Do Ideas Have Consequences? Indeed They Do!

by Ted Wright

In 1948 an English professor at the University of Chicago penned a book whose main idea resonates well into the modern world and into today’s news headlines. The professor was Richard Weaver and his book was Ideas Have Consequences.

The main thesis of Weaver’s book is that philosophy undergirds all of society. What we believe about reality matters. What we say or think is real matters. Language, and how we use it is important.

In 1948 many intellectuals in Europe and America were left dumbfounded as to how such atrocities could have been committed by Germany in WWII. In the 1930’s, Germany was one of THE most literate nations in the world, so it wasn’t that Germans were ill informed or unintelligent. After all, Germany had produced such brilliant musical luminaries as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and hugely influential philosophers like Hegel, Kant, etc…

The problem, as Weaver saw it, wasn’t literacy or education per se, it was the KIND of philosophy that was informing the German view of reality.

Weaver believed that the root problem was the philosophy of nominalism. What is nominalism?

‘Nominalism’ as defined by Weaver, “denies that universals [i.e terms like, man, woman, tree, house, etc…] have a real existence.”[1]

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But someone may say, “So what? What’s the problem?”

As Weaver put it, “The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind.”[2]

To put this simply – do we get to define things anyway we want? Are words and language to be used merely for our convenience? OR is there a source of truth higher than and independent of man?

In a recent article in Slate.com by Christin Scarlett Milloy, this question has taken a radical new turn. In the article titled, ‘Don’t Let the Doctor Do this to Your Newborn,’ Milloy argues that one of the most damaging things new parents can do is to assign a gender to your newborn. Yep – you read that right!

When a baby is born, for a doctor or a midwife to declare that it is a boy or girl is akin to abuse…

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Do Ideas Have Consequences? Indeed They Do! – Cross Examined