Logical debates failing

Slomo

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I know I've been talking about this for a long time now, and I recently heard a different way of explaining it in a podcast called science friday. They just had one about logical debates and why they often fail. One of the biggest reasons for that is understanding the right definitions. I HIGHLY recommend if anyone has got the time then please take a listen to it here: https://www.sciencefriday.com/episodes/october-5-2018/

Please note I'm not looking to debate over this, just recommending it as a way for everyone to better understand and communicate. You don't have to listen to it if you don't want to, but it could help some people a lot.
 

dogboy

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Having taken a few college science classes, we always spent a lot of time on definitions. They're very important in science. I found that if I knew all the terms, it almost guaranteed me at least a B on the exams. I've noticed that in many conversations, people tend to use too many pronouns, confusing who or what they're talking about. Not understanding definitions, especially where facts are concerned, causes the same kind of confusion.

I've read a lot of editorials that criticize either an idea or person, but the poorly written ones don't site verified facts, data and sources rendering the argument mute.
 

LittleSissieJolie

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after the Nixon-McGovern debates, extra credit in social studies class if we actually watched them, then more extra credits if we could give a debate which would be civil in any way. I was 12. The debates, actual and reconstructed, were about equal in childishness. As a lifetime infant, I know a little bit about childish. After several (actually 2) years I gave up on the entire concept.

So I'm not really disappointed at the level we've achieved in my lifetime. The objective of debate is to bend people to agree with whatever platform we're told to believe at least long enough for the various parties to skin us of all our property and or rights

This is of course the difference between skepticism and cynicism. I mourn for civilization.
 

Drifter

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I agree that definitions are important for meaningful discussions, but where does one find the "right" definition?

"Logical debate" seems like a contradiction in terms to me. Debates are competitions, not fact finding missions, and competitions are fueled by emotion.
 

Traemo

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I agree that definitions are important for meaningful discussions, but where does one find the "right" definition?
Depends on context, but usually there's a pretty consistent definition from the relevant field. It might be phrased a few different ways (consider the definition of parallel lines, for instance) but it does hold internal consistency.

"Logical debate" seems like a contradiction in terms to me.
It's the difference between "you're wrong because you're a fluff-brained baby" and "you're wrong because his fact shows your stance doesn't reflect reality". There's a reason lists of the logical fallacies exist, and this is it.
Debates are competitions, not fact finding missions, and competitions are fueled by emotion.
Again, context; yes, high school and college debate teams compete. Presidential Debates are more like multi-party rallies. And in everyday life, it's someone trying to convince you to adopt a specific stance.
 

Drifter

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The thing is, the debates we have here generally aren't about mathematics or geometry but about other issues that don't have such precise definitions. It would be good to define our terms in our discussions but it might be difficult to reach an agreement on definitions.

People are always talking about "the facts" as if those things exist as little chunks of absolute truth. It would be interesting if we could reach an agreement on what "facts" actually means. As I see it, facts are a dime a dozen. Facts are nothing more then bits of information that are completely meaningless until someone gives them meaning. More often then not, what people call "facts" are not really facts at all but an interpretation of what a limited number of facts means; and interpretations are always subjective. Objectivity would require looking at all available facts, but the purpose of debate is to win, not to be objective.
 

LittleSissieJolie

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Meta data which were published decades before the events predicted were verified. Close as I can come to a logical format.
 

Slomo

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The thing is, the debates we have here generally aren't about mathematics or geometry but about other issues that don't have such precise definitions. It would be good to define our terms in our discussions but it might be difficult to reach an agreement on definitions.

People are always talking about "the facts" as if those things exist as little chunks of absolute truth. It would be interesting if we could reach an agreement on what "facts" actually means. As I see it, facts are a dime a dozen. Facts are nothing more then bits of information that are completely meaningless until someone gives them meaning. More often then not, what people call "facts" are not really facts at all but an interpretation of what a limited number of facts means; and interpretations are always subjective. Objectivity would require looking at all available facts, but the purpose of debate is to win, not to be objective.
I respectfully disagree with this statement. The "right" definition is easy to figure out as long as you know how to look for it. You can go to most any online dictionary and look up the definition, for free too. Or for added accuracy I personally tend to look at three and compare them for a verified consensus.

Now this is where context really comes in though. You have to look at the multiple meanings under any word, and apply the correct use for that word. Noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, etc, as well as context/reference use are all very important here. (As example, if I'm talking about "nailing" a person I seriously hope you don't immediately picture using a hammer on them). This is almost guaranteed to narrow those multiple meanings down to just one, or at most two very closely related meanings.

And there you go, you've got the "right" meaning every time, no interpretations needed just as long as you follow the directions. Sadly though, it seems most here will ignore the refence context of a word, won't bother to actually look it up themselves, and are completely lost when it comes to figuring out if that word is being used as a verb or adjective. Sigh....


Oh, and ps. Be aware that sites like Merriam Webster show "word history" under all their definitions. It can be confusing too since their number 1 meaning listed is the original meaning- sometimes from more than 100 years ago and is so completely out of date it's obviously not the right meaning any more. The currently used, and generally accepted, use of the word they list is always the last one.

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Pss. I absolutely agree with you on the need for having the terms we use already agreed upon. I listed that elsewhere as one of the improvements to adisc. A simple definitions page listing common and agreed upon definitions. Something this incredibly simple would be highly effective at cutting out much of the confusion and misunderstanding I see around here. Dare I hope it would make our debates more communicative too?
 

Slomo

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So, for example, what is the "right" definition of "gender" we can all agree on?
That's easy, but I will first need some context (see, context is always important here). You left out too much in your question so at this point there are quite a few possibile meanings. Are you refering to a subform classification, or sex of a animal/person/people? And if people, are your referring to an individual, or group? Lastly, are you looking for the word use as a noun (such as belonging to) or verb (such as identifying with)? Note; it may help if you also use it in a sentence here.

Once you figure all that out, let us know or feel free to use the resources below (which is what I'll do anyways, and fyi these are just the first 3 google hits that came up. Feel free to use any 3 generally recognized sources- wiki and urban included). Narrow each of the three down to the appropriate meaning, then compare all three to see if they have a general consensus. Looking at them myself right now, which ever way you go with it looks like the will all match very closely- if not exactly. Based on that, you'll have the "right" definition we can all agree on.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gender
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/amp/definition/gender
https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gender
 

Drifter

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That's easy, but I will first need some context (see, context is always important here). You left out too much in your question so at this point there are quite a few possibile meanings. Are you refering to a subform classification, or sex of a animal/person/people? And if people, are your referring to an individual, or group? Lastly, are you looking for the word use as a noun (such as belonging to) or verb (such as identifying with)? Note; it may help if you also use it in a sentence here.
Thanks. This is the point I'm trying to make. Context is important; but even within a specific context there is often disagreement over how to define a term. Dictionary definitions and definitions as understood by common use are not always in sync. I purposely used "gender" as an example because there is currently some pressure to change the common understanding of that word. In debates about gender issues this creates problems because people are clearly using the word in different ways but within the same context: equal rights. The first issue to be settled is how to define "gender". After that, the concept of "equal rights", as it to applies to gender, may have to be redefined.

(But... gender as a verb? You can label someone but I don't see how you can gender someone. :smile:)
 

Slomo

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Thanks. This is the point I'm trying to make. Context is important; but even within a specific context there is often disagreement over how to define a term. Dictionary definitions and definitions as understood by common use are not always in sync. I purposely used "gender" as an example because there is currently some pressure to change the common understanding of that word. In debates about gender issues this creates problems because people are clearly using the word in different ways but within the same context: equal rights. The first issue to be settled is how to define "gender". After that, the concept of "equal rights", as it to applies to gender, may have to be redefined.

(But... gender as a verb? You can label someone but I don't see how you can gender someone. :smile:)
That's the probem I keep pointing out. As long as someone takes that specific context they can very easily see which definition does or does not apply. The disagreement we get is when people don't look up the definition, but instead go with what they incorrectly believe is the appropriate meaning.

To drive that last point home, your comment on not being able to see it used as a verb, is a perfect example. It was right there in all the definition links I gave. All you had to do was look it up but instead went with your own understanding of the meaning (which in this case you had none at all).

Oh, and as for changing the common understanding for the term gender. You realize that would only take flipping the current top (sex) and 2nd (traits associated with sex) meanings that have both ready been defined for us for quite a long time now. That just shows how close we already are to that one particular word meaning changing over time, and how well dictionaries stay relavent in reflecting (no defining) the current usage of language in whole.
 

