Tag Archives: definitions

The Objectively Dictionary Challenged

dictionaryI find myself walking away from more and more debates because the people involved are just damn stupid.  Nowhere is this better illustrated than a recent “debate” where a guy claimed that morality is objective.  This isn’t a new debate by any means and this guy isn’t playing the religious angle, in fact, I’d argue that he’s an atheist and making the same failed argument that I pointed out with Matt Dillahunty‘s secular morality claims.

There just isn’t any way to justify objective morality because objectivity, by it’s very definition, has to exist outside of the human mind and not be beholden to human whims, emotions, desires, dreams or anything of the sort.  Therefore, anyone who sets goals, observes standards, takes positions, etc. on the state of morality is, by definition, being subjective in their views.  This guy couldn’t wrap his head around that and, in fact, came off very dishonestly in his arguments.

He defined morality as supporting the goal of stopping suffering in humanity.  That’s exactly what Matt Dillahunty tries to argue and it fails for exactly the same reason.  The second you, as an individual, define a goal, you’re no longer being objective, but subjective.  I don’t care what the goal is, I don’t care how strongly you feel about the goal, that goal is still subjective because a human mind had a part in selecting it.  Words have meanings for a reason, to facilitate clear and concise communication.  So I produced a number of definitions for the word “objective” and he ignored them all entirely.  I guess words don’t mean much to him.  I told him to go out and find his own definition of “objective” from any reputable source that meets his claims about it.  He didn’t.  Instead, he went out and pulled a definition for the word “optimal”, claiming that he only cared about the optimal state of humanity and therefore, any morality that led to his self-defined optimal state was, by some bizarre definition, “objective”.

When I picked myself up off the floor, mouth agape, I just shook my head and walked away.  Now I don’t care if he wants to argue that his subjective position on morality is that it leads to some self-chosen optimal state, but come on, that’s not what the debate was about and he knows it.  This is becoming more and more common though, people thinking that they get to redefine words at their whim so they can win arguments.

Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way.

Color is objectively defined, not subjectively experienced.

Worse yet, the guys on the other side of the debate weren’t that bright either.  They chased me down to explain that morality was subjective in the same way that color was subjective.  Everyone experiences it differently!  That sent me reeling as well because it is absolutely, positively not true.  Color is objective.  Each color is defined as a particular range of light wavelengths.  For example, red is defined as light around 650 nanometers, you don’t have to see this in order to measure it objectively.  If someone has red/green color blindness though, that light doesn’t magically transform into gray for the individual, even though they are unable to see red.  It remains red, their optical sensory organs are simply wrong.  They are not functioning properly.  The light doesn’t change, the people are seeing the light improperly!  I’ve tried to explain this to these people and they just can’t get it through their head that color is an objective thing.

It’s enough to make me want to throttle people sometimes.  Seriously, what do you do when you’re surrounded by morons on every side of the debate?

Reasonable Definitions

As much as I don’t want to re-open the anti-natalism can of worms, I feel there is something I need to say and it applies to anti-natalism as well as many other irrational beliefs.  I’ve had someone tell me that if you allow a very specific definition of “suffer”, then anti-natalism is logical because it builds off of that definition.  Technically, I suppose that if you define “suffering” as “everything anyone ever does” and further refines it as something that “must be opposed at all times by all people”, there might be a point.  However, I don’t see either of those as reasonable definitions.

The reality is, words have meanings for a reason, they make meaningful discussion possible by ensuring that everyone is talking about the same thing.  So let’s look at a couple of dictionary definitions for the term:

Suffer:  1. To feel pain or distress; sustain loss, injury, harm, or punishment.

Suffer:  to endure death, pain, or distress

Suffer:  to undergo or feel pain or distress

None of those definitions implies the kind of thing that anti-natalists seem to think that it should, that everything that happens to people is suffering.  Let’s take the one common term between the three definitions, “pain” and examine it.  If I am not in pain, I am not suffering.  I don’t happen to be in pain right now.  There is zero suffering going on where I’m sitting.  I would go so far as to suggest that this is the case for the majority of people on the planet at the moment.  Thus, when anti-natalists state that “life is suffering”, it takes only a moment to demonstrate that such a statement is factually untrue.  Some life may be suffering most of the time.  Most life suffers occasionally.  It is simply untrue that all life is suffering all of the time.  Strike One.

