[KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Wed Mar 18 16:45:55 EDT 2015


	Once more:

	According to Deacon and Cashman, the second of the three “synergies” that accompanied the evolution of language, and that helps undergird the religious sensibilities of the symbolic species, is the symbol-induced tropism toward conception of “a bi-layered world,” i.e., perception of “a pattern-behind-the-pattern,” an almost compulsive “metaphysical dualism” common to religions in general.

	This two-world metaphysics---analogous to Burke’s assertion that language is a “transcendence” in and of itself, irrespective of other, more common notions of transcendence language may evoke---this two-world metaphysics goes something like this:

	Symbol-users, like nonsymbolic animals, live in world of “real,” “material,” “tactile and visible objects and living beings,” a world of “concrete objects and events.”  Unlike those reptilian and mammalian precursors, however, symbolizers inhabit a “second world” as well.  This underlying world is one of “symbols that are linked together by meaningful associations,” a “virtual,” indeed a “spiritual,” world.  The symbolic species is, consequently, a “bi-layered” being.  Just as the religious sensibility completes, in a sense, the symbol-generated “narrative” union of mammalian procedural and episodic memory systems (religion fulfilling most “perfectly” the thrust toward a narrative “telos,” or redemptive consummation, of a morally-tinged, guilt-inaugurated troublesome tale, to “Burke” the matter a bit), so religious speculation (call it “imagination” if that’s your estimate) brings to closure a
 most satisfying harmony between these two disparate “realities”: life “bottomed on the earth,” to quote Melville, and the transcendental world of symbolic relationships and implications.

	At its foundation, this “second,” “spiritually” symbolic world, is epitomized by, or illustrated via, humankind’s “dictionary” or “thesaurus” syndrome.  It’s the tunnel-vision, mere “iconic” and “indexical” communication of the other mammals that functions on the basis of one-to-one, signifier-signified relationships, diametrically different from the dictionary/thesaurus obsession of our species.  The “lower” animals “see” a significant form (the icon) and “point” to it by way of a physical or vocal gesture (the index).  This kind of index, the generically mammalian index, “maps onto” the object or event one-to-one.  It’s a “sinsign,” to borrow from Charles Sanders Peirce, which Deacon does.  The indexical sinsign is “particular,” not “general.”  There’s no need for learned skillfulness in “disambiguating” reference.  “Subject/predicate,” “topic/comment,” “indexical
 operation/symbolic operation” quandaries do not apply.  I dealt with these matters before in posts 9/16/14 and 10/6/14.

	In the communication of the symbolic species, there are no “sinsigns,” only “legisigns,” or generalized signs, to further elaborate on Peirce.  The relationship at the heart of the symbolizers’ communication is signifier-signifier, not signifier-signified.  Their SYMBOLIC communication is based on a “system-internal web of relationships” requiring “an associated indexical operation . . . in order to point outside this system.”

	This in-the-mind system of symbolic relationships is the “other” world, the “second” world, homo sapiens/homo loqax dwells in.  As I said before, symbols are not, Deacon claims, mere “code,” “sign,” “icon,” or number, that is, symbols are not just pointers, markers, gauges, or portraits  of the kind so often denominated “symbols” in common parlance.  Actual symbols refer, abstractly and generally, “irrespective of any natural affinities.”  (See GM, where Burke acknowledges that each of his pentadic terms refers to “no thing.”)  In other words, as per Burke, symbols synthesize, synthetically, disparate beings, entities, or events for seemingly pragmatic, culturally-conditioned purposes that transcend mere appearances of similarity.  Contra Saussure, symbolic reference cannot be “mapped.”  To the extent that a common word or symbol “maps” anything, it maps a POSITION IN A GIVEN LEXICON IN RELATION TO OTHER
	Maybe a fair illustration of this symbolic proclivity is how readily our “episodic” memory “downloads” various synonyms to insert into the slots our “procedural” memory vouchsafes as we “ride the bike” of sentence formation, even in impromptu speech.

	Deacon and Cashman assure us that Children pick up on the vagaries of these “second world” relationships with ready facility, just the way they do so in regard to symbolic indexicality, reference, transition, etc.  (Deacon is now working on a coauthored book with a linguist.  An apparently anti-Chomskyan tome, it will show that reference to neither nature nor nurture is needed to demonstrate how the “rules” of grammar are fixed early on in the communicative practice of the symbolic species.)

