Thursday, March 12, 2009

You have my word that my word is good for nothing…

Fair is fair. For the past month or so, unBeguiled has been a regular interlocutor on these digital premises, commenting on nearly all of my posts. And I have to thank him. The challenges presented by his retorts, while, I admit, not always satisfactorily rigorous in my opinion, have really helped me clarify my grasp and exposition of ArisThomistic truth on a number of issues. He has a blog too, of course, so, after weeks of him adding his two cents about my two cents, I decided to add my own two cents about his two cents.

In one post, unBeguiled admits a fondness for the ontological (Anselmian) argument. A fondness, however, that only sweetens his more basic rejection of it. In a word, he says, the argument fails because it attempts to prove the existence of something––God––just by virtue of being able to imagine it. "My bottom line response," he pronounces, "is that we can't just declare by fiat that part of a thing's definition is that it exists." So, he concludes:

Language is useful, but we should not take it too seriously. Whatever we might think words can tell us about the actual world is irrelevant. Reality relentlessly imposes itself, regardless of what we say or think.

That's right: "Whatever … words can tell us about the actual world is irrelevant," said the man, using words, to explain reality.

I am reminded of the man who preached a sermon on the non-reality of human speech, or the woman who wrote a book on the meaninglessness of words, or the solipsist who threw a party for her friends.

I must ask, Why is it illegitimate that some definitions entail existence, but some definitions entail non-existence? That is, if language is totally irrelevant to establishing the truth about reality, why can it do a very good job of specifying and delimiting non-reality?

A "square circle" is a perfectly legitimate linguistic entity, since it uses phonemes, graphemes, and syntax in all the right ways, but it is a totally illegitimate concept in reality. Is, then, such a linguistic entity, as one among many examples, truly irrelevant to pointing out important things about reality? If it is not, by what criterion dooes one exclude, say, the ontological argument from revealing an important truth about reality?

Further, can unBeguiled, or any critic of the same mind, so sure that no definition entails existence? What, for instance, is the definition of "the present moment"? Or of "a real pair of shoes"? How about "a necessarily existent entity"?

Finally, would he grant that a necessarily existent being is possible?

No comments: