Forthcoming issue 4 of Renovatio
Published in Berkeley CA. Designed in Orgiva, Spain.
A paradox at the root of the question “What is language?” is that the answer will be expressed in language. Is language merely speech? Is it thought, or an expression of thought? In modern intellectual life, these are unsettled questions.
What other word today so escapes a consensus definition, yet is made to carry so much conceptual weight? Everything, from computers to genes, has “a language.” Rationality and language have become almost interchangeable, and to understand something means to understand its language. But if language is a new axis around which we organize philosophical questions about our world—superseding being, and then knowledge—what are the implications of remaining uncertain about the relationship between language and reality?
In the believer’s view, the free and virtually limitless nature of human language remains the stubborn holdout to the concept of the world as a machine without spirit. Also, in the tradition of Abrahamic faiths, the three language arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric have always ultimately represented a spiritual nature because they enable the mind to conceptualize quality from quantity.
Can the persistent enigma of language, perhaps, help us discover the path back to a more settled intellectual culture, wherein we can begin to once again place our trust in both words and things?
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