The Limits of Language Limits Our World

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

  • Genesis 11:1-9

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

  • Ephesians 6:12

“Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico—Philosophicus is perhaps one of the most forbidding texts in the history of 20th-century philosophy. Only around 70 pages long in its English translation, the book is made up of a series of highly condensed and technical numbered remarks.
“In order to appreciate the full significance of the
Tractatus, it is important to set it within its philosophical context. The fact that Wittgenstein is talking about the ‘limits’ of my language and my world sets him firmly within the philosophical tradition that stems from the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. In The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant set out to explore the limits of knowledge by posing questions such as ‘What can I know?’ and ‘What things will lie forever outside of human understanding?’ One reason that Kant asked such questions was that he believed many problems in philosophy arose because we fail to recognize the limitations of human understanding. By turning our attention back onto ourselves and asking about the necessary limits of our knowledge, we can then either resolve, or even perhaps dissolve, nearly all of the philosophical problems of the past.
Tractatus tackles the same kind of task that Kant did, but does so in a far more radical fashion. Wittgenstein states that he is setting out to make clear what can be meaningfully said. In much the same way that Kant strives to set the limits of reason, Wittgenstein wants to set the limits of language and, by implication, of all thought. He does this because he suspects that a great deal of philosophical discussion and disagreement is based on some fundamental errors in how we go about thinking and talking about the world.”

  • Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) starting writing his Tractatus while in a prisoner of war camp in World War I.  It was published in 1921.  He felt he had solved all philosophical arguments with this work, so he became an itinerant schoolteacher, gardener and architect until someone dared to criticize his work in philosophy.  Why criticize him?  He had been a student of Bertrand Russell.  His logic was sound!  So, he returned to Cambridge and became a professor there in 1939.

One of the big problems in the world today is language.  It seems that the story of the tower of Babel is reliving itself as words change meaning in a nanosecond, or so it seems.  There was a time when good became bad, until good really was bad and not just in slang.

I have written about how certain groups, several of them, that complain about being marginalized, keep changing what they wish to be called, seemingly to keep everyone else off balance.  If you do not keep your finger on the pulse of that group, you will lose track and thus you will be called dirty names for being a bigot, a “something”-aphobe, or an idiot.  “Hey, I just took a thirty-minute nap!  Let me catch up!”  No, you are now forever labeled by people who hate being labeled themselves, because forgiveness no longer exists.

And have you noticed how forgiveness is denigrated, just as “father and mother” and a variety of other wholesome things.  It is all an attack on God.  Or is the word “God” really God today?  It changes by the hour.  If I have offended anyone by this statement, come back tomorrow and the pendulum may swing in the right direction.  If not, there is no hope for this world.

But enough of language.  A series of carefully laid out logic statements may seem to be unassailable, but there is an unseen world that defies Logic.

Our mind can go off the rails into strange places.  Where do you think fiction comes from?  Within fiction, where does fantasy or science fiction come from?  And any talk of an unseen God or especially the Holy Spirit would be beyond Logic, unless your mind and heart have experienced them.

Yes, God gave us the choice between good and evil.  He also gave us the choice between good, better, and best.  But then there are compromises.  Do we fall short of “best” due to lack of manpower, lack of funds, or lack of fresh ideas?  And if the fresh ideas keep coming, do you ever stop and say enough is enough?  The better is better than best because it is finished and functional.  If we wait for best, we never get the product to market.

I have heard it said in Christian circles, “Why do you strive to be perfect, to be like Jesus?  You know that is impossible.”

Yes, I know the goal, here on earth, is impossible.  I am living proof of that impossibility as I continue to make mistakes, but I must keep striving, for my heart’s desire is Jesus.  I can think of nothing else that matters in life.

And maybe that is why Wittgenstein’s philosophy sprung a leak.  The Logical touched the Eternal and all those logical arguments began to unravel.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


Add yours →

  1. Very impressive post. The tower of Babel is springing back to modern life. This is very spiritually profound idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your idea has been recorded in my journal… Which means it got me thinking 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. According to the Buddhism, the self does not really exist!


    According to Robert Trivers, self-deception evolved to outwit the masses more convincingly!


    According to Trivers, deception gives an advantage during a competition (for mates or foods or shelters) at all levels of interaction, from groups to individuals to genes!


    We evolved to believe in the existence of a mind to better deceive other survival machines like us!


    • Thank you for your comments. Again, language becomes the issue here. Some of these comments could be explained by different words, other than evolution, and different mechanisms. And it is highly possible, even probable, that Trivers has self-deceived himself.


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