	Once again, the religious imagination brings to climactic fruition the promptings of the “second” or “spiritual” world of symbols, as it confronts, bounces off of, the exigencies and challenges posed by the “material” world of potential and inevitable mental and physical hard knocks.   As Carrol says, the things that are “related” via symbolism may be “real,” but the relations themselves are not real.  Maybe so.  To apply here what Burke says in the Rhetoric, however, call this propensity, even “compulsion,” to follow the cues of language through even to the “end of the line,” call this “affliction” the ultimate error of the dialectic, if you will.  That need not concern us.  This is how symbolizers think.  Emersed as they are in this “hidden” realm of symbolic inducements and associations, they follow this yellow brick road (“the hidden [even “idiosyncratic”] logic of relationships behind symbols,” Deacon and
 Cashman call it) in myriad, labyrinthine directions, according to its most alluring incentives.  “Burking” this virtual thoroughfare, we travel by way of the pentad/hexad, which inevitably bleeds into the disorder/guilt/redemption cycle (see RM, p. 276; LASA, pp. 54-55, and the first three chapters of the Primer)
	Deacon and Cashman find “expression of [the] deeper hidden realities” beneath the “surface” appearances of the physical world in the “Dreamline” myths of Australian aborigines, readings of entrails by Pagan priests, the Hindu double-world tradition of the “maya,” Plato’s ideal forms, Acquinas’s “Pure Ideas” in the Mind of God, and the connective trajectories to the Mind of God in the “Western science” of Galileo, Kepler, and Einstein.

	I ask: Wouldn’t ALL philosophical speculation be part and parcel with this “virtual,” “spiritual,” empirically un-“real,” perhaps even “idiotically” savant-skewered realm of potential illusion?

	The thired “synergy” next time, the symbolic blending of primary mammalian emotions into the religiously complex.


On Mon, 3/16/15, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology
 To: "Clarke Rountree" <rountrj at uah.edu>
 Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org" <kb at kbjournal.org>
 Date: Monday, March 16, 2015, 2:44 PM
     According to Deacon and Cashman, the
 second of the three “synergies” that accompanied the
 evolution of language, and that undergird the religious
 sensibilities of the symbolic species, is the symbol-induced
 tropism toward conception of “a bi-layered world,” i.e.,
 perception of “a pattern-behind-the-pattern,” an almost
 compulsive “metaphysical dualism” common to religions in
     At the outset, let me say I tend to read
 with the cluster/agon procedure at least in the back of my
 mind.  To some extent, I’m checking the
 what-goes-with-what, the what-vs.-what, and the from-what
 through-what to-what.  I did no formal cluster work on
 “The Origins of Religion,” but I’ve tried to put 2 and
 2 together with Burke’s method in mind 
     So, some of the things I’ll say here
 are “inferences,” as in “Fact, Inference, and Proof in
 the Analysis of Literary Symbolism” (1954).  Deacon
 and Cashman nowhere say that religion is a pox on the
 symbol-using animal.  But I think in this, the second
 section of the body of their treatise, the authors perhaps
 hint at a dismissive attitude toward this inevitable---their
 take---human singulaity.
     Recall what I said in a previous post:
 The most common scientific explanation for religion
 references its perhaps once-useful, but now nonadaptive,
 qualities as a genre of symbolic action.  Religion is a
 “by-product,” the Goulds, Lewontins, and Dawkinses say,
 a “misapplication” of a kind.  Deacon and
 Cashman’s critique is that this notion is way too
 superficial.  However, D and C allow that their richer
 and more nuanced treatment can incorporate something of that
 orthodox view.  In this division of their article, the
 authors might, in fact, be so incorporating.
     As I infer, reading a bit between the
 lines, over the course of a long evolutionary history,
 hominids lost a great deal of the sensory acuity of nonhuman
 and prehuman mammals, but, compensatorily, acquired, via
 natural selection, a linguistic facility that overmatched
 that deficit.  Symbols enabled an exponentially more
 supple, varied, and potent means of manipulating natural
 resources in service to human ends than anything that went
 before.  Along with that new “tool,” however,”
 came the “by-product,” a terministic link, Deacon and
 Cashman make, back to the orthodox schema, a reader would
     Another hint of a dislogistic sort in
 this second section on the symbolic “bi-layered world”
 is how Deacon, along with Cashman, handle the term
 “symbolic savant.”  I made reference to this term
 in a previous post.  Deacon employes it in another of
 his articles on the “Symbolic Species.”  There, in
 contrast, the expression stands alone in its grandeur. 
 Here, “symbolic savant” is explicitly joined at the hip
 with the analogous term it so readily brings to mind:
 “idiot savant.”  “Idiot savants” can wondrously
 perform cognitive feats that flabbergast the rest of us,
 like solve complex math problems in an instant.  But in
 most other arenas of life, they’re not so proficient.
     Add to these dribs and drabs of cold
 water the authors may be splashing on religion two more
 points: Deacon and Cashman conclude here that the religious
 sensibility they describe is altogether “natural” in
 origin.  Nothing “supernatural” is involved. 
