Read Abuse of Language—Abuse of Power by Josef Pieper Lothar Krauth Online


One of the great Catholic philosophers of our day reflects on the way language has been abused so that, instead of being a means of communicating the truth and entering more deeply into it, and of the acquisition of wisdom, it is being used to control people and manipulate them to achieve practical ends. Reality becomes intelligible through words. Man speaks so that througOne of the great Catholic philosophers of our day reflects on the way language has been abused so that, instead of being a means of communicating the truth and entering more deeply into it, and of the acquisition of wisdom, it is being used to control people and manipulate them to achieve practical ends. Reality becomes intelligible through words. Man speaks so that through naming things, what is real may become intelligible. This mediating character of language, however, is being increasingly corrupted. Tyranny, propaganda, mass-media destroy and distort words. They offer us apparent realities whose fictive character threatens to become opaque. Josef Pieper shows with energetic zeal, but also with ascetical restraint, the path out of this dangerous situation. We are constrained to see things again as they are and from the truth thus grasped, to live and to work....

Title : Abuse of Language—Abuse of Power
Author :
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ISBN : 089870362X
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 54 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Abuse of Language—Abuse of Power Reviews

  • Lilo
    2019-01-23 23:52

    When this book arrived in the mail, over 2 years ago, I was a bit annoyed because the paperback, I had paid $ 9.65 for, turned out to be a tiny booklet containing no more than 35 pages. The booklet landed in one of my many boxes with unread books. While trying to get my unread books a bit sorted and organized, I, yesterday, came across this little booklet again. I had just watched the news and was still infuriated about the way our new President as well as his spokespersons and several of his supporting political analysts are abusing the language by avoiding to properly answering questions and instead twisting the truth and spitting out propaganda. So I picked up this booklet and read it within a few hours.Joseph Pieper (1904-1997) was a 20th-century philosopher, and this book (or rather essay) was first published in 1974, in German language (titled “Missbrauch der Sprache—Missbrauch der Macht”). Pieper quotes and summarizes what philosophers of the past, especially Plato, had said about the use, or rather abuse, of language. I am very short of time. Therefore, please forgive when I do not write a real review but only list a few passages that stood out. Here they are:Summing up Plato on this topic:“Public discourse, the moment it becomes basically neutralized with regard to a strict standard of truth, stands by its nature ready to serve as an instrument in the hands of any ruler to pursue all kinds of power schemes. Public discourse itself, separated from the standard of truth, created on its part, the more it prevails, an atmosphere of epidemic proneness and vulnerability to the reign of the tyrant. Serving the tyranny, the corruption and abuse of language becomes better known as propaganda.”“A common element in all of this is the degeneration of language into an element of rape.”“The abuse of political power is fundamentally connected with the sophistic abuse of the word, indeed, finds it in the fertile soil in which to hide and grow and get ready, so much that the latent potential of the totalitarian poison can be ascertained.”“The degradation, too, of man through man … … … (concentration camps, torture) has its beginning … … when the word loses its dignity.”“The place of authentic reality is taken over by fictious reality … … … a pseudoreality, desceptively appearing as real … …”“… the general public is being reduced to a state where people not only are unable to find out about the truth but also become unable even to search for the truth because they are satisfied with deception and trickery that have determined their convictions … …”“Opposition is required, for instance, against every partisan simplification, every ideological agitation, every blind emotionality; against seduction through well-turned yet empty slogans, against autocratic terminology with no room for dialogue, against personal insult as an element of style, against the language of evasive appeasement and false assurance … …”Quoting Hegel:“You need not have advanced very far in your learning in order to find good reasons even for the most evil of things. All the evil deeds in this world since Adam and Eve have been justified with good reasons.”Quoting Aristotle:“Whenever someone, oblivious of possible usefulness, disadvantages, or even death, is able to say, ’So it is; this is the truth’—then we witness, in an eminent degree, human freedom in action.’ Into this quote, Pieper had inserted, “(e.g., 'the Emperor has no clothes!')", which, of course Aristotle had not said. :-)In regard to our present political situation, here in the U.S., I leave it up to the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.My own humble opinion: Humankind hasn't advanced too much since Plato.For a very elaborate description of the above booklet, I recommend reading Jan Rice’s review. Here is the link:

