Defining Moments


D.A. Ridgely

D.A. Ridgely holds degrees in philosophy and law. (He doesn't really hold them, they just hang there on the wall or peek out as initials after his name. (Actually, that isn't true, either. Those are mere symbols giving evidence of his possession of those degrees. (“Possession,” strictly speaking, being a metaphor of sorts.))) (He is overly fond of parenthetical expressions.)

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19 Responses

  1. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    I think you ultimately may be right about meaning of words. But, as you know, a lot of folks out there — indeed, especially of the “Christian America” crowd, but also their critics who happen to be religious believers — believe words to have more precise meanings. As in “Christians believe in a Triune God.” And therefore, “Mormons are not Christians.” They can dicker over whether Rome, Byzantium, Luther-Calvin, or Henry VIII got it right. They can also come together and assert whatever “Christianity” means, it means at least this, but not that.

    I think the FFs did push a more generic, less defined meaning of terms like “religion” and “Christianity,” precisely because of the shed blood to which you refer. Yet, it’s the Christian Americanists — at least the churches where David Barton popularly gives his lectures — who proceed with the ‘true essential definition’ of ‘Christian,’… You can look it up in their creeds and confessions.Report

  2. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Very nice, DAR. Terms are only useful when there is good faith agreement on their meaning. They’re like currency, which has no intrinsic value, but makes the marketplace a helluva lot easier to negotiate. [A bottle of wine for half a shoe? 3/4 of a shoe?]

    Quite right about “justice” in particular. One can run that one all the way down the road to “social justice” to the recent and very unfortunate Happy Meal “food justice.”Report

  3. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    We went through a sort of Socrates phase here and something that might have come up then (I can’t really remember) was an idea some people argue that, in spite of the fact that Socrates gripes about writing so often, it’s still a somewhat new technology and the Forms reflect that strangeness- words as well being physical forms like you’re reading here. So the idea of words as corresponding to essential things might be important to him because they now existed in actual phonetic lettered form. A written word really is something strange when you think about it. If you read English, you can’t look at any of these words without them existing in your mind.

    Not sure where I’m going with that, but you’re right that he really does overstate it quite a bit.Report

  4. “Until you consider how much blood has been shed by those who have failed to grasp it.”

    Not being snarky — what are you talking about here?Report

  5. Avatar D.A. Ridgely says:

    Those who have been willing both to kill and to die because they “knew the truth” their opponents failed to accept or acknowledge.Report

    • Sorry. I was tired and asked too broad a question. I meant: which wars/events are you characterizing this way? I’m not going to argue the cases; I’m just curious.Report

      • Avatar RTod in reply to William Brafford says:

        Since Washington and the FFs were kind of a jumping off point for these threads, it seems that most of the 1600s and 1700s London is a pretty good example. In fact, it is widely held that the constant violence between Catholics and Protestants during this time was a prime motivator for the FFs ultimately choosing to not allow a State sponsored religion.

        But I think you can look at almost anytime in history and find examples. I know that for political reasons the US government always talked about the Bosnian conflicts as a territorial issue, but in fact the conflict (which is a thousand years old) is really one of who is a real Christian and who is a heretic. And the Bush years were full of discussions on how to deal with similar (and similarly deadly) disagreements by groups who differed on what was real Islam in Iraq.Report

      • Oh, surely not all wars, etc. Most, after all, are for power and wealth and such however much we may drape them in the clothing of ideological or religious disputes. Moreover, I’d be loathe to suggest there is such a thing as pure motives in such matters. Pure in the sense of singular, that is. But the military expansion of Islam, the Crusades, European wars at least in part driven by the conflict of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, etc. are pretty good examples of the religious variety while, say, Pol Pot springs to mind on the ideological side.Report

  6. Avatar Heidegger says:

    DAR: “Those who have been willing both to kill and to die because they “knew the truth” their opponents failed to accept or acknowledge.”

    Has it ever been any other way in the last 100,000 years? And has every instance necessarily meant that one side did not, in fact, “know the truth”? “Appropriateness” just doesn’t logically follow the flow of your dialogue–a very harshly odd man out use of a word. Why do philosophers take such perverse delight in murdering the innate human longing for God as eternally manifested in Nature? Music? The celestial dance of the heavens?

    “There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
    The earth, and every common sight
    To me did seem
    Apparelled in celestial light,
    The glory and the freshness of a dream”

    The clouds that gather round the setting sun
    Do take a sober colouring from an eye
    That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
    Another race hath been, and other palms are won.

    “Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
    Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
    To me the meanest flower that blows can give
    Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”


  7. Avatar Max says:

    The tone of world-weary authority this post takes in dismissing:
    – the usefulness of definitions
    – the importance of definitions
    – the ability of words to have concrete meaning
    – oh, and Plato (and, presumably, a great deal of pre-Wittgenstein or at least pre-Nietzsche thought)

    is pretty laughable…Report

  8. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    I couldn’t agree more (with Ridgely).

    Perhaps I’m just in the middle of a tired phase, restless from rehashing old arguments and the manipulation of language I and nearly everyone does at some point or another to rationalize/prove/support our propositions about the world.

    For instance, with regard to the “Christian nation” question. Hell if I’m gona argue for hours to no avail that we are not a such a nation, or that no such nation ever has existed, only to be rebutted by the opposition that I “mis-characterized” the phrase, definition, etc.

    I’d love to enter into discussions with people’s definitions stated clearly ahead of time. Go ahead, set the ground rules for what all the terms and phrases mean and refer to. Then for once someone might build a helpful or at least an interesting artifice upon some stable ground.Report

  9. Avatar RTod says:

    I think I find myself simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing with our post, DA. I think the ultimate point (i.e.: “Which perhaps seems like a pretty trivial point. Until you consider how much blood has been shed by those who have failed to grasp it.”) is obviously true, and worth both pointing out and discussing.

    But there is something so post-modern and arbitrary about assuming that it is the fault of those darn conceptual words, and not an innate potential evil to human nature that can arise if unchecked, that seems like just an intellectual wordsmithing exercise – like we all used to have in our Freshman years over espresso right after our philosophy class.Report

    • Avatar D.A. Ridgely in reply to RTod says:

      Gawd forbid you encounter intellectual wordsmithing on a blog like this!

      Seriously, though, sure, the notion that merely flawed and naive understandings of the relationship between language and the world are primarily, let alone solely responsible for man’s inhumanity to man (to coin a phrase) is, per Max above, pretty laughable. To note that it might facilitate or aggravate our native inclination toward intolerance, on the other hand, strikes me as something well worth discussing with or without the espresso.Report

  10. Avatar JohnR says:

    Oh, screw that “essential Definition” crap. When I’m talking to someone, I want to know how he defines the terms he uses simply because we’re not really communicating until then. When you think you know what the other guy means (and vice versa), but you really don’t, that can escalate quickly. I mean, it can really get out of hand fast.Report

  11. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Most wars occur between people who speak different languages.

    I would think they understand each other too well, beyond language, and that’s what the fight’s about.Report

  12. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Meaning is fluid and overflows.Report