 That’s surely what we would expect.  Deacon adds in
 his second Ginn Lecture, though, that transcendentalizing
 “teleology” is “redundant.”  Exactly what
 Deacon means by that isn’t clear.  But its
 implication is.
     This intro to the second division of
 “Role of Symbolic Capacity in the Origins of Religion”
 took longer than I expected.  I’ll get to the details
 of the section part of the authors’ argument in the next
     P.S. I forgot to mention, in this section
 of “Origins of Religion,” Deacon and Cashman add
 “music” as part and parcel of this “by-product”
 scenario.  “Music,” the authors say, is a
 “semiotic vehicle able to transport us into a world of
 fluid half emotions lying behind and evoked by the
 sounds.”  Interestingly, mega-orthodox evolutionists
 Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin add female orgasms to
 religion and music as “nonadaptive byproducts” of the
 evolutionary process (“The Spandrels of San Marco and the
 Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptionist
 Programme,” 1979).  I’ve always said on this
 matter, check first with a paid soprano in a church
 On Fri, 3/13/15, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
  Subject: Re: [KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology
  To: "Clarke Rountree" <rountrj at uah.edu>
  Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org"
 <kb at kbjournal.org>
  Date: Friday, March 13, 2015, 4:36 PM
      On the “synergy” that generates
  narrative, the first of the three ways evolved symbolic
  capacity transformed the pre-human mammalian brain into
  powerful force for “action,” and theotropic
  and motivation, it is today, according to Deacon and
      All mammals (maybe birds, as well),
  Deacon and Cashman say, possess two mnemonic systems, two
  means of generating the memory that makes for enhanced
  adaptation to an environment and shifting
  circumstances.  One mnemonic agency is
  “procedural.”  The other is “episodic.”  D
  and C label the procedural, seemingly the lower-level,
  apparatus for retaining memory traces,
  “diachronic.”  The diachronic is concerned with, or
  pertains to, the historical DEVELOPMENT of something. 
  It is not of a uniform age or time.  Hence, diachronic
  or procedural memory fixes in the mammalian brain the
  for rote motor skills, habits, eventually automatic
  responses that become “second nature,” as repeated
  and again,  Procedural memory particularly enlists the
  basal ganglia, the motor cortex, and the cerebellum. 
  (These would appear to be lower-order
  neuro-mechanisms.  Yet, Deacon has said to me in
  correspondence that he does not hold to any strict notion
   of the tripartite brain.  This stance would seem to
  suggest that the brain works as something of a whole, an
  integrated unit of a sort.  So, I would need further
  clarification from Deacon on distinctions between
  “higher” and “lower” neuro-operations, a
  he and Cashman seem to be making in this article.
      “Episodic” memory, which I will call
  here a higher-order mnemonic system (after D and C, note
  below) is “synchronic,” Deacon and Cashman assert. 
  Episodic memory pertains to “individual events and
  relationships.”  It has to do with the state of
  something at one particular time.  Though “classes of
  episodic memories” can be retained, the “different
  [neuro] structures” involved make for a “different
  of redundancy” in respect to the episodic.  “Serial
  redundancy is unavailable.”  The hippocampus is
  integral to the “distributive” nature of episodic
  retention.  “The hippocampus is reciprocally
  connected with many different areas of generalized
  neocortex.”  Nested in the cerebrum, it “correlates
  converging information from higher-order processing in
  sensory modality.”  Episodic “redundancy” is
  found “in context to other events to which it was
      Now, as already indicated, all mammals,
  maybe birds, also, benefit from both kinds memory, the
  procedural and the episodic.  In those nonsymbolic
  animals, however, the two memory systems are separated,
  integrated.  The symbolic capacity that the emerging
  species homo sapiens evolved into across the
  Quaternary brought the two mnemonic systems into a
  revolutionary synergy.  It is symbols that integrated
  and integrate the two types of memory.  The following
  is the result:  This is how it is done:
  “        Syntax,” word order,
  “becomes part of our procedural memory system.” 
  “When we produce a sentence, it is a bit like riding a
  bike . . . . It is proceduralized.  But what we are
  doing with it is accessing and ‘downloarding’
  information from episodic memory in order to express an
  or accomplish a communicative action.”
          Thus, “the interplay between
  the serial [that is, the procedural] and distributive
  associative [i.e., the episodic] tendencies brought into
  interaction by language provides a way to organize
  memory into sequences.”  And so, “the narrative
  predisposition [that results] can be understood as an
  emergent consequence of the unique mnemonic synergy that
  language has made possible.”
  So aver Deacon and Cashman.
