Since beginning seminary, I’ve also noticed a good bit about the nature of theological discussion and debate, as well. In short, I’d have to say that at least a simple majority of the discussions, debates, and conversations I’ve witnessed fairly butchered many of the fundamental ideas of basic reason and logic.
So one of the things I want to do is to start an occasional series of blog posts that look at logic and how it ought to guide theological discussions. I think that a large part of the problem is that many people don’t know what makes an argument for or against a particular position or viewpoint a good or bad argument. That’s a problem that we can fix-- and we should.
(For some people, I did something in the previous paragraph that was a new idea: the notion that an “argument” is actually a neutral idea, and that some may be good and others may be bad. Many of us have been taught implicitly that “arguing” and “fighting” -- or “arguing” and “bickering” -- are essentially the same thing, when they are not. One can offer a good, well-reasoned argument for or against something that is loud, vitriolic, and abusive; another may offer an unsound argument that is pleasant, civil, and gentle. Or vice-versa.)
For starters, here’s a fundamental concept of logic: The way we say things is just as communicative as what we say.
By “the way we say things” I mean their form. Language offers us a number of forms that are important to consider; to name a few:
- Grammatical form-- often a misplaced comma or a poorly understood semi-colin can change meaning drastically.
- Syntactical form-- word choice (syntax) is also important, since words usually have a great variety of meanings.
- Logical form-- moving beyond grammar and word choice, by this I mean the way that sentences, paragraphs, and communication on a much larger scale fit together-- in themselves, and when connected to each other.
- Forms of ethos and pathos-- how we are sensitive (or insensitive) to embodying character (godly character, sinful character) and emotion in what we communicate, not only by words but by how we say them.
I know you didn’t mean it.
Now, think of how placing accent behind one or another word in that sentence might change its meaning:
- I know you didn’t mean it. (Implying that others may not know.)
- I KNOW you didn’t mean it. (Suggesting that it may have seemed like you did.)
- I know you didn’t MEAN it. (But it hurt anyway.)