Author Topic: Rules for using "I am"and "Is" in relation to extinct items  (Read 560 times)

Offline josephusflav

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Rules for using "I am"and "Is" in relation to extinct items
« on: February 19, 2018, 03:38:31 AM »
"But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what God said to you: ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”-Jesus of Nazareth

Background: Jesus is talking to the Sadducees, who don't believe in the resurrection or immortality. He attempts to persuade them by using the above argument.

However this argument strikes me as potentially invalid.

It seems perfectly cogent to say "I am the creator of Robby the robot." even if Robby has been destroyed long ago.

Likewise the sentence "This is the Robby the robot's hand." seems fine even if Robby was destroyed long ago leaving behind only his hand.

In short the present tense "I am the God of Abraham" does not seem to necessitate the idea that Abraham is still alive.

I do have some counter intuitions though.

For example " I am the owner of that house." seems very strange to say if that house was destroyed 40 years ago.

However even the above sentence has times where it seems to be ok.

Such as this conversation

Historian: "I wish I knew who the owner of the house was so I could interview them about the "Great Burning."

Bystander: "I am the owner of that House"

In summery when is it fine to say "I am" in connection to a extinct object and in particular is my suspicion that "I am the God of Abraham" does not have to imply Abraham's continued existence true?

« Last Edit: February 19, 2018, 03:40:21 AM by josephusflav »

Offline Daniel

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Re: Rules for using "I am"and "Is" in relation to extinct items
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2018, 12:14:41 PM »
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In short the present tense "I am the God of Abraham" does not seem to necessitate the idea that Abraham is still alive.
It depends on what "god" means here. If a god is truly all powerful, then why should death matter at all? Can't Abraham be resurrected by God (if God wishes)? On the other hand, if the meaning is something more like "commander" rather than "creator", I can see the distinction. But I don't see how that is (narrowly) a linguistic issue.

Quote
Historian: "I wish I knew who the owner of the house was so I could interview them about the "Great Burning."

Bystander: "I am the owner of that House"
Actually, that is problematic in two ways:
1. We usually would say "was" instead of "is" in that case. It's more natural. I'm not sure that "is" must be considered 'wrong', but it's not what I would say.
2. The definite article suggests uniqueness, and a house may have at different times belonged to many owners (who sold it to the next, etc.), and tense should line up with that. To say "I am the last owner of that house" would be perfectly fine, I think (and maybe even odd with "was"). But to say "I am [still] the owner of that house" sounds odd (and better with "was", without "still").

This reminds me of how when I was in a small town in Costa Rica there were no street addresses and instead all directions were given based on landmarks. I stayed at a place on the hill near the water tank, so directions were given relative to that. But a very central part of town was where there used to be a very large, old tree. It had fallen over years before and was gone now. But everyone knew where it was. So directions were still along the lines of "turn left at the big tree", or "across the street from the big tree", etc. Obviously that seemed very strange to me (even once someone had told me there used to be a big tree there!), but the locals didn't seem bothered by it.

There are some interesting distinctions regarding whether an entity is still alive in semantics. One argument is regarding the English present perfect. Compare these sentences:
"Einstein has been one of the most influential physicists."
"Einstein was one of the most influential physicists."
"Einstein has taught at Princeton."
"Einstein taught at Princeton."

Unless you can establish some present relevance (for the first sentence it might be easier), the present perfect sounds odd.

But of course Einstein is not a god. And those examples are about subjects, not objects.

One suggestion: really look into the original Greek (or Hebrew if it comes from something earlier) to see what's going on there. No idea if this translates well into English.
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Offline josephusflav

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Re: Rules for using "I am"and "Is" in relation to extinct items
« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2018, 01:01:58 PM »

I suspect "I am the God of Abraham" means "I am Abraham's God"

If true then the relevant question would be is "This is Robbie the Robot's hand" true if Robby is destroyed?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Rules for using "I am"and "Is" in relation to extinct items
« Reply #3 on: February 20, 2018, 02:27:00 PM »
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I suspect "I am the God of Abraham" means "I am Abraham's God"
There is very little difference in those in English, and most languages do not have alternating possessive constructions like that. I'd assume you're right. But check the original. There are glossed, interactive Bible texts online in Greek, Hebrew, etc. Very convenient for linguistic research, whether or not you know the languages.

Quote
If true then the relevant question would be is "This is Robbie the Robot's hand" true if Robby is destroyed?
Well, yes. I agree. But that doesn't mean there can't be an implied contrast. A robot can have a designer or an operator (one who operates a remote control or whatever). It would make a lot more sense to say "I am the robot's designer" after 'death', versus saying "I am the robot's operator" after 'death'. There is at least a pragmatic contrast there. The verb "am" also may indicate several relationships such as "being in a position" vs. "having an identity", and so forth, so that also leads to some flexibility. I can't really comment further because this isn't a yes/no kind of answer. The Bible is filled with nuance, and it also may not be intended literally/directly in all cases.
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Offline Audiendus

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Re: Rules for using "I am"and "Is" in relation to extinct items
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2018, 08:40:32 PM »
In some cases we can even use a defunct item as the subject of "is". For example:

Julius Caesar is one of the best known Roman rulers.
The pterodactyl is a prime example of an ancient flying reptile.