Why We Must Say Something

Why We Must Say Something February 17, 2009

One of the things I find upsetting is when I hear people say that philosophical or theological reflection is useless, and what is said by philosophers and theologians is merely empty words. This criticism comes from the belief that action alone is worthwhile. Žižek, I think, has given a great response to this:

The late-Wittgensteinian approach, on the other hand, conceives language directly as a form of activity, as “expressive behavior” embedded in a specific life form — we “do things with words”; etc. It is the merit of these orientations to invalidate the commonsense attitude best rendered by phrases like “empty words are not enough, we must set to work, do it instead of just talking about it”; against such platitudes, one is tempted to propose the opposite motto “enough of empty acts, it is time we pass from acts to words!” That is to say, every activity is situated in some horizon of meaning which alone renders it possible, so that by “pronouncing the right word” which introduces a break in this symbolic background, one cannot continue to act in the same way as before.

Slavoj Žižek, Enjoy Your Symptom! (New York: Routledge, 2008), 62.


Obviously, if the only action we do is to speak, then we might not have done enough. For most problems, there tends to be a series of actions needed to be accomplished for a solution to be produced. One of them lies in the declaration of the problem, and another is to suggest a solution. We must not criticize those whose greatest ability is in the production of words, and say they are doing nothing. For they are providing a foundation in which other actions can take place. Indeed, for a Christian, the unity between word and deed should be obvious: In the beginning was the Word… through whom all things were made.

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