Philosophy On Trial

Speech exists that we may “lovingly create names,” writes Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (In the Cross of Reality, 149). “Speaking is always courting” (149).

Courtrooms exist for those times when speech falters. In a courtroom, speech turns from courtship to dispute and this setting changes the character of speech: “In a debate, the parties who think they are right must be so precise with each word that even the most mistrustful opponent cannot cast doubt on it. . . . It is a process where judge, jury, bailiff, and lawyers interpose themselves between the parties so as to prevent bloodshed. The love of peace, to which language attests, is to be salvaged in spite of divisiveness. The parties have nothing more to say to each other. The court functions as a second ear and second mouth. A court proceeding therefore preserves a minimum of direct address, without which the parties would inevitably succumb to feud and vendetta” (149).

An intriguing insight, but Rosenstock has a bigger point to make: “from Parmenides to Hegel,” philosophy has been conducted on the model of a courtroom disputation, and as the “argumentation of lawyers became the norm of philosophy,” so the grammar that regulates speech “is a lawyer’s grammar” (150).

He elaborates, “Plato derived his language from argumentation in the court. His philosophy is concept formation. And concept formation is the retroactive emptying of names from litigation, for the sole purpose of remaining in the right among the parties who each wishes to dispossess the other. . . .Arguments negate the authenticity of language and combust it until its radiance is gone. The language of law is the language you find in the arena of consumption. Because argumentation devours what love creates” (152-3).

He cites the example of “cause,” which, he claims,. “is based in criminal law and is of Greek provenance” (150). “Cause” assumes that things that are derive from things that came before. Rosenstock demurs: “no event can be derived from any previous event or circumstance. . . . With every event, something new has to be acknowledged that has never been before. Whoever acknowledges it must be changed by it” (150). “Cause” is not science, observation, or fact but “the naive dogma of science,” and “a method” (150-1), one derived from the courtroom.

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  • Drihtnes

    ERH’s observation about causality echoes the view of Christian philosopher Borden Parker Bowne (1847-1910): “The causality of the series [of phenomena] lies beyond it; and the relations of the members are logical and teleological, not dynamic.”