Proper Names

The ancient Greeks distinguished human beings from the rest of the cosmos as having the capacity for articulation, having the capacity of language. But not merely the capacity for communication, because, broadly speaking, even some non-human animal species have some limited means of communication.

But human beings are able to communicate their own inner states and experiences such that other humans beings can both understand and can similarly articulate the same experiences. But finally, human beings do something else: they give names to the cosmos and that which moves and breathes, and even to give names to things that do not, strictly speaking, exist.

This is why, in our present society, so much power is given to naming. And when the civic agreement on which a society is bound together becomes tattered and frayed, the power of naming becomes distorted. While it purports to represent reality, in actual fact, it doesn’t matter whether the name has any basis in reality or fact. Where there is rumor and innuendo in a society in which shame is the cultural coin, all that matters is whether a name may take hold merely by repetition and tribal cohesion around such naming. If my tribe says that a member of our enemy tribe is evil, that coin is both valuable and powerful. If I wish to make exchange within the parameters of my tribe, I am bound to agree with, indeed, to believe in the naming. Even if I merely question the name, I risk the loss of my cultural purchasing ability, and perhaps exile.

But it is not simply the naming of my enemy, it is also the naming of myself. If I can name myself in such a way that my tribe will accept, then I can through force of cultural oppression, ensure that others are required to use the name I give myself. Whether this name corresponds to any reality beyond my inner states of experience or not.

But this cultural warfare of naming betrays the end for which I am oriented and made: to accept, to understand, and to act in harmony with the reality in which I am anchored and which gives me being. For I did not name myself into existence. Nor, in fact, did I name myself at all. Even if I forsake the name given me, even if I forsake the tribe which named me, everything I do, every name I may subsequently take is entirely founded in and on, entirely bounded by, the name I was given, without my permission and without my input.

The Confucian rectification of names seeks to draw back to the ground of reality, the true and proper name of each and every being, the centering of each and every being in the truth of what is. The disorder of society is caused when names fail to correspond to the truth, to reality. Society is ordered, when the names have returned to their true foundations.

For Christians, this is not simply a correspondence theory of truth and knowledge, it is not simply a battle between nominalism and idealism. It is much deeper than these language plays. For there will come a day when he will give us a white stone, on which is written a name which only he knows who receives it.

Our broken world, our fellow human beings, who throw out names to hurt, to wound, and to chain, need to hear their true name. The name that is their own. The name that only one Man can give and which can only be received, not made. If we wish our world to be sane again, we must listen for our name. Hearing that name, that true logos of who we are, if we will follow that voice, we will find the still water, the green pasture, and rest.

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