Secondly, we  can examine the second part of the argument, that suffering must be opposed by all.  Says who?  This is simply an empty, unsupported claim.  They expect people to accept it, yet I don’t.  In fact, I vehemently deny it.  I don’t think we ought to oppose most suffering, just for the sake of opposing it.  Suffering drives human innovation and technological advance.  If no one ever suffered, we’d have no reason to improve living conditions.  In doing so, we certainly will minimize suffering to a certain degree, but we’ll never wipe it out entirely, nor from a purely pragmatic standpoint, should we.  If we did, we’d stop improving.  The anti-natalists revel in logical fallacy here, appealing to emotion and engaging in the classical if-by-whiskey fallacy.  Strike Two.

Therefore, when we get to anti-natalism phrased as such:  “Life is suffering and suffering must be opposed by all, thus people should stop breeding to eliminate suffering”, we must reject the statement as irrational and unreasonable because the components are false.  Life is not suffering and suffering need not necessarily be opposed by anyone, thus the conclusion that relies on those two faulty premises is likewise faulty.  Logic 101.  Three Strikes and they’re out.

We can get away from anti-natalism and see this same technique used in other arguments as well.  How often have you seen a theist try to define “God is the universe”?  They’re simply trying, as anti-natalists do, to define a term into existence that specifically works to their advantage.  Life is not suffering and God is not the universe.  We already have perfectly good words for these and it does not match the accepted definition of the other terms.  You can no more do that than a racist could justify racism by declaring “black is inferior”.  Just claiming that it is doesn’t make it so.

So we’re left with bad terminology as the only support for bad logic.  Since life is not suffering and suffering is not something that must be universally opposed, then the claim that not breeding the human species into extinction is a good idea is a failed concept.  Not that I expect them to recognize or accept that, their arguments aren’t based on logic or critical thinking, but on emotion.

Emotion almost never makes a worthwhile argument.

The Redefinition Game

I know this is nothing new but it’s something that I keep running into and it pisses me off to no end.  It’s largely used by theists who desperately want to gain any respectability for their beliefs by any means possible and far too often, those means are dishonest.

What I’m talking about is redefining a term to it’s widest possible meaning, declaring that everyone does that, thus it makes it okay when a theist does it for a much, much smaller definition of the term.  For example, and perhaps the most common example, is the word “faith”.  A theist will blow that word up to the widest conceivable application, that people believe things for which they cannot possibly know for certain if it’s true, declare it all to be “faith”, then contract the definition to the religious meaning of the word, believing something for which you have absolutely no evidence, and declaring that since everyone has “faith”, that religious “faith” must therefore be valid.

Is it possible to be more fallacious in one’s thinking?  Possibly not.

The term “faith”, in the way theists use it, really cannot be applied to ideas like expecting a bus to arrive at a bus stop, having one’s car start in the morning or having the sun rise tomorrow.  These are all things based not on faith but on well-reasoned, long-experienced and evidenced repetition.  Buses do arrive at bus stops.  Buses are real.  Bus drivers are paid specifically to drive a particular route and that includes stopping at a bus stop.  No faith involved.  My car starts because of physics.  I understand how the internal combustion engine works.  So long as the engine is well maintained and there’s gas in the tank, the car will start every single time you turn the key.  The sun has come up every morning for, in my case, nearly 17,000 mornings in my life.  I understand the physics involved.  The sun will continue to rise every morning so long as those physics remain in place.  There’s no faith involved.  In fact, people don’t even have to be around for any of these things to happen.  The sun rose for billions of years before humans ever existed on this planet.  Faith?  Only if you purposely misuse the term.

Then the believer will contract the term again, to “faith” in a deity.  This is faith entirely without reason, justifiable experience or evidence, this is little more than wishful thinking, emotional coddling provided by the belief in an imaginary father figure in the sky who will watch out for you and promise you eternal happiness conveniently beyond the realm of critical evaluation.  This is not “faith” that is even remotely similar to that discussed before, it is the application of a term to two different things and the assertion that said application makes the two things the same.

I suppose we could take that same line of thinking and apply it to different aspects of life.  Let’s try, shall we?  All living things desire to reproduce.  In fact, it’s one of the most fundamental aspects of living organisms.  Humans, even when they are not trying to reproduce, enjoy having sex.  It is a recognized and acceptable past time throughout the world.

Therefore, we ought to accept necrophilia or bestiality.

Um… right.  That’s a leap, isn’t it?  But it’s no more a leap than the theists attempt above.

Ultimately, it’s all dishonest, but isn’t that what religion is at it’s core?  Even if they don’t recognize it or do it purposely, religion is full of fallacy and wishful thinking.  Isn’t that something we, as a supposedly rational species, ought to be working to stamp out?