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Fr. 459

December 13, 2013

An etymological approach to the formal identity of thought, speech and deed.

To deem (dēman) is to doom (dōm) is to do (dōn). More precisely, to deem or think is to act as judge, be this of a thing, a situation or a person. To doom is to put in place through the act of speech or communication, spoken, written or merely signed. To do is the act of placing itself, as suggested by the word’s Indo-European root, shared as it is with the Greek tithēmi ‘I place’.

Constant in these three instances are the notions of acting and place. Although it should come as no surprise that “acting” is to be found in the deed wing of the larger identity, in the case of speech, there is perhaps a lesser surprise in that the linguistic turn of the 20th century went so far as to posit “speech-acts”, i.e. words or speech that were in fact doings in themselves. What comes as a greater surprise is the claim that thought is also to be considered a doing that impacts the world in some way and this to the extent that thought changes the effective constitution of the world for the thinker: the person thinking “I am hungry” has altered his or her experience of the world; the person thinking “I dislike this person” has altered his or her behavior towards that person; and so on. Similarly, it is no longer simply performatives that are to be considered doings. No, this is no longer the privileged domain of “I declare…”, “I pronounce” and so. Much as with thought, even the most trivial speech is to be considered as doing. Not that thought or spoken declarations of thought determine doing, but these are themselves on the same continuum as doing or, more strongly, are doing themselves.

As for the common thread of place, place is here both that of “whence” and “whither”, origin and orientation. In deeming, dooming and doing, it is a matter of assigning a place in some larger scheme to the patient of the determination in question. For instance, in deeming or thought, one is the agent of a judgment and must decide into which of a certain number of categories the patient in question will fit, leaving aside the question of whether these categories preexist the fitting or exist only following it. Similarly, in dooming or speech, one subjects the patient to the place that one has found for it. Finally, in doing or deed, the place assigned is filled by the patient, made as it is to occupy that place and no other.

Yet this covers only half of the structure, that of whither and orientation. What of whence and origin? It is clear that in judging, the judgment must be made against the background of beliefs pertinent to the judge, hence the question of origin. Likewise, the putting in place or dooming must issue from a particular agent; speech does not simply exist but must be attributed to a speaker. Thus, the notion of origin again arises. Lastly, there cannot be a deed without a doer as a deed without a doer is a fact, inert and intentionless. As such, doer stands in relation to deed as originator to effect.

Accordingly, the identity of thought, speech and deed would consist in the placing of something, its consigning and determining to a certain role, with special attention paid to a continuum of doing and the importance of place.

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