Thursday, September 6, 2007

Nominative vs. Evocative Language

A lot of confusion when discussing matters of religion and philosophy comes with the difference between perception of what language is and what it should do. Nominativists are convinced that language has an isomorphic relationship with material reality; namely, that all language in its relationship to material reality must conform to it. Steven Pinker is a big advocate of this position, and it encourages a very literalist mindset wherein philosophical and religious statements can be evaluated solely on how they conform to the material universe.

Evocative language, in contrast, seeks not to describe, but to enact. The goal of theologians (and magicians, natch) is not to accurately contain reality within its models, but to change it, by changing peoples' lives.

The problem with the nominativist position, as I see it, is that there is no good reason whatsoever to assume that language is ever nominative. Metaphor is at the root of all language, and it's universal to make sense of concepts in terms relative to each other (like George Lakoff points out in "Metaphors We Live By," we're running on the metaphor "arguments are war" in our culture, as in "he attacked her argument"). The idea that language even can or should conform perfectly to material reality is unsupported.

That's why I don't concern myself with dogma or the "literal" truth of mythology, or worry about the objective existence of deities. It's a million miles past the point.