People Do Not Come in Amounts

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAUnless you are a cannibal—in which case, good for you for learning to read. Now, stop eating people!—human beings do not come in “amounts.” Once more this morning I heard a figure in the popular media say, “The amount of people.”  People do not come in “amounts.” They come in “numbers.” The noun “amount” refers to a quantity of something. People are not quantities. People do drink amounts of water. They purchase amounts of cheese. They do not drink numbers of water or purchase numbers of cheese. People come in numbers as in “Great numbers of people attended both services on the Sabbath.”

I don’t want to read a lot of drivel in the comments about how “language changes” and how “usage is king.” Of course language changes but all changes are not equally helpful and some should be resisted. There is always a negotiation as language evolves but that’s just the thing. There’s a negotiation between fixity and change. Here we have an example of a stupid change because by it we’re losing an important distinction. For language to mean anything there has to be some reference from language to the way things are. Reality is not a construct of human speech. We are not God. He spoke reality into existence but we speak analogically and our language has to recognize the nature of things. Nature is not some human construct or the product of the human will. In the nature of things there is a distinction between humans and cheese and if so our language should reflect that reality.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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44 comments

  1. “Reality is not a construct of human speech. We are not God. He spoke reality into existence but we speak analogically and our language has to recognize the nature of things.”

    Thanks for another excellent post, Dr. Clark.

    “There is a distinction between humans and cheese,” but not necessarily between that and one’s sense of humor, as evidenced by this joke which is, well, cheesy.

  2. I wonder how you get through the day with impact/affect/effect problem plaguing our culture? I’ve just had to learn to accept it, sadly.

  3. “We are not God. He spoke reality into existence but we speak analogically and our language has to recognize the nature of things.”

    Cliffton: In which case God means what He says and man says what God does not mean.

    • So, Clifton what is God thinking right now? Right now, and now, and now and now?

      What’s it like to be ubiquitous, immense, eternal, infinite? What are they thinking in Tokyo right now? What we’re they thinking 5,000 years ago? What will they do in the next 3 minutes?

      It’s called the Creator/creature distinction. It’s basic biblical theology and Reformed theology. Let me know how the theosis thing works out.

          • Thanks for replying Dr. Clark.

            If I understand your reply, analogy follows from the distinction.

            Can one consistently believe in the Creator/Creature distinction and reject
            analogy?

            • Consistently, no. Obviously Reformed people (e.g., Hoeksema, G. Clark et al) have done it but if you ask the orthodox in the 17th century, working with Calvin’s doctrine, one has to affirm an analogical relation between the Creator and the creature.

              There’s whole section on this in RRC.

            • Dr. Clark,

              Any idea where one can read an extended discussion about the difference between analogical predication in the Ref. Orth. and the Thomistic analogia entis or how the former can only really be maintained apart from the latter, which seems to be CVT’s main point throughout much of his stuff?

              • Hi Ben,

                Yes, two places.

                There’s a discussion of it in Mike Horton’s Covenant and Eschatology

                There’s also a discussion of this issue in RRC.

                The great difference between Thomas and Reformed orthodoxy on this is Thomas’ debt to neo-Platonism and ontological theology. CVT followed the Reformed orthodox by eschewing the doctrine of participation in the divine reason/being.

          • Andrew: Is the Creator/Creature distinction dependent on the doctrine of analogy?

            R. Scott Clark: No, I think analogy is dependent upon the categorical distinction

            Cliffton: In which case the Thomistic/Romish doctrine of analogy is a conclusion invalidly drawn and then read back into its premise. They call this asserting the consequent. But who needs the Logos anyway? BTW, this is the same “argument” Thomas presents despite your protests to the contrary. This was his starting point, and it is yours. Thomas was at least consistent. You know what they say don’t you? All analogical thinking leads back to Rome…or something like that.

            • Clifton,

              Once more you’re being silly.

              Thomas’ problem was that he WASN’T consistently analogical. It’s not analogy that leads to Rome, it’s denying it; denying the Creator/ creature distinction.

