Is Language a Social Art?

And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

  • Exodus 20:1-17

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

  • Hebrews 13:7-8

“Some philosophers assert that language is about the relationship between words and things. Quine, however, disagrees. Language is not about the relationship between objects and verbal signifiers, but about knowing what to say and when to say it. It is, he says in his 1968 essay Ontological Relativity, a social art.
“Quine suggests the following thought experiment. Imagine that we come across some people-perhaps natives of another country-who speak a language we do not share. We are sitting with a group of these people when a rabbit appears, and one of the natives says ‘gavagai.’ We wonder if there can be a connection between the event—the appearance of the rabbit—and the fact that the native says ‘gavagai’ As time goes on, we note that every time a rabbit appears, somebody says ‘gavagai’, so we conclude that ‘gavagai’ can be reliably translated as rabbit. But, Quine insists, we are wrong. ‘Gavagai’ could mean all manner of things. It could mean ‘oh, look, dinner!’ for example, or it could mean ‘behold, a fluffy creature!’ If we wanted to determine the meaning of ‘gavagai’, we could try another method. We could point to other fluffy creatures (or other things on the dinner menu) and see if our utterance of ‘gavagai’ met with assent or dissent. But even if we were to reach a position where, in each and every occasion on which ‘gavagai’ was uttered, we ourselves would utter the word ‘rabbit’, we still could not be sure that this was an appropriate translation. ‘Gavagai’ could mean ’set of rabbit parts’ or ‘wood-living rabbit’ or ‘rabbit or hare’; it might even refer to a short prayer that must be uttered whenever a rabbit is seen.
“In attempting to establish the precise meaning of this mysterious ‘gavagai’, therefore, we might think that the solution would be to learn the language of our informants thoroughly, so that we could be absolutely sure of the contexts in which the word was spoken. But this would only result in multiplying the problem, because we could not be sure that the other words we found ourselves using to explain the meaning of ‘gavagai’ were themselves accurate translations.
“Quine refers to this problem as the ‘indeterminacy of translation’, and it has unsettling implications. It suggests that ultimately words do not have meanings. The sense of somebody uttering ‘gavagai’ (or, for that matter, ‘rabbit’), and of this utterance being meaningful comes not from some mysterious link between words and things, but from the patterns of our behavior, and the fact that we have learned to participate in language as a social art.”

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

Willard van Orman Quine (1908-2000) was a follower of Bertrand Russell, like Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was discussed in The Limits of Language Limit our World.  Quine takes his thoughts to a strange place.

One of the illustrations for the article on Quine shows a drawing of a rabbit, or is it a gavagai?  And then there are meanings associated with the “creature”: animal spirit, pest, dinner, and pet.  I agree with three of the descriptions.  I have probably eaten rabbit.  I think I had rabbit stew once, and I may have had rabbit in Germany.  I wrote an article about rabbits as a pest, and my next-door neighbor loves her pet rabbit – always one at a time, with fresh turned soil for the next internment in her rabbit graveyard.  She prefers flop-eared rabbits.  There are wild rabbits all over our hill.  Some neighbors may indeed consider them pests.

If you are wondering, gavagai is only a word from Quine’s imagination.

But I do not know if Quine would approve of the modern progressive movement and the constant changing of language so that dictionaries, if printed, are out of date before the ink is dry.

Rev. David Robertson, the Wee Flea ( speaks about this fluidity in the language as an evil attack.  While we change and society changes, God does not change.  But if the meaning of words, according to Quine is meaningless, or the meaning changes as the wind changes, then the Bible becomes impossible to read in the context in which it was written.  Love becomes hate – as it has in many social circles.  Good becomes bad – as it was in a recent fad and in pop culture.

But the essence of Jesus Christ does not change although the words might.  Jesus is The Truth.  Even though many deny any objective truth, they will one day realize their error.  We can build upon the Truth in Jesus.  There is a strong foundation there, and as Hans-Georg Gadamer (LINK HERE) stated that history depends upon the time in which that history took place.  All history, according to Gadamer, is written with the prejudices and biases of the time that it was written.  Thus, rewriting history, as many are doing today, not only erases that history but also a glimpse into the society and culture of that time.  Dangerous and tragic at the same time.

But with the social movement to rewrite history merging with the instantaneous fluidity of language, there is an evil brewing in the hearts of some people to erase our ability to think.  The Bible, they think, will become meaningless.  God will see to it that the Bible remains relevant until the last days.  But, these same people think that without the ability to think, we will rely on the governments of the world, who in turn, will lead us into slavery and eventually our doom, all for the profit of the governments.

Let us grasp hold of our intellect and our knowledge and our spiritual knowledge that Jesus is Savior if only we believe and trust in Him.

Please, before it is too late.

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.

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