception of reality long before we have acquired language skills to articulate it. A baby that crawls across a glass floor, stopping before they reach the perceived drop off (an experiment i can't quite recall), will learn first learn to avoid the apparent danger. Once they have developed peroperational thinking, which doesnt require language, they will know there is no danger to avoid. They can point and express emotion on their face to intimate danger and also confidence, which is indication of language helping to shape their reality, but not as a precursor.

i hope i'm going about this the intended way. I'm open to feedback if i'm off base.
Debate Round No. 2


You still you need to prove your point by using an argument for it, not state it. Also you need to refute my claims by attacking them. You have not done that.

You say that " I don't see everybody as sharing the same reality" How? What makes you say that?
You say that " I do see everybody responding to their perception of reality" But how is "perception of reality" connected or "reflected" in language?
Your claim that "We use language to describe this perception" doesn't say a single thing about how they are connected.

To this I can reply that we don't only use language to describe reality or our perception of reality. For example we have words in our vocabulary that do not reflect any relationship with reality, nouns "unicorns", verbs "believe" "accept", personal pronouns, conjunctions "and, but" and so on.

The existence of such works proves my point, that language influences the way we perceive reality. There is nothing in "Reality" that "proposes" for example, but if a person says " I propose we go to the movies" it is immediately understood and "taken" as "real" in our minds that a proposal has been made. In this sense "linguistic constructions" become part of our understanding of the world around us.


Ok. I suppose i began the debate with an ill conceived view of the process. i didnt disagree with your subject line, but found it incomplete, therefore disagreeing with the premise as a whole.

As i tried to articulate in my last post, our perception of the world develops before our formal use of language (which is what i'm believing you to be addressing). Therefore, our use of language is shaped just as much by our perception of the world as it is the other way around, making it not a causal relationship, but a circular one, which is much different. Its different because causation arguments are what lead to wars, where circular arguments have a greater likelihood of expanding perspective.

Language and perception are linked by the way dollars and gold are. Dollars are an arbitrary mechanism we assign to place value on gold, something people want but not everybody agrees on the beauty of. Some people believe silver is more precious to them. Therefore i am saying that verbal language is arbitrary. This is why we have different languages that all have shared meaning. It's our experience of the word that has more to do with our perception of reality. If the word chocolate conjures up an associated response of pleasure and a picture in our mind's eye, we are influenced by the stimulus not the word. The word could be 'chistopre' and we would eventually have the same response.

so let me say again, i'm not refuting the fairly established idea that language impacts our reality, because it does. But if you are willing to expand our debate to the idea that causality negates the premise when circular causation is more fitting, you may realize how your point is invalidated.

I'll try to disprove your argument with this example, since that is how you have encouraged me to proceed, which i appreciate your willingness to teach me. If i say that watching pornography influences the way i feel about sex....i would have a good argument. But a more complete argument would be that my feelings about sex lead me to use pornography which then impacts my feelings about sex. The second being more complete dilutes the value of the first.
Debate Round No. 3


I will try to address your main point first.

You base your refutation on circular causation, to that you claim that "Our use of language is shaped just as much by our perception of the world as it is the other way around" The other way around being that our world is shaped by our perception of language? The example you use to illustrate it is "my feelings about sex lead me to use pornography which then impacts my feelings about sex". Take a note that this doesn't illustrate the premise that "our language is shaped by our perception of the world" in that "my feelings about sex", both "feelings" and "sex" are not part of what we call "language" (I take that by "world" you mean "reality"). I am making the point that your example must "fit" the initial statement which was "language influences the way we perceive reality". Nevertheless I will consider it as illustrating the point that you are making, circularity, but in a different way.

My first point is that singular causation exists
There are probably other examples fit to the point, but I will just present an argument against what you call "circular" causation. My argument is that if we claim "circular" causation to exist, then Newton's First Law is a bit contradicted. As stated the Law says : "A body will remain at rest or move with a constant velocity unless acted upon by a force." I will not make any metaphysical claims, but it seems to me that this law describes a singular causation in that there does not need to be something that stops a body from moving, if it is moving, so the force that made it move is it's only cause. If there is such claim in modern physics that the movement of the object caused the same force that caused it, then I am at a loss.
My conclusion is that singular causality exists, assuming I have understood Newton aright!

