Language is like the cane in the hand of the blind person. The better one becomes at getting around with the cane, the more he or she is apt to forget the cane but through the cane perceive the objects scraped and tapped by the other end. A defective cane may distort the world perceived by the blind person. So too, defective use of language threatens to muddy our understanding of the things we talk about. When discussing something as difficult as natural evils, a frequently undetected defect in our language use is “overly attenuated description.” In this piece, I sketch three conditions under which attenuated description multiplies confusion in general conversation. I then describe ways in which the lexical shortcuts taken in discussion about “natural evils” can be corrected. However, it remains to be seen whether conversants are willing to pay the cost involved. For in order to talk most clearly about “natural evil,” and thus understand the problem most deeply, those doing the talking must employ descriptions that require correlative practical actions in order to be intelligible. I give an example of how the juxtaposition of two components, rich descriptions and appropriate action, makes possible the trained eye to perceive a pattern that, while falling short of an explanation per se, serves as a satisfactory response to natural evils. I conclude my essay by proposing a protocol for advancing the conversation about natural evils.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/brad_kallenberg/31/