I thought of this quote as I was preparing for my study on John tonight:
Philosophers sometimes appear to talk in obscure ways. They do so because they take into consideration what people often overlook. If a poet (Longfellow) can say, ‘things are not what they seem’, the philosopher will give reasons why. The fact is that we do not always make a correct judgment about what we sense. Perception may mislead. So, taking this into account, the philosopher says, ‘I seem to see a red pencil.’ By using the expression ‘I seem to’ he suggests that what he sees may not be what it seems to him to be.
In spite of this allowance for doubt, it is usually the case that what seems to us to be so in our ordinary experience is probably so. So we quite reasonably judge that the way things seem is the way they are. So in our ordinary course of life we do not say, ‘I seem to see a pigeon’, ‘I seem to hear a loud noise’, ‘I seem to be touching a tennis ball’. We only use the term ‘seem’ when we have some doubt about what we are perceiving.
The question is whether there is an analogy from such ordinaryexperience to religious experience.… (Edward W. H. Vick, Philosophy for Believers, p. 119)
I was thinking of the first two sentences in connection with the use of definitions. Philosophers tend to spend more time defining, and often those who are not philosophers get rather impatient with this. But I was working with the word “significant” in connection with textual criticism.
One of the great arguments in textual criticism and its application to Christian faith and understanding of the Bible involves what are significant variants. So one person says that there are many significant variants in the New Testament text, meaning, perhaps, that the variant could impact a translation in some way. Another says that there are less significant variants, but still a fair number, considering only those variants which would impact the exegesis of the particular verse as significant. Yet another says that there are very few or even no significant variants at all, considering as significant only those variants that would impact a Christian doctrine.
Thus we have great, and sometimes angry debates, which might go back to what we think is significant.
Perhaps getting a bit more pedantic about the definitions would help!