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Dec 19, 2018

The Covenant of Language

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Mark Delp2 1

Mark Damien Delp

Zaytuna College

Mark Damien Delp’s research interests include logic and the history of Christian philosophy.

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The Covenant of Language

Renewing Our Trust in Words and Things

Detail from Madrid Codex, a pre-Columbian Maya book, circa 900–1521 CE

Detail from Madrid Codex, a pre-Columbian Maya book, circa 900–1521 CE

Covenant is an antiquated word, redolent of sacred bonds formed by peoples whose legal traditions were inseparable from their religious beliefs, their ancestral relations of kinship, and their oaths of loyalty. It is a very serious word and, for that reason, does not fit comfortably into the discourse of a world such as ours, which, from the authoritative core of its learned academies, has declared seriousness an anachronistic state of mind. In biblical times, a covenant signified primarily a pact between man and God, a usage of the term that connotes (besides the utmost seriousness) fidelity, solemnity, and primordial truth. In this sense of the word, one can find oneself party to a covenant without voluntarily entering into it; indeed, one is born into the agreement made by one’s ancestors, and in the covenant between man and God, the ancestors happen to be the entire human race, going back to its earliest presence in the world. As modernity has finally succeeded in removing religion to the peripheral regions of society, it is quite beyond the power of most people to imagine what such an agreement might amount to. What would be the concrete obligations or the visible parties involved? If we were to take the American Constitution as a candidate for a covenant in the ancient sense, one could object that not only does one enter into it voluntarily, but its fundamental principles are nowhere near universal, much as some would like them to be so.

If we look, however, to our everyday communication through speech, we could make an argument that grammar itself is a covenant. Without the laws of speech, how could we enter into any agreement, even one as trivial as trusting a stranger to give us directions in a foreign city? We know that, for ancient societies, even a small error in the arrangement of words could be a harbinger of discord in the spiritual bonds that made those societies strong and enduring. But it has been many years since the rules of grammar have been binding in our speech, and we have put no new rules in their place, seeming rather to be satisfied with temporary conventions of signs that emerge from and disappear back into a nondescript mass of isolated words, commercial pictographs, musical snippets, bodily gestures, and nonverbal sounds.

Is truth itself a covenant? Alas, in the academy, truth along with seriousness has been brought in for questioning and is now being held, awaiting trial. But let us consider truth anyway, for it offers the best hope in the modern age of rediscovering a primordial sense of covenant. Our choice for where we must look for truth as a covenant will be another of the liberal arts—logic, which, if it is to be practiced at all, must presuppose not only the ancient preoccupation with metaphysical truth but also the seriousness and existential fidelity of a covenant between language itself and the world. Unlike grammar, which can be used indifferently and still be recognizable, the case of logic is an either-or situation: in making a claim to say something is necessarily true and valid, one’s speech is either logical or not. Try as one might, one cannot get around this. But it is, I would claim, the old logic’s1 stubborn loyalty to ordering human thought in its desire to know the essential natures of things that has allowed it to transcend its nature as a liberal art and become a guardian of the truth of human relations with the world and with God.

The beginning of Physics (Aristotle). Medieval Latin manuscript with the original Greek text added in the margins

The beginning of Physics (Aristotle). Medieval Latin manuscript with the original Greek text added in the margins

Further, traditional logic oriented its theory and practice around several levels of truth, beginning with a relation of truth in which all human beings must participate, namely, the simple intuition of the common natures or “kinds” of things; then proceeding to the truth of logical propositions, which, because they are voluntary covenants, can just as well end up being false; and finally, arriving at the truth of the syllogism, which, because it must be accompanied by validity, is even less likely to achieve the soundness of necessary truth. If practiced well, though, logic can reveal these levels of truth in their development in the human intellect, as it were, from seed to sapling to tree, ending, one must hope, in the flower of wisdom. As we shall see, although the last level was thought to be the perfection of the human intellect, it was the first, intuition, that guaranteed that the relations involved in it could justifiably be called “covenants,” for, as the ancients believed, though reasoning marks the essence of humanity, intuition is divine. Throughout my account I will appeal primarily to the writings of Thomas Aquinas as medieval scholasticism’s most precise and eloquent witness to logic’s “covenants of truth.”

First Covenant

In his Disputed Questions on Truth, Thomas Aquinas quotes figures from Latin, Islamic, and Jewish traditions who have given metaphysical definitions of truth that bear on the primordial connection between human and divine knowledge. The first definitions by St. Augustine and Avicenna refer to “ontological truth”—that is, the truth of “being” itself—which the intellect grasps, albeit “through a glass darkly,” in the first operation of logic: the intellect’s simple apprehension of a thing’s2 essence.

Truth or the true has been defined in three ways. First of all, it is defined according to that which precedes truth and is the basis of truth. This is why Augustine writes: “The true is that which is”; and Avicenna: “The truth of each thing is a property of the act of being which has been established for it.” Still others say: “The true is the undividedness of the act of existence from that which is.”3

These definitions place truth at the heart of reality, of universal being itself. The being of things precedes and is the condition of their truth; moreover, for St. Augustine, the being of things is derived from God directly by an act of creation, which is not merely the fact of a thing’s coming-to-be but the establishment of a relation between it and the Creator. Indeed, because a thing can neither maintain nor bring itself into existence, the relation must be permanent. As a “property,” truth always brings with it a relation, and the particular nature of the relation will always involve knowledge.

And this is what the true adds to being, namely, the conformity or equation of thing and intellect.4

However, whereas things correspond to the human intellect as the measure of its knowledge (the human intellect is true insofar as it conforms to the things it wishes to know), they correspond to the divine intellect as the measured to the measure (a thing is true insofar as it is known by the divine intellect). This twofold relation of truth, though neglected in modern treatments of medieval metaphysics, is in fact necessary to account not only for the existence of the intelligible forms of things but also for their capacity to make themselves known to the human intellect—as well as to the cognitive powers of all other animals.

A natural thing, therefore, being placed between two intellects [the divine and the human] is called true in so far as it conforms to either. It is said to be true with respect to its conformity with the divine intellect in so far as it fulfills the end to which it was ordained by the divine intellect…. In a natural thing, truth is found especially in the first, rather than in the second, sense; for its reference to the divine intellect comes before its reference to a human intellect. Even if there were no human intellects, things could be said to be true because of their relation to the divine intellect.5

Truth, therefore, is present from the beginning in a thing’s existence as a creature, a product of God’s creative will and knowledge.6 And it is coextensive with being, for anything that is has been created by God and, in being created, is established in a relation of truth to the divine essence. On the one hand, the first truth, establishing as it does the possibility of human knowledge, can be said not to be human at all:

Truth is primarily in a thing because of its relation to the divine intellect, not to the human intellect, because it is related to the divine intellect as to its cause.7

On the other hand, Aquinas conceived of truth as being transmitted to the intellect and acting upon it through the medium of created forms.

By its form a thing existing outside the soul imitates the art of the divine intellect; and, by the same form, it is such that it can bring about a true apprehension in the human intellect.8(emphasis mine)

The intellect, then, can only achieve the conformity of truth with things because they have already been established in a relation of truth with their Creator.

So far, we have been speaking of a divine truth that resides in created beings themselves, such that they can be called true merely by virtue of their act of existing and, through that act, their being able to transmit that truth to the human intellect. No casual inference from the belief that the Creator is Truth itself, this “ontological truth” signifies a real agreement with God on the part of things. In this context, every simple intuition of a thing’s nature speaks of the intellect’s desire to enter into a covenant of truth with it; this covenant is as much with God as it is with the thing, for the truth that the mind encounters is the thing’s correspondence with Him. Now, because things existed in the divine knowledge before they were created, it follows that they also conformed to the divine intellect—they were true—before they were created. Moreover, once a thing is created, its relation of conformity to God is created as well— an uncreated covenant begets a created covenant. By being thought by God, the creature becomes a potency for being thought by a created intellect, from whence it follows that the mechanism by which the human intellect is made true depends entirely on the divine knowledge. Mystical theologians describe the transference of divine form to the intellect through created beings as a transference of lights: in being made by the Father of lights, things themselves become lights for the illumination of minds. Our covenant with other creatures, therefore, is a covenant with the Creator.

Aquinas believed that the idea is the intellect’s internal response to the thing: once the intellect intuits a thing’s essential nature, and because it is produced spontaneously upon the intellect’s spiritual contact with things, the idea is, as it were, the seal of a covenant of truth that acknowledges the intellect’s kinship with things and, remotely, its kinship with the divine essence. Indeed, for the human intellect to function at all according to its nature, it must grasp the universal essences of things apart from the things themselves. If we could not understand the essence of, for example, “cat” apart from the particular characteristics that make up individual cats, we would not be capable of reasoning, since all reasoning depends upon the capacity of the intellect to grasp many individuals under a common nature, or species.

Mystical theologians describe the transference of divine form to the intellect through created beings as a transference of lights.

The human being knows in various ways, beginning by sensing things that are immediately present: one encounters a bird in a tree and is able to describe its individual characteristics—its color, size, shape, the particular song it makes. When the bird flies away, one can preserve an image of it in one’s imagination and change it by adding other characteristics that do not naturally belong to the bird—one can make it breathe fire or have a lion’s head. If one has a healthy imagination, one can almost see the absent bird as it really appeared when it was present and being seen. But no matter whether one changes the image in the imagination or recalls it as it was seen, the sensible image will always be bound up with the thing itself. From whence it follows that, if sense images were all we possessed, we would only be able to think of individual things and never know their common natures.9 The small bluebird we saw yesterday afternoon and the large crow we saw this morning could never be thought as “bird.” But to know the latter is to know birds not according to the senses or the imagination but according to the intellect. Intuitively, unreflectively, immediately, by the natural intelligibility of things, the intellect lifts the individual beyond the material limits of its individuality by begetting an idea that alone can signify the common nature they share. Indeed, the intellect can only know “this” as “this kind of thing”—that is, as the idea of its species. (It knows everything literally as “one of a kind.”) The special power of the idea is, therefore, to bring individuals into the spiritual unity of their kind, and because of this, it participates in the most primordial of all covenants:

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.… And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.10
Partially broken Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh; old Babylonian period, 2003–1595 BCE

Partially broken Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh; old Babylonian period, 2003–1595 BCE

What is logical about all this? Whereas the science of metaphysics takes as its object the very being of things, logic looks exclusively to the laws of their being known. For example, one knows that this individual is a human being, but in the same act of knowing, logic recognizes the universal nature, “human being,” as a species, which signifies that the individual is subordinated in a relation of universality to that nature. It is logic, moreover, that discovers that the kinds of things are themselves ordered according to higher degrees of universality, for the intellect naturally knows the many species as a genus (“cat” and “horse” as “animal”), and the many genera as a higher genus (“animal” and “plant” as “living thing”). Besides the covenant it makes with the individual, then, the intellect makes other covenants that bind things together in ever greater bonds of commonality. But since all of these relations derive their conformity with reality through the intellect’s immediate intuition of the individual, even the concept of “being” can only be thought because one being has already been thought. Thus, moving from the truth of the simplest covenant, that between the intellect and a single being, the intellect brings to light the commonality of the covenant itself—namely, that it is binding for all beings. In knowing the truth of being, it knows virtually all the covenants of being, and in all of them it finds the same covenant: that things are created according to kind.

Second Covenant

The second group of definitions of truth that Aquinas gives concerns “logical truth”— that is, the truth that takes place in the intellect as the effect of its conformity or agreement with things. This mode of truth belongs to the “second operation of the intellect,” by which logical propositions or judgments are made and in which the attributes of essences grasped in the first operation are combined or divided to reflect their real unity or diversity in things:

Truth is also defined in another way—according to that in which its intelligible determination is formally completed. Thus, Isaac writes: “Truth is the conformity of thing and intellect”; and Anselm: “Truth is a rectitude perceptible only by the mind.” This rectitude, of course, is said to be based on some conformity. The Philosopher says that in defining truth we say that truth is had when one affirms that “to be which is, and that not to be which is not.”11

Whereas the first operation of the intellect abstracts the common nature from individual things, the second operation of the intellect takes that relation of universality, implicit in the intuition, and makes it explicit in a “judgment of existence.” Once the intellect has apprehended the nature of a thing, it can then affirm or deny it of some individual. In logic, the common nature that is affirmed or denied of a thing becomes a predicate, whereas that of which it is affirmed or denied becomes a subject. But the intellect can faithfully proclaim the truth it grasped in the first covenant only insofar as the predicate that is affirmed of the subject belongs in reality to it, and the sign and seal of that reality is the connecting verb copula (“is”). What was implicit in the first covenant is now made explicit by an intellectual act of reflection.

Truth follows the operation of the intellect inasmuch as it belongs to the intellect to judge about a thing as it is. And truth is known by the intellect in view of the fact that the intellect reflects upon its own act—not merely as knowing its own act, but as knowing the proportion of its act to the thing.12(emphasis mine)

One can get a sense of how significant this transition from simple intuition to existential judgment is by considering how easily a child can err in moving from its simple knowledge of “rabbit” to the erroneous statement that the small cat it sees is a rabbit or that the rabbit it sees can fly. Further, it is one thing to understand “bluebird” and quite another to affirm that a bluebird eats a particular kind of insect or makes a particular kind of nest or to deny that a bluebird lives in the desert or hunts large animals.

By reflectively conforming to reality, the intellect both possesses truth and becomes true, and truth, in turn, perfects the intellect according to the intellect’s essential nature. For scholastic philosophers, the movement from the simple apprehension of an essence to its accurate combination with another essence in a proposition was nothing short of the birth of logical truth in the intellect. Logical truth, however, was not thought to be a second covenant of truth but the proclamation, as it were, of the first covenant. And it is by this proclamation that the intellect makes the ontological truth of creation its own human truth.

When the intellect begins to judge about the thing it has apprehended, then its judgment is something proper to itself—not something found outside in the thing.13
Consequently, it is because the intellect reflects upon itself that it knows truth.14

In single-mindedly focusing on eliciting the relations of universality that are implicit in its ideas, the intellect gradually acquires what the scholastics called a habitus—a stable condition of knowledge made perfect by its object: true being. The human, unlike any other creature, has a responsibility to bring to light the truth of things, and this responsibility lies at the heart of all human knowledge. Having ceased to consider the theoretical methods of science as speculative virtues, we are used to thinking that we have a responsibility to act virtuously only in our external actions. In contrast, the scholastics believed that the intellect, not just the will, was compelled by human nature to achieve its own proper ways of acting—the principle of each, however, being the attainment of truth, and truth, as we have seen, can only be attained by the intellect’s fidelity to things.

Philosopher in meditation, Rembrandt, 1632

Philosopher in meditation, Rembrandt, 1632

Again, truth in the intellect signifies that the intellect has allowed itself to be measured by things, and because things are measured by the divine knowledge, in becoming true to things, the intellect becomes true to God. Correlatively, it is because things participate in reality that the human mind can itself become “real.” Further, once the mind is measured, it can then measure, and it does so according to the laws of logic. Accordingly, the intellect’s fidelity to things in its logical predications becomes its fidelity to the divine essence. Logic thus inherits the seriousness and gravity of truth that are implicit in the covenant of truth between things and God. We can no more create the truth than we can create natural beings; rather, we discover it upon discovering them. And upon discovering one truth, we proclaim other truths, hoping that the more complex relations of the second covenant, faithful but fragile, will correspond to the first. However, being “more human” than the first operation, the second must contend with the possibility of error.

Just as the sensing of proper sensibles is always true, so the intellect is always true in knowing what a thing is, as is said in The Soul.15By accident, however, falsity can occur in this knowing of quiddities, if the intellect falsely joins and separates. 16(emphasis mine)

For example, if one were to say that the subject belongs to the predicate, as though this rabbit should belong to the human idea of rabbit, one would make the idea the primary party to the covenant; indeed, one would imply that things come into being from ideas, a reversal of the natural order of being and knowledge.17 To treat the covenant lightly or disrespectfully, therefore, would be to court the singular disaster of falling from the “truth from which we define to the best of our power not the kind of mind each man has, but the kind of mind it ought to be according to eternal norms.”18

Third Covenant

Having portrayed the first two operations of the intellect as two developments of the one human covenant with reality, it seems proper that the third and final operation— the syllogism—should constitute the third and final phase of the covenant. For the scholastics, the syllogism expresses the finality—the completion and perfection—of truthful language and, indeed, of the greater covenant of human language with reality and with God. Moreover, as the seals for the first two covenants, acting as unifying lights, were found in the “middle” of two extremes (the idea between the thing and the intellect, the existential copula between the subject and the predicate), so we can look to the middle term of the syllogism (the agency by which the minor and major terms are united in the conclusion) as the seal of its covenant of truth. In contrast with the second operation, the seal of the syllogistic covenant makes explicit the reason why (propter quid) the predicate can be said truthfully and necessarily to belong to the subject. Here we see a further instance of logic expressing explicitly in one operation what was expressed implicitly in the operation immediately prior to it: just as the second operation elicits from the first the notion of existence seminally expressed in the idea, so the third operation elicits from the second the notion of finality seminally expressed in the existential copula. In asserting that a thing is a specific kind of thing, the intellect presupposes a cause that explains why it is so. While saying what a thing is always was the primary goal of human knowledge, its final goal and the one that most concerns its destiny as wisdom was to discover that to which it is ultimately ordered, as regards both its essence and its existence:

Now it is manifest that things made by nature receive determinate forms. This determination of forms must be reduced to the divine wisdom as its first principle, for divine wisdom devised the order of the universe, which order consists in the variety of things.19

This is the genius of the syllogism, that the predicate of the conclusion belongs to the subject because they have both been united by the middle term, which is a third nature that acts as the light and seal of their own covenant of truth. In the ideal product of the second operation (the apodictic proposition), the predicate belongs to the subject as the essence of its created nature, whence it follows that, in the ideal product of the third act (the apodictic syllogism), the causality manifested by the middle term binds the minor to the major in a covenant of unqualified necessity and truth. For example, one can verify (in principle) the proposition “Every human being is capable of making art,” but one only states why this is true by introducing a third term, rational, as the middle term of the premises of a syllogism:

Every rational being is capable of making art, and every human being is a rational being.

Scholastic philosophers even held that there is no need to state explicitly the necessary conclusion, “Every human being is capable of making art,” for as Jacques Maritain puts it,

The bringing together of these two lights, one under the other [i.e., the minor premise under the major premise], necessarily gives birth in the mind to another light (lights another light, if we may so speak) by which the mind perceives the truth of the consequent.20

For nearly two thousand years, the syllogism was considered to be the highest expression of truth in the intellect; the heart of science; and in the context of our study, the most integral fidelity of human reason to things.21 Concretely and in its logical function, it signified the most disciplined way in which the natural human impulse to know things could be elevated to the level of scientia (knowledge). In the truth of the scientific syllogism, we finally behold the intellect’s intuitive covenant with things fully unfolded into a covenant of covenants, as though the idea (first covenant) were a law, the judgment (second covenant) its proclamation, and the syllogism (third covenant) its legal system. As that for the sake of which the other two operations exist, the syllogism produces the order and form in which myriad agreements between things and the intellect— and through the latter, between things and things—achieve systematic expression and become, as it were, strands in the tapestry of existence. As the final and perfect stage of reasoning, the syllogism takes the prior covenants of existence and links them together to make a world in which things not only exist but exist necessarily and truthfully with innumerable other things.


We must now look to language itself for a fidelity to the truth that may be comparable to the intellect’s prelinguistic covenant between its ideas and things. Now, if one accepts the scholastic formula “words proceed from and signify ideas,” then it follows that if words are to be true, they must be faithful to the ideas, even as they move outward to express things in speech. And this means that their definitions must be stable and enduring. Again, if words are the signs of ideas, they do not signify things directly but only by the light of the idea. As contingent artifacts of human thought, they can also be the signs of the disintegration of ideas. But haven’t we maintained that there is no error at the level of the idea? In the immediacy of its intuition, this is true, but if the intellect comes to neglect the idea in favor of the phantasm of the imagination, which preserves not only the sensual form and power but also the volatility of sensual experience, it ceases to form covenants of truth with things even in its simple apprehension of them. Human beings know things primarily by their kinds, and though they never know the kinds apart from the individuals, neither will they ever know the individual apart from its kind. Aquinas takes care to warn the reader that the intellect must constantly return to the individual, either directly through the sense powers or indirectly through the medium of the imagination, if its ideas are to keep their essential definitions intact. The word is the gravity of the idea, for it gives it concrete existence in a community of minds and demands that it be faithful to the material life of that community, thus making it possible for the community to remain faithful to the broader created world. Whereas the burden of a word is to remain rooted in the idea, the burden of the idea is to remain the root of the word. The idea must keep in touch with things even while generating ever more universal expressions of their common nature, while the word must keep in touch with the idea even while moving ever closer to the unintelligible matter of things. The spoken word, if commensurate to the intellectual intention, must embrace principles by which things both exist in reality and exist in the intellect. Accordingly, the idea, which remains still and luminous in the intellect, and the word, which is always on the move to things, combine to make an artificial covenant—a covenant of art—that is constantly renewed whenever we name a thing. But it is the strength of their words that allows humans to be neighbors with each other and with the non-human world, both of which are necessary not just for a good life but for the very survival of the human species.

The Stoics referred to the idea as the logos endiathetos, the “indwelling word,” and to the spoken word as the logos prophorikos, the “word brought forth” (into speech). The latter is the energeia, the work or active power of the idea in the world, a natural and necessary reversal of the idea’s abstraction from the sensuality of things. As the soul, then, can inhabit and interact with the world only through its body, so the idea can make manifest its intentions in the world only through its word.

This is especially true of the holy words of religion, which name the things without which the people cannot live or live well. These are the special “property” of a people and must always be guarded against hostile and destructive forces from within and without. They speak of the essence of a people and thus make sense of other words that are as accidents in comparison to them.

