arguments are not caused by disagreement over the main ideas,
but that the arguers unknowingly define terms differently from
each other. Arguers may have different definitions of war, peace,
work week, formal attire, animal, automobile, tall, stiff drink
and sexy, even though they both assume they are using identical
definitions. Once the parties mutually set the definitions (which
they didn't do in the beginning), they are often surprised to
discover how much they agree with each other. Many arguments,
many conundrums, many philosophical debates exist simply because
parties never thought to mutually define terms.
An age old question is "If a tree falls in the woods
and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?"
The answer to this question depends on what is the definition
of sound, and a key to the discussion is the determination of
what sound means.
Is sound defined by the act of a human or other animal hearing?
Or can a sound exist with none around to hear it? It would seem
the smart thing to start by looking up the word sound in a dictionary.
I looked in one dictionary and two encyclopedias. One encyclopedia
said that sound is defined by the ear detecting (hearing) the
vibrations in the air. This would mean the tree in the question
would make no sound if no one is around. The other encyclopedia
and the dictionary defined sound as the vibrations itself, whether
or not someone is around to hear them. By this definition, the
tree would make a sound even if no one was around.
As you see, the famous tree debate isn't a matter of philosophy
but of word definition. The difference between "Yes, it
makes a sound" and "No, it doesn't make a sound"
can come down to the arbitrary choice of definition, the picking
of a favorite dictionary, the outvoting of 2 reference books
to 1, the flipping of a coin, a show of hands. Depending on what
definitions used, the answer of Yes and No can describe the same
forest scene. Is one sound definition superior than the other?
Not that I can see. They're just different.
People also have differing definitions of the word one in
no one is around to hear
' Some people think deer,
birds and mice count as ones, while others think only humans
count. The definition of one can also determine whether the
answer is question is Yes or No.
* * * *
Certain words have strong connotations in a culture, and people
intentionally play around with the definitions so they can apply
words as they desire. If patriot is a popular label, people will
fiddle with the definition so that they are defined as patriots
and their enemies are not. If patriot is an unpopular label,
the same people would define the word so that their enemies are
patriots and they are not. These shameless self serving manipulations
of definitions are common during political campaign season, but
also during our daily lives. What may be a lie when someone
else does it, is a fib if you do it.
Notice these instances involve people being emotionally attached
to a word no matter how it is defined. It's word numerology.
When I was in high school, the quarterback for the football
team came to school wearing a pink sweater. He spent the day
saying, "No, it's coral."
(c) david rudd cycleback, cycleback.com
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