      • Mr. R. Scott Clark: “We are not God. He spoke reality into existence but we speak analogically and our language has to recognize the nature of things.”

        Cliffton: In which case God means what He says and man says what God does not mean.

        Mr. R. Scott Clark: So, Clifton what is God thinking right now? Right now, and now, and now and now?

        Cliffton: This is a red herring. In the very least though, you didn’t argue with the logical implication which was drawn (which was not a surprise). But of course, you didn’t agree with it either (which is also not a surprise). At any rate, to answer your question, why don’t you just ask Him…better yet, why don’t you just consult the Scriptures? For Christ has given us the words of His Father which words were first given to Him. And, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and [he] to whomsoever the Son will reveal [him]. ” So, I would at least start with the Scriptures (and end with them too). They have a way of keeping individuals on the right track and keeping others from adopting the wisdom of the world, and in particular, Thomistic and Romish wisdom.

        Mr. R. Scott Clark: What’s it like to be ubiquitous, immense, eternal, infinite?

        Cliffton: Again, another red herring. At any rate, you could consult the Scriptures on this one as well.

        Mr. R. Scott Clark: It’s called the Creator/creature distinction. It’s basic biblical theology and Reformed theology.

        Cliffton: It is basic Romish and Thomistic philosophy.

        • R.Scott Clark: Once more you’re being silly. Thomas’ problem was that he WASN’T consistently analogical. It’s not analogy that leads to Rome, it’s denying it; denying the Creator/ creature distinction.

          Cliffton: Once more, you didn’t argue with the logical implication of your claim. Also, if it is your claim that Thomas’ problem was that he “WASN’T consistently analogical,” would you at least concede that your argument is in principle Thomistic?

          • No, Clifton, there’s a material difference!

            Not everything that has wheels is a truck. VW’s have wheels and trucks have wheels but they are materially different.

            Thomas was a neo-Platonist. He saw reality as a continuum with God at one end and us at the other. He had to choose between analogy and intersection. He chose intersection, even though the talked about analogy. CVT, otoh, denied intersection and taught, with Reformed orthodoxy, a consistent doctrine of analogy following from his biblical and confessional doctrine of the Creator/creature distinction.

            The category of “analogy” was used explicitly by the leading orthodox theologians in the 17th century just as CVT did it and they did not think it to be “Thomistic.”

            • R. Scott Clark: No, Clifton, there’s a material difference!

              Cliffton: Is there any form to this material or are we going to carry on with the Aristotelian metaphysics?

              R. Scott Clark: Not everything that has wheels is a truck. VW’s have wheels and trucks have wheels but they are materially different.

              Cliffton: I never made such an argument. But to go along with the cute analogy here, would you would agree that VW’s and trucks both belong to the category of a means of transportation?

              R. Scott Clark: Thomas was a neo-Platonist. He saw reality as a continuum with God at one end and us at the other. He had to choose between analogy and intersection.

              Cliffton: On what grounds are you claiming Thomas was forced to make a decision either way? Think about that one for a moment.

              R. Scott Clark: He chose intersection, even though the talked about analogy.

              Cliffton: Overlooking the historical inaccuracy for a moment, so Thomas Aquinas believed that knowledge was univocal? Or is intersection a new category of thought that you just made up?

              R. Scott Clark: CVT, otoh, denied intersection and taught, with Reformed orthodoxy, a consistent doctrine of analogy following from his biblical and confessional doctrine of the Creator/creature distinction.

              Cliffton: For the sake of argument (and despite being at least at one point historically inaccurate), it is your claim that Thomas “saw reality as a continuum with God at one end and us at the other,” and, “He had to choose between analogy and intersection” (in which case “He chose intersection”). And according to you “CVT, otoh, denied intersection and taught…a consistent doctrine of analogy,” wouldn’t the implication be that they both “saw reality as a continuum with God at one end and us at the other.” And furthermore, if it is your claim that Thomas didn’t consistently hold to analogy, doesn’t this imply that he held to analogy inconsistently, which would refute your earlier contention???

