Sep 20, 2016

Law and Logos: Aristotle, Witte, Wolfe and Confucius

Aristotle taught that a language as a set of symbols was artificial and arbitrary in the following sense: He taught that spoken or written words  -- like "cat" -- are connected to what they signify --- the actual fur-bearing mousers -- only artificially by discrete acts of naming propagated thru cultures, and arbitrarily, because there is no necessary connection between the nature of any given name like "cat" and the referent actual furry cat.

I've always found this Aristotelian and very commonplace view to be not just wrong but surprisingly irritating. First, in one direction, it doesn't cover the universal failure of all attempted artificial languages -- Cu vi parolas Esperanton? -- nor our belief that artificial languages will always fail. My quick-and-rough but strongly felt abduction is that we can't make an artificial language that works because the workings of language are not artificial. If all languages are artificial anyway, as Aristotle argues, then why can't we intentionally make a decent one that catches on?

Second, in another direction, Aristotle's view doesn't address our established ability to improve our existing organic languages by altering them according to our sense of a linguistic ideal, which our actual languages plainly tend to fall short of. This universal intuition of a perfect language is suppressed in the contemporary way that grammar and usage issues are addressed without reference to reason and authoritative examples of beautiful and wise speech. But we know by revelation (as the insightful commenter below notes) that man's naming of things can partake of his original perfection and that the confusion of tongues is associated with our sin. In any case, we all feel that words should be a particular way. Some words should mean one thing rather than another.  

Given my intuitions, naturally, I delighted in this Telegraph report of empirical evidence that all human language is universal and united in the tendency of all men to assign certain linguistic symbols for certain things. Babel burst it apart but evidence of the link between certain symbols and certain ideas remains to be found.

There's a great deal of interest in language right now as an important source of insight into the human condition. Of course, Prof. Witte recently published Berman's long-lost book, Law and Language. If you haven't read it, you should. It delves deeply into the role of law as language and the work of language (including legal language) in creating political and theological communities -- creating real relations between man and God and among men through "communification"-- thus pointing to the deep roots of language in the divine Logos as He for whom and by whom and through whom all exists. All being and beings fundamentally refer to Christ and are directing themselves through Him to God the Father through the outbreathing work of the Spirit. The fine anti-liberal novelist Tom Wolfe (the Bonfire of the Vanities, A Man in Full, I Am Charlotte Simmons, Back to Blood) has also weighed in with a new book this year, The Kingdom of Language, where he presents human language as evidence against Darwinian evolution of man and the modelling of man as mere material machine.

I believe that there is a Logos, who relates to all and can reconcile us with God. (The Vulgate's translation of Logos as verbum or word as linguistic symbol, I think following Erasmus and Calvin, is a less valuable translation than sermo.) Christ is not an individual spoken term (i.e. a verbum or language token like "cat"), a word in the linguistic sense, rather a discourse, a speech, an utterance, i.e., a word in the sense of a preacher offering a word of prayer or reading the word of God. This Logos does not relate us to God arbitrarily -- as per the Aristotelian theory -- but in necessary ways through the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection. Jesus is the Name that must be spoken and heard. The curse of Babel is that we no longer speak this language of the Name and all the Names which flow from it naturally on our lips just as, because of the curse of the Garden, we no longer do in our hearts. But we should. Aristotle's is perhaps a true report on the way we are, but not on the way we should be or will be.

I think Confucius spoke with esoteric understanding of Babel and eschatologically of Pentecost when he identified 正名, Zhengming or "the rectification of names,"  as the first thing to be done in the reformation of a political system. Analects 13.3. Truly, the curse of Babel will remain the fundamental problematic of our political and social dealings until the fullest realization of the Pentecost in Christ. Here, he is:
If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will no be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.
Confucius' prior discussion, equally famous, in 12.11 summarizes the seed of a potentially Christian Logos-Ethos very well.
The Duke Ching, of Ch'i, asked Confucius about government. Confucius replied, "There is government, when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is son.” [jun jun, chen chen, fu fu, zi zi, 君君臣臣父父子子] "Good!" said the duke; "if, indeed, the prince be not prince, the minister not minister, the father not father, and the son not son, although I have my revenue, can I enjoy it?”
This is a very interesting piece to translate. I think it should be rendered in light of the idea of zhengming or the rectification of names as: There is government, when the "prince" [i.e. the one called prince] is prince [i.e. actually a prince], "minister" minister, "father" father, "son" son.

Today, if we had the right words, we would all say there is no government in our land and we, people, would understand. Or, we would point to those who actually work to punish wrongdoing and commend those who do right (1Pe 2:14) and say here is our king.

But, back to the translation issue, I can equally see it rendered: There is government, when the prince is "prince," minister "minister," father "father," son "son." That is, we can debate whether the essential political problem is that we know public duty and fail to rule and obey, or that we don't know and so fail to identify those who should be ruling and obeying.

Equally, one could interpret the passage in a more Platonic fashion: There is government when the prince is prince ... That is, the problem is that princes need to be more princely, more intensely what they are. But this runs the argument in a different direction from language to ontology.