  • Jan Rice
    2019-02-01 03:38

    September 27, 2014: In 1974 Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper wrote an essay in his native German called Abuse of Language--Abuse of Power. I came across it when a friend of a Goodreads friend commented it on one of my friend's reviews. The subject is sophistry (Plato's battle with it)--a subject which the author asserts is pertinent to any time and any place. Pieper quotes Neitzsche as having said, "The era of the sophists? Our time!"On the second page the author quotes Hegel on sophisticates. According to Pieper, when it comes to sophists the issue is perfectionism, not perfection (where "perfection" means "completion" or "wholeness"). So one must consider the relationship between "sophistication" and "sophistry." Hegel reportedly also said such sophists could find a reason for--justify--anything without breaking a sweat. That's how I understand the sophists, too, as rhetoricians for whom there is no truth, who for a price could speak on any subject and who had the tools, rhetoric, to influence their hearers. For a price? Pieper goes into a spiel on the difference between honorarium and wages. He goes on to say that Bertrand Russel was contemptuous of professionals because they, too, accepted payment. Pieper seems a little defensive on that point. I'm not sure he made a convincing counterargument.This little paper begs for dialogue. On reading it you want to be in dialogue with the author. Plato also characterized the sophists as handsome, says Pieper, who cites Theaetetus on true beauty. Again, the surface beauty of the sophists was part of their armamentarium. Pieper then goes on to explore what Plato had against the sophists, and his answer is that they are corrupting the language. Instead of using words--the sea in which human beings swim and the air we breathe--for communication and truth, in fact for the communication of truth, they use language for power. And they are doing so deliberately. Pieper then goes on to the language of advertising as sophistry, focusing on the use of flattery. Sophistry, then, has an ulterior motive. Supply and demand; making one want a product. In short order he jumps from that to Schadenfreude, slander, the destructive urge, and going for the "final solution," still focusing on flattery as the tool, which isn't quite clear--but Pieper explains that's because he's trying to get from how Plato translates to ugly picture we have today. He cites Plato's admission that the sophists are masters of the corrupting art, affecting not just single institutions but "the commonweal of all people," so that public discourse becomes unmoored from truth and reality. The word "pollution" comes to mind--a word that has become more resonant with time. People could be said to be in bondage to misinformationThe process elevates entertainment over communication, and by its nature is hidden so that the sophist looks like a true philosopher. Can similar techniques be used to bring people back to truth, seduce them to the truth? Pieper quotes Kierkegaard, "Cajole them to the truth," but it seems that would still be corruption of language.Propaganda, ideological cliques, using word as weapon, the language of rebellion--"...those for whom the menace is intended must nevertheless be eased into believing (and that is the true art) that by acquiescing to the intimidation, they really do the reasonable thing...." Language becomes a receptacle of latent violence; Pieper says rape.In sum, all of us, not only philosophers and intellectuals, are nurtured by truth. We need a sanctum of truth protected from propaganda and special interests--not just protected from outside but from within academia as well--from "every partisan simplification, every ideological agitation, every blind emotionality, against seduction through well-turned yet empty slogans, against autocratic terminology with no room for dialogue, against personal insult as an element of style..., against the language of evasive appeasement and false assurances..., and not least against the jargon of the revolution, against categorical conformism and categorical nonconformism...." History has shown the consequences otherwise. "(C)orruptio optimi pessemi, the best corrupted becomes the worst."In reading this I saw that the author's heart was in the right place, from the words he has chosen, threading a path between extremism of the right and of the left. But the complications are even worse than he recognized. He says sophists are those who are acting "deliberately" to corrupt words and truth. Going beyond the field of advertising and "ordinary" politics into the more fraught terrain of ideological language, there may be those who are acting deliberately, in other words, because they can. At the same time, the lines between what is deliberate misleading and what is the fervor of certainty are often, maybe usually, blurred. A propagandist first progandizes him- or herself. It works better if one believes one's own words and in what one is doing. In the private sphere of consciousness one awards one's own perceptions a sacrosanct reality not accorded to the "opponent" or "enemy"--which is why diverse religions all contain versions of loving the neighbor as the self and not treating others in ways oneself doesn't like. From within the space of self, it is oh so easy to perceive the opponent's behavior as deliberate and his or her motivation as venal or otherwise despicable. Doing so greases the path to opposition or enmity, and, in fact, to being or becoming what one fights. I am not saying I disagree with what the author has written or that there is no truth. I don't believe that. I am allergic to the manipulation of language he has described. I am just asking how we get from the advice to the reality. Diverse people with diverse opinions, some of which are in error, can put on his language just as I am doing, and they, too, can say they are the possessors of truth. And they will believe it. I almost want to say, "We have met the enemy and he is us." The quote about dialogue--don't forget that. In this enterprise we have got to have the dialogue.November 15, 2014 Knowledge and FreedomIn addition to the 32-page Abuse of Language--Abuse of Power this short book includes a second essay, a 14-pager. After reading it the first time, I thought I'd skip the review. Aristotle, not Plato, was cited; I hadn't been studying Aristotle. But on last night's second reading it came clearer.Josef Pieper's main concern remains the totalitarian state. Here he's asking what freedom has to do with knowledge. He concludes that philosophical knowledge is higher than any sort of practical knowledge. In other words, knowledge that is an end in itself rather than a means to something else is the higher knowledge--according to which all technology is lesser. He traces that line of thought back to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. All that changed with the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution, after which the practicality of knowledge was elevated. Pieper cites Descartes. He says that reversal shows up in American pragmatism and reaches its apex under communism: "Any scientist who concerns himself with abstract problems must never forget that the purpose of all science consists of satisfying the needs of society" (from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia). So, according to Pieper, for freedom in knowledge we must return to the older point of view--that is, reverse the paradigm shift that occurred at the inception of modernity.But there is a problem here, the problem of elitism--the same problem that came up in discussing Plato's dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living, in connection with my review of Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away. Goodreads friend Dolors found me this helpful article by the philosopher and writer Julian Baggini. In the 19th century, university was a luxury most people couldn't afford. Josef Pieper acknowledges as much when he writes that the academic philosophical faculty in medieval times used to be called "the faculty of the arts," and in the 19th century the university was to provide a liberal education--"a gentleman's knowledge" (the latter quote attributed to John Henry Newman). It was only in the twentieth century that, in consequence of the paradigm shift that had occurred, the standard of living had risen high enough for more people to seek an advanced education.This is a big subject, one I'll have to think a lot more about when it's time to review The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought. But for now I'm hypothesizing that the loss of freedom Pieper fears doesn't come so much from avoiding "practicality" as it does from over-control of one's direction and aims, whether by a totalitarian state, by a theocracy, or by excess rigidity of social mores. When there are lots and lots of individual seekers, some will make unimaginable discoveries. As with the genetic engineering of seeds, there is no government agency--or other agency of control--that can "play God" well enough to substitute for the exploratory initiative that will be found within masses of individuals.Or, as Barack Obama said in his Myanmar speech yesterday, "The future of this region — your region — is not going to be dictated by dictator or by armies.... It’s going to be determined by entrepreneurs and inventors and dreamers."

