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Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 4.1 (2001) 114-134
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Bedrock Truths and the Dignity of the Individual
Bedrock Truths as Living Recognitions
The other is like me, humanly my equal. He or she is a human being like myself. Both of us are members of the human family, what we also call, using biological categories, the "human species" or the species homo sapiens. To be a human being is not a status conferred upon me by anyone. Nor is this a status that I, nor anyone else, can confer upon others. We are natural beings, and find ourselves existing as what we are, human beings. I identify another as a human being simply when I encounter him or her. They also find me so when they encounter me. That this is the case is an undeniable fact we become aware of in the same way as we come to know that we are language speakers. These are facts of recognition, of acknowledgment, constituting the very beings we are, and that we take for granted in what we do. We are not "instructed" in these truths, they become part of us in the process of being alive and aware as human beings. Let me acknowledge these facts as bedrock truths.
We depend on bedrock truths for understanding each other as "meaning-full," communicative linguistic beings. Because bedrock [End Page 114] truths are a matter of basic recognition, they cannot be given further grounds or "proofs." They represent the basic agreements in judgments, which permit us to communicate with one another, and hence on which all proof depends. When we are little and we learn to walk and talk, we also learn these human ways of being and understanding, and continue to do so as we develop as human beings. This is so because we are already human beings within a human community.
Let us dwell briefly on some of these bedrock truths to further emphasize their "ground" nature. Every human being is an individual. We do not need any special drill to come to know this. I could discern between my parents even before I learned to count. Ever since I was very little I had no difficulty saying how many brothers and sisters I had when I was asked. These recognitions were taken for granted in everything I did and understood about myself. I lived with them as something I grasped as a result of being endowed with intelligence and the power of speech, as well as with eyes and ears and tongue, and being brought up within a human family. I learned about the individuality of indiscernibles only when I went to university and studied Leibniz. Nevertheless I could enter into this philosophical issue about the way to distinguish what is immediately indistinguishable precisely because I was a language speaker, and I trusted my ordinary human powers of recognition about things being particular and individual.
If we were challenged with the question, Can you prove to me that human beings are language speakers? what meaning could we give to "prove"? We would be justified in doubting the sanity of the question and of the questioner. We cannot prove the fact that we are linguistic beings because we depend on this reality for any form of discourse. That is where we begin from, or where we conceptually stand to begin any inquiry. Language enables us to identify, discern, and know the world; and without language nothing can be talked about. The human world is a meaning-mediated world, a language-mediated world. Yet language and meaning do not totally make up [End Page 115] our body, or our individuality, or our humanity. Rather, language enables us to humanly recognize ourselves as human beings, individuals who are embodied. That every human being is bodily, a physical living being of human form, offspring of two human parents, an individual, a member of a language community, are all bedrock truths, because they have to be acknowledged--they cannot be proved.