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I have been studying natural law for my master’s thesis, but so far I haven’t been able to see how to answer the following objection which has been thrown at me. It runs like this. Given the implications of deconstructionism and the “linguistic turn,” what one person or culture means by “life,” “nature,” or “human flourishing” is not the same thing that another person (or culture) means when he uses those terms. They both play by independent rules, given their respective language games, and so they are separated by a chasm that can’t be bridged. Ergo, natural law is rendered linguistically effete.
What would you think if your dog had eaten some garbage, was throwing up, and just as you were about to take him to the vet, someone spoke like this? –
Given the implications of the linguistic turn and deconstructionism, what one person or culture means by “dog,” “garbage,” and “throwing up” are not the same thing that another person or culture means when it uses those terms. Each plays by independent rules, given his respective language game, and therefore are separated by a chasm that can’t be bridged. Ergo, veterinary medicine is rendered linguistically meaningless.
Or if you had decided to overcome your fear of flying and take an airplane to a different location, and just as you were about to book the flight, someone spoke like this? –
Given the implications of the linguistic turn and deconstructionism, what one person or culture means by “fear,” “flying,” “location,” and “not falling” are not the same thing that another person or culture means when it uses those terms. Each plays by independent rules, given his respective language game, and therefore are separated by a chasm that can’t be bridged. Ergo, the practice of air travel is rendered linguistically meaningless.
Reality is the way it is, and we all live in the same one. If we are using words differently, then we should investigate which way of using them corresponds better to how things really are. Yes, of course there are social conventions, but there must be some shared world even for there to be social conventions; there has to be some bedrock reality even for us to behave differently in it, or disagree about it.
Lewis Carroll wrote Through the Looking Glass before the deconstructionists of whom you speak came onto the scene, but a little parable of his had them pegged. What they want isn’t to live in the truth of reality with other people, but to manipulate them:
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Related: What’s Wrong with Universities?
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