Hamilton’s Theory Of Language And Inspiration -- By: Gordon H. Clark

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 015:1 (Winter 1972)
Article: Hamilton’s Theory Of Language And Inspiration
Author: Gordon H. Clark


Hamilton’s Theory Of Language And Inspiration

Gordon H. Clark*

Kenneth Hamilton, Words and the WORD, begins his study of language and inspiration by contrasting empiricism and idealism. The empirical theory restricts words to the function of describing physical things, and, as in Logical Positivism, makes nonsense of theology. The idealistic theory extends language to transphenomenal reality, but as a result loses the world of sense where history takes time and spaoe.

In chapter two the author expounds how these two theories evaluate myth. Obviously empiricism holds that myth is a mistake to be outgrown, serving only some childish subjective demands of an insecure self. For the idealist, with his different view of the nature of reality, myth is the method by which an alienated people remember an original wholeness that has been lost, and not merely a primitive language to be outgrown. It is a sort of pointer to transphenomenal Being.

In opposition to the empirical and the idealistic theories, Hamilton proposes an historical theory. But one must be careful not to speak of empiricism, idealism, and then conclude that Hamilton accepts historicism. Language seems to fail the author at this point.

There is also another failure. Hamilton has throughout treated empiricism and idealism as mutually exclusive. It is as though he were a zoologist classifying animals as either pachyderms or mammals. The classification is poor because some animals are both. Similarly some philosophers are both. The best known (probably) of all modern idealists was a vigorous empiricist—Bishop Berkeley. In the present century Edgar A. Singer published Empirical Idealism (Part II of Mind as Behavior, 1924).

Not only does the classification fail because some philosophers are both empiricist and idealist, it fails also because the two classes are not exhaustive. This remains a flaw even when “historical” is added as a third class. Presumably Leibniz is a non-empirical idealist, but he is also “historical,” as his definition of Alexander the Great shows. Descartes and Spinoza are neither empirical, nor idealistic, nor “historical” either. This failure in classification throws the whole study off balance, result-

*A review by Dr. Clark, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana, of the book by Kenneth Hamilton, Words and the Word. Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmaxas, 1971. Paper $2.45.

ing in a pervasive ambiguity that the superficial reader is not likely to detect.

Although the author rejects idealism, he retains a somewhat similar view of mythical language. On page 87, where ...

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