Drifter

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The context I gave was clearly about "gender" as it is being applied to humans in current debates. In this context, the definitions you supplied combine gender identity (psychological traits) and gender roles (cultural norms) together with physical gender (sex) all under a single definition of the word "gender". This a very broad and confusing concept, especially to generations that used "sex" and "gender" interchangeably when distinguishing between male and female animals (including humans). Until people have a more precise meaning of "gender" that they can all agree on, it's probably best not to use that word at all. It just adds to the confusion when trying to make changes in social norms or laws.
 

Slomo

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The context I gave was clearly about "gender" as it is being applied to humans in current debates. In this context, the definitions you supplied combine gender identity (psychological traits) and gender roles (cultural norms) together with physical gender (sex) all under a single definition of the word "gender". This a very broad and confusing concept, especially to generations that used "sex" and "gender" interchangeably when distinguishing between male and female animals (including humans). Until people have a more precise meaning of "gender" that they can all agree on, it's probably best not to use that word at all. It just adds to the confusion when trying to make changes in social norms or laws.
I believe you are misunderstanding something there. The way ALL dictionaries work is their first entry (or last if by word hidtory) is the most commonly used and accepted meaning of the word. The second entry (or more) is uncommon uses that are recognized but generally not accepted as common usage. Or otherwise, list previous or no longer accepted meanings. As with "gender", "sex" is still the commonly accepted and officially recognized usage. "Gender traits" are not. Though as you pointed out (and I recognized), the current debate is to get that switched around or not. (Of which I personally support too).
 

tiny

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Words are very vague in meaning.

The word "idea" crops up a lot in philosophical debates on abstract logic, metaphysics, epistemology, etc. And every famous philosopher who has used the word "idea" means something different by it, and never provides a precise unambiguous definition of what they mean. They often contradict themselves by inferring different definitions each time they use the same word.

Whole books are written to define what is meant by "abstract ideas" and how they relate to reality. And that would just be one possible definition. A dictionary could never include such level of detail.

A standard dictionary definition is often totally wrong in academic contexts. Actually many are "wrong" (in many people's opinion) in general usage too.

Most of the problems of philosophy are based on misunderstandings over the use of language and how it relates to reality. (The others are problems of knowledge.)

Would everyone be able to agree on the definition of "god"? Even the Bible isn't consistent about what the "God" means, let alone gods in general!

What about "poverty"? Would poor North Korean think it means the same as a rich American, or a 17th Century beggar orphan...? What about "liberal" or "time"?

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What if I claim that all words are vague, so I ask you to provide a definition of every word you use. Even if you define every word, you're only defining them in terms of other words. Your definitions are necessarily circular. There is no way to resolve this, other than to say that meaning ultimately does not come from the dictionary at all.

Formal logic developed because language is not optimised to convey meaning accurately and succinctly.

Dictionaries are subjective opinions. Sometimes they can be a useful reference which hints at possible meanings, but cannot be ultimately definitive.

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Hmmm... what does "definitive" mean...? Let's have a look at Wiktionary:

Adjective
1) explicitly defined
2) conclusive or decisive
...
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/definitive

And now Oxford Dictionaries:

Usage
Definitive is often used, rather imprecisely, when definite is actually intended, to mean simply ‘clearly decided’. Although definitive and definite have a clear overlap in meaning, definitive has the additional sense of ‘having an authoritative basis’. Thus, a definitive decision is one which is not only conclusive but also carries the stamp of authority or is a benchmark for the future, while a definite decision is simply one which has been made clearly and is without doubt
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/definitive

Which dictionary do you believe?

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The way ALL dictionaries work is their first entry (or last if by word hidtory) is the most commonly used and accepted meaning of the word. The second entry (or more) is uncommon uses that are recognized but generally not accepted as common usage. Or otherwise, list previous or no longer accepted meanings.
That's not true. It's a common convention to put archaic usages at the bottom of the list, but otherwise the word meanings are not necessarily ranked in any order of usage.
 

Slomo

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Words are very vague in meaning.

The word "idea" crops up a lot in philosophical debates on abstract logic, metaphysics, epistemology, etc. And every famous philosopher who has used the word "idea" means something different by it, and never provides a precise unambiguous definition of what they mean. They often contradict themselves by inferring different definitions each time they use the same word.

Whole books are written to define what is meant by "abstract ideas" and how they relate to reality. And that would just be one possible definition. A dictionary could never include such level of detail.

A standard dictionary definition is often totally wrong in academic contexts. Actually many are "wrong" (in many people's opinion) in general usage too.

