Pieper proposes that language has a “two-fold purpose”: first, to describe reality and, second, to describe it to someone. This second, “inter-personal character of human speech,” is inextricably rooted in the first, speech’s necessary link to reality, to truth. [p. 15] If the first becomes corrupted – if a man fails to speak the truth and lies – then the second purpose becomes corrupted as well and language loses its “inter-personal character.” Pieper goes so far as to claim that a lie cannot be considered communication.
A lie is the opposite of communication. It means specifically to withhold the other’s share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality. [p. 16]
In other words, those who “give fine speeches” but are “indifferent” to truth “are unable to converse.” They “simply cannot join in a conversation;” they “are incapable of dialogue.” [p. 17] But worse, their use of “such sophisticated language, disconnected from the roots of truth, in fact pursues some ulterior motives [and] invariably turns into an instrument of power ….” [p. 20]
The very moment ... that someone in full awareness employs words yet explicitly disregards reality, he in fact ceases to communicate anything to the other. *** [He] no longer considers the other as partner, as equal. In fact, he no longer respects the other as a human person. From that moment on …, all conversation ceases; all dialogue and all communication come to an end.
[H]aving an ulterior motive. I address the other not simply to please him or to tell him something that is true. Rather, what I say to him is designed to get something from him! [pp. 21-22]
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Pieper’s contentions about language and power are especially sobering in our age of “politically correct” speech, which has nothing to do with truth and everything to do with ulterior motives and manipulation. Ultimately, only a commitment to speak the truth, no matter how hard or uncomfortable, shows respect for the humanity of those to whom we speak.
© Joseph E. Rendini 2005