The Danger of Using Modern Definitions and Applying Them Historically

It is my opinion that most disagreements in conversations is due to a lack of understanding. This lack of understand stems from two things. One, it is sometimes hard trying to get past one’s own perspective in order to see things from someone else’s perspective. Two, people tend to use different definitions for words which can be a stumbling block. It is important to remember that language is always updating. As time and society progresses throughout history, words get redefined or updated. When words are redefined, the old definitions do not disappear but rather they are stuck in time, waiting to be applied in the time in which it was applied. It is still there for those who use them. It is important to know the definitions of words especially when conversing with others. If one is using a different definition than the other person, both people will end up talking past each other. An example of a word that’s been redefined recently is “racism”. The original definition of racism defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” (“Racism”). The newest definition is “the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another” (“Racism”). Merriam-Webster dictionary updated the definition of racism in the middle of 2020 after a letter of request. (Mosley) The change is small and subtle but still an important change. Another word that is important to discuss that has long since been redefined is “Pray”. Pray is a simple word that most people automatically know the definition, but they never look at the previous definitions. The modern definition of pray is defined as “to address God or a god with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving” (“Pray”). The older definition of pray is defined as “ENTREAT, IMPLORE  —often used as a function word in introducing a question, request, or plea” (“Pray”). This change in the definition is not small. You should not judge a prior society’s actions by a modern society’s morals. In a similar way, you should not use a modern definition when reading historical documents when the historical documents were using a previous definition. One must not think that they know what a word means until one looks up the word in its historical context. A good example of this is often shown in dialogues between Catholics and Protestants within the Christian religion. Catholics often use the old definition of pray while Protestants often use the modern definition of pray. Because of this, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation. Since Catholics use the old definition of pray, when they pray to saints to pray for them, they are asking those within the body of Christ to ask God for them. Since Protestants use the modern definition of pray, when they hear that Catholics pray to those within the body of Christ, they think they are in the wrong. There is a lot of play on words involved. This is why knowing the definitions that others use for words is very important in not only conversations but historical research. 

Works Cited

“Pray.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pray. Accessed 25 Jul. 2021.

“Racism.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism. Accessed 25 Jul. 2021.

Mosley, Tonya and Samantha Raphelson. “Merriam-Webster To Revise The Definition Of Racism After Receiving Recent Graduate’s Letter | Here & Now.” WBUR. 12 Jun 2020. Web. 25 Jul 2021. <http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2020/06/12/merriam-webster-racism-definition&gt;.

Critical Race Theory

There are a lot of people talking about Critical Race Theory.  People are either heavily for it or heavily against it. There is also talk of whether it should be taught in schools. For those not familiar with the critical race theory, it is one of many literary theories used in critical analysis of literature.

“Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a theoretical and interpretive mode that examines the appearance of race and racism across dominant cultural modes of expression. In adopting this approach, CRT scholars attempt to understand how victims of systemic racism are affected by cultural perceptions of race and how they are able to represent themselves to counter prejudice” (Critical Race Theory).

According to Purdue University, “A very basic way of thinking about literary theory is that these ideas act as different lenses critics use to view and talk about art, literature, and even culture” (Introduction to Literary Theory). Some of these theories were developed as far back as 360 BC such as Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction. It is important to note that there is nothing wrong with learning about or using any of the theories. However, there can be issues when someone uses only one theory and when they treat that theory as fact.

These are the most commonly used literary theories: Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction (~360 BC-present), Formalism, New Criticism, Neo-Aristotelian Criticism (1930s-present),Psychoanalytic Criticism, Jungian Criticism(1930s-present), Marxist Criticism (1930s-present), Reader-Response Criticism (1960s-present), Structuralism/Semiotics (1920s-present), Post-Structuralism/Deconstruction (1966-present), New Historicism/Cultural Studies (1980s-present), Post-Colonial Criticism (1990s-present), Feminist Criticism (1960s-present), Gender/Queer Studies (1970s-present), Critical Race Theory (1970s-present), and Critical Disability Studies (1990s-present). As one can see, there are a wide variety of topics used.

Literary theories and schools of criticism is usually taught at the college level; however, some states might teach these at a high school level. There is a lot of talk on social media about having one particular theory, which is the critical race theory, pulled from educational settings and banned from being taught. There is the common objection that this theory promotes racism. It’s important to note, that same logic can be applied to all of the literary theories and whatever they’re discussing. An example would be to say that the feminist criticism theory could promote feminism or that the Marxist criticism theory could promote a Marxist ideology. It is important that we keep all the theories and that they are to remain being taught in educational settings. It is an exchange of ideas and thought processes which is important to education, knowledge and growth in society as a whole. If we banned one literary theory such as the critical race theory, we would have to ban all the theories which would include the reader response theory. The reader response theory is using one’s own interpretation of what they read. If we got rid of that theory, we essentially get rid of free thought which is dangerous to a society. 

