Is Walker Percy justified in taking naming and assertion to be a uniquely human phenomena? This is a challenging question because it requires a certain level of abstraction. But in some sense, the very reflection upon this question is a phenomena which reveals the answer.
Can I construe what I am doing right now as phenomena of cause and effect or of stimulus-response? Do we do anything more than act in a manner which can be described by behaviorists or as some form of complex animal desire?
We certainly can describe what I am doing in terms of stimulus and response or by means of a dyadic cause and effect methodology. I read certain things; I was prompted by questions; I thought about them; Now I am writing (and thinking) about them.
But are these actions fully accounted for by cause and effect, by desires which are behavioral, in which I am simply “adjusting” myself to my environment? What then is the deal with all this preoccupation with truth? Why do I search, not only for a response, for a response which I take to be true? Further, what is the apprehension of truth? When I am stimulated by hunger to eat, I do not seek the true as such, but something which satisfies the hunger. My appetite by itself does not distinguish between true and false food, but between good and bad food, or non-food. But in apprehending the true, I reflect in some manner, on being itself, regardless of my responses to it.
When I think about the nature of food itself and its purpose, I can do so without any need or plan to eat. I can reflect on a thing ‘out there’ by means of language, even without any intention to act. In doing so, I do not have an urge motivating me, though I may have a love for the true. Our love of the true is not a biologically directed instinct, an outgrowth of evolution. Evolution has no way of explaining our desire for truth as such.
In language, we stand apart from the ordinary world and simply consider the world as such. Though we may make conclusions pertaining to action, our knowledge, our symbolizing and speaking of the world does not have reference to “space-time” as such. In this manner, we stand simultaneously in time and in truth. Human speech (therefore, human community, science, culture, even personal life, etc.) has therefore a trans-temporal aspect. In this trans-temporality, we stand further apart from the creation than any other creature, and yet we draw near it. We do this through language. We step apart from the world through language, but simultaneously, a world only exists properly for those with words—who can consider not just this here and now, but all things in their relations to one another.