Language is the primary means by which humans experience, interpret, and master reality. To say that language is essential to the human experience should be obvious enough for without language thought is not possible. What has troubled the postmodern mind is that our most common of realities, the thing that most directly presents itself to us, is not at all certain, at least by the measure that most desire for certainty.
In modern times, the fundamental quest that undergirds the philosophical quest is the quest for certainty… to know and so to master. But if the very means by which we know is compromised, that is language, then it seems as though the whole human enterprise of knowledge and mastery is built on sand.
It is in fact, not built on sand. It is built on rock. The metaphysical rock that is the primary logos, the unmoved mover, in other words, God. But we will defer that defense for another time and at least say that language is built on a kind of natural faith, an intuition that there is order and reason to things and that my common sense experience is in fact real.
Let’s make this point real simple.
I use a cup every day. I say the word cup, and I know what that word means. This is perhaps one of the most universal concept to all languages and cultures. A man would be considered mad if he doubted that cups exist.
But what exactly is a cup? How do I define it? That is where the magic happens.
Let’s take this very straightforward definition that I found on Google, “1. a small bowl-shaped container for drinking from, typically having a handle. 2. an ornamental trophy in the form of a cup, usually made of gold or silver and having a stem and two handles, awarded as a prize in a contest.”
If you really look at it, the core concept of cup is not isolated from other concepts, but rather it is located in a network of other words and concepts. Small, bowl-shaped, container…. etc. But yet a cup doesn’t have to be small, and who defines what is small or big? And then there is the sense between definition one and definition two that the concept of cup is used in different contexts to mean different things but mysteriously the different uses point back to the concept of cup.
We know this intuitively. Anyone who doesn’t understand this either has a mental deficiency or is mentally ill. And yet the leap between the network of words and concepts and the main identity of the word cup cannot be proven or demonstrated with any direct methodology. The connect is accepted by a kind of faith. The good atheist should take a pause here. Faith is the boogeyman of the so called scientific man.
How can I accept on faith that the concept of a cup is actually a real thing when it cannot be proven by empirical research. I even think if we asked a thousand people to define a cup to arrive at the concept by a kind of consensus, even then the picture would not be as precise as 1+1 equals 2.
We can say that even within the network of natural relations, we walk by faith which is a kind of sight. When the scripture says,”We walk by faith and not by sight,” It refers to supernatural realities. But on a natural level, we walk by a similar kind of faith and we hold all things to be consistent by the same kind of natural faith.