Visiting philosophy professor explores roots of misconceptions in language

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Photo Credit: Briana Vargas | Daily Texan Staff

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement came the All Lives Matter countermovement, a reaction that Luvell Anderson, a philosophy professor from the University of Memphis, attributes to a break in understanding within language, or a hermeneutical impasse.

Anderson discussed these hermeneutical impasses at a talk Monday as part of the Mexican American and Latina/o Studies Lecture series. Anderson said he believes All Lives Matters supporters may hold a misconception of what the BLM movement is trying to express.

All Lives Matter supporters see a movement intended to be inclusive as exclusive, mistakenly thinking “black lives matter” indicates that black lives are the only ones who matter, Anderson said.

“The Black Lives Matter phrase emerged as a way to express that while all lives should matter equally, some bodies have been undervalued, such as black and brown bodies,” Anderson said. “These bodies should be treated equally, so what I think of as the straightforward interpretation of that phrase is that black lives matter, too.”

This example represents one of four types of hermeneutical impasses Anderson outlined, in which understanding is assumed but not achieved because of prejudice.

Some hermeneutical impasses can be solved using “linguistic remedies,” such as translations, Anderson said. For example, this can include hermeneutical impasses that occur when there are speakers of different languages.

Another type happens when speakers speak a common language but fail to understand each other because of a difference of dialects.  

Philosophy graduate student Hannah Trees said the lecture helped her reflect on what it means to agree.

“Understanding takes more than just understanding the literal meaning of sentences people express,” Trees said. “It also takes understanding the way the sentences are uttered and the context of the sentences … to agree with someone.”

Philosophy graduate student Estefania Agraz said the talk was an opportunity to expose herself to different perspectives.

“Talks like this can broaden your ideas and mind,” Agraz said. “It makes you think in other ways when someone comes from the outside with their new ideas.”