          Now, what is distinctive about
  the ensuing “narrative” that nudges symbolizers toward
  religion, or metaphysical speculations?  Narrative is
  not merely the equivalent of the proverbial put-down of
  “history” as simply “one darned thing after
  another.”  Narrative is not just stories about
  synchronic episodes that progress according to diachronic
  habitual sequences.  Narratives tend to be peculiarly
  “directed” sequences, explanations, interpretations,
  allegations, justifications, commentaries, personal or
  representations of the facts of the matter, made via
  connections, with indictment or praise for the parties
  involved (Deacon & Cashman; Shorter OED).  Indeed,
  narratives can generate “a sense of present or potential
  loss” that fuses “present, past, and imagined
  experiences” (Deacon & Cashman) in a way that
  Neo-Freudian Norman O. Brown’s dramatistic explanation
  how human narration creates “time.”
    In the “id” there is no time, says Freud. 
  In the ego, however, “Time has to be constructed by an
  animal that has guilt [or a sense of loss] and seeks to
  expiate [or redeem or correct that sense of loss].” 
  Such a being must create and dwell on the notions of a
  “past” and a “future.”  “Archaic man [sic;
  and modern man and woman] experiences guilt and therefore
  time” (Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical
  Meaning of History, 1959, pp. 274, 276, 278, 87-109).`
          Even more to the point than the
  inherently dramatic nature of narrative plot lines and
  narrative’s temporal fusion of “loss” with a vision
  something redemptively better, is the stark contrast
  the “telos” essential to the narrative impulse, and
  lack of such consummation in many, can we not say all,
  lives.  The sense of narrative near impels symbolizers,
  Deacon and Cashman contend, toward transcendental plot
  lines.  “They [narratives] do not simply stop
  arbitrarily, as do most lives,” Deacon and Cashman
  observe.  “Instead, in the narrative of a life,
  whether real or imagined, birth and death are events that
  are usually subordinated to some telos, . . . .”  The
  gross narrative of a human life as actually lived,
  of any larger meaning in itself, tends to be
  in, or related to, a larger narrative that overmatches the
  glaring limitations of the “brief candle” of human
          “Telos”: “End, purpose,
  (an) ultimate object or aim” (Shorter OED).
          Later, two more “synergies,”
  generated by language, that might well help to explain
  further the otherwise strange otherworldliness of the
  symbol-using animal.
  On Thu, 3/12/15, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
   Subject: Re: [KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology
   To: "Clarke Rountree" <rountrj at uah.edu>
   Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org"
  <kb at kbjournal.org>
   Date: Thursday, March 12, 2015, 3:53 PM
       At the outset of their article, “The
   Role of Symbolic Capacity in the Origins of
   (2009), Terrence W. Deacon and his coauthor Tyrone
   cite polling data that 86 percent of human beings
   God or some sort of Supreme Being.  Burke, as
   argued, gives good reasons why that is the case
   IMPLICITLY.  From a very different academic vantage
   point, Deacon and Cashman do so EXPLICITLY. 
   is central in the case they, the three of them, make
   ubiquity of belief in the god-term, and the case for
   global occurrence of belief in the Divine, as
   in many variant ways.
       Deacon, the biological
   anthropologist/neuroscientist (I know nothing about
   is coming at the relationship between symbolic
   the religious “predisposition” very much from an
   evolutionary and neuroscientific angle.  One
   point needs made at the outset: Forget about homo
   sapiens/homo dialecticus, language in tow, suddenly
   appearing on the scene circa 200,000 years ago.  D
   C say language development and brain size-and-
   development gradually and reciprocally occurred over
   entire Pleistocene, which is to say, across the
   near-2-million-year duration of the Quaternary
   Brain evolution gradually brought linguistic facility
   being, while, at the same time, emerging symbolic
   reciprocally altered the human brain.
       (Sounds a bit analogous to the
   Wallace/Lovelock/Gaia hypothesis on reciprocal
 changes in
   both life and the nonliving material scene over 3.5
   years, but that’s another matter.)
       At the outset, also, the coauthors
   summarize the three most-cited theories about the
   religion via evolutionary change: religion as
   “nonadaptive,” or useless, by-product of
   adaptive changes, “misapplications,” so to speak,
   evolved tendencies; more or less “adaptive”
   against mortality; and “parasitic memes”
   socially, rather than individually, as oppressive
   of one kind or another.  The first of the above is
   most favored.  All these explanations are
   “reductionistic” takes on this universal human
   phenomenon, Deacon and Cashman contend.  
   To get to the pith and marrow of the issue, as Deacon
   Cashman see it: With the evolution of language,
   “synergies” emerged that made religious
   belief, as well as the general “metaphysical”
   underlying “First Principles,” an inevitable
   of biological change  (“Metaphysics” for
   Burke?  “Coy theology,” you will recall).
