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Author Topic: It's Not About Words
Dagonee
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Words refer to specific things, or referents.

The same word or phrase can be used to refer to different referents. The same referent can be referred to by different words or phrases.

But sometimes it is clear from usage that what is meant by a particular phrase in a particular post is not the same thing as someone else means by a different phrase.

If I make a big deal about it, it's because I think the difference in the referents is important. It's not a word game. It's not nit-picking. It's not legalism.

It's important. We talk about a lot of issues that involve multiple abstract entities and multiple abstract relationships between those entities.

Sometimes the dispute involves how those entities relate. Sometimes it involves what those entities actually are.

It's not about precision of language. It's about precision of thought. It's not about word choice, but the entities that are referents of the chosen words.

[ May 27, 2006, 11:57 PM: Message edited by: Dagonee ]

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TomDavidson
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Where were you when I was just trying to nail down the definition of the word "know?" [Wink]
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Blayne Bradley
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Though sometimes would delving too deep into the wording of the law eventually degrad the spirit of the law?
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TomDavidson
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That's been my argument so far. [Smile] But I don't think Dag's buying it.
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Dagonee
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quote:
Originally posted by Blayne Bradley:
Though sometimes would delving too deep into the wording of the law eventually degrad the spirit of the law?

I'm sure it can happen.

But, in general, people aren't delving too deeply into the wording. They're delving into the meaning.

Take "reasonable." This word is used throughout law: the 4th amendment gives us the right to only be subject to "reasonable" searches and seizure. Reasonable doubt is an incredibly important protection. Negligence turns on the word reasonable, as does self-defense.

There are hundreds of years of case law on each determining what "reasonable" means in each of these circumstances. But they're not about defining a word. They're about defining a concept.

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docmagik
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(Please forgive if this post gets too long.)

I've gotten frustrated before at the way threads turn into semantic games.

But sometimes it has to, I think.

This forum has the same problem that fiction does. When a fiction writer puts the word "dog" on the page, say he says something like, "A dog trotted across the street in the distance," everybody thinks of a different kind of dog, usually based on their own experience. Some things might steer what they're perceiving--in this case, "trotted" might suggest a big dog--but overall, they're filling in color, size, breed, etc. out of their own imaginations.

The same thing happens here. When we post our little posts, there's lots missing from our viewpoints and positions. It's easy to fill in meanings that we usually associate in our own minds with that person's position or viewpoint that often are not present in the post.

In the abortion thread, for example, what Bob kept repeating was that Dag cared "too little" about the things Bob cared about.

It seems, looking back on the posts (and I could be misinterpreting this--this whole post is about how posts are misinterpreted) that Bob meant "too little" in the sense that "insufficently to arrive at the same conclusion as me," and Dag was taking it as "insufficently to constitute caring enough."

So Bob feels the need to call it a "word usage" issue.

However, there's also that Dag felt that Bob couldn't see how someone could care about a topic just as much as him, but still choose a different means of addressing his concern. That's why Dag couldn't believe Bob would see it as being a "word usage" issue.

The same as when people read my post about values, and automatically took that to assume that it meant people who get abortions don't care about life. Not what I said--in fact, what I was trying (perhaps poorly) to argue against.

That's one of the reasons my posts are so (some would say too) long. I'm trying really, really hard to be understood.

So sometimes we have to parse these things out, just so we can all get on the same page, especially since that page is almost always different from the page that we think we're going to get on when we start reading a post. We start off immediately trying to categorize the other person and their arguement into whatever category we first think they fit in. It's just kind of the way our brain works.

So it's neccessary. I've never, for example, been able to get into a discussion about Faith with anyone, without having to discuss semantics. The prevalent defition of faith among atheists (believing in something you have no reason to believe in, or that you have reason not to believe in, something weaker than normal belief) and among many religious folks (believing in something, for some reason, enough to act on it, even though you don't know it for sure yet, something stronger than regular belief) is so fundamentally different that it's impossible not to address it.

That's a huge part of the reason I think the abortion / homosexuality / religion threads go on so long. Because it takes that many pages to move past everybody's assumptions and start seeing what people are really saying.

The "referants," as Dag called them, become worthless to us if they point you and I at differnt things. So we spend a bunch of time trying to get to where we're using it all in a common context.

The semantic games I get frustrated with are the ones where people try to "trap" you into having meant things that are clearly contrary to what you're actually saying, picking apart word choices in a way that demonstrates they're going into your post "looking for" something rather than hoping to "find" what you're trying to give them.

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Kwea
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Doc, that is what I was trying to say there at the end, and in several of those seroius threads...


It is possible for intelligent, rational people to completely understand each others voewpoint but still disagree on the proper course of action. It isn't always possible to convies the other side, no matter how well you explain yourself, that is what makes thses discussions difficult.

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Celaeno
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It's upsetting when people say that discussion of semantics is unimportant. If we don't know what we're discussion, how can we even carry on a conversation?

Conveying what you mean in a precise manner is vital. Unfortunately, when it is taken to its extreme, material becomes incredibly tedious to read. (G.E. Moore comes to mind.) The happy medium is hard to find.

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