Saturday, March 5, 2011

Language and Reason

Pyman discusses Florensky's attempt at "an answer to the eighteenth-century dispute between Church and Enlightenment as to whether language is God's gift to man or the creation of the peoples who speak it and the individuals who us it. Florensky's take of this dispute is conciliatory:
it is precisely in this contradiction, and in its extreme acuity, that language as eternal, steadfast, unchanging Reason, as pre-human Logos, is in fact conceivable as something at the same time infinitely close to the soul of each one of us, affectionately supple to the heart, personal in its every moment, its every movement and expressive of utmost individuality."
I see what Florensky's getting at here, but my suspicion here is that the Church and the Enlightenment were both wrong, and that even a conciliatory view of their positions is insufficient. I'm more convinced by a view of language as a cultural artifact, a "product of human action but not human design." I am a skeptic when it comes to language being so closely tied to "eternal, steadfast, unchanging Reason." There is a reason why words are so hard to define, why Socratic dialogs never reach firm conclusions. Language is grown; it does not transcend the created order, but is a product of the physical passage of time.

In other words, no matter how in tune we are with eternal truth, we still have no firm or final way to express this. "Out of the mouths of babes and infants..."

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