Pride and Clarity of Terms

30 Jun

Pride gets in the way of logic – 

Have you ever just let your emotions carry you into a heated response to a statement you THINK you understand?

Taking a few moments to understand what the other person MEANS when they use a phrase or ‘term’ will save you some embarrassment.

I once jumped down someone’s throat because he said that a politician had done a good job in office!  Before I even ASKED him to clarify what he meant by good, I was countering him emotionally and loudly.

Simultaneous to my outward ‘know-it-all’ diatribe coursed my thoughts, “Maria  – what are you doing!!! You know better!  You’ve just blown any chance for a reasonable discussion.”

I have no idea what he meant by the term ‘good’ because I didn’t give him a chance to go into any detail.

But I did learn my lesson – I hope!

The first step in applying logic is to clarify terms.  There is NO point in taking a position and defending it, if we’re not going to explain in detail and to the other person’s satisfaction, just WHAT we mean when we use words to describe a concept.

A term consists in the words you use (either verbally or in writing) to describe a concept.  A term can consist in as few as one word or as many as you need to distinguish the concept from another.

So you can have a baseball (one word) 

or a scoop of mint chocolate chip ice cream. 

Both are terms.  Those happen to be pretty easy to identify.  More nebulous are terms like good, wrong, fair, justice, liberal, unloving.  These need clarifying.

This week we have looked at the first building block of a logical argument – terms.  Remember that terms are either clear or unclear.  Next week we’ll examine propositions and how to construct them properly.

Your homework, in the meanwhile, is to keep an ear and eye out for either vague terms or ones that are equivocal.  Equivocation, remember, is when you use a term that can refer to two or more different concepts.  For example:

  • Plane – a geometric term having to do with flat surfaces and points
  • Plane – flying machine
  • Plane – a tool used in woodworking

Using a term in either way (vaguely or equivocally) can obfuscate understanding.  See if you can catch yourself or others in this linguistic ‘crime’!

By the way, if I am generous, my ‘friend’ whom I linguistically assaulted, for all I know, could have meant by ‘good’ simply that the politician in question enjoyed an intact family and was doing a ‘good’ job balancing work priorities and family responsibilities.  When in doubt, one should be charitable!

Obama – good job…..  Clarity of terms

2 Responses to “Pride and Clarity of Terms”

  1. Joanne Richards July 1, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

    I really enjoyed this post, Maria. I have always wanted to study logic. This is a great way to infuse and challenge us “life long learners” to better communication in an age where texting, emails, tweets,(great for the quick delivery) but can scream misunderstandings in relationships. Like your experience, with the word “good” I have created internal arguments over ambiguous words spoken to me all the while, the other person has no idea what meaning I attached to the conversation. What I know is that meanings are in people NOT in words. I look forward to more post. I’ve had to blow the dust off my dictionary for the words obfuscate and nebulous:) Great job.

    • Maria July 1, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

      Thanks, Joanne, for your enthusiasm! I’ll be glad to have your input on what you find confusing or what would help you! I have ordinary gals like us in mind as well as anyone who just wants to think more clearly!
      Good way of putting it, that meanings are in people – we have to know what THEY intend when they use a word.

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