Grammar-Matters in Life and Politics [10-20-14]

 Dear Friends;

While my students had almost grown accustomed to my use of the word ‘grammar’ in my lecturing and discussions, it was still something of a surprise to see my first book entitled A Grammar of Christian Faith: Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine. Early in that text I mention Plato’s discussion in his Euthyphro about how words get up and walk around on us. In almost all of his texts Plato understood his prime intellectual task to be searching through and clarifying what we mean when we utter or write sentences and make arguments and claims about ‘what is the case’ or ‘what is true’ in some particular context of controversy.

In some philosophical circles in the last century, it was widely proposed that philosophy was not so much about making truth claims about morals and ultimate matters of fact, but about clarifying our talk about such matters and much more. Or sometimes it would be said that philosophy is about ‘conceptual analysis’ of our language when we talk about the subject matters of ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and even in everyday life, such as politics. We need the conceptual or grammatical analysis because the way we and others sometimes talk gives the impression that ‘language has gone on a holiday’, as Wittgenstein was reputed to have said/written. And when someone’s language has gone on a holiday, even though it gives the impression of being serious talk, honesty and truthfulness in public discourse suffer mayhem.

I am hopeful that the few steady readers of postings on this web site are aware that I fancy myself as trying to perform ‘grammatical analyses’ on how we talk about matters in politics, public life, church life and make proposals for how it might be more helpful and truthful to talk the way I was recommending.

Occasionally I recommend the writings of others that seem to me to bristle with clarity about controversial matters that become overwrought and cluttered by only airy or gaseous expressions. Well, today in the NYTimes section labelled “The Stone” is an essay by Tomis Kapitan, a philosopher previously unknown to me, on the grammar of “terror” and “terrorist’ in our public political discourse. After you have read this essay, I hope it will be clear just how confusing and sometimes dangerous our public political discourse can become when the pundits and politicians use their writings and speakings to obfuscate the truth in the interest of persuasion for some political purpose and gain. Or, how politicians and pundits can get away with talking dangerous nonsense in which truth has gone on a holiday.

Read and weep. And comments welcomed.



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Dorothy Messenger

responded on 10/23/14

Thank you, Joe, for your own words and for the attached article.  Both were very helpful, and crucial to our understanding of what’s going on in the world right now and a warning to us,as individuals, to be careful about our own “grammar” and fuzzy thinking.  Dorothy Messenger