  • booklady
    2019-02-18 01:28

    In Abuse of Language, Abuse of Power Joseph Pieper begins building his case against sophistry by showing what Plato most deplored about the sophists of his day: their wealth (no surprise) and physical beauty and how the former is gained through the corruption of the latter as well as the manipulation of language. Pieper includes quotes from Hegel and Nietzsche – both separated from the Father of Philosophy by more than a millennium – which assure us of the pervasive continuity of sophistry from then until now, as if we needed any. ‘Human words and language accomplish a two-fold purpose... First, words convey reality. We speak in order to name and identify something that is real, to identify it for someone, of course—and this brings us to the second aspect in question, the interpersonal character of human speech.’ We are then led to look at lies, the crafting of well-reasoned arguments and whether the author is seeking to convey the truth or deceive his audience. When such is the case, ‘from that moment on (the author/artist) no longer considers the other as partner, as equal. In fact, he no longer respects the other as a human person.’ Plato, through Socrates, calls this “flattery”. Pieper says this ‘becomes a speech without a partner, since there is no true other; such speech, in contradiction to the nature of language, intends not to communicate but to manipulate.’The rest of the essay goes on to examine the loss of character in our language through slogans, advertising, propaganda, and mass media—just different forms of deceptive trickery and mental bondage. Plato's three statements about the necessity of truth to the health of human society are summarized and as true today as ever: 1.) the good of man and meaningful human existence consists in perceiving, as much as possible, things as they really are; 2.) all men are nurtured by the truth; 3.) the natural habitat of the truth is found in interpersonal communication.Pieper calls for ‘an area of truth, a sheltered space for the autonomous study of reality, where it is possible, without restrictions, to examine, investigate, discuss, and express what is true about anything—a space, then explicitly protected against all potential special interests and invading influences, where hidden agendas have no place, be they collective or private, political, economic, or ideological.’ His mentor, Plato, would no doubt agree with this necessity, recognize the description of his own Academie and be proud. Who indeed would disagree? And yet, where can such a place be found?Recent events in our country made me think of this essay and want to reread it.

