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Monday, March 2, 2015

God's Implicature to Moses


Emerson said that conversation is not permitted without tropes. I shall hypothesise that a conversation did take place  between Moses and Good.

Let's revise Exodus 3:13 and 3:14.

3:15 is mainly  Moses's counter-move in the conversation, "Yet they won't believe me."

But in 3:13 we have Moses's question:

"Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”"

This is clear as can be.

It's not as if Moses himself is interested to know the name. It's just in case the people of Israel _wonder_.

3:14 opens:

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Here there is a use-mention distinction:

i. "I am" has sent me to you.

Note that that differs from

ii. "I am who I am" has sent me to you.

God is advising Moses what his conversational move in reply to a possible question by the people of Israel to Moses as to what the name of 'the God of your fathers'.

This possibly struck Kripke in "Names and descriptions". For  consider:

iii. If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I  say to them?

In the above, Moses is distinguishing between what Donnellan has as a definite description:

(D) "The God of your fathers".


a proper name.

Note that it does not occur to Moses to have as a ready answer, "And why is THAT relevant. I'm saying HE is the God of your fathers. What does a name add to  HIM?"

Exodus 3:15 continues with what God thinks is the best reply for Moses to give, in case they ask for the name of the God of the fathers of the people of  Israel.

"15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be  remembered throughout all generations."

So, it does seem as, to echo Emerson, God is using a trope when he utters:

v. Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

vb. Say this to the people of Israel: "I am" has sent me to you.

Moses was careful about this, since when he faced the people of Israel and they asked for the NAME of the God of their fathers, "he must have been emphatic in the quotation marks".

Postulating, as some have, that it's Egyptian which is the source of the so-called tetragrammaton does not seem to  fit that it's FOUR letters, and four letters only, which are involved here --  unless in Egyptian only four letters are involved, too?

In any case, God's implicature can hardly be _disimplicated_, which perhaps would have pose a problem to Grice.


Warner, M. M. (BPhil, Oxon) -- work on conversational implicature and religious language.
-- The Bible, "I am that I am" as a tautology.
-- Keyword: The tetragrammaton.

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