My next point is that "circularity" leads to impossible conclusions.
Moving on to particulars, if we claim as you said that "my feelings about sex lead me to use pornography which then impacts my feelings about sex", then essentially you claim that "feelings" have changed after the use of pornography. OK, but if we use infinite regress, and assume that this process goes on for long, then every time I use pornography my feelings would a bit more, and then a bit more, and then a bit more. Is this possible? And moreover is this how the relationship of "world" or "reality" to language works? This would mean that every time we are influenced by the world around us, we change our linguistic conception of it, and we are always in contact with the world around us, but a number of our linguistic conceptions about it seem to remain stable, whereas with circular causation they would keep changing and changing to the point that our understanding of the world would always be "new". If for example the feeling was pleasure A, after the use of pornography it becomes pleasure A1, then because I keep using pornography, it becomes pleasure A2....and so on. But, lets take temperature as an example. We can't deny that temperature is something that has degrees, but when it changes from -10 to +50(Celsius) our feeling of the object turns from cold (-10) is cold, to hot (+50). If circularity was the only thing that went on then my feeling of cold would be (-10) is cold, (-9) is less cold (-8) is less cold even (+50) would be less cold. Somehow, after a certain point, our perception changes from "cold" to "hot".

A limit has to be drawn because circularity can go on for ever. We need to be able to reach the point where we started from. If the temperature moved circularly (-10) to (+50) to (-10) to (+50), clearly our feelings must be able to tell us that there is a difference, but also, that something is stable. Circularity can't account for stability if it keeps changing our perception. Our perception must be stable. The fact that we both communicate and that, although time has passed in between, we still understand each other, also suggests that something remains stable. Whereas if your claim is right then we wouldn't be able to do that. There seems to be something wrong with "circular" causation.

My third point is to prove is that the notion of "circularity" can be derived from the notion of "singular causation", but that "singular causation" is all that there is.

I am assuming that the "world" or "reality" which is "something" out there, has first and foremost the attribute of being "real", no matter what this attribute might be, when I say that two different things are both real, then I assume that the attribute of reality exists equally in both. In respect to that attribute, no matter how different the objects are, they are equally "real". I don't really know what the attribute of "reality" is, but assuming that it exists as stated, that is being equal in different things, I use the word "real" in the sense that "the table is real" and "the chair is real" refer to different things, but reality, as it goes, remains the same for both of them, it doesn't change in quality or anything else, they are both equally "real".

Now, assuming my point about the unchanging nature of "reality" is valid, then every time we use the word real we don't change the meaning of it. We can say:. The claim that "my feelings about sex lead me to use pornography which then impacts my feelings about sex", appears to be circular when it isn't. Why? Because "pornography" is taken as a constant not a variable. For example you can have "circularity" if you claim "my feelings about sex (A) led me to use pornography (B) which changed my feelings about sex (A1), then (B) remains constant. You still need to work out how (A) changes to (A1), but (B) remains the same. All you end up with is (B) causing (A) and then (A1) and then (A2) which is singular causality. If (B) changes then we have (A) causing a change to (B) which causes (A1) which causes (B1) which causes (A2) which causes (B2), Each event is causing a different one. Singularity again.

But our thought needs to find its way home, otherwise we wouldn't be able to move our perception from hot to cold and back to hot. How can that be? For that to happen we need an account of perception that is both stable and dynamic. This can only be achieved if we can always use the same recipe for constructing the perception of (A). [A] to have the same meaning in (A1) and (A2) but also we must be able to discern between (A1) and (A2) as being different from one another, not only do we need that, but also we need a way to switch from [A] to [B], Lets take [A] to be hot, and [B] to be cold. Please note that
our skin has two types of receptors, one for hot and one for cold. Although I hate hyperlinks to make my point, I find it extremely interesting because in the example of hot and cold that I was suggesting there could be no real way to switch between the two sensations unless the stimuli, and therefore their method of construction was different. With this I think that we posses a highly sophisticated way to represent our world as "circular" although it is "singular".


(My conclusion is that singular causality exists, assuming I have understood Newton aright!)
Singular causality exists, however this is only the case with issues that don"t involve perception. For example, it is raining today, as evidenced by the raindrops dripping on my head. There may be a perception of the rain, such as how hard or light it"s raining, but not whether it"s actually happening. Only one cause and effect is needed to gain agreement on this point. However, if I say that when it rains it helps people to feel blue, I am now making a point that involves circular causality, because it involves perception. There is a bi-directional relationships that cannot be ignored. Many people assume because they perceive it that it must exists, but this type of dichotomous concrete thinking leads people to debate items that don"t lend themselves well to debate. You may justify this by saying that we seek the truth and only through investigation can we determine what is. You may cite evidence that says, this is what helped people thinking the world was flat. They didn"t have evidence and once they did it was refuted. But perception is slow to change when we only used an evidenced based approach because it doesn"t account for the impact of the stimulus on us, mixed with our impact on the stimulus. Language influences my perception of reality and reality is influenced by my use of language. Only until we can appreciate the duality of this relationship can we move away from proving our rightness, which consequently causes wars, and move towards a more fuller understanding of others. Yes, we need to consider others because debating issues leaves one person wining and one person losing which is a very primitive form of dialogue. In some instances it helps to declare a majority and make a decision but in most cases it leaves one person feeling diminished. Proving points that are evidenced based is needed, but arguing whose perspective is right when there are many dimensions and ways to look at something seems antithetical to the purpose of true negotiation (The Thirteen Greatest American Arguments is a good example of the value of debate as I"m describing). If we can stay in contact with somebody and grow our perspective, then the person who articulates the clearest and uses the most compelling logic doesn"t win, everybody does. Okay, so this is not the purpose of this site I know, but I felt moved to share what got sparked for me.