              • Clifton,

                I know that Thomas was inconsistent because I’ve actually read him. I teach medieval theology. Thomas’ underlying commitment to a neo- Platonic ontology overwhelmed his Christianity.

                It wasn’t his Aristotelianism — which the Reformers and the orthodox Protestants continued, at least terminologically.

                Clifton, read Protestant Scholasticsim: Essays in Reassessment where this is discussed. I also discuss it in my book on Olevianus. There are links to both on the home page of the HB.

                • R.Scott Clark: Disagreeing with Clifton does not make me intellectually dishonest.

                  Cliffton: No, but disagreeing with yourself and then denying it does.

                  R. Scott Clark: Thomas wanted to hold to analogy, wrote about analogy, but he also had a more profound commitment to defication/divinization. That prior commitment undermined his doctrine of analogy.

                  Cliffton: You claim that his prior commitment WAS NOT to the “doctrine of analogy”? But then you say the following:

                  R. Scott Clark: People are not always ruthlessly consistent. He had, in effect, a choice to make. He contradicted himself.

                  Cliffton: So let me get this straight. You claim “He had, in effect, a choice to make”, and , “He had to choose between analogy and intersection,” and “He chose intersection.” Then you say regarding Thomas’ choice of “intersection” over against analogy, “He contradicted himself.” The only way his choice of “intersection” over against analogy could have resulted in a contradiction is if Thomas’ prior commitment was to analogy. Yet this is the very thing you deny. For you say,

                  R.Scott Clark: Thomas wanted to hold to analogy, wrote about analogy, but he also had a more profound commitment to defication/divinization. That PRIOR (my emphasis- ct) commitment undermined his doctrine of analogy.

                  Cliffton: So regarding your previous comment, disagreeing with me does not necessarily make you intellectually dishonest, but your manifest contradiction does. Nevertheless, I can see why you would want to “RE-ASSESS” this whole ordeal with the “Angelic Doctor”. People might catch on that there are some pretty scary skeletons in CVT’s closet.

                  • Clifton,

                    Nonsense man, you need to learn to read.

                    His prior philosophical commitment was to neo-Platonism, to ontology, to divinization. Nevertheless, Thomas taught a doctrine of analogy. These two things are in conflict. One cannot say “analogy” and say “continuum” about the same thing at the same time.

                    Thomas ended up, in the Summa, affirming his doctrine of participation in the divine intellect in a way that substantially vitiated what he said about analogy.

                    What’s problematic about that or is it that you know a priori that I couldn’t be right. If so, just tell me and we’ll end this dance.

  4. It’s countable and uncountable nouns, a distinction which you’re right is slowly being lost on people, more’s the pity. In that sense, it’s not to do with loss of humanity so much as individuality: you would also have a number of knives. Some nouns go either way depending on context: zombies would consume an amount of brains, but a neurosurgeon would operate on a number of them. So while you can’t buy a number of cheese, you certainly *can* buy a number of cheeses. As in, ‘I bought three cheeses yesterday: a Cheddar, a Red Leicester and something weird and French.’

    Ah, the joys of being a member of the grammar SS.

  5. With regard to absolutely nothing, check out the strategic ad placement for Joel Osteen’s “It’s Your Time” book on p. 51 of the latest CBD catalogue. Someone at CBD has a wicked sense of humor.

  6. This quote by Robert Lewis Wilken sums up the importance of being good stewards of language and the need for us in particular, as people of the Word, to be precise in our use of language:

    “The ‘faith’ is not simply a set of doctrinal propositions, creedal affirmations, and moral codes. It is a world of discourse that comes to us in language of a particular sort.
    “And language, as we discover when we study a foreign tongue, is not simply an instrument for ideas, beliefs, and sentiments. Language defines who we are; it molds how a people think, how they see the world, how they respond to persons and events, even how they feel. Thinking and understanding, like memory, are not solitary acts; they are social, wedded to the language we share with others. If we forget how to speak our language, we lose something of ourselves. ‘What is pronounced strengthens itself,’ the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz once wrote. ‘What is not pronounced tends to non-existence.’
    “But the language of a people or a country is not the only kind of language. There are also languages within languages. Just as there is a language proper to biology or to medicine, so there is a language proper to Christianity. Our beliefs, our moral convictions, and our attitudes are carried by very specific words and images. Words, not ideas, bring into focus with compactness and intensity what is honored and cherished. They are the indispensable carriers of the Church’s faith as it is handed on from generation to generation.”

