Ruminating on Michael Polanyi's epistemic model as developed and conveyed by Dr. Esther Lightcap Meek in the book Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Brief Meditation on Words

Meaning is transcendent. Words are immanent. There is a transcendent Word. We speak words because we are made in the image of the Word, "that Word above all earthly powers"1 that was in the beginning with God, that was God, through Whom all things were made2. God said. He spoke, and it was.3 (I'm using the terms "transcendent" and "immanent" here in the technical philosophical sense.)

This is why words, when used as words, tend to function more like "clues" than like premises, even when structured like premises. The pattern they form points, not only to something beyond themselves, but ultimately beyond the material realm itself. I say "when used as words" because of the modern tendency to individualize, which manifests itself linguistically in the tendency to think of each word as a container of specific meaning. An individual word is not a clue to anything, in the LtK, sense, because it's not part of a pattern. A word out of context can have no certain meaning. Think you disagree? Bug. What does that word mean?

This is also why, when Western philosphy followed Kant down the Road to Nowhere (which, Ozzie Ozbourne tells us, leads to him - and in a sense he's right), we ended in linguistic deconstructionism. If the immanent can have no connection to the transcendent, then words are meaningless. Then they, like all else in the material realm, can be nothing more than tools for each individual to use for his own petty ends.

But if immanent words need not contain transcendent meaning, but need only form patterns that point to it, then we can retrace our steps back up from despair. Ultimately, in order to embrace words, we must embrace the Word.