       “Synergy”: “The production by two
   or more agents, substances [structures, capacities,
   a combined effect greater than the sum or their
   effects . . . Increased effectiveness or achievement
   produced by combined action.”
       “Emergent,” quite similar in meaning:
   “An effect produced by a combination of causes but
   to be seen as the sum of their individual effects”
   (Shorter OED).
       Three “synergies,” occasioned by the
   evolution of symbol use over that long span of time,
   into being this “religious” or
   the “symbolic species,” making religion, D and C
   humankind’s “synergy of synergies.”  These
   combinations of, or symbol-generated interactions
   structures and capacities our mammalian ancestors
   and utilized, are: 
   (1)    “The role of language in a novel
   synergy between 2 previously orthogonal modes of
   storage which is the basis for the narrative
   that is distinctively characteristic of human
   identity, and culture.”
   (2)    A tropism toward conception of what D
   and C call a “bi-layered world,” namely, an
   attentional bias toward discerning a pattern
   behind-the-pattern, a bias required for language
   which makes metaphysical dualism intuitively natural,
   also makes the double-world metaphysics common to
   religions a likely leap of symbolic imagination.”
   (3)     “The dramatic expansion
   and transformation of the mammalian emotional
   virtue of the use of symbolic blends to induce
   interactions and novel experiential synergies that
   describe as emergent emotional experiences.”
   “Orthogonal”: As inferred from Deacon’s work as
   whole, the meaning here, I would assume, is
   normal, proper [I think we can add “natural”],
   external influence,” “completely independent,”
   is to say, “free” of influence by the
   feature,” or nonsymbolic negative, that nonhuman
   beings are beholden to.  Hence, we’re talking
   about the  “orthograde.”  “Orthograde,” in
   Deaconese, serves, it seems to me, as the opposite
   “contragrade.”  “Contragrade” refers to a
   that runs counter to mechanical nonliving processes.
       Yet, there seems to me to be an ambiguity
   here with this term.  “Orthogonal,” seen as a
   derivative of “orthograde,” would likely
   nonsymbolic living beings, as well as symbolic. 
   animals and plants appear to be “contragrade,”
 too, in
   the sense that they uniquely resist entropy by way
   reproduction and photosynthesis, or by reproduction
   direct or indirect ingestion of the products of
   photosynthesis.  Maybe I can get Deacon to bring me
   to speed on the definition “orthogonal,” as
   here, when I forward the post to him.
       I’ll try to unpack the three synergies
   in subsequent posts.
   On Fri, 3/6/15, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
    Subject: Re: [KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology
    To: "Clarke Rountree" <rountrj at uah.edu>
    Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org"
   <kb at kbjournal.org>
    Date: Friday, March 6, 2015, 8:57 PM
    Thanks for your extended and
    insightful reply to my post.  Hey, thanks for even
    my long rant!  You certainly make some good points,
    I would interpret the "potentiality" claim in RM
    as making our emergence out of a "wordless" Ground
    as maybe "more complicated" than that.  Following
    Burke, I could quote Scripture here, a passage in
    one in Hebrews on how the visible things of this
    adumbrate a reality that is beyond.  I'll let
    expand on the matter in his own way in a subsequent
    (Not that Deacon is
    necessarily a theist.  The religious sensibility
    so "naturally" to the "symbolic species"
    is, for Deacon, just that: inevitable, yes, but
    "Teleology" is real, one of the last frames in his
    second Ginn Lecture proclaims, but to
  transcendentalize it
    is "redundant, Deacon avers.  An unsatisfactory
    denouement for the "symbol-users" or the
    "symbolic species," i.e., coming at the matter
    from either Burke's perspective, or Deacon's. 
    That's why 86 percent of Americans believe in God,
    some such figure, as Deacon and Cashman note at the
    beginning of their journal article.)
    By way of illustration, I offered in one of my
    posts to Deacon the characters in Samuel Becket's
    comedy, "Waiting for Godot."  At the end of the
    play, they are still waiting, and the implications
    Godot is not going to show up, yet these forlorn
    will continue to wait . . and wait . . . and wait . .
    never stop waiting.  
    the symbol-user's tendency to "see" drama in,
    or superimpose drama on, the supposedly blind motions
    universe---Deacon has a powerful explanation for
    I'll get to eventually.
    Thanks again for replying---and rebutting!