Most of the problems of philosophy are based on misunderstandings over the use of language and how it relates to reality. (The others are problems of knowledge.)

Would everyone be able to agree on the definition of "god"? Even the Bible isn't consistent about what the "God" means, let alone gods in general!

What about "poverty"? Would poor North Korean think it means the same as a rich American, or a 17th Century beggar orphan...? What about "liberal" or "time"?

---

What if I claim that all words are vague, so I ask you to provide a definition of every word you use. Even if you define every word, you're only defining them in terms of other words. Your definitions are necessarily circular. There is no way to resolve this, other than to say that meaning ultimately does not come from the dictionary at all.

Formal logic developed because language is not optimised to convey meaning accurately and succinctly.

Dictionaries are subjective opinions. Sometimes they can be a useful reference which hints at possible meanings, but cannot be ultimately definitive.

---

Hmmm... what does "definitive" mean...? Let's have a look at Wiktionary:


https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/definitive

And now Oxford Dictionaries:


https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/definitive

Which dictionary do you believe?

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That's not true. It's a common convention to put archaic usages at the bottom of the list, but otherwise the word meanings are not necessarily ranked in any order of usage.
Your first point is the whole reason why logical debates fail. Because people get hung up on their own personal meanings of a word and end up arguing differing meanings without truly realizing it. Hence why I believe adisc having those definitions generally accepted and agreed upon would help prevent all this misunderstanding. Or maybe even just acception one official source dictionary for their official meanings.

As for that subject opinion of dictionaries, your example is a really good one. The wictionary meaning of definitive is explicitely defined. Oxford says it is clear and without doubt. Both meanings of which are explicitely clear in their agreement with each other. So you have failed to show any subjective opinion between even just these two examples. Both are then to be believed.
 

Drifter

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As for that subject opinion of dictionaries, your example is a really good one. The wictionary meaning of definitive is explicitely defined. Oxford says it is clear and without doubt. Both meanings of which are explicitely clear in their agreement with each other. So you have failed to show any subjective opinion between even just these two examples. Both are then to be believed.
"Clear and without doubt" was Oxford's definition of "definite", not it's definition of "definitive" which adds a reference to an authoritative basis. The Oxford dictionary was basically saying some understandings of the definition of "definitive", like the one used by Wiktionary, are imprecise because they lack the reference to authority. This is a good example of what tiny is saying: one dictionary specifically pointing out the flaw in some other dictionary's definition.

Which definition you believe is definitive is purely subjective opinion. :)
 

Slomo

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"Clear and without doubt" was Oxford's definition of "definite", not it's definition of "definitive" which adds a reference to an authoritative basis. The Oxford dictionary was basically saying some understandings of the definition of "definitive", like the one used by Wiktionary, are imprecise because they lack the reference to authority. This is a good example of what tiny is saying: one dictionary specifically pointing out the flaw in some other dictionary's definition.

Which definition you believe is definitive is purely subjective opinion. :)
Ok, I misunderstood that time. Apologies. Yes you are right these two definitions are in conflict. Remember my old saving grace about that though? How I always say to make sure you refence three sources? This example here is exactly why. To get that concensus on what the meaning is most commonly accepted as. You never find one that agrees with what could be potentially a bias, you confirm it or not.

So lets do that then.
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/definitive
Remember with MW it goes by word history, do last is the most commonly accepted use. Except you can see 4 and 5 don't apply to how we are using the word, so we have to look at 3a and 3b. This would confer closely with Oxford, so there we go.

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Drifter, I also want to say thanks for looking at this all logically. I feel it is really helping to show everyone how little vagueness or interpertation there really is in any given word, even when it takes a little extra to confirm what its commonly accepted meaning really is. I just wish everybody would do this exercise for those other more commonly misinterpreted words we seem to debate around here too.
 

tiny

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Your first point is the whole reason why logical debates fail. Because people get hung up on their own personal meanings of a word and end up arguing differing meanings without truly realizing it.
I couldn't agree more! I spent most of my time studying philosophy in trying to unpick the precise meaning of every word. No one else seemed to recognise the scale of the problem, nor the fundamental impact it has in being able to talk meaningfully about anything.

There I was, deconstructing language into cross-referenced spiders' webs and Venn diagrams of implied and inferred meaning, whilst other philosophy students were getting A grades for showing simple reading comprehension and parroting facile bullet points. It drove me nuts!

