Making People Think About Words

Version française/French version

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In our daily lives we use words to express our thoughts. Have you ever wondered how we learned some commonly used words which are essential to communicating ideas such as “this”, “that”, “as”, “why” or “however”?

One of the words used in our daily conversations is the word “if”. Strictly using one’s five physical senses (taste, touch, hearing, sight, smell) and limiting oneself to the observable world could one learn the meaning of the word “if”? Could the meaning of such a word be acquired through the senses in some way? Additional question : how could one teach the meaning of the word “if” to another person?

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Did you learn the meaning of the word “if” with your eyes? Have you ever seen an object in the physical universe which can define the meaning of “if”?

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Did you learn the meaning of the word “if” with your sense of smell? Have you ever smelled an odor in the physical universe which can define the meaning of “if”?

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Did you learn the meaning of the word “if” with your sense of taste? Have you ever tasted something in the physical universe which can define the meaning of “if”?

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Did you learn the meaning of the word “if” with your sense of touch? Have you ever touched something in the physical universe which can define the meaning of “if”?

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Did you learn the meaning of the word “if” with your ears? Have you ever heard a sound in the physical universe which can define the meaning of “if”?

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To teach another person the meaning of the word “if” could I simply point to something in the physical universe and say “Look! It’s an if!” ?

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If it be the case for the word “if” what can be said about words such as “conjunction”, “premise”, “assumption”, “condition”, “inference”, “argument”, “conclusion”, “syllogism”, “when”, “how”, “thus”, “then” and “now”? What can be said about words such as “God”, “justice”, “wrath”, “peace”, “evil”, “righteousness”, “conscience”, “mercy” and “grace”?

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QUESTIONS:

  • IF the knowledge of the meanings of those words did not come about through sense experience how is it that we know them?
  • IF such knowledge was rather innate (a priori knowledge) than acquired (a posteriori knowledge) then who is the Author of this innate knowledge of words?
  • Can material causes alone have brought about that which is immaterial (e.g. the word “if” and its meaning, laws of logic)?
  • How did the word “God” get into our vocabulary?

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Recommended reading : Saint Augustine’s “De Magistro”

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