    On Fri, 3/6/15, Clarke Rountree <rountrj at uah.edu>
     Subject: Re: [KB]
    Burke, Deacon, and Theology
    "Edward C Appel" <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
     Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org"
    <kb at kbjournal.org>
     Date: Friday, March 6, 2015, 12:23 PM
     Dear Burkelers--
     My good friend Ed obviously
    has a passion for seeing Burke as a theologian
     (coy or otherwise), despite Burke’s
    insistence that he
     isn’t a believer in
     Of course one can get around the
    problem of Burke not
     actually believing in
    God through the
     Spinozan strategy of making
    God equal to Nature, so that the
     GROUND of
     itself is equivalent to God. And,
    notably, if verbalizing is
     in or implicit in that GROUND,
    then, Ed reasons, that is an
     at least a God principle at work. Even
    an old atheist like
     me will admit that
     we humans, surprisingly, arose from a wordless
    world, that
     post facto we know carried the
    potentiality for
     creating wordy
     creature. Note, also, that Burke insists that
    when humans
     are gone it will go
     back to its wordlessness. (I’m speaking of
    Earth only, of
     course; I think it
     perfectly obvious that there is sentient life
    elsewhere in
     the universe.)
     Last year
    my son John and
     I published our essay from
     Burke conference in Belgium where we
    argued about the
     potentialities and
     dangers of the motivational bias of humans.
    (We called it a
     guide. I don't have the citation handy,
    but I can get it
     if anyone's
    interested.) That is, building on my
    “Dramatism as Literal” essay in KBJ (2010), we
     noted that it is intrinsic to humans to see
    the world
     through the grammar of
     motives, and that this grammar becomes a
     terministic screen. (It
     also is a wonderful thing, of course, as it
    makes us
     recognizably human—my point
     in the 2010 essay.) After mulling over that
    issue, I have a
     new appreciation
     for Burke’s suggestion that toddlers may
    learn the idea of
     “No” before they
     learn the idea of “nothing.” The
    implication is that
     “scientific” or
     understandings of the world
    are an add-on—something
     secondary we have
    to learn,
     while the search for motives is
     Now, early humans learned
    search for motives in prey and
     in animals
    that preyed on them. Scientists may tell us now
     that animals don’t
     have the
    capacity for the kind of actions we may attribute
     to them, but
     thinking that
    way may have been beneficial in making us wary
     of what animals
     are doing
    when they run or attack. Of course, walking around
     with a “pentadic”
     set of
    glasses on the world undoubtedly gives rise to
     animism and, later, more
    complex forms of religion, with gods in the river,
     the sky, etc.
     (Let me
    add quickly as
     well, that the dramatistic
    screen did not handicap humans
    developing technology and improving their lot;
     just that every agency
    connected to a human purpose, every scene implicitly
     asked “what can be
    [for humans] with this?” Indeed, that's one of
     the warning John and I make--that we have
    trouble seeing
     anything except as it
    relates to us.)
     When scientists look at
    world as objects, they blind
     themselves to
    this primary way of thinking (though, as Burke
     says, not so much that
    don’t know to treat their fellow chemists
     than the chemicals
     with which
    they work). When people want to look at more than
     investigating the
    human and the social, wearing these
    blinders threaten to make
     them miss the
    FUNCTIONS of pentadic screens in human
     Now Burke, looking at
    religion, would be missing much if he
    so blinded; but of course he is not. He not only
     accounts for the key term
    ACTION in human relations (while excoriating those
     on MOTION), but he
    investigates the potentialities of symbolic action.
     this leads him to find
    particularly potent (and “perfected”) symbolic
     religion is
    unsurprising—religion is one of the oldest, most
     scrutinized, most pervasive,
    most defended, most argued over, and (thus) most
     symbolic systems we
     Ultimately, I believe that
    the perfectedness of religion as
     a symbol
    system has nothing to do with its intrinsic truth
     (except as, perhaps, an "end of the
    line" human
     truth, an implication of
    our terminology). It does have much
     to do
    with its relation to power, making it a key bone of
     contention for those
    would rise to prominence in social systems. And
     Burke’s focus on religion
    has more to do with the fact that, given its intense
     scrutiny by some of the
    brightest minds for millennia (at least since
     is the most thoroughgoing
     symbolic system around. However, as I noted in
    a QJS
     article on the construction of George
    H.W. Bush in the
    presidential elections (1995), there are other well
     developed symbol systems that have
     pushed the envelope of what is “thinkable”
    through our
     dramatistic grammar—my key
     example, criminal law, where hundreds of years
     Anglo-American law (and
    earlier law as well) helped to refine the
     guilt and
    Had Burke spent more time talking to law folks,
     maybe he would have
     landed on
    criminal law as a perfection of symbol systems
     (though, note, he does
    a lot of time with constitutions!). That wouldn’t
     make him a lawyer; and
    finding perfection in religion doesn’t make him a
     theologian. Just an admirer
    of what has been wrought.
