Category Archives: language

Words against reality

Here’s a gift of insight for all things personal and political:

“The power of words over reality cannot be unlimited since, fortunately, reality imposes its own unalterable conditions. The rulers of totalitarian countries wish, of course, to be truthfully informed, but time and again they fall prey, inevitably, to their own lies and suffer unexpected defeats. Entangled in a trap of their own making, they attempt awkward compromises between their own need for truthful information and the quasiautomatic operations of a system that produces lies for everyone, including the producers.”

— Leszek Kolakowski, “Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie” (1983)

Also see: “Auden Explains Poetry, Propaganda, and Reporting” and “Christianity as propaganda; Christianity versus propaganda

 

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Let there be language

Regarding the word “phenomenology” —

“Heidegger finds around that word a whole cluster of etymologies, all of them having an internal unity of meaning that brings us to the very center of his thought. The Greek word phainomenon is connected with the word phaos, light, and also with the word apophansis, statement or speech. The sequence of ideas is thus: revelation-light-language. The light is the light of revelation, and language itself is in this light. These may look like mere metaphors, but perhaps they are so only for us, whose understanding is darkened; for early man, at the very dawn of the Greek language, this inner link between light and statement (language) was a simple and profound fact, and it is our sophistication and abstractness that makes it seem to us ‘merely’ metaphorical.” — William Barrett, in his book Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy

 

A Look at Unfashionable Philosophy

“Wittgenstein and Barfield disagree on a number of important matters; Barfield wrote that Wittgenstein never attempted historical analysis, and was therefore missing the proper foundation for evaluating language. Curiously, though, they also seem to share some significant ground. Barfield’s understanding of metaphor seems to mirror some of the claims that Wittgenstein makes about ostensive definition, though Barfield would claim that a poet (or, to use Wittgenstein’s language, one who has been inducted into the game of poetry) is able to glean a deeper insight from poetry than Wittgenstein would be willing to allow.”

The Thick of Things

It can be well worth one’s time to read unfashionable philosophy, and doubly so when one is able to read it with a mindfulness of the thinkers that are being celebrated in the modern day. When one does this, questions about the provenance of ideas and human capacities that tend to be held just beneath the surface are able to shoot up into view. Good ideas, and good questions, can be found in many places, and reading those people who are not the toast of the modern academy is an excellent way to be reminded of that fact. This essay puts together two men, one fashionable and the other not, who lived in the same period and, for most of their lives, lived in the same country.

As far as I am aware, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Owen Barfield never met. Barfield knew of Wittgenstein, and mentioned him briefly in one of his essays, but I…

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Words

“No word has the exact value of any other in the same or in another language.” — George Santayana, in The Sense of Beauty
 
 

Babel, Tower Of

In The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense, John Ralston Saul offers this opening to his entry, “Babel, Tower Of” —

“Multilingualism remains the source of movement and growth in a civilization. The ability to fill the house of reality, intellect, and imagination with different furniture is a great pleasure and a great strength.”

‘We are symbols and inhabit symbols’

“We are symbols and inhabit symbols; workmen, work, and tools, words and things, birth and death, all are emblems; but we sympathize with the symbols, and being infatuated with the economical use of things, we do not know that they are thoughts.” — Emerson, in “The Poet”

To clarify a little bit, a symbol is fully itself, and it stands for something else.

Calvinism leans on this fallacy

Thanks to Randy Ferebee for sharing Ben Irwin’s series on his departure from Calvinism.

In Part 9 of the series, Irwin says something that deals with part of the backdrop for my post about the John Piper-Charles Spurgeon perspective on predestination and predetermination.

That backdrop deals with how language is used, and whether language can be used, to discuss an inspired text with any sense of clarity.

On a related note, Irwin writes:

“In linguistics, there’s a fallacy known as illegitimate totality transfer. It’s when you take one possible meaning of a word and read it into every occurrence without regard for context. (For example, ‘green’ can be an idiom for money. But that doesn’t mean ‘green’ always means money.)

“We run a similar risk when we read the accounts of people like Abraham and Moses. We see they were chosen by God in some way, so we assume everyone who comes to know God was predestined in exactly the same way. But on what basis?” — from The day the tulip died, part 9, by Ben Irwin

“Illegitimate totality transfer” sounds a lot like a particularly philosophical use of “equivocation” and “equivocal” meanings.

As I noted in my post, John Piper seems to think along the following lines: if God predetermined certain things, like Jesus’s betrayer, then God must have predetermined everything.

He goes on to say some people have driven themselves mad by trying to figure out how God can predetermine (not merely predestine) everything, even the position of a dust speck in a sunbeam, thus nullifying all human choosing (while still holding humans responsible).

Maybe that’s because pondering madness begets madness.