  • Abe
    2019-02-01 05:25

    This short book is worth the hour it takes to read. It makes two great points: First, true communication stops and propaganda begins the moment that words are chosen to influence people rather than to accurately represent reality. Secondly, a good definition of freedom is “to exist, not in dependence on anything ‘without’, but by and for reasons entirely ‘within’.” So, we use words and science freely when we ponder and learn for its own sake. The more “practical” our studies, the less free they are, because they are serve external purposes. Thus theology and philosophy, which try to represent reality for its own sake, are more free than political speeches and business plans, which are pursued with an agenda in mind.

  • Ann
    2019-02-11 01:50

    Josef Pieper is not for the faint of heart! I had to read and reread these essays in order to wrap my head around the truth conveyed ! Yet, his works hold some of the most concise words of truth for our generation ... demonstrating that "truth" does not lose its relevance over time. In this small but powerful book there are two closely related essays ... the first titled, "Abuse of Language --- Abuse of Power" and the other "Knowledge and Freedom".In the first essay, the author starts out by explaining the pitfalls and dangers Plato saw in the practice of the sophists of his time. These sophists were those "... highly paid and popularly applauded experts in the art of twisting words, who were able to sweet-talk something bad into something good and to turn white into black." Plato's contention with the sophists lay in their corrupting of the meaning and dignity of words. The underlying theme of Plato and Pieper is that "... words convey reality." He further explains that when we speak we do so "... in order to name and identify something that is real, to identify something for someone." When we lie or twist the meaning of words to manipulate or convey something that is less than the truth, we actually cannot participate in true "communication". We then "... withhold the other's ... portion of reality..." When this withholding of reality takes place we are corrupting the other person's relationship to reality and no longer look on them as a partner or equal; and in fact we " ... no longer respect the other as a human person " We have ceased to participate in dialogue or communication. Pieper states "... what happens here is speech without a partner... such speech, in contradiction to the nature of language, intends not to communicate but to manipulate.Pieper goes on to show what this corruption of language does to "public discourse". He says that when public discourse is separated from the standard of truth, it creates an atmosphere of "proneness and vulnerability to the reign of the tyrant." This is so evident in today's political culture !!Pieper then shows how the abuse of language spells the end of true learning and the corruption of our institutions of higher learning. In defining "academic" he says there must be " area of truth reserved in the midst of society where it is possible, without restrictions, to examine, investigate, discuss, and express what is true about anything ... where hidden agendas have no place..." In discussing the task of all institutions of higher learning, Pieper says that they must "... sustain and nourish ... the free interpersonal communication anchored in the truth of reality - the reality of the world around us, the reality of ourselves, and the reality of God as well." We live in a culture where our institutions of learning have become institutions of propaganda rather than places rooted in truth and reality. In his second essay, Josef Pieper tackles the subject of knowledge and freedom as it relates to science. First of all Pieper states that knowledge must have as its object "... the whole of reality, the fundamental reasons of all that is." Here Pieper reinforces the notion that knowledge is first of all "intrinsic". He states , "We are dealing here with the intrinsic "power of cognition" as such, the power moving within all concrete experiences and insights and giving them consistency and unity, as it is oriented toward its proper object, the totality of all that is." This kind of knowledge is "alone truly free" ... He sites Aristotle who said, "free means the same here as nonpractical."; the kind of knowledge oriented toward the "fundamental reasons of the world", and thus not serving any practical use at all. "To exist, not in dependence on anything "without" but by and for reasons entirely "within" - this, Pieper says, is what human language calls "freedom".Here Pieper relates this concept of human "freedom" to science and talks about the tendency of modern man to look at science only as a means of understanding our world for the purpose of "using" or mastering it ... for the purpose of practicality alone. Pieper, however, says that to detach science from its intrinsic or metaphysical nature is to cause science to lose its connection to freedom. Pieper states that man's "... true enrichment does not derive from the technical exploitation of nature's wealth but rather from the purely theoretical cognition of reality." Having said this, the author makes it clear that while science does indeed accept tasks belonging in the field of practicalities, at its core, there is an element that cannot be taken into service ... a purely philosophical element directed toward truth and nothing else. If one leaves out the intrinsic quality of science, he leaves out the heart of true science.