(My next point is that "circularity" leads to impossible conclusions.)
I couldn"t agree more. But what is wrong with that. It doesn"t lend itself well to winning and losing, the point of this site, but it does move us away from what dominant culture has taught us about power and control. We take a stand on a particular point and gather as much data as we can, we sell it to the masses and we build a coalition. This is what we are doing in Syria as we speak. It doesn"t matter whether the use of chemical weapons is "right" or "wrong", it matters that we want others to believe what we do because it keeps us feeling safe. Of course it leads to impossible conclusions because the world isn"t built in two dimensions. Why would we want it to be so simple as to say that one causes the other? Because it helps us feel less ambiguous and less distressed. We don"t tolerate uncertainty in this culture so we seek to prove out point and be done with it. And I like your point about revisiting the same issue and our feelings evolving. That is absolutely the way things work. Each time I use pornography my feelings and perspective may change. There are reasons it doesn"t that is a complex issue of a psychological nature. This is how people change through repeated exposure to a certain stimulus which eventually helps us alter our lens or take a different vantage point. This is what happens with language. My wife says, "that"s crazy" after many of her sentences when listening to somebody talk about an upset they have. Until I tell her that I wish she would be more descriptive rather than using a colloquialism because it dilutes her empathy, her perception of reality doesn"t change. Her use of language is now helping alter her perception of reality with the help of outside feedback. In this case, it wasn"t language that changed her perception of reality it was the other way around. With repeated exposure to the same language our perception of reality may not change for years, thus negating a cause and effect relationship. Many variables contribute to the perception of reality, including language.

(A limit has to be drawn because circularity can go on for ever.) Why does a limit need to be drawn? Who decides what that limit is? Is it when you are frustrated or I am tired? It goes on forever because our perceptions change over time. We evolve. You say that circularity can"t account for stability if it keeps changing our perception and you are right. We don"t rely on a stable perception for stability in an advanced culture, we rely on instability. We are always changing, one of the few constants in the world. If we can let go of our need to make sense of everything we can tolerate ambiguity better, let go of our need to control and adapt better to change. If you say that you need to have a stable perception that is something I can agree to. I don"t need a stable perception of reality, in fact that bores me and leads to my stagnation. I tolerate as much change of perception as I can before it become overload and then I wait until I can tolerate more. I don"t try to force my perception on others or prove my rightness because I know that my perception is in flux. Today I may disagree, tomorrow I may see it your way. As I evolve, so too does my perspective broaden and deepen.

(The fact that we both communicate and that, although time has passed in between, we still understand each other, also suggests that something remains stable. Whereas if your claim is right then we wouldn't be able to do that. There seems to be something wrong with "circular" causation.) Yes, something does remain stable but that is our willingness to expand our perception, not perception itself. If you hold up a baseball and say, do you see that"and I respond that I see a pitcher who never made it to the major leagues and feels like he missed his calling. It remind me of how disappointing life could be. It makes me see that baseball as a weapon because I was assaulted with a ball as a child. I"m introducing new possibilities of what that object is. We both agree it"s a baseball because we can identify the static traits, but that isn"t perception. Perception is what w do with the information once we begin to process it. And to hold a conversation about it requires a willingness to go outside our own perception. Circular causality allows us to come back to a shared understanding without either of us giving up our own experience of reality.

I"m going to stop here because I fear I have gone way off the tracks. I sincerely hope I haven"t wasted your time. I know I didn"t go about this the way its intended making it difficult for you to engage. My purpose was not to waste your time but to explore the idea of debate. I own a social networking site called and I"m trying to better understand opinion, perspective, the process of debating and exploring different ideas. This was helpful to me. I hope I didn"t frustrate you to much with my approach.
Debate Round No. 4


papadoi1 forfeited this round.

Con forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
No comments have been posted on this debate.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by kbub 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro simply won all of the arguments. Also, Con seemed to concede... Nice conduct pro.