    Obviously, we need to understand the evolution of language and recognize the nuanced changes that take place, but we also need to resist the laziness of our culture (hey, I’m a laid-back American myself) and the attitude that each individual is the sole arbiter with regards to meaning of words, truth, etc. This is one of the reasons I appreciate RRC, because it is a call for us to be faithful stewards of what we have received so that we can not only practice and rejoice in what we confess, but we nurture and impart the faith to future generations.

  7. One that drives me nuts is when my wife says, “Can you pass me a scissors?” or “Buying a pants.” I correct her in saying “Can you pass me a pair of scissors?” She pipes off, “I only need one,” then she cockily smiles. I have read, in regards to the pair of pants issue, that she is correct in her usage. She still sounds lame.

  8. Dr. Clark:

    I would estimate that 70-90% of usage/style panel (like the ones mentioned in Random House dictionaries, I think) would agree that “the amount of people” sounds foolish, “the number of people” is preferred. The odd thing is, if the word any is tacked on, I think a rather robust number of panel members would find the idiom “ANY amount of people” acceptable.

  9. It appears that phrase “the amount of” a pluralized count is generally considered vulgar, while the phrase “any amount of ” a pluralized count is high style.
    How weird that context (i.e., the little word any) is so crucial in being a bumbling buffoon or in being a respected writer for the New Yorker.

    •. . . who wrote the U.N. that he’d be glad to furnish any amount of black pebbles. –New Yorker, 20 Sept. 1952

  10. Thanks for posting this, Dr. Clark. Sadly, the switch between “amount” and “number” does seem to reflect the larger picture that people are more worthy of profit and transaction than for actual relationships, as many people become more urbanized in major metropolitan cities. (Not to say that country folks don’t have bad relationships, but I digress.)

    I think that technology also becomes an issue with the degradation of language. I recall from Ligon Duncan’s book response to Harold Camping that technophilia meant that people could be reduced to numbers and progress rather than authentic, human interactions between sides, the latter being the specialty of incarnational gospel ministry. Great book, by the way. I use it to think about enjoying people in real life, and in the visible church, beyond the information overload tendencies that people can develop on the blogosphere or in the overall digital telecommunications age – these tendencies likely contributing to the degradation of human language.

  11. R. Scott Clark: I know that Thomas was inconsistent because I’ve actually read him.

    Cliffton: How could Thomas be inconsistent with the “doctrine of analogy” when as you claimed, “He chose intersection” over against analogy. You are not being intellectually honest, never mind historically irresponsible.

    • Disagreeing with Clifton does not make me intellectually dishonest.

      Thomas wanted to hold to analogy, wrote about analogy, but he also had a more profound commitment to defication/divinization. That prior commitment undermined his doctrine of analogy.

      People are not always ruthlessly consistent. He had, in effect, a choice to make. He contradicted himself. You may not ever do it, you may be utterly self-aware, but Thomas wasn’t. We can see these many centuries later how neo-Platonism affected him perhaps more clearly than he could.

      The point is that Thomas ended up contradicting his doctrine of analogy with his fundamental conviction that we participate in the divine intellect.

      The Reformation categorically rejected the notion that we participate in the divine intellect. That was as fundamental to the Reformation as anything else. That there Reformed folk about who don’t get that is a source of endless confusion and puzzlement.

  12. R.Scott Clark: His prior philosophical commitment was to neo-Platonism, to ontology, to divinization. Nevertheless, Thomas taught a doctrine of analogy. These two things are in conflict.

