Calculating with Words: Perspectives from Philosophy of Media, Philosophy of Science, Linguistics and Cultural History

history and philosophy of technology

This essay pursues the title of the special issue In the Beginning was the Word - The Word as a Technical Artefact and asks if words can be (technical) artefacts. The following thesis will be defended: as long as words are spoken they are part of parole, of spoken language and cannot be an object. Words as some kind of res are signs, but signs as a class of objects cannot be subsumed under the class of artefacts at large. Words can only be treated as artefacts if they are elements of a formal system; to think of them as being somehow technical means requires to understand them without reference to language. Prima facie, this leads to a paradoxical conclusion: if they are words, uttered words, they are part of language; if words are technically produced material entities, artefacts, they are devoid of meaning and are, therefore, not words.