Argumentation: By Definiton

01 Jul

Nothing in the world – at least as far as forensic matters are concerned – annoys me more than situations when people try to circumvent the issue by “cleverly” defining the controversial terms. For example, when somebody tells you that they cannot define the word “irrational” because there is no clear consensus on what it means – and hence, no discussion can be held. Or, when somebody refuses to talk about stem cells from embryos (“because those are CLEARLY wrong, right?” – no.). Or, when you want to discuss modern weapons and your conversation partner excludes drones, nukes, infra-red and smart missiles. (That´s sort of like talking about dogs, but being able to talk only about dachshund.)

The reason this annoys me so much is that it shows that adults (!) are unable to defend (or sometimes cannot even imagine someone else defending) a position they disagree with. In consequence, they, just like little stubborn kids, don´t look you in the eye, talk about the non-controversial parts and hope for you changing the topic. But that´s still not the worst thing.

The worst thing is that many people do it even when they are supposed to defend their own view! Sure, it can be difficult to look at things from the “other” perspective (although I still think that an educated human being should be able to do so), but the ability to stand up for one´s beliefs should be a basic skill in today´s world… hopefully?

Even scholars, students at prestigious schools, politicians or other public figures sometimes resort to this technique. The technique of “under my definition, your problem does not exist”. I agree – it makes the world much simpler. There are no unresolved clashes and everybody seems content. But not everybody is.

I won´t go deeper into my view of how progress comes about (i.e. by challenging other people´s views, confronting different opinions and gradually changing and adapting one´s perspective), but I would like to underscore the following: I honestly do not know of a problem that was solved by burying someone´s head in the sand. (Except perhaps for the play Titus Andronicus – but even there, the head of Aaron remained above the sand, while the body was buried.)

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Posted by on 1 July, 2012 in Random


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