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The misuse and abuse of words: reflecting on misology with Plato and Josef Pieper

Faculty Advisor




language, sophistry

Abstract (summary)

Concerning the apparent abuse of the word “eternity,” Romano Guardini observes: “A word is not merely a sign to convey a meaning. It is a living thing, embodying spirit. In company with other words it makes up language, and language is the room in which man lives.”[1] If humans live in language, then it matters very much how we use it; we ought to be careful about how we speak and write. Guardini adds: “When a word decays, it is not merely that we become uncertain of each other’s meaning. One of the forms that compose our life has perished. A signpost has become illegible. A light has been extinguished and our intellectual day made darker.”[2] If the corruption of a word impoverishes our intellectual lives by obscuring the portion of reality to which the word refers, the corruption of language more broadly would have a devastating effect on human life by darkening reality as such. The misuse of words not only confuses speech and compromises communication; it obstructs access to truth. Philosophy has much to say, of course, about language. I am not, however, concerned herein with the philosophy of language. Instead, my concern is moral and political: how are words related to human life, and what are the consequences, for persons, of the misuse of language? Although these questions are perennial, and are almost certainly particularly salient today, my approach is ostensibly historical, treating Plato and one of his twentieth century readers, the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper. What can we learn from them about the misuse of words?

Publication Information

Lorkovic, Edvard. “The Misuse and Abuse of Words: Reflecting on Misology with Plato and Josef Pieper.” VoegelinView, December 27, 2020.



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