• Knowledge,  Language,  Truth

    The Search for Meaning, Truth and Knowledge.

    I have been perusing an old book by Simon Blackburn called Spreading the Word. In it, Blackburn has a very helpful little section describing the relationship between mind, language, and the world in the form of a triangle the corners of which are connected to one another by theories. The mind corner is connect to the world by a theory of knowledge and connected to the language corner by a theory of meaning. The world corner is connected to the language corner by a theory of truth. The idea is that one chooses a corner from which to develop theories for the sides. The task then becomes ensuring that one’s corner contains…

  • Apologetics,  Ethics,  Language

    Language Use and the Existence of God

    Natural human language-use entails moral obligations, specifically objective obligations between persons. All of these obligations are routinely broken (see Twitter). These obligations are both objective and social. They depend on being objective and not merely an expression of a particular preference or culture. They also depend on the existence of a social context composed of more than one person. As Nicholas Wolterstorff claims, “speaking is, through and through, a normative engagement.” Wolterstorff suggests three norms and provides examples: (i) speech should be related rightly to the mental state of the speaker. If the speaker asserts something he ought to believe it. If the speaker promises something, he ought to intend to fulfill…

  • Apologetics,  Language

    From Language to God: An Argument

    Children acquire natural languages. How they are capable of doing so is mysterious. A child appears to go from learning a few words and sentences to knowing how to construct infinite sentences in her learned language. Such a mystery provoked a long-lasting debate between empiricists and nativists.  Empiricists about language acquisition hold that there is no innate knowledge ‘in the mind’ of a language learner without which the learner could not acquire a natural language. Nativists, by contrast, hold that there must be some innate feature of human minds (beyond the mere dispositional power to learn) that makes language acquisition possible for human beings. In order to explain the phenomena…

  • Cognition,  Language,  Mind

    Capacities and Abilities

    A capacity is kind of power, but it is not the same as an ability. An ability is a power that an agent has to perform some action. In contrast, a capacity is “a causal power…an invariable disposition to react to certain determinate changes in the environment in certain determinate ways.” (Van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will, 10-11). However, an ability is “a power to originate changes in the environment.” For example, Van Inwagen distinguishes between the capacity to understand and the ability to speak.  The distinction lies in the fact that though someone who can understand French has no choice over whether or not to understand French sentences when he…

  • Ethics,  Language,  Politics

    Generous Interpretation – The Bedrock of Good Relations

    Relationships only work when we generally impute good motives to the speakers of sentences. Due to the nature of natural human languages, vagueness and ambiguity are inevitable in speech. Every-day talk is not supposed to be precise. But it works well because we assume the best of other people. At least in public discourse in America, this assumption is no longer true. It seems we assume the worst motives in other people (at least of those whose political opinions are not the same as our own). Even when we agree with them, we appear unable to impute good motives to our opponents (let alone when we disagree). One’s policy in…

  • Language,  Philosophy of Language,  Theology,  Trinity

    Language and Fellowship

    “Aphasia, the loss of language following a brain injury, is devastating, and in severe cases family members may feel that the whole person is lost forever.” (Stephen Pinker, The Language Instinct, 2). Is fellowship possible without language? I don’t mean without the constant presence of language. Two people might not talk for a while but feel close to one another, but what if they never spoke to one another. What if, in the very nature of things, no one spoke? I suppose we could not know what our fellowship would be like. Would we be able to communicate in some way – by looking at each other? Perhaps we really…

  • Language,  Philosophy of Linguistics

    The Logical Problem of Language Acquisition

    In a recent interview, linguist, Noam Chomsky, repeated his claim that there must be some innate feature of human beings that makes it possible for them to acquire natural languages: “No one holds that the rules of language are innate. Rather, the faculty of language has a crucial genetic component. If that were not true, it would be a miracle that children acquire a language. That is obvious from the first moment of birth, when the child begins to pick out linguistically relevant information from the noisy environment, then following a predictable course of acquisition which, demonstrably, goes far beyond the evidence available, from the simplest words on to complex…

  • Apologetics,  Language,  Philosophy of Linguistics

    From Sentences to God

    From a very young age, we can recognize the quality of sentences. We evaluate sentences according to some standard, some criteria of good, bad, better, or worse. If God created the world then it is likely that he would endow human beings with some way to recognize good and bad sentences according to some standard. One might think that this would entail that human beings know what makes sentences good or bad. But recognition of the value of an entity does not entail knowing what makes it valuable. This is true of good and bad actions as much as it is true of good or bad sentences. One might not…