Defining Reality: Definitions and the Politics of Meaning by Edward Schiappa

By Edward Schiappa

Definitional disputes pop up continually in a nearly endless number of contexts, from courtrooms to cocktail events. In Defining fact: Definitions and the Politics of which means, Edward Schiappa exhibits the act of defining to be a really good and realized habit, and for that reason person who should be studied and improved.

Through a chain of case stories on definitional disputes approximately rape, euthanasia, abortion, and political and environmental concerns, Schiappa fosters an figuring out of ways we make feel of the realm via definitions and the way we will such a lot productively assessment proposed definitions. He argues that definitional disputes might be taken care of much less as philosophical questions of "is" and extra as sociopolitical questions of "ought." rather than asking "What is X?" he advocates that definitions be regarded as proposals for shared wisdom and institutional norms, as in "What should still count number as X in context Y, given our wishes and interests?"

Schiappa classifies definitions as "human-made rules we now have approximately items that we percentage for varied purposes" and describes arguments approximately, from, and by way of definitions. in line with theories that deem discourse to be persuasive, he asserts that each one discourse is definitive discourse that contributes to our development of a shared fact.

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Realizes that not all such efforts at persuasion are success- 30 Introductory Matters ful. That such persuasion is usually successful with children does not alter the fact that children are being induced to change their verbal behavior. All else being equal, it would be foolish of children not to believe adults whom they trust when they are told that one animal is a dog and another is not. Children gain a shared understanding of the world around them as well as social acceptance by accepting adults’ persuasive efforts to bring their behavior into denotative conformity (Quine 1969, 81).

Such informal (typically ostensive) definitions rely on a very different set of factors to be persuasive, such as the relative age and experience of the people involved, the confidence expressed by the more experienced language user, the various social and personal implications associated with accepting Language and Definitions 31 his or her use as valid, and so forth. Nevertheless, the motivations involved in both types of interaction are very similar: one accepts a particular pattern of usage to understand some part of the world better and to coordinate one’s linguistic behavior with other people.

That is, unless provided with a motive to do otherwise, the standard reaction to a mundane definition is acquiescence. Confronted with unfamiliar words, we are inclined to accept a standard dictionary definition as reliable social knowledge and bring our understanding and linguistic behavior into line accordingly. Dictionary definitions thereby persuade us to see and talk about the world in certain ways and not in others. The rhetorical interaction is analogous to the persuasion involved in choosing to accept the “teaching” of someone we regard as more knowledgeable in a particular context.

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