The Personalist Project

Comments (25)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Dec 26, 2011 9:05am

I agree, Gregory.  I've never understood why anyone thinks that doubt of the given is more rational than acceptance of the given.  It seems to me more like intellectual and psychological infirmity.

Michael Healy

#2, Dec 26, 2011 2:22pm

I also agree.  One can only begin to imagine what Hume is describing if you try to imagine yourself on a non-personal level.  But doesn't it take a person to imagine what might be going on on a lower level of being?  Do animals wonder what kind of a life-force is in plants?  

Yet Hume wants us to believe that our sense-impressions are combined via law of psychological association yielding the impression of meaninful connections, e.g., cause-effect. But how does Hume come up with such a theory if his mind only operates on the level he permits?

Gregory Borse

#3, Dec 27, 2011 12:21am

It's like what Chesterton said about what the anthropologists missed about the discovery of a pre-historic drawing in a cave of a water-buffulo by a man:  That it was a drawing of a water-buffulo by a man; not a drawing of a man by a water-buffulo. . . .

Gregory Borse

#4, Dec 27, 2011 12:40am

Which brings us back (at least) to Kant:  a lack of information is no basis upon which to draw a positive conclusion.  And,to Michael Healy:  this means that the intersection for meaning in reality is the person.  That's not a "bug" in the system--it's a feature.

Gregory Borse

#5, Dec 27, 2011 10:14pm

I wasn't being snarky to Dr. Healy, by the way--just agreeing and trying to point up the personalist angle regarding the post in the first place.  Katie pointed out about a week ago that one of my posts might be rightly criticized for throwing the baby out with the bathwater regarding post-Englightenment philosophy.  She was correct--so, I'm trying to be a bit more specific . . . .

Michael Healy

#6, Dec 28, 2011 6:51pm

I am not sure of the meaning of "snarky" but I must say I interpreted your comments only in a positive and supportive light--which I presume means non-snarky!

Gregory Borse

#7, Dec 28, 2011 6:58pm

I'm glad.  I re-read my comments and it occured to me that they might be interpreted as a "corrective" to your comments, rather than an elaboration inspired by your comments.  So, I'm glad you read them as intended.

And, adding to my "it's not a bug, it's a feature" remark, I'd like to add that I'm growing in my conviction that Derrida is the most misunderstood theorist of the 20th century because his devotees (of which he himself, I think, was increasingly uncomfortable) leapt upon the idea of deferring/difference to such an extent that they distorted what he really meant.  It really wasn't that Derrida meant that everything means nothing; it's rather almost the other way around:  each thing almost means everything (this dovetails with my comments on the fractal nature of reality).  But, I've got a lot of reading and thinking and writing to do to make this notion of mine (and I won't exactly impute it to Derrida) more comprehensible.

Katie van Schaijik

#8, Dec 30, 2011 9:18am

Gregory Borse, Dec. 28 at 6:58pm

Derrida is the most misunderstood theorist of the 20th century.... But, I've got a lot of reading and thinking and writing to do to make this notion of mine (and I won't exactly impute it to Derrida) more comprehensible.

I, for one, am looking forward to hearing your case.

Jules van Schaijik

#9, Dec 30, 2011 5:26pm

Gregory Borse, Dec. 27 at 12:40am

the intersection for meaning in reality is the person.

I've been wanting to say how much I like this phrase. I first read it while our dog, Baloo, was chewing up the nerf-darts that our children got for Christmas. Clearly he does not realize the difference between "bones" and "nerf-darts". He just chews whatever he can get his teeth on, without any regard to the meaning or purpose of the thing. (I've been very careful with the Lego pieces since then.)

Also, like Katie, I would love to learn more about Derrida.

Gregory Borse

#10, Dec 30, 2011 7:48pm

Thanks for your kind responses--sorry about the nerf-darts!  I'm feverishly putting final touches on a book I'm editing for Spring, so I'll be able to get to Derrida after it's put to bed (which should be soon).  In the meantime, I've been suspicious for some time that there was something about language that Derrida himself just could not bring himself to say--but which his writings ever point toward . . . that it is, at bottom, sacramental.  If you look through the prism of sacramentality at Derrida's notions regarding language, you begin to see that the "derridians" seem to have gotten it exactly backwards--either that, or this is entirely my own theory . . . .(not about Derrida, but about language itself).

Gregory Borse

#11, Dec 31, 2011 12:30am

Derrida was wrong--or else his devotees were totally wrong about what he meant:  It's not that language points to but never says.  It's that language always points and always says.  It's not that a word can never mean something or anything--it's the problem that a word, as a sacramental event, always means everything.  That's a problem.  And a miracle.  It's a miracle because a word only exists in someone's mouth--and each "someone" is a person and each, thereby, is a miraculous uniqueness.  So.  Each word, spoken as it is, is the expression of a once-in-a-universe event:  which is a fractal expression of everything.  Which can only be spoken once. 

Gregory Borse

#12, Dec 31, 2011 1:23am

And because it can only be spoken once, it must have a name . . . .

Josef Seifert

#13, Feb 21, 2012 4:43pm

There are a few things in what Gregory Borse is writing which I do not understand. He writes:

”it's the problem that a word, as a sacramental event, always means everything.” Why would a word mean everything? The word “dog” does not mean everything, neither a river nor a man, nor an angel, nor other animals, but just a dog!

Why is the word a “sacramental event”? In a sacrament, it can assume the role of being part of a sacramental event, but this does not apply to every word. How would the word “crocodile” be a sacramental event, or the word “damn it!”? The latter would even be part of a curse and thus of the contrary opposite of a sacramental event.

Even if you meant “sacramental” in a purely analogous sense and simply intended to say that through some wise or good words (outside sacraments), if they fall upon a ready heart, some gifts or graces can be in some way bestowed, this does not apply to every word. Thus you seem to empty the word sacramental of any real meaning and lead to a total inflation of the word “sacramental”.

Josef Seifert

#14, Feb 21, 2012 4:44pm

You also call each word “a miracle”  for the reason that “a word only exists in someone's mouth--and each ‘someone’ is a person and each, thereby, is a miraculous uniqueness.“

But the word as expressing a general meaning is not existing in someone’s mouth nor is it unique. Many use it. Even a name that refers to a unique individual is not in anybody’s mouth nor can the same name not be used by several persons. If you mean the physical word as flatus vocis, it may be unique and cannot be produced even by the same mouth twice, but this is hardly sufficient to make it a miracle. Would every noise and cough be a miracle according to you?

I am likewise unable to follow your reason for calling each word a miracle:

“each ‘someone’ is a person and each, thereby, is a miraculous uniqueness”.

Josef Seifert

#15, Feb 21, 2012 4:45pm

For while it is in many ways quite true that each person is a miracle – given the mysterious personal identity and individuality, the tremendous value and dignity of each person, and his or her eternal destiny, the mystery as to how a person who depends on a creator can be free and responsible, etc. – from this fact of each person being a natural miracle it cannot be inferred that each word, hiccup or less attractive noises he produces are miracles as well.

Thus I see in what you are saying also an inflation of the word miracle.

In sum, I fail to comprehend what appear to me, to put it bluntly in a “bull- or elephant-like style” of philosophical debate, somewhat outlandish claims. And I appeal to you to use such grand words as “sacramental” and “miracles” with utmost care so as not to devalue and deflate them nor give the impression of a sloppy or thoughtless way of using them. I say all this while enjoying many of your fine comments and the miracle you and the child on your shoulders are.

Gregory Borse

#16, Feb 21, 2012 5:46pm

Hi Josef!  First, let me say I appreciate your thoughtful comments.  I wasn't thinking so much, in writing about Derrida, that I was participating in a philosophical debate (with what rigor that demands) as trying to sketch out --in the sense of musing--my thoughts on my difficulties in reconciling what I've read about Derrida's writings by others with what I seem to intuit in them when I read him (difficult as he is for me).  I am thinking of the word-in-the-mouth as the miraculous; not the word divorced from the mouth (as it is in writing and to which Derrida has focused his considerable attention).  The word sacramental was used quite deliberately on my part however.  What seems to me to be intuited by Derrida, but which remains ever un-uttered, is the sacramental nature of language itself--as that "sign which effects that which it signifies."  Of course, you are right that to speak of language in fallen man's mouth in such a way is to conflate it with what is reserved, in Catholic thought, anyway, with those gifts given through the Church by her Groom, Christ.  My language was perhaps more poetical than rigorously philosophical in expression, to be sure.

Josef Seifert

#17, Feb 21, 2012 7:37pm

Dear Gregory! Thank you for your very kind reply and explanations. I still continue to have some of my difficulties, however, and think that even in a less rigorous discussion we should not say false things, for example that Derrida intuited, though he did not utter it, “the sacramental nature of language itself--as that ‘sign which effects that which it signifies.’" If that is now what you mean by sacramental (which a Catholic does indeed believe to happen in sacraments such as in the words of consecration), it does not  happen in all language; for example if we tell a fairy tale, our words do precisely not effect what they signify and while they present events as if they were real, they are totally incapable of making them so. Or when we utter a wish, ask a question, make a  petition, describe a newborn child, our words precisely do not in any of these and innumerable other cases “effect that which they signify”, as they do in some cases outside of sacraments, such as in a promise or wedding vow.

