[lit-ideas] Re: Must the Word be Literate?

  • From: Eric Dean <ecdean99@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2007 14:21:44 +0000

[OK, this time I remembered to adjust the Subject line when replying to 
John McCreery writes:
“Nowadays, we doubt the possibility of constructing this perfect language. The 
incompleteness theorems imply that any attempt will end in an infinite regress. 
But Wittgenstein's conclusion that we cannot talk about the really important 
things is far from novel; it has been the stock in trade of mystics for 
centuries. After all, "The Dao that can be spoken is not the Dao." The true 
name of God is unsayable. The point of meditation is to free the mind of words. 
“My anthropological question is whether, empirically, there is any evidence of 
people thinking this way about language in the absence of writing. Or, in other 
words, is writing the model for the Word that shapes the world but cannot, at 
the end of the day, comprehend it?”
A minor point: the incompleteness theorems do not imply that any attempt to 
develop a perfect language [i.e. one in which all and only true statements 
could be asserted] ends in an infinite regress; they imply that any attempt to 
*prove* that one has such a language would fail.  The only sense I can see in 
which that failure would be an infinite regress would derive from mushing the 
incompleteness theorems together with the halting problem and asserting that 
the attempt to prove a language perfect would encounter some theorem the 
attempt to prove which would involve executing a procedure that would never 
Be that as it may, I suspect John’s substantive question is one for which there 
cannot be ‘empirical’ evidence in the sense in which I take John to be using 
the word.  In that sense, I take ‘empirical’ to mean something the assessment 
of which is independent of the assessor, in some relevant and significant 
sense.  Since we who would gather such evidence already have language with 
writing, how could we ever know whether we were imposing tacit presumptions 
derived from our being members of a writing culture on the otherwise 
purportedly empirical evidence we might gather, presumptions which might, from 
God’s vantage point, if we could ever occupy it, be decisive?
Another question:  Can God rightly be said to speak a language, in the sense in 
which a language is distinct from that which is spoken?  Asked another way, is 
there perhaps no distinction between _langue_ and _parole_ in God’s language?  
A variant on the question of whether God loves virtue because it’s good, or 
virtue is good because God loves it.
Regards to one and all
Eric Dean
En route from Phoenix to Washington DC

Other related posts: