Re: Pragmatic/Semantic

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Mar 18 1998 - 06:42:39 EST

This is moving farther and farther from legitimate analysis of the GNT into
the arcane areas of psycholinguistics and hermeneutics, both of which,
IMHO, are something less than legitimate "sciences." Nevertheless, I can't
avoid making a couple comments here.

At 11:55 AM -0600 3/17/98, Edgar Foster wrote:
>Dear Rolf:
>> Edgar Foster wrote:
>> <I hold a different view from you, Clayton. I believe in marked and
>> unmarked meanings. The term "God" <has a meaning without a context. The
>> said meaning is its lexical entry. Context adds clarity, thus <marking the
>> meaning of "God" (so that we know WHOM we're discussing). I don't accept
>> the argument that <a word has no meaning without context. General
>> convention does clarify the meaning of a word, however. <Conversely, a
>> lexical sign adds meaning to a macrostructure This argument is at least as
>> old as the <Pre-Socratics. :)
>> Dear Edgar,
>> I agree with you completely. Psycholinguistic experiments have shown that
>> words (or rather concepts representing words) are stored in the mind, and
>> are organized as word classes, or as similar groups of different kinds, but
>> not as clauses and contexts. The letters constituting words serve as
>> samantic signals for the concepts in the minds of those having a common
>> presupposition pool.
>At one time I entertained the idea that words have no meaning without a
>context, but I experienced cognitive dissonance upon studying Psychology.
>(1) According to psychologists, we think in concepts. (2.) Based on the
>linguistic-relativity hypothesis, it seems that we think because of
>language and have language because of thought. There is an
>interconnectedness between the two so that to think is to have
>preconceived notions about (among other things) "meanings" of words. As
>you mention, "a common presupposition pool" is responsible for the manner
>in which cultures are able to relate certain concepts with certain
>semantic signals. To the Stoics, LOGOS meant one thing; to Heraclitus
>another; to members of Judaism, LOGOS differed in meaning from the
>Hellenic concept. In vivid language, John says that the LOGOS became flesh
>and was PROS TON QEON. Augustine said that he found information about the
>LOGOS in the Platonic tradition, but John 1:14 was different, however.
>Depending on the presupposition pool, the meaning will vary.<

There is some validity to this distinction between the sense of LOGOS for
Stoics and Heraclitus and Jewish cultural traditions, but it would be
dangerous to push that distinction too far for a Hellenistic culture where
ethnic traditions were interpenetrating and cross-fertilizing each other
even before the death of Alexander (an old, but hardly outmoded fascinating
study of the interpenetration and cross-fertilization of Hellenism and
Judaism is Moses Hadas' _Hellenistic Culture-Fusion and Diffusion_ --
although I may not have the title exactly right); Martin Hengel's
_Hellenism and Judaism_ is also remarkable, showing, for example, how
heavily indebted to alien ideas was an ultra-conservative Jewish sect like
the Essenes. The name of the game in cultural ideas in the first century of
our era is syncretism: the traditional conceptions of the cultures in the
Mediterranean and Near East tended to combine and become reformulated in
several different ways in a curious "mix and match" bunch of patterns. It
is very difficult to form a clear and precise history of how the word LOGOS
is being used in any particular first-century writer, including Philo of
Alexandria. Certainly in the background of the Hellenistic Jewish
conception of LOGOS is the earlier Alexandrian fusion of Hokhma and Sophia

>>The context has one principal function, namely to
>> *make visible* which part of the concept signalled by the word the author
>> wants to stress. The reader with the same presupposition pool as the author
>> will in a fraction of a second understand what each word in a clause
>> signals, and thus he understands the author. This model indicates that the
>> words in the mind (= the concepts) are semantic and uncancellable, the
>> context is pragmatic and makes visible a part of that which is
>> uncancellable.
>This brings up the issue of the value of studying isolated units in
>exegesis. I recently read an essay in which the author contended that the
>Epistle of John is primarily hortatory in nature and the pre-dominant
>theme is love. In order to arrive at this conclusion, he performed
>discourse analysis to the Epistle. While I have no problem with discourse
>analysis. I came to the same conclusion before I ever read his essay by
>studying isolated units of meaning. It seems that the pendulum is swinging
>toward this methodology.

This may or may not be true; thirty years ago I was convinced that the wave
of the future in NT studies was redaction criticism; my impression now is
that no one methodology is likely any time soon to dominate NT scholarship
in any overwhelming way. There's too much to learn from several of the
different methodologies to dismiss any of them summarily.

>Edgar Foster
>Classics Major (Lenoir-Rhyne)
>Hickory, NC

I don't think you've been using this signature file previously have you? I
hadn't been aware that you were at Lenoir-Rhyne over at Hickory. That's
very close to my summer-stomping grounds in the Blue Ridge (Yancey County).
My one acquaintance with Lenoir-Rhyne is that it's where I had to go in
1958 to take my GRE when there wasn't any place further west in NC to do
so. What sort of a Classics department do they have there? I guess that is
an off-line question, but you have indeed roused my curiosity.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649 OR

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