What is Chili?

11 Jul

    

Terms matter! 

Once when we were engaged to be married and were visiting my parents, Mom prepared a tried and trusted entrée she thought Mike would like – chili!  The only problem was that she left out the kidney beans!  My fiancé, who was less than tactful, remonstrated, “This isn’t chili – it has no beans!”

Was he correct?  It depends on how you define ‘chili’.  (Why did she omit the beans?  She was probably distracted by the presence of her articulate and handsome future son-in-law!)

One of the fundamental laws of thought is called the Law of Identity.  It’s pretty intuitive: a thing is the sum of its component parts, characteristics (or ‘predicates’ to be technical) and NOT something else.

Let’s suppose that you define ‘chili’ like this:

·         Chili is a thick soup or gravy composed of meat, beans, tomatoes and seasonings

What happens, then, if you leave out or add something to this ‘soup or gravy’?  According to the Law of Identity, it is NOT ‘chili’.

Such a rule or guideline is useful in all kinds of conversations.  When we talk with people, our first responsibility is to get clear what they have in mind when employing a term.  So we ask them:

 What do you mean by ‘chili’?”

          or

 “What exactly is ‘chili’?

Being clear and precise about the definition is important. If you add or take away a defining component, you have changed the thing whether it is material (concrete) or immaterial (an idea).

When I engage in conversations about controversial items like prayer, God, marriage or even Christianity, I CANNOT assume that the person with whom I am talking defines the term in question the same way as I do.  This Law of Identity is basic!

For example, if I mean by marriage the historical and biblical definition:

a covenantal relationship recognized and supported by society between one qualified man & one qualified woman for the purposes of companionship, love, mutual support and the raising of children if possible

….then taking away or adding a part changes its identity.  It is no longer ‘marriage’ but something else!  That is fine, but we should be honest.  Fuzziness doesn’t help anyone.  Such equivocating with terms allows people to hide.  No progress can be made toward establishing meaningful conversation and/or solving problems.   

What concepts do YOU see in everyday life that are ‘allowed’ to stay fuzzy?

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