Sunday, December 18, 2016

Live by definition

In accordance with their textbooks, they are always in motion; but as for dwelling upon an argument or a question, and quietly asking and answering in turn, they can no more do so than they can fly. . . . If you ask any of them a question, he will produce, as from a quiver, sayings brief and dark, and shoot them at you; and if you inquire the reason of what he has said, you will be hit with some other new-jangled word, and you will make no way with any of them. Their great care is, not to allow of any settled principle either in their arguments or in their minds, . . . for they are at war with the stationary, and do what they can to drive it out everywhere. -Plato

We live by definition. Many folks will disagree with that even as they call us conservatives evil and racist and sexist, as if those terms had obvious definition. It's interesting to wonder whether all they're doing is living under an unclear definition themselves. It would seem so, despite the fact that, very often, they assert that they live under a banner of no definition.

What purpose can that serve? For starters, all it really does is put them into the category of relativists. All kinds of fun can be had with factoid, but we'll set aside for now. There's a more ominous idea at work under the auspices of no definition. If actions cannot be defined, then no human action can be called wrong as there would be no definition to fit it.

That's why so many folks now believe that marriage can be between any two (or more) people who love each other. It takes away from marriage by making the term meaningless, that is, without definition. It throws the point into the realm of love, whatever that means, as it is also a term rather loosely defined (if defined at all) these days. How many of us actually consider what love might be, or what it actually might demand of us? Very few, because it is now a term used merely to justify what we want to do and with whoever wants to do it with us.

Words mean things. They are the way in which we can most effectively communicate, and they can only be effective when we define them well and true, and hold people to those definitions. This is hardly a new concept. The ancient Greeks insisted that we must define our terms before discussing matters; more recently, Rush Limbaugh opined that, well, words mean things. If we are truly serious about understanding other people and other cultures then we have to be able to understand what is being said by ourselves and our culture. If we are really serious about ending war and injustice or even merely making our local community a better place, then we must admit that our words must be well defined in manners comprehensible and acceptable to all rational people.

If we do not do this, then we are not talking. We are not understanding. We are merely making noise.

No comments: