Alright, now look, I am writing this with a smile and I would say this directly to this atheist’s face. We’d argue, we’d debate, I’d wax rhapsodic, I’d listen in good faith and argue some more; then I’d probably offer a him an apple or something in the spirit of friendship. I have no malicious intent.
There was a brief exchange on another post yesterday, and I left it at this, “You are soooo getting a lesson in grammar tomorrow.” But that was before I realized who the commenter was.
He is a man named Staks Rosch who runs a blog titled Dangerous Talk, and he writes for the Examiner and Huffington Post. He serves as the head of The Philadelphia Coalition of Reason, has a Master’s Degree in Philosophy from West Chester University, and is a stay at home dad.
I did not realize at the time that I was promising to school an established writer with an advanced degree in Philosophy on grammar, but when someone throws the English language under the bus to make an argument, it’s like fingernails on chalkboards to me, and seriously disrupts my normally calm nature.
Mr. Rosch said that he was following the Frank Sheed explanation about the difference in “imaginable” and “conceivable” right up to, well, the conclusion. The article explains how we can only imagine things that we can sense, our imagination is filled mental images of things in the material realm. Abstract concepts beyond the sensory experience are not imaginable, they are either conceivable, or not, depending on consistency of terms. (If you haven’t read it, please do. This distinction Sheed explains is significant.) From the conclusion:
As said, if something is imaginable, we can form a mental picture of it. Pictures are of the material world, so imagination is limited to that realm, and many atheists in fact claim that the material is all there is. But what about such concepts as justice and love? The mind cannot form a picture of those things because our senses cannot experience them; we cannot imagine them, we can only conceive of them. We can see a just man, we can hear a loving adoration (as adjectives) but we cannot see justice itself or love itself (the nouns). So do they not exist?
He is not the first atheist to have difficulty with abstraction, and he argued back that justice and love, and any other abstraction, are not abstract at all. He said that love is an emotion that can be “measured”. (Never mind that measurements require quantities. Another time.)
We measure it [love] with our senses and we evaluate it in like of actions. It is a product of brain chemistry. That’s material, not some inconceivable “feeling” in a vacuum. Justice is even more material than that. It comes from our material feelings of empathy and compassion.
When I asked what space love and justice occupy, what they look, smell, taste, sound, and feel like, what the chemical formula for them might be, what they are made of, he responded that I am in error and that I need to go to the library. [Emphasis mine]
First off, you are making a rather obvious category error. Second, Justice looks like actions based in fairness brought about through empathy and compassion.
You argument amounts to saying that running doesn’t exist because you can’t taste it. Running, like justice describes an action… the action of being just.
There are entire bookshelves at your local library and bookstore about ethics and justice, many of which are introductory. You should read one!
Staks, I again want to re-stress that I am not taking issue with you personally, I’m sure you are a nice fellow, I can only respect and admire stay-home dads. I am, however, taking issue with the travesty you lay to philosophy and the English language. No you don’t, sir. No you don’t.
Here’s the grammar lesson, which is also a philosophy lesson.
“Justice” is a noun, a thing. Not all nouns are concrete, as you imply they are. Some nouns are concrete like car, foot, lolly-pop; but some are abstract like freedom, love, and anger. The word “abstract” denotes an idea, quality, or state rather than a concrete object. “Justice” is an abstract noun, the quality, state, or principle of being just. Abstract nouns refer to concepts, ideas, philosophies, and other entities that cannot be concretely perceived, that is — cannot be imagined. Like I said.
It is erroneous, both grammatically and philosophically, to say that justice “looks” like a concrete thing. A man may stop his stroll in the park to pick up a dollar, and we can see his legs move or stop, we can see him bend over and grab the money. He may then see and hear a little girl crying because she lost her allowance. We can see him hand over the dollar. We can see a little girl smile. No abstractions are needed to describe the series of concrete events.
However, the overarching philosophical concept that this series of actions is “just” comes from an abstract concept of what it means to be just. Even to say “based in fairness brought about through empathy and compassion” is to appeal to further abstractions, not concrete things. Justice, empathy, and compassion — like all abstract nouns — have no color, no odor, no flavor, no texture, no sound.
“Running, like justice describes an action… the action of being just.” - Staks Rosch
And herein lies the knavery you try to slip past us. It is obvious in the diagrams of the sentences, which requires you to know the parts of a sentence and how sentences are constructed, something a writer and a philosopher ought to hold in the highest regard professionally.
There are two main categories of verbs: action verbs and state of being verbs, which can be further divided. There are also helping and linking verbs that are used with other verbs to form a verb phrase.
Running describes a concrete action. “Running” is an action verb, the progressive tense of the action verb “to run.” It means that action, the locomotion, of moving one’s legs very fast, is occurring. You can physically see it. “Running” used as a noun refers to the action of run. It is physical, performed by something concrete.
On the contrary, “to be” is a state of being verb, it is the state of being verb. It is an existential verb, and it means existing in a certain state. We don’t say, “Sally is being running.” Why? Because running is not a state of being, it is an action.
Of the “being” tense, there are static and dynamic forms, willed and un-willed qualities. You would not say, “I am being tall.” That is static, unwilled. You would say, “I am tall.” On the contrary, you could say “I am being just.” (Again, “just” is an adjective here, the predicate adjective actually.) “Being just” is a willed quality, a chosen series of actions, thoughts, words, and omissions. ”Being just” describes a state of existence, an abstract quality. “Justice” is the noun form, an abstract noun.
To summarize: You refer to an adjective (just) after a linking, existential verb (is being) as if together they form an action verb (is running) — to try to prove that an abstract noun is really a concrete noun.
Category error is all yours, man, on multiple levels. Here’s your apple. Where’s my justice?