“Codes have no surplus value.” (Sellars)

by metalogike

There’s more than one way of taking this line, certainly, and it seems part of Sellars’ style to pack an invitation to a dense problematic into that tossed-off phrase, as well as teasing his audience with a clear allusion to forbidden material, but I’m inclined to say that if S more clearly marked that codes as such, across a crucial threshold (which I like to call ‘nontriviality’ but has many apt names) do come charged with a surplus value – with which subjects are perhaps co-constituted, but which is neither produced by them, individually or socially, nor is entirely under their control – he would be less tempted to fall back on positing a semantic power/faculty for us, rather than construing the acquisition of a shared first language (“Does he speak Greek?”*) as the platform from which we are able to realize that there are semantic problems.

*Meno 82b.  Ἕλλην μέν ἐστι καὶ ἑλληνίζει;  The καὶ, I would argue, is epexegetical: to be able to speak with him (to “Hellenize”) is to be Greek in the only sense relevant here for Plato’s Socrates.)