     That’s my oar in the
    (On a side note, I’m a
     great fan of
    Ed’s explication of
     Deacon’s work and
    its implications for understanding
    Burke’s work. I look forward to the next
     On Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 2:52
     PM, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
             I’ve posted at length here on
     between Burke and Terrence W.
    Deacon, Chair of the
     Department of
    Anthropology at Cal Berkeley, you may
    recall.  (Of equal importance, Deacon is a
     as well.)  In response to
    a recent e-mail of mine on his
    described “tour de force,” Incomplete Nature:
     Mind Emerged from Matter (Norton, 2012, 2013),
     Deacon kindly sent me additional
    materials of his: two more
     of his published
    articles, bringing my cache to seven in
    toto; and several series of exceedingly well wrought
     powerpoint frames and other visuals he has
    used in lectures
     at the University of Oslo
    in Norway, in Holland, the Ginn
     Lectures in
    Atlanta, and a couple of presentations to
             As some of you
    will likely suspect, the theology
    immediately piqued my interest.  Here we have, it
     seemed to me, another important point of
    convergence between
     Burke and Deacon,
    adding to the considerable list I’ve
    already outlined.   The focal reference here will
  be to
     Deacon’s coauthored article (with Tyrone
    Cashman), “The
     Role of Symbolic Capacity
    in the Origins of Religion,”
     Journal of
    Religion, Nature & Culture, 2009, Vol. 3 No.
     4, pp. 490-517.
      I want to begin, in this post, with my take on
     Burke’s anfractuous relationship to
    theology, then in a
     subsequent edition,
    summarize Deacon’s position.
      Burke, we know, claimed publicly that his
     interest in theology was entirely secular. 
     the late-Burke title for
    his philosophy looked at as an
    “epistemology,” was solely about the contours of
     symbolic action, its motives and tendentious
    operations, not
     about any putatively
    transcendental reality.  Logology was
    “systematic study of theological terms for the
     they might throw on the forms of language,”
     terms being the most
    thoroughgoing, far-reaching, ultimate
    in language,” language, in Burke’s pat phrase,
     taken to “the end of the line.”  Tim
    Crusius doubled
     down on Burke’s
    affirmation in Kenneth Burke and the
    Conversation After Philosophy (Southern Illinois UP,
     and in his review of Greig
    Henderson’s book,  Kenneth
    Literature and Language as Symbolic Action, in QJS
     (1990), pp. 340-342.
      Add to Burke’s official position on logology
     (was it, or was it not, something of a façade
    that a
     cluster/agon analysis can maneuver
    around?---I ask, and have
     asked) Burke’s
    private claim to have been a nontheist. 
    Wayne Booth  (“Wax ‘N Wayne,” as Burke would
     privately) was a frequent correspondent
    of KB’s.  In his
     chapter, “Kenneth
    Burke’s Religious Rhetoric:
    ‘God-Terms’ and the Ontological Proof,” in
     Invention and Religious Inquiry
    (Yale UP, 2000, pp. 25-46),
     Booth takes
    note of Burke’s demurrer.  (See, also, “The
     Many Voices of Kenneth Burke, Theologian and
    Prophet, as
     Revealed in His Letters to
    Me,” in Unending Conversations:
    Writings by and about Kenneth Burke, Eds. Henderson
     Williams [Southern Illinois UP, 2001, pp.
    179-201], where
     Booth offers a second
    reprise on his 1996 plenary address at
    Duquesne Conference, i.e., the Third Triennial.)
             On his actual belief or nonbelief,
    I think we
     have to take Burke at his
    word.  Let’s assume he was the
    he told people he was.
             That having
    been said, Burke’s demonstrable
    theological obsession cannot be gainsaid.  In
     and Language (1988), Henderson looked behind
    the curtain:
     “For Burke logology is in
    some sense a surrogate
     theology.”  Greig
    added, “The analogies he makes for
    heuristic purposes betray a psychological need for a
     of permanence akin to a religious
    faith in the curative
     power of the word
    made flesh” (p. 105).  That same year,
    at ECA (April 29), Trevor Melia speculated about
     kind of Christian” Burke was, suggested that
    the label
     “secular Christian” can only
    be a starting point, and
     concluded that
    Burke was at least “up to his ears in
             At length, I had
    already corresponded with Burke
     on the
    matter (late 1983, early 1984), my case, “Kenneth
     Burke: Coy Theologian,” later published in
    the Journal of
     Communication and Religion
    (September, 1993).  Burke had
     even allowed
    at the Philadelphia Conference (March,1984)
    that I had made a “powerful argument” that he was
     theologian.  I got that news from Herb
    Simons, who was
     present at the after-hours
    discussion several key scholars
     had had
    with Burke after the first day’s seminars.