Works Cited

“Critical Race Theory // Purdue Writing Lab.” OWL // Purdue Writing Lab. Purdue University, Web. 1 Jul 2021. <http://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/critical_race_theory.html&gt;.

“Introduction to Literary Theory // Purdue Writing Lab.” OWL // Purdue Writing Lab. Purdue University, Web. 1 Jul 2021. <http://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/index.html&gt;.

Should “In God We Trust” Remain as a Motto?

Over the years, American traditions have been questioned. One of these traditions is the United States national motto “In God We Trust.” The biggest objectors to the United States national motto “In God We Trust” are the secularist and separatist. Secularist are those who are non-religious and believe theistic views should not be included in government affairs. Separatists are those who are religious and believe there should be a full separation between church and state. Using the First Amendment as justification for opposing the national motto, secularist, and separatist have been trying to challenge it in courts. Not only has the courts ruled that the motto does not violate the First Amendment, but there is a historical precedent for the inscription. The United States national motto “In God We Trust” should remain a motto and remain on currency because of the historical precedent.

The words “In God We Trust” was only adopted as the national motto by Congress in 1956 (Public Law 84-851) as an alternative for the United States unofficial motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” which means “out of many, one,” however the inscription goes farther back in history. According to an article titled “Coining Controversy,” Brown states, “The phrase first appeared on an American two-cent coin in 1864 thanks to the joint efforts of a Pennsylvania minister, a ‘Christian nation’ advocate and a compliant U.S. treasury secretary” (12). The phrase was legislated to appear on all silver and gold coins in 1908 (Brown 14). In 1955, the phrase was legislated to appear on all paper money (Fisher 683-684).

“In God We Trust” may have started as an inscription on coins during the civil war but theistic notions go back to the founding fathers.  In the Declaration of Independence, it states “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor” (32). “Divine Providence” in this statement means being under God’s control. It is important to note that the Declaration of Independence has no legal authority (Brown 12). The Declaration of Independence may not have legal authority, but it still shows that the United States’ founding fathers felt significant enough to mention God. This also shows neutrality between religions because it is not a specific God.

Some people believe this motto is oppressive to atheists and citizens of different faiths and violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (First Amendment). The motto has been challenged several times since its adoption and each time the courts have ruled the motto to be constitutional. In an essay titled “Adopting ‘In God We Trust’ As the U.S. National Motto,” authors Fisher and Mourtada-Sabbah stated that “In Aronow v. United States (1970), the Ninth Circuit ruled that the inscription and its use as the national motto represented ‘patriotic or ceremonial character and …no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of religion’” (689).

In conclusion, some organizational groups and some individuals from time to time want to change laws and tradition. Some will go as far as continuing to challenge it in the courts despite the previous rulings declaring the motto constitutional. The motto is fairly new in American history, and there are some historical religious reasons for the motto prior to adoption. In recent times, the reasons for the motto have become more secular. In the essay titled “Adopting ‘In God We Trust’ As the U.S National Motto,” authors Fishers and Mourtada-Sabbah point out that “The primary purpose of the slogan was secular and served a secular ceremonial purpose in the ‘obviously secular function of providing a medium of exchange’” (690). This mounting evidence should be considered worthy enough as a reminder that “In God We Trust” should remain listed on currency and as a national motto.

Works Cited

Brown, Simon. “Coining CONTROVERSY.” Church & State, vol. 66, no. 6, June 2013, pp. 12–14. EBSCOhost,search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=87852423&site=eds-live.

Fisher, Louis, and Nada Mourtada-Sabbah. “Adopting ‘In God We Trust’ As the U.S. National Motto.” Journal of Church & State, vol. 44, no. 4, Sept. 2002, p. 683-690 1. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1093/jcs/44.4.671.

“The Bill of Rights: A Transcription National Archives.” National Archives. Web. 2 Mar 2021. <http://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript#toc-amendment-i&gt;.

“Declaration of Independence: A Transcription National Archives.” National Archive. Web. 2 Mar 2021. <http://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript&gt;.

Relativism

Withing the realm of moral relativism, there are two views. Subjective relativism, meaning right actions are actions that are right because they are endorsed by an individual person; and Cultural relativism. “Cultural Relativism is the view that right actions are those endorsed by one’s culture.” (Vaughn 149) In this essay we will focus on the latter. To be more specific, we will focus on how cultural relativism has some inadequacies; infallibility, the unlikelihood of disagreement, and the impossibility of moral progress.

