Return to Language

The Miracle Worker by William Gibson . . . tells the story of how Annie Sullivan brought Helen Keller to grasp the nature of language. . . .

I suggest that you read The Miracle Worker and study its implications. . . . this particular play is an invaluable lesson in the fundamentals of a rational epistemology.

I suggest that you consider Annie Sullivan’s titanic struggle to arouse a child’s conceptual faculty by means of a single sense, the sense of touch, then evaluate the meaning, motive and moral status of the notion that man’s conceptual faculty does not require any sensory experience.

I suggest that you consider what an enormous intellectual feat Helen Keller had to perform in order to develop a full conceptual range (including a college education, which required more in her day than it does now), then judge those normal people who learn their first, perceptual-level abstractions without any difficulty and freeze on that level, and keep the higher ranges of their conceptual development in a chaotic fog of swimming, indeterminate approximations, playing a game of signals without referents, as Helen Keller did at first, but without her excuse. Then check on whether you respect and how carefully you employ your priceless possession: language.

And, lastly, I suggest that you try to project what would have happened if, instead of Annie Sullivan, a sadist had taken charge of Helen Keller’s education. A sadist would spell “water” into Helen’s palm, while making her touch water, stones, flowers and dogs interchangeably; he would teach her that water is called “water” today, but “milk” tomorrow; he would endeavor to convey to her that there is no necessary connection between names and things, that the signals in her palm are a game of arbitrary conventions and that she’d better obey him without trying to understand.

If this projection is too monstrous to hold in one’s mind for long, remember that this is what today’s academic philosophers are doing to the young—to minds as confused, as plastic and almost as helpless (on the higher conceptual levels) as Helen Keller’s mind was at her start.

Copyright © 1986 by Harry Binswanger. Introduction copyright © 1986 by Leonard Peikoff. All rights reserved. For information address New American Library.


Excerpts from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted with permission of Stein and Day Publishers. Excerpts from The Romantic Manifesto, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1971, by The Objectivist. Reprinted with permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Excerpts from Atlas Shrugged, copyright © 1957 by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, copyright © 1943 by Ayn Rand, and For the New Intellectual, copyright © 1961 by Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff, Executor, Estate of Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from “The Philosophy of Objectivism” lecture series. Copyright © 1976 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from Alvin Toffler’s interview with Ayn Rand, which first appeared in Playboy magazine. Copyright © 1964. Reprinted by permission of Alvin Toffler. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.