A definitive approach to Identity, Meaning

Extreme views regarding the use of metaphysical or religious expressions such as ‘God’ ‘Absolute’ or ‘Brahman’ exist in Philosophy, with some philosophers claiming that they are as meaningful as ‘John’ or ‘The present Prime Minister of New Zealand,’ a prominent philosopher has said.

Dr Jaysankar Lal Shaw, Professor of Philosophy at the Wellington based University of Victoria said that many other philosophers who follow the manifesto of the 20th Century Logical Positivists would consider such views as meaningless or gibberish.

He was speaking at the launch of his book ‘Identity & Meaning: An Inter-Disciplinary Perspective’ at the Kelburn Campus on April 23.

Expounding the concept and practice of ‘Identity & Meaning,’ it comprises contributions of 20 scholars representing 16 disciplines.

According to Professor Shaw, the Book, stated to be unique in the history of Victoria University, discusses various aspects of linguistic meaning and its use in Psychology, Religion, Sociology and Art.

Michael Hemmingsen, a PhD student at the McMaster University of Canada has edited the Book.

Human behaviour

“It emphasises how behaviours or attitudes of individuals are related to meaning addresses whether identity depends on gender, class or culture, and how identity is formed, including the identity of a city or a nation,” he said.

‘Identity and Meaning’ underscores creativity in art, music and culture, stressing on distinctiveness for the interpretation of identity for a culture or nation.

Professor Shaw said that the Book encourages discussion and provides scope for disagreement over an opinion or thesis put forward by leading philosophers or artists.

Broadening horizon

“With 18 papers dealing with ‘Identity & Meaning’ from Marxian, non-Marxian, classical, modern, post-modern and Eastern points of view, this book will broaden the horizon or the perspective of contemporary scholars of different countries. It presents a holistic picture of diverse thoughts and cultures without abandoning the distinctiveness of their contributions. A multidimensional approach to problems of Philosophy is unique, bridging the gap between East and West, North and South,” he said.

Leading thinkers

The articles also contain authoritative expositions of the views of leading thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Jaques Lacan, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ando Shoeki, Jurgen Habermas, Roland Barthes, Henri Lefebvre, Theodor Adorno, Jean-Paul Sartre and Noam Chomsky.

The Book also carries divergent views on the role of identity at individual, social and national levels to encourage continuity of philosophical debate, psychological research, and the application of theories to social sciences and politics.

“Approaching the issue of meaning from the perspective of philosophy of language and culture (East and West), the Book introduces the distinction between etymological, conventional, causal, deep-structure, metaphorical, and suggestive levels of meaning. This explains how we can reconcile conflicting perspectives, whilst avoiding extreme positions in discussion on Meaning,” Professor Shaw said.

The dignitaries

Among those present at the launch were Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Indian High Commissioner Ravi Thapar, Members of Parliament Dr Rajen Prasad and Paul Foster-Bell, Councillor Paul Eagle and former Councillor Bryan Pepperell.

From the very dawn of civilisation, thinkers and scholars all over the world have been concerned with the nature of identity and meaning.

The Society for Philosophy and Culture, which is marking its 10th anniversary, sponsored the launch. Its President Reece Baker and Cultural Secretary Piripi Whaanga both former students of Professor Shaw, spoke of their pedagogue’s strengths as a teacher and person, saying that he is known for patience, scholarship and compassion.

Further details regarding the Book and its purchase can be obtained from Professor Jay Shaw on (04) 4721000 (Extension 8936); (04) 4764975; 022-0955717 Email: jay.shaw@vuw.ac.nz

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