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 Post subject: Arguing Semantics
PostPosted: Sun Apr 25, 2004 3:50 pm 
On this post I wrote:
I think also its a slam against the stereotypical philosopher who spends more time analyzing the words and their meanings in order to bring things down to a war of semantics, without ever actually contributing a real thought to the discussion.


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On the subject of this stereotype.

Yes, there are people like that out there who will get bogged down in the semantics, smirk, and think themselves clever for doing so.

But at the same time there is a real legitimate purpose in going through the semantics of an argument. Particularly when the language being used is English. Words have connotations and baggage that accompany them when they are used, and often times the problem in a discussion is that people are using the same word but are thinking about slightly different concepts, and this unspecified difference in concepts is the real source of the disagreement.

One reason many philosophers like Aristotle or Kant are dense is because they spend an excruciatingly boring amount of time going through technical terminology because they want to be precise and convey exactly what they mean with little room for misinterpretation.

An example of word containing baggage is the usage of "soul." More than likely if you hear someone use the word "soul" it triggers the concept of the religious idea of an immortal soul that goes on to an eternal state. This is a problem when discussing say ancient Greek philosophy when "soul" is used to describe levels of anime, or movement. Other ways its used is simply to ascribe the part of something which gives its non-physical essence. If you were to dig deep enough in the usages there's probably some level of overlap, but the same time the word does bring in some baggage that might disrupt the meaning in the piece of which it is used.

Another problem is people often use terms without having a precise definition in mind as to what they mean. Or they have a working definition that for works except for a few extreme cases, and those extreme cases make discussions interesting. Words like this include "life," "disease," and "abnormality."

One solution that can be used is to simply create new terminology. Then you have the joy of having to define your terms, and even then its not accessible to other people who haven't digested and adopted your phraseology.

In summation of this choppy rant... "English is a beautiful language for the poets, horrible for anything technical."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Apr 25, 2004 8:43 pm 
I don't get complaints about "just arguing semantics". Would people who dismiss semantics rather that people argue syntax?

Arriving at a common language before debating isn't as fun as jumping in headfirst, but it's the only way an argument can have any sort of meaningful conclusion.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Apr 25, 2004 9:19 pm 
You all remember my "potential vs. possibility" argument with AH over on D+E. Sometimes there's just no word to describe certain concepts. And I didn't want to say "has begun a process that will with high probability lead to" half a dozen times per post.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Apr 26, 2004 9:56 am 
gwalla wrote:
I don't get complaints about "just arguing semantics". Would people who dismiss semantics rather that people argue syntax?


Actually, I find looking at the syntax of an argument interesting. Not like the grammer or anything, but more like the structure of the logic being used.

I want to say its the Frege/Hilbert debates over Logicism and Formalism that you find a good discussion on semantics vs. syntax and which is more important in providing a structure. I don't remember the details, but the gist of the argument is that one can replicate anything that can be done in the other, but not vise-versa.

gwalla wrote:
Arriving at a common language before debating isn't as fun as jumping in headfirst, but it's the only way an argument can have any sort of meaningful conclusion.


Very true.

However, I really think that in some cases the argument will never depart from the realm of arguing the definitions. Too lazy to dig out the thread, but Raif and I had a discussion way back on D&E and on IRC on this in regards to homosexuality. Basically, the point I was trying to make is if it is ever discovered that sexual preference is 100% genetic (extreme case that I'm not saying I think will happen, but this is for purposes of discussion), the discussion would then change into arguments over what constitutes an abnormality, and if sexual preference is a trait that is more like eye/hair color or are people going to claim that it's a disorder that should be corrected?

And basically I think all parties in the discussion are going to adopt definitions that suit the argument and refuse to budge. So there's an impasse.

NOTE: Do not take anything in the above statements and stretch it as being a reflection of my views one way or another. I'm just outlining an analysis of the discussion


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Apr 26, 2004 10:25 pm 
"Any philosophy which can be encapsulated 'in a nutshell' belongs there." -- Harris


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue May 24, 2005 1:17 pm 
If one examines the semanticist paradigm of context, one is faced with a choice: either reject textual submodern theory or conclude that langauge is capable of significance. Thus, the subject is contextualised into a `powerful communication' that includes narrativity as a paradox. I promotes the use of textual submodern theory to deconstruct thecommon stereotype of misused semnatics...


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue May 24, 2005 3:18 pm 
Well, the point behind arguing semantics (at least when I do it) is to avoid miscommunication. I like to know exactly what people are trying to tell me, and having what I say misunderstood isn't exactly the most constructive thing either.


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