Sep 1, 2016

Even If God Were Not To Exist . . .

God's Rights Disdained
It is a boast of liberal theorists, with antecedents back to Grotius and before him to the School of Salamanca, that their accounts of law and right would be true even assuming God does not exist.

I think liberalism may indeed be the best possible account assuming God does not exist. The problem comes if we ask the opposite question:
Is liberalism the best possible account of law and right assuming God does exist? 
Given that liberalism, at least in all the forms we know it today, is absolutely committed to recognizing no public right of God's and no public duty of any individual or corporate person to God, I think the answer is clearly: no.

Liberalism's essential denial of God's rights and the public's duties to God is a problem because if God exists, on many (any?) reasonable theological views and the overwhelming majority historically (see, e.g., Moses and all the prophets of Israel) then individual and corporate persons owe some public duty to Him. Even granting that some theologies could reasonably affirm the existence of God and still deny any divine right or duty relating to the public, e.g., deism and perhaps Baptist theology, liberalism would be enforcing a particular theology over others, establishing one theological conviction over others.

If we aim really to be pluralistic and not to force men to live under a government based on certain religious views, shouldn't our governing philosophy be ready to prove itself true under the presuppositions not only of atheists but also of theists -- not only of skeptics but also Christians?

But liberalism can't because liberalism essentially involves a denial of public rights and duties respecting God, which inevitably constitutes a theological position -- e.g., the deistic or Baptist position -- or a tendentious assumption that God does not exist -- i.e. an establishment of atheism.

Established deism or atheism is the best understanding of what we have today.

Aug 29, 2016

Should Christians be "Open in Heart" to "Alt" Movement?

In the context of Hillary's recent speech denouncing alternative, non-classical-liberal politics as outside respectable public discourse, here's an interesting argument from the Christian left (!) that, despite a political movement's central
demand for independent [racially defined] political power and [racial] self-determination,
Christians should "listen proactively and authentically ... not from a defensive posture but with an openness of heart and mind."

The author, Dean Robert Vischer, (who will be a speaking on the same subject at the Religiously Affiliated Law Schools conference mentioned in the previous post) argues that, even with respect to such a group, we should "reject the increasingly common tendency to choose sides and then treat that choice as the end of moral reflection on the matter [instead being] ready to walk in the shoes of those on both sides who are too easily demonized."

By itself, this could sound like a platitude. But, in the context of an anti-liberal political movement demanding ethnic "self-determination," Vischer's injunction against easy demonizing is rare. Usually, we just call others "racists" and move on. But Vischer is against this kind of "othering."

We don't usually hear such prominent Christians arguing, much less from the left, that we should be trying "to understand and experience the feelings and worldviews of those who are different from us," at least not when we are talking about those who think that an ethnic group's
humanity and dignity requires [that ethnic group to exercise] political will and power.
I suppose it comes down to the fact that one must follow where one's conscience and principles lead regardless of the political consequences.

In any case, it is an important and surprising argument from the Christian left that acceptable Christian political discourse is not confined to universalistic liberal or socialistic schemes. I'm not sure I agree with Dean Vischer's judgment about this movement, but I do respect his courage in making such a controversial argument.

Aug 23, 2016

2016 Conference of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools (RALS) - Hosted by Regent Law

Regent University School of Law will host the 2016 Conference of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools entitled “Challenges and Opportunities for Faith Based Legal Education” on September 29-30, 2016, on the university’s Virginia Beach campus.

The RALS Conference is a venue for law faculty members from religiously affiliated law schools across the country to come together for a scholarly symposium to discuss current events as they relate to a law school’s religious mission.  The four sessions of the symposium will discuss implementing ethical formation and professional identity in law school; potential accreditation and tax exempt status issues for religiously affiliated law schools after Obergefell; new scholarship; and pursuing global justice. 

Presentations will include "Faith and Sexuality: The Unique Challenges Facing Religious Educators" by Prof. Robin Fretwell Wilson of the U. of Ill., "Institutional Engagement & Institutional Mission - why religiously affiliated law schools should be deeply and proactively engaged with the #BlackLivesMatter movement” by Dean Robert Vischer of St. Thomas Law School, Minnesota, "Religious liberty & LGBT equality clashes, exemptions, and conflicts with antidiscrimination laws" by Prof. Linda McClain of Boston University Law,  “The Role of Religiously Affiliated Law Schools in the Rebirth of American Public Life” by Prof & Assoc. Dean Bruce Ledewitz of Duquesne Law , and a conference opening address from Robert Cochran of Pepperdine Law School.

The symposium will conclude with a showing of Remand: Global Justice in Uganda, a documentary made by a Nashville-based production company about our Global Justice Program’s work in Uganda, and how the work is transforming lives on both continents, presented by Prof. Jim Gash of Pepperdine Law and Prof. Ernie Walton of Regent Law.

The cost of the symposium is $125 (registration is available until the week prior to the event).  For more information or to register, please visit  For directions, a campus map and parking, please visit  For other information, contact or 757.352.4660.