    Cliffton: Scott, you’ve got to be joking right? Your statement above is precisely the reason why YOU can’t make the claim that his decision of “intersection” over against analogy was a contradiction. This is what I have been arguing for the entire time. I have not been arguing against your statement above, even though I believe it to be historically innacurate. I have accepted your claim above for the sake of the argument, as I indicated before. But it is FOR THIS REASON you cannot make the claim that Thomas’ selection of “intersection” over against analogy was a contradiction. You must either claim that Thomas chose analogy over against “intersection” and that choice was a contradiction of his prior commitment (which you explicitly deny), or, you must claim that Thomas chose “intersection” over against analogy and that choice contradicted his prior commitment, particularly the comittment to an “analogy of being”. But you don’t want to make that claim do you? It would be too incriminating.

    R.Scott Clark: One cannot say “analogy” and say “continuum” about the same thing at the same time.

    Cliffton: Which is why you must make a retraction as has been shown above.

    R.Scott Clark: What’s problematic about that or is it that you know a priori that I couldn’t be right.

    Cliffton: I do not know a priori that you couldn’t be right.

    R.Scott Clark: If so, just tell me and we’ll end this dance.

    Cliffton: It’s a solo performance, and you are the only one on the dance floor.

  13. >Obviously Reformed people (e.g., Hoeksema, G. Clark et al) have done it

    Dear Scott,

    I have read Gordon Clark”s books and have seen him affirm analogy. May I know where did you get your (mis)-information that Gordon Clark denied analogy?

  14. I looked up the word amount in the OED. According to the OED (e.g., its historical citations), here is how amount has been used as a number:

    “1801 STRUTT Sport & Past. III. vi. 221 A number of little birds, to the amount of twelve or fourteen. 1849 Alison Hist. Eur. VIII. liv. &28. 489 Fame had magnified the amount of the forces. 1859 B. SMITH Arith. & Alg. 4 The Sum or Amount of the several numbers so added.

    The meaning of the word amount here according to the OED is “the sum total to which anything mounts up or reaches.”

  15. In G.B. Shaw’s first staged play, Widower’s Houses, the character Harry Trench (a poor but aristocratic young doctor who is on vacation along the Rhine. In this scence he falls in love with the business-man Sartorious’s daughter Blanche) says:

    TRENCH [triumphantly] I have any amount of letters for
    you. All my people are delighted that I am going to settle.
    Aunt Maria wants Blanche to be married from her house.
    [He hands Sartorius a letter].

  16. Dr. Clark:

    I greatly respect how you express your views and the great lengths that you take to interact with greater (un-)Reformed community. And it’s somehow very exciting to watch you take a risk as you have on this topic of word usage.

    ok, mostly I just search gleefully and madly…it’s not everyday that you provide an opportunity to use library skills)

    After some reflection, I think the English language, in particular the usage of mass/count nouns, is somehow governed by a law of large numbers. In physics and engineering, under very similar conditions discrete and continuous quantities tend to behave differently and thus require different forms of mathematics and physical laws. If, however, the discrete quantities are large enough they will often behave as if they were continuous. A block of wood is actually made of discrete atoms. A large number of telephone calls will take on a Gaussian distribution. etc.

    If the media talkinghead (MTH) used the word “amount” to describe a probably SMALL and discrete quantities of things with a plural noun, then your concerns are completely justified. If the MTH (i’m making a joke here) used the word “amount” to describe a VERY LARGE and discrete quantity of things with a plural noun, then even if the MTH didn’t employ the acceptable idiom like “ANY amount of” or “NO amount of” they are being logical and consistent. They are accessing a natural law (their consciences are not betraying them at all…if so, this is nothing short of a small miracle considering what you wrote above 😉 ) , i.e., the law of large numbers where discrete and continuous quantities become indistinguishable.

    I could be quite wrong here. Nevertheless, you do inspire risk-taking. And so I took one.

    Warm regards.
    idem. 🙂

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