Cultural relativism means that right actions are whatever a culture deems right. Cultural relativism implies moral infallibility. According to the dictionary, infallibility means “Incapable of error: unerring” (“Infallible”) If culture “a” approves an action like murder, to be right; it is therefore right. If a different culture “b” approves an action that is opposite of culture “a”; it too is therefore right. Each Culture is infallible when it comes to deciding whether an action is morally right. An Example of this would be Germany in World War II. If the Majority of people In Germany deemed it right to exterminate Jews, cultural relativism implies they are morally right and infallible.

If the Majority of people in the United States deemed it right to not exterminate Jews, they would be morally right and infallible too. This also would imply that there is no absolute moral standard to judge upon.

Another inadequacy of cultural relativism is the unlikelihood of disagreement among people. Normally, People would have disagreements about morality. If two friends have different viewpoints on a moral issue, it is more about approving or disapproving then it is a disagreement. In the same way, we would not be able to criticize cultures. Under cultural relativism, there is no objective moral code to appeal to. Which means each individual culture is correct. Since various contradictory moral standards of different cultures is correct, there is no disagreements, only approvals or disapprovals.

The final inadequacy being discussed is the impossibility of moral progress. We generally like to look back through history and judge societies of today as having progressed or not progressed on moral issues. Under cultural relativism, this is not possible. As stated, several times previously, there is no objective moral code to appeal to. Since there is no objective moral code in which we can measure progress, there is no moral progress. This would mean there is only a change of moral attitudes throughout history with each moral attitude being equal.

Many people find it appealing or adhere to cultural relativism the way they do subjective relativism. They find it appealing because it releases them from critical reasoning and thinking about morality. Although it may seem appealing and easier to adhere to cultural relativism, these inadequacies mentioned above bring some serious doubts to these moral theories.

Works Cited

Vaughn, Lewis. “3.2 Moral Relativism.”  Philosophy here and now: powerful ideas in everyday life. third. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. 149. Print.

“Infallible.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infallible. Accessed 3 Oct. 2020.

Works Consulted

Vaughn, Lewis. “3.2 Moral Relativism.”  Philosophy here and now: powerful ideas in everyday life. third. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. 149-152. Print.

An Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living

An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

Socrates is considered by far the wisest man in ancient Greece. Socrates says, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”  One must examine their own life by questioning the ideas and thoughts that form it. To not question life, to not examine our thoughts and beliefs is pointless. For a meaningful and well lived life, we need to account for what we know and do not know. We also need to reflect upon what we believe. Some scholars argue that our nature as human beings leads us to live examined lives. “Socrates’ call to live examined lives is not necessarily and instance to reject all such motivations and inclinations but rather an injunction to appraise their truth worth for the human soul.” (Ambury 2.b.iii).

As humans, we need introspection and self-examination for our growth. Just like Seeds need sunlight and water for its growth. The unexamined life is deprived of the purpose and meaning of existence. Humans are more than animals. We are more than sleeping, eating and procreating. We have a highly developed faculty of thought. Without our use of this faculty of thought, we do not grow intellectually, civilly or culturally.

Socrates was put on trial for being accused of not recognizing the gods, and for corrupting the youth. He was condemned by a close vote of 280 to 220. His accusers wanted and argued for the death penalty. He was even given the opportunity to suggest his own punishment. He eventually suggested that he pay a fine as his punishment. The jury selected death by poison.  Socrates would rather die than to be exiled or ordered to be not capable of daily discourse. After all, to Socrates examinations of himself and others is the greatest good of man. In conclusion, a life worth living is mindful that we as humans are a work in progress and fulfilling our purpose in life.

Works Cited

Ambury, James M. “Socrates | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy | An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers. 1995. Web. 28 Aug 2020. <http://iep.utm.edu/socrates/&gt;.

Bibliography

Plato. Apology. Project Gutenberg, 2008. Ebook. <https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1656&gt;.

Verma, Parth. ““An unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates. What does this quotation mean to you?” Civilsdaily. 2020. Web. 28 Aug 2020. <http://• http://www.civilsdaily.com/mains/an-unexamined-life-is-not-worth-living-socrates-what-does-this-quotation-mean-to-you-10-marks/>.

“The Suicide of Socrates, 399 BC.” EyeWitness to History – history through the eyes of those      who lived it. 2003. Web. 28 Aug 2020. <http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/socrates.htm&gt;.