The Connection Between Metaphysics, Epistemology, And Language -- By: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 81:1 (Spring 2019)
Article: The Connection Between Metaphysics, Epistemology, And Language
Author: Pierce Taylor Hibbs

The Connection Between Metaphysics, Epistemology, And Language

Pierce Taylor Hibbs

Pierce Taylor Hibbs is Associate Director for Theological Curriculum and Instruction in the Theological English Department at Westminster Theological Seminary.

In this article, the author sets forth the triad of metaphysics, epistemology, and language (MEL). Language is bound up with thought, and thought is bound up with being. After introducing the biblical roots of this triad and its relation to the Trinity, the author applies it to image-bearing creatures. He then examines a secular approach to this triad in the work of John R. Searle, critiquing it in light of basic Reformed theological assumptions. He then responds to Searle and ends by reaffirming the benefits of Kenneth L. Pike’s language theory as applied to the intimate relationship among language, thought, and being.

Who and what are we? How and why do we know? And how and why do we communicate? Perhaps there are no more basic questions than these. They highlight, respectively, metaphysics, epistemology, and language. As with all questions posed to the Christian academic, these must have answers that are biblically derived and reflective of the Trinitarian God in whose image we are made.

In this article, I will sketch the groundwork for the relationship between metaphysics, epistemology, and language, which I have elsewhere referred to as the MEL triad.1 After defining this triad in general, it is important to outline its biblical roots before applying it both to the Trinitarian God and to his creatures. Next I will briefly consider a few dangers of secular approaches to the MEL triad, in the work of contemporary philosopher John R. Searle. Then I will respond to Searle and end by suggesting how the language theory of Kenneth L. Pike is situated in relation to the MEL triad. I make this final point because I believe that the gravity of Pike’s language theory is yet to be appreciated by Reformed theologians. Pike’s language theory, after all, is not simply a revision of our approach

to communication; it is a revision of our approach to all of human behavior, thought and action included.2 At the same time, the MEL triad is a massive topic in and of itself, worthy of volumes, so we must acknowledge at the outset that we can only sketch the groundwork here.

I. Defining The Mel Triad

The MEL triad, in its most basic expression, simply means that language is bound up with thought (epistemology), and thought is bound up with being (metaphysics).You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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