  • ☆Stephanie☆
    2019-01-24 04:31

    I read this strictly for school in my Language and Power's not a bad read, but it's not something I would pick up on my own. It's essentially an essay by Pieper that discusses the problems with language when used as a tool for propaganda and persuasion.It mentions the Sophists of Socrates' era: they were people paid to educate others in the use of rhetoric. It also talks about how flattery is lying and lies are essentially a complete lack of communication. It's a very powerful and persuasive argument itself, on the danger of the power of persuasion (ironic, right?). It heavily emphasizes politics as a problem area.It wasn't something I would read for fun, and it took maybe 45 minutes to read. Excellent for people in my class, or those that study Greek debate tactics...but not something I would advise to read for fun.

  • Jerome
    2019-02-01 02:39

    This 54 page book consists of two essays, the titular one being an extended meditation of Plato's animus towards the sophists. The key idea for Pieper is a quote from The Sophist, "the sophists fabricate a fictitious reality." The irony of the pot calling the kettle black is entirely missed by Pieper, writing in a time when the democracy/communist binary guided Catholic thought, and before the "end of metaphysics", the rehabilitation of the sophists, etc. To truly appreciate this author, read instead Leisure: The Basis Of Culture or the excellent About Love.

  • CHAM
    2019-02-07 02:39

    This book is tiny.

  • Mark
    2019-02-16 01:26

    Would love to own a copy. The second essay in the book, Knowledge and Freedom is also good.

  • Jenn
    2019-01-30 06:47

    He had some really insightful and thoughtful things to say about language, communication, reality and truth, and power. What struck me in particular was when he said that if you are not speaking of what is true, what is in accord with reality, then you really aren't communicating at all. And if you are speaking thusly so as to manipulate others into a certain pattern of thought or action, then you aren't respecting the dignity of that person.These are great insights that I think everyone should hear and ponder a bit; however, the book is written in a manner which may not be inviting to all readers, as it reads more like a book on philosophy.

  • Gyoza
    2019-02-07 04:43

    Two thought-provoking essays on how using language to manipulate others rather than to communicate truth amounts to nothing less than a denial of the other person's humanity and status as your equal, and how perversion of language can be used by the unscrupulous to gain power over others. Pieper discusses how well established this idea is--it's in Plato, Aristotle, and the early Church fathers, and how it has been pushed aside, not only in totalitarian states, but even in our modern, pragmatic state of mind that tends to value practical results over principles.

  • Steve
    2019-02-10 06:28

    'One of the great Catholic philosophers of our day reflects on the way language has been abused so that, instead of being a means of communicating the truth and entering more deeply into it, and of the acquisition of wisdom, it is being used to control people and manipulate them to achieve practical end.'

  • Miss Clark
    2019-02-07 06:39

    Pieper's arguments against sophistry and his attempt to demonstrate how language is our means of both naming our reality and communicating with others was well-written, with some very keen insights, but not as persuasive as a more in-depth work may have been.Recommended for anyone interested in language and its relation to societies throughout history.

  • Erik
    2019-02-10 05:27

    This is an excellent introduction to Josef Pieper, with some great insights on academic freedom, true human freedom, the (mis)use of language for an end, and the innate human desire to Truth. Also, it is short (can be read in an evening), well-written and well-translated from the German.

  • Robert Lyon
    2019-01-28 07:39

    Fantastic.Arguments is worthy of outlining and absorbing. Extremely relevant for today.

  • Amanda Patchin
    2019-02-12 06:35

    Very worthwhile.