Tag 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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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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More Barfield, This Time on Logos

This Owen Barfield quotation might strike some of you as interesting. I’m posting it just as food for thought:

“The extraordinarily intimate connection between language and thought (the Greek word λóγος combined, as we should say, both meanings) might lead one to expect that the philosophers at least would have turned their attention to the subject long ago. And so, indeed, they did, but with a curiously disproportionate amount of interest. The cause of this deficiency is, I think, to be found in the fact that Western philosophy, from Aristotle onwards, is itself a kind of offspring of Logic. To anyone attempting to construct a metaphysic in strict accordance with the canons and categories of formal Logic, the fact that the meanings of words change, not only from age to age, but from context to context, is certainly interesting; but it is interesting solely because it is a nuisance.”

— from Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, which at least one book publisher described as “The seminal text that inspired Tolkien and C.S. Lewis”

Poetic Diction

 

Words

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

How some atheists might do circular reasoning

Last week, I introduced “circular reasoning” to my students. It’s not only about bad reasoning; it makes for bad sentences, too!

Before that class, I had searched Google Images for illustrations and cartoon strips related to circular reasoning. So many of the them related to Christian circular reasoning:

The Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it is the Word of God because the Word of God is the Bible.

That’s just a quick summation.

Not being particularly annoyed with that kind of illustration of circular reasoning, I did become a little annoyed at the sheer number of these things in the Google Image results. The sheer number seemed a little too triumphant, and to my way of thinking, triumphalism is poor taste even when you’re trying to answer annoyingly triumphant opponents.

Then, walking to the library a bit later on that class day, the following occurred to me, about how some atheists might be equally circular:

There is no supernatural dimension or anything beyond observable nature. Unexplained phenomena ultimately have a natural explanation because there is no supernatural dimension because all things have a natural explanation. 

Perhaps crudely put, here in the library during an hour’s break, but the above is basically an operating premise for many atheists, and a circular one.

If you’ve read any of this blog lately, you know I’ve tried to record and analyze the nonsense and unhealthiness in American Christianity. I agree with the circularity of the Bible-is-the-Word-of-God-because-it-says-so. This blog could say it is the Word of God and you could even feel like it is the Word of God, but would that mean anything in any ultimate sense? No.

That circularity does not make an atheistic argument non-circular.

Why say, “My natural senses have never detected anything supernatural; therefore there is no supernatural”? It seems like “natural senses” would by definition not be “supernatural senses.”

Just to be crystal clear, the existence of the word “supernatural” and the phrase “supernatural senses” do not create or necessitate any kind of supernatural realm any more than the existence of the word Narnia creates a real place.

Some tangentially related things bugging me:

  • Why should anything in a supernatural dimension have to meet my standards of natural proof?
  • But if we claim to know there’s a supernatural realm, then our knowing might be based on natural experience, which is manipulable.
  • What is the survival function of our ability to imagine a greater, supernatural realm? What is the evolutionary necessity of believing in an imaginary supernatural realm? (These questions spurred in part by something I once heard Malcolm Guite say at a C.S. Lewis conference.) If the supernatural realm is only a delusion, what evolutionary purpose does a belief in the supernatural — especially such a belief among otherwise sane and intelligent people — serve for survival and reproduction?

‘The Spirit of Abstraction’

“As soon as we accord to any category, isolated from all other categories, an arbitrary primacy, we are victims of the spirit of abstraction.” — Gabriel Marcel, in Man Against Mass Society

Gabriel Marcel was a French philosopher and playwright.

I have Marcel’s book Creative Fidelity, an essay collection that I’ve wanted to read for years, but when I dip into it, I rarely get very far due to fatigue or interruptions. I found the above quotation here, in a clear, interesting, and I might even say theological, article on Marcel’s life and work.

Marcel’s work is rich, but here I decided to focus on “abstraction” because it is precisely what I was worried about when I was thinking through the rhetoric and points of reference used by some evangelical leaders to address or comment on ministerial scandals during the past two years.

(I attempted a concrete example of such abstraction from Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch in this post written in the early days of the Mark Driscoll scandal. The above quotation from Marcel would have fit nicely in the post.)

If you’re as curious about Gabriel Marcel as I am, you might like these web portals:

Rockhurst University in Kansas, Mo., has a Gabriel Marcel Society.

Neumman University in Aston, Pa., is home to Marcel Studies, an online, peer-reviewed journal.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Henry Ransom Humanities Research Center has an online Gabriel Marcel inventory of materials available at the center.

I might as well end with another good Marcel quotation, this one challenging my affinity for Stoicism — and, more importantly, reminding us that hope is communal, that hope takes place in community. From his book Tragic Wisdom and Beyond:

“No doubt the solitary consciousness can achieve resignation [Stoicism], but it may well be here that this word actually means nothing but spiritual fatigue. For hope, which is just the opposite of resignation, something more is required. There can be no hope that does not constitute itself through a we and for a we. I would be tempted to say that all hope is at the bottom choral.”

What a great way to think about a genuine community: hope embodied, a choral hope.

Another win for the biblical worldview

Updated below

 
She was just a woman trying to live a biblical life. What went wrong? Just a lack of common sense, or does a “biblical worldview” allow for common sense?

Update:

Is it really so difficult for U.S. Christian leaders to recognize the uselessness of the word “biblical“? The word has become its own glittering generality, a beautiful sounding, emotion-evoking word that has little established, common meaning.

“Biblical” is no longer substantive, and it should not be used. When you watch the video above, and you consider the enormous range of uses for the word “biblical,” you have to come to the conclusion that it is an empty word at best.

That is not to say a point of view cannot be informed by a thorough reading of the Bible and an understanding of interpretative points of view throughout history.

But don’t kid yourself — the people who are damaging others with the use of the word “biblical” are far greater in number than those who can read thoroughly and contextually, and even they could still be wrong.

After all, there is little consensus among interpreters.