Thursday, March 27, 2014

Asking for Definitions

This is going to be a very brief post on asking for definitions. Ever been in a conversation with someone, and they say, “What do you mean by ‘that’?” They want to know the definition of your terms. This can be a good strategy, or it can be a disingenuous game. How can we tell the difference?

The difference is this: if you’re asking the definition of something to understand precisely what is being claimed, then you’re all right to ask. If you’re asking the definition of something in order to bog down the debate, then no—you’re just wasting time. Similarly, if you’re only asking the definition of something so that you can start some infinite chain, and then claim the term isn’t defined well enough, that’s not OK either.

Asking for definitions can come in handy, in a legitimate way, if you want to expose circular reasoning. Another time is if you aren’t sure which of two or more options the person you’re debating means. It saves so much time if you just know what is being claimed!

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