Language and Science, Speech and Thought In the beginning, is it language, speech, or thought? Publication date : October 7, 2020
Jean-Noël Robert is a professor at the Collège de France; he has held the Chair in “Philology of Japanese Civilization” since 2011. A specialist in the history of Buddhism in Japan and of its Chinese predecessors, he is the author of several works, including a French translation of the Lotus Sutra: Sûtra du Lotus, suivi du Livre des sens innombrables et du Livre de la contemplation de Sage-Universel.
If we admit that philosophical reflection is intimately linked to the language in which it is expressed, then how can we conceive of the translation of philosophical texts? The same question is raised with as much, if not more, seriousness for religious texts. We know, for example, that Buddhism as expressed in Chinese is not a simple transposition of Indian sources. Not to mention the passage of Greek theology into Latin, which even today continues to give rise to debates…
And in the sciences, what is the nature of this relationship to language and to speech? What does mathematics, which seems free from linguistic constraints, have to teach us about this?
And can we conceive of thoughts beyond speech, indeed, speech without thoughts, as automatic translation seems to suggest today?
Faced with the proliferation and timeliness of such questions, the Collège de France has undertaken to bring together eminent scientists from different fields so they can provide the answers we are still awaiting about language and speech, thought and science…