Warm regards,  Josef

Gregory Borse

#18, Feb 21, 2012 8:16pm

Thank you, Josef--well met.  But I must protest.  And I mean that in the warmest way possible.  You posit categorical statements about the nature of language as if they are obvious and true.  But on what grounds do we say that a "fairy tale" is incapable of making what it says to be?  For, a fairy tale exists to create not some philosophical truth about some reality that stands apart from itself, but to make some unique experience possible through its peculiar utterance.   That's the truth of fiction.  And since the reality we exist within is a divine fiction, miraculously brought about by the Godhead whose nature is to give and utter into being by His Word . . . well. That gives me pause.   Especially since I undersand that nothing I can do through my own power can alter the nature of the Divine Word, I must accept that, though fallen, as a wholly contingent being, I cannot,  through my own design, will, or act, alter my own nature (though I can harm or wound it) either--and that means that the way I am, in language (to co-opt Heidegger), is to exist sacramentally—even if only through a scar (as it were).

Gregory Borse

#19, Feb 21, 2012 8:32pm

By which I mean, in general, I should add--if the nature of language itself is sacramental, then Derrida does not really have any thing to say about its nature, even if he wishes (which I doubt, seriously) to talk around what he really means even if he doesn't know it.  I suppose I'm positing that there sometimes if not always is a difference between what "we" mean and what "language" means, even without buckling to our fallen insistence that we be in charge of the joint.  It's kind of Moby Dick's Ahab for me that way.  Ahab is free, to be sure--even to the extent that he is the Captain of his own soul and its destiny.  That's an option.  But he's not free to change the nature-of-which-he's-not-the-author.  That, of course, is what maddens him so . . . .And it's what the white whale represents.  Even as he utters his curses, he employs a form that he did not invent--language--and, in so twisting them to his own purposes admits that he does not own them.  If language, then, does not stand apart, then howso do we distinguish a lie from a truth?

Josef Seifert

#20, Feb 22, 2012 7:37pm

Dear Gregory,

Thank you for your nice response. (From many of your words and thoughts I gather that you might have studied at UD where I have dear friends and have taught for almost a decade.) It seems to me that your fine remarks on our contingency and limits of power exactly confirm what I tried to say: namely that we cannot - except in some rare cases, for example in a sacrament (in which, by the way also the words we speak as such are not the last cause of what we effect through them) - bring about or realize what we say though our words, and therefore our language as such cannot be called, even analogously, "sacramental". Thus I read your friendly protest as a friendly agreement.


Gregory Borse

#21, Feb 22, 2012 8:59pm

Touche, Josef.  Yes--you've traced out my pedigree accurately.  I understand your point of view and withdraw--but only to figure out how best to describe what it is I am attempting to describe.  I agree wholeheartedly with you that to call something Sacramental that is not truly so is a dangerous business and it was not my intent to denigrate the exquisitely specific terminology of the Church with a sloppy analogy.  It's only that the Church's description of a sacrament was the most "ready-to-hand" description, for me, to begin to get at what I was trying to get at.  So, I'll back to the drawing board with a pledge to follow Fritz Wilhelm's insistence upon precision (anecdote:  While in Rome I asked him once why, in his class, if the student didn't write precisely, word for word, what was printed in his book, Paradoxical Structure of Being, then his answer was entirely wrong, he answered:  "But don't you see, my boy, if you don't say it that way, you are saying something, but you are not saying that.

Gregory Borse

#22, Feb 22, 2012 10:07pm

Oh, Cripes, Josef: I should have made the connection--seems to me I went to school with family members of yours:  Kristen at UD and LSU; coursework with Rosemary at LSU (and she called me a "communist" one day, in a fit of pique, so, I have that going for me).

Josef Seifert

#23, Feb 23, 2012 3:39am

Dear Gregory,

Thanks for your nice reply. I accept your withdrawal of the claim that each word is sacramental and await patiently your figuring our just THAT which you wanted to say. And while I cannot be called a particular fan of Fritz Wilmhelsen (RIP), on the point of the needed precision in expressing your thought I very much agree with him and am a bit proud of having guessed that you have studied at UD. Finally, I assure you that I will never go as far as to think or say that you are a communist because of your use of the words sacramental and miracle. I hope we will be in touch again and wish you on every personal and intellectual level all good and happiness!


Gregory Borse

#24, Feb 23, 2012 9:06am

Josef--I was not a student of Fritz's; I took Phil of Being from Dr. Crosby (and was a sadly poor student at the time).  My roommates had Fritz's class in Rome and I took coffee with him from time to time and listened (he caught me reading Chesterton in Greece and took a kind of interest in me).  Rosemary called me a "communist" one day after a class at LSU because, she explained, I had made a comment about another student's Marxist paper that, she said, made it sound "smart" (which it decidedly wasn't).  In any event, I'll go back and re-think my own usage and see if I can craft a post that better reveals my thinking on everything that's wrong about what folks think about Derrida.  But let it be duely noted:  While I teach philosophy now, I'm not a philosopher--and am given to Chestertonian flights of poetic fancy, which, as you have seen, gets me into trouble . . . Cheers.

Gregory Borse

#25, Feb 28, 2012 12:11am

P.S.  I've discovered an error, Josef.  You are not the brother or relation of the ones I mentioned in an earlier post:  different spelling of last name, but a brother with philosophic leanings led to my mis-assignation.  Sorry to have caused any confusion.  Carry on.

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