             Other names that can be added to
     speculations about Burke and religion
    include, as per Booth
     in that Yale
    publication, Burks, Carter, Duerden, Durham,
     Freccero, Gunn, Gusfield, and Jay.  And I can
    add Richard
     Thames and Steven Mailloux to
    their number (Steve’s paper
     at the Ghent
    Conference: “Under the Sign of Theology:
    Kenneth Burke on Language and the Supernatural
      I won’t lay out my entire case on Burke as
     “coy theologian.”  But I’ll highlight a
    few central
      The bottom line in my correspondence with KB,
     and in my journal piece, was this: It
    doesn’t matter what
     Burke personally
    believed or did not believe.  When a
    theorist posits that symbolizers are inherently
     “theotropic”---I’m borrowing a term from
     here---that theorist is at least a
     theologian.  A “lure” in
    rhetoric, whether in
     “error” or not,
    strongly nudges homo loquax “Upward”
    not only toward a “god term” in general, but
     the most “perfectly” satisfying
    God-term of all (GM, pp.
     306; RM, pp.
    275-76, 290-91; RR).
             And especially
    when it can be related to extant
    historic theological systems, that generic theology
     on some kind of shape, affords a bit of
    implicit commentary
     this ubiquitous
    attribute.  I’ve characterized Burke’s
    dramatism/logology as a quasi-gnostic (a radical
  sense of
     “Fall” into language, not into a
    lustful body)
     universalism (the quest for a
    “god-term” that unites all
     of humanity,
    and a focal program aimed at “purifying”
     conflict and “war”), friendly to
    Whitehead’s process
     theology (with its
    dialectics, de-perfecting of the Godhead,
    and rejection of a life after death; note what Burke
     the movie shown at Airlie House,
             Add to these pillars of
    support what I would
     conceive as Burke’s
    occasional drift into theological
    principles in the paradigm sense, i.e., statements
     to do with, or surely adumbrate, the
    actual existence of a
     Divine Essence of a
    kind.  When Burke says the
    ground” out of which humans proceeded
    “contains the principle of personality, quite as
     contains the principle of verbalizing,” that
     “’nonverbal’ ground must have
    contained the
     ‘potentiality’ of the
    verbal, otherwise the verbal could
     not have
    emerged from it,” Burke has crossed the line, I
     would suggest, into theology or religion
    proper (RM, pp.
        An analogous proposition is found in the
     Calabi-Yau version of string theory via the
     principle,” the “notion
    that the observed laws of nature
     must be
    consistent with the presence of intelligent life
     and, specifically, the presence of intelligent
     like us.  Put in other terms,
    the universe looks the way it
     does because
    if conditions were even slightly different,
    life would not have formed and humans would not be
     observe it” (Shing-Tung Yau and Steve
    Nadis, The Shape of
     Inner Space: String
    Theory and the Geometry of the
    Hidden Dimensions , Basic Books, 2010, p.
             Analogous, also, as I see it,
    is this quotation
     highlighted in one of
    Deacon’s two Ginn Lectures: “We
     need an
    understanding of nature such that it is not absurd
     to say that it has us as its products,” by
    Belgian chemist
     Ilya Prigogine and the
    physicist Victor J. Stenger. 
    (“Naturalizing Teleology: The Redemption of Science
     Rediscovery of Self and Value,”
    Deacon, 2014.)
             Illustrative of
    what different observers will
     “see” in
    a given statement, question, lacuna, or
    phenomenon, Stenger was one of the “new
     author of God: The Failed Hypothesis: How
    Science Shows That
     God Does not Exist,
    2007.  Stenger, former blogger for the
    Huffington Post, famously said, “Science flies you
     moon.  Religion flies you into
    buildings.”  One could
     just as
    “truthfully” say, “Religion prepares meals,
     low cost or free, for the elderly and needy in
     Country, Pennsylvania, and in
    other communities across the
     world.  The
    likes of godless communism and Nazism kills a
     hundred million persons, give or take a few
    tens of
     millions, in quest of a
    ‘heaven’ on earth.”
             As Burke
    says, symbols unite and divide, select
    and select out, induce attention toward and induce
     attention away from.  Pick the blinkered
    lenses of your
     choice.  They’re all
             So, later, an examination of
    the case for the
     ubiquity of religion
    Deacon and Cashman make in the article
    concludes: “We speculate that something like a
     religious predisposition, in the most general
    sense of the
     term, should be considered a
    universal consequence of the
    capacity evolving, whether here on earth, or in any
     other context where symbolic cognition might
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     Clarke Rountree
     Chair and
    Professor of
     Communication Arts
     342 Morton Hall
     University of
    Alabama in Huntsville
     Huntsville, AL 
     clarke.rountree at uah.edu
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