To understand you need to be part of the conversation

The philosopher Rush Rhees (2006) begins his essay "Plato, language and the growth of understanding" with the following,

"The people who argued with Socrates and Plato may have thought language was just a collection of techniques, and that that was what understanding is: knowing the technique ... For them, the growth of understanding could only mean the growth of skill (efficiency, I suppose) or the multiplication of skills ... A skill would have the sort of unity that a calculus does ... Is understanding just competence?" (pg. 3)

By ending with a rhetorical question, Rhees is expressing some doubt in the idea that understanding is a measure of technical proficiency. I agree that learning how to spell can be considered to be a technical skill. Knowing how to parse a sentence is also a technical exercise. I put forward the arguable assertion that technical skills develop in a more linear fashion as one develops a more sophisticated mastery of the system under study. There are technicals skills that one must develop in order to gain a command of language and literacy. But can we reduce the understanding (or comprehension) of a Shakespearean sonnet to a mere technical exercise?

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