So I salute you for recognising this too! If everyone were as aware of the problems of language and meaning, SO MANY arguments could be avoided, and everyone could spend their time considering the fundamental issues.

Yet (as I have frustratingly discovered) humans are far less concerned with cold logical precision than they are with the vague emotional associations that words have.

The same words can be understood quite differently if they are read in an email, as opposed to face-to-face, when body language and intonation can be perceived. The Sophists in society (politicians, advertisers, con-men, etc.) exploit this with the art of rhetoric.

What are the formal definitions of the words "immigrant" and "ex-patriot"...? They mean the same thing. But their vernacular usage strongly attributes "negative" connotations to immigrant, but not the ex-patriot.

What is the distinction between Muslim and Moslem? Do you know for sure that the distinctions that you make are the same as those made by other people?

Have you ever been asked, "How much pain are you feeling on a scale of 1 to 10"? How can any concrete meaning be derived from that? How accurate is your definition of the word "pain"? How could you ever know that your experience of pain is anything like someone else's experience? What about "love"?

What about when people say, "You've got to be true to yourself." Logically, it's impossible to do anything that isn't "true to yourself" (if the phrase means anything at all). You are you; you do what you do! So, is this statement completely devoid of meaning? If so, why do people say it? If not, what is the intended meaning? And (more importantly) what is the process by which you intuit an association between specific words and meanings?

Hence why I believe adisc having those definitions generally accepted and agreed upon would help prevent all this misunderstanding. Or maybe even just acception one official source dictionary for their official meanings.
You want to write yet another dictionary... which will take its place alongside thousands of the others? It's a noble venture, but I don't think it will result in the "definitive" clarity that we crave.

One concern with relying on a single, authoritative source of language is that it inhibits free thought. No dictionary, no matter how comprehensive, could define every word, nor fully explain every possible thought. In Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four the dystopian government was trying to control thought by reducing vocabulary in a way that reinforces the ideals of the regime.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspeak

Instead, it might be worth inventing new unambiguous words, and then explicitly defining them on your own terms. That way you can use them without anyone inadvertently mis-interpreting them according to any other dictionary or vernacular usage.

Of course, once you've created a word, it's "in the wild". Does the word "meme" really mean what its creator intended...?

No matter how hard you try, you really can't pin down precision on language, except by coming to an ad-hoc agreement of terms... And even then, lawyers make millions about the gaps and ambiguity in what people thought was "watertight".

Ok, I misunderstood that time. Apologies. Yes you are right these two definitions are in conflict. Remember my old saving grace about that though? How I always say to make sure you refence three sources? This example here is exactly why. To get that concensus on what the meaning is most commonly accepted as. You never find one that agrees with what could be potentially a bias, you confirm it or not.
But that misses the point. Why the "best of three", and not "best of five"? If we could analyse every modern standard English dictionary published, we wouldn't reach a consensus. Instead, we'd have some kind of statistical analysis of the probability of meaning (as recorded by people with limited experience, who may be incorrect).

Dictionaries are not what define language; usage is. Dictionaries merely record the way that words are typically used -- they're a secondary source, not a primary one. And they're based on what is considered (by random subjective persons) to be the standard form of the language.

Word meanings are imprecise. It's just how language works. The vast majority of the time, for society to function, we don't need to be accurate. If all you need to do is trade, pidgin may suffice. Pidgin languages can become so comprehensive, effective, and useful that they develop into creoles, sufficiently sophisticated to become the stable first-language of a people.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pidgin
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creole_language
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patois

It's only when talking about complex, abstract, or academically specific fields in which standard language starts to let us down. This is why "terms of art" are created.

The word "weight" means something subtly different to the layperson than to a physicist. In everyday usage, the meaning is more-or-less interchangeable with mass (or at least mathematically proportional). But scientists don't always deal with the everyday.

The word "unlawful" means the same as "illegal" to a lay-person, but not to a lawyer (depending on jurisdiction). A standard dictionary won't even mention the distinction between such terms.

I just wish everybody would do this exercise for those other more commonly misinterpreted words we seem to debate around here too.
Yep! Me too! But it's a much more difficult task than first meets the eye.

You might find this wiki entry interesting:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_language
 

tiny

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Also, John Searle discusses the philosophy of language quite well here:

[video=youtube;SMA1G6Mb0Y0]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMA1G6Mb0Y0[/video]
 
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