Now we do not judge of a thing by what is in it accidentally, but by what is in it essentially.22

From time immemorial, people have offered certain words to their gods as sacrificial gifts, words that over time became orienting lights by which the meanings of other words could be verified and enriched.

Aboriginal peoples knew more clearly than moderns do that they owed a debt to things— for giving them sustenance; shelter; beautiful ornaments; the exemplars for crafts; and most of all, the material forms and signs of their gods.

Aboriginal peoples knew more clearly than moderns do that they owed a debt to things—for giving them sustenance; shelter; beautiful ornaments; the exemplars for crafts; and most of all, the material forms and signs of their gods. It was for this reason that they were able to experience other individuals, human and non-human, with such an intimate and often shocking sense of spiritual presence. Even today, whether one knows it or not, one still listens for a god’s voice in things. Ancient philosophers held that no one can desire anything otherwise than as a good; to that, one may add the analogous principle that one will, whether inadvertently or intentionally, acknowledge as a god whatever compels one to look at, listen to, or touch it. Moderns, unbeknownst to themselves, are just as susceptible as the ancients were to the “gods of the moment,”23 those inexplicable forces in things that so shock the mind with their presence that one spontaneously adopts an attitude of reverence or worship in regard to them. But if one also listens for the divine in what things signify once they have been sublimated from sensual things and made into spiritual lights in the intellect, one can achieve freedom from the momentary gods and catch a glimpse of the eternal God.

Golden Shirt, Siah Armajani, 1960

Golden Shirt, Siah Armajani, 1960

Far from being a flight from things, this spiritual upliftment is, as we have been saying, the beginning of the covenant of truth with things. Accordingly, as the intellect proceeds “outwardly” to name things, the word’s archetype or exemplar remains the common nature as expressed in the idea; thus, in making names, one introduces into them the idea’s universality and the richness of its intelligible content. The word inherits the universality of the idea, and yet such is the power of its trajectory toward things and the impossibility of its reaching that destination that it demands accessories—poignant crutches, as it were—to assist it, invalid as it is, in speaking the thing’s individuality (the exception to its kind), which is obscured by the totalitarian light of the idea. Words are partial by nature, and left to themselves, they take the part of things.

Analogous to the way in which human knowledge falls prey to error when it makes judgments about reality, so the primordial will to name things can lose touch with true beings and fall into habits of manipulating them. If so, the intellect can become tyrannical and malevolent, devoting itself to shaping things before it has come to know them and to measuring them before it has been measured by them. Knowing this, the ancients were sensitive to the powers that accrued to the word in the course of its use in various sectors of society, whether sacred or profane, theoretical or practical. They could recognize in the nuances of the uttered sound intentions alien to the covenants upon which their society had been founded, and they universally avoided (except in ritual obligations, which followed canons of proper use that were consistent with the covenants) tonalities of command, of totalitarian control, of deformation and violation. Among those who were most acutely aware of these catastrophic24 habits of speech were the craftsmen, who, unformed by the liberal arts, cultivated a lifelong, predominantly sensual kinship with things. In societies possessing ancient and sophisticated craft traditions, their universal agreement as to the proper assignment of names to things kept them distrustful of sorcery, but their very knowledge that sorcery involved the willful distortion of holy names, and consequently of the ideas from whence they came, made them vigilant to the vulnerability of their covenants of truth.

The modern belief that truth signifies nothing but the will of power is perhaps the clearest sign that the academy and the institutions that depend on it have ignored or forgotten the old caveat against sorcery. Indeed, modern technocracy, by so thoroughly inverting the relations of measure formerly considered to be divinely established, now sees things not only as naturally malleable but as needing to be altered, sometimes essentially, to conform to human exigencies. Consequently, we live in a time when not only truth but also the very physicality of things are denied in favor of phantasms that, but for the accident of their means of production, would be identical with the oldest shapes of occult conjurings.

Regardless of whether one considers the word truth to signify anything real, there is the inescapable concern that by undermining with such reckless abandon our inherited covenants—primarily those between humans and things—we have cut ourselves off from the underlying principles that are constitutive of any and every bond of trust. The old logic, I have suggested, with its threefold bond of trust that guided the intellect in its most serious dealings with nature, might help us discover the reality of truth once more. And among the benefits of this venerable study, which include the irresistible pleasure of resting one’s mind on the solid ground of nature, the most important may be the realization that all things, and thus we ourselves, have been created according to kind.

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