Salesmen and Scientists

Before his epiphany in the Norwegian forests, Ludwig Wittgenstein famously tried to trim all the fat from philosophy by arguing that language’s sole province was to express propositions that were true or false (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921). Perhaps Wittgenstein stumbled upon children for the first time in those brisk fyords, because watching any child use language disproves his early positivist theory.*

For children, language is a tool to achieve specific ends. If I say x, then y will likely happen. Whether x is true or false does not seem to occur naturally in children, only what the result of saying x will be. Any “scientific” interest in factual correspondences to the world comes later. For some it may never come at all. These become salesmen. Or rather remain salesmen, since the child is by nature a salesperson, using language as a way of getting others to do something or to think something without ever reaching the horizon line of cognition where “truth” separates from “falsehood.”

Note to my Jungian followers: This probably means that the “salesman” archetype, being closer to the brainstem, predates the “scientist” archetype in the primeval development of the collective unconscious.

*Wittgenstein did spend some years after the Tractatus as a teacher of schoolchildren, a vocation for which he proved ill-suited.

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