Man is the animal
who talks, but there is talk and talk. Thomas Aquinas
distinguished between locutio and illuminatio in
the course of discussing communication among the angels. But
he illustrates the distinction with reference to human talk.
If you should
tell me that you want to visit Sicily, or that you intend to
reread Marcus Aurelius, this doubtless tells me what is on
your mind, but it does not enlighten mine. It is mere
locutio. On the other hand, if by talking you lead my mind
from something it knows to some new truth derivative from the
premises, then you have enlightened me. This is illuminatio.
Sometimes I wish Thomas had stuck with the angels.
The vast majority
of what we say to one another must be characterized as
locutio; how seldom we lapse into illuminatio. The
question arises as to whether or not locutio is morally
suspect. Most of what spouses say to one another is locutio.
We want to hear all the contingent and vagrant facts about the
one we love. Nothing is trivial, everything said takes on
interest from the one saying it. Is this a confessable fault?
Ought we hold ourselves only to enlightening one another?
implies can, as the moralists say, and surely human life could
not be lived on such a basis. To restrict our communications
to illuminatio would bring about a Grand Silence
indeed. We might just as well hold ourselves to communicating
in symbolic logic. If illuminatio alone is impossible
for us, locutio must have moral credentials.
that is said to rank under another is thereby being condemned.
Apodictic discourse is far more perfect than poetry, infima
doctrina, but this does not ban poetic discourse. We
cannot live without it. Locutio is, on the criteria
Thomas gives, less than illuminatio. But, like Lalage,
we must go on, dulce loquentes, dulce ridentes.
Of course there
is locutio and locutio. We will have to account
for every word we have spoken, a sobering thought. We easily
get lost in mere chatter. From time to time the animal who
talks should shut up.