The Instigator
Pro (for)
8 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Words do not have objective meaning

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Post Voting Period
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after 2 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/29/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 900 times Debate No: 41417
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (3)
Votes (2)




"Objective" will refer to concepts containing particular characteristics that are valid independent of biased perspectives.

"Words" will be limited to words in the English language

"have...meaning" will be considered something like "identity;" something with "meaning" has or refers to an ontological "content."

This Pro/For in this debate will be burdened with defending that words do not have meaning, or that the proposition that "words have meaning" is strongly problematic. The Con/Against will be burdened with demonstrating that at least one word has objective meaning, or that there is more reason to think that words have objective meaning than reason to think that words do not have objective meaning.

Please use the first round only to accept the debate and, if you would wish, to contend with my definitions, burdens, and other framework concerns.


I accept your challenge.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you so much for accepting! I look forward to what I'm sure will be a fun and educational debate.

That pure knowledge is often portrayed as something objective strikes me as ironic, since the objective is opposite understanding. Objectivity by nature requires the systematic removal of all those aspects of reality that bring about bias in order to view reality through a "neutral" lens. Unfortunately this removal of bias undermines the very faculties one requires to perceive and form judgments. Objectivity attempts to account for the sight of a thing without eyes, the sound experienced by one without ears, and knowledge obtained by a being without a consciousness"in short, an object. The testimony of an "objective person" carries an equal weight to the testimony of a coffee cup.
As far as words go, the idea that they are objective is a prime example of humankind's self-deception. Nietzsche was quite right when he stated: "Every word is a preconceived judgment." Prejudice is inherent in language. Language is a socially-constructed phenomenon, but humanity, in order to give itself authority, has forgotten that this is the case: "[Mankind's] method is to treat man as the measure of all things, but in doing so he again proceeds from the error of believing that he has these things immediately before him as mere objects. He forgets that the original perceptual metaphors are metaphors and takes them to be the things themselves." The word "door" is meaningless in itself, but only a metaphor for the real concept. By treating words as objective, one imagines that words are real instead of socially-constructed, that they are reality instead of human constructs that create reality. The way that we treat definitions as absolute highlights these issues. If one were to believe that words have meaning in objective and not social terms, one would engage in a system that is not only wrong but corrupt. Here are some problems with it:
I. The context of words partially determines its meaning. If this is true, then such words do not have inherent (objective) meaning, but is instead assigned meaning by its viewer (who is be definition subjective). Letters do not have inherent meaning in a word, and likewise sentences do not have meaning independently of its context. "Juliet is the sun" would be taken literally in the context of a scientific journal, but figuratively in a Shakespearean sonnet. Likewise, a sentence cannot be understood simply by adding up its parts (words). There are 49 definition of "good" in, not including idioms. Obviously, the meaning of the words itself changing in relation to the social context. Assigning words inherent meaning ignores shadows of meaning in complete sentences. It would be like trying to grasp the picture on a television by looking at only millions of disorganized multicolored pixels.
II. Additionally, the way words work depends on their context in such a simple way as word order. This is Miss South Carolina with her words reordered:
"I personally believe, that U.S. Americans, are unable to do so, because uh, some, people out there, in our nation don"t have maps. and uh" I believe that our education like such as in South Africa, and the Iraq, everywhere like such as" and, I believe they should uh, our education over here, in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa, and should help the Iraq and Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future, for us."
"I personally believe, that U.S. Americans,
are unable to do so,
because uh,
some, people out there, in our nation don"t have maps.
and uh"
I believe that our education like such as in South Africa,
and the Iraq,
everywhere like such as"
and, I believe they should uh,
our education over here,
in the U.S. should help the U.S.
or should help South Africa,
and should help the Iraq and Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future,
for us."

If you are still not convinced that order matters, read this topic backwards. Words do not have objective meaning, but rely on sentence structure for their meaning.
III. Retention of Hierarchies. That words are objective is a guise under which societal powers-that-be use definitions to perpetuate status quo hierarchies of authority and subjugation. These powers utilize the very notion that definitions directly access meaning/truth to perpetuate social norms.
1): Specific definitions reinforce problematic societal distinctions
a. The legal-political definition of "marriage" is hetero-normative. Through the very definition queer couples are excluded, which perpetuates straight superiority and normalcy.
b. Societal definitions of "household, family, and lady" are patriarchal; they perpetuate male dominance and female subjectivity. In society, the father is the head of the household, the mother takes care of children and cooks, and ladies cannot play football.
2) Even if without a specific definition, the idea that there is a meaningful definition that accesses reality also perpetuates oppressive standards.
a. The belief that there even exists a meaningful "Definition of race""implies an actual distinction where one does not exist. This assumption helps justify racial discrimination through the very stereotype that "there is a difference."
3) Definitions can not only reinforce social distinctions but also MASK social distinctions that are unfavorable to the powers-that-be.
a. The societal "definition of animal" actually contradicts the biological distinction of Kingdom Animalia in order to elevate the species Homo Sapien above non-human animals.
4) By arguing that words are objective, my opponent assumes the validity of these status quo definitions.
IV: Stagnant existence.
1) The myth that definitions have objective meaning makes a person's place in society stagnant"validating the labels that society gives such as: "fa__t" "crazy" "retarded" "criminal" "female" "delinquent" "handicapped" and suggesting that they are inherently true and unchanging. Assigning "inherent" meaning to socially-constructed words forces people into boxes and offers them no epistemological space for queerness or re-construction.
2) The word "chicken" is the same for a live animal and a dead scrap of food in contemporary English language. Rather than allowing "chickens" to be that-which-can-be-eaten, we must first deconstruct this particular association before we can reasonably talk about the value of non-human life. Unfortunately my opponent assume that language is inherently "true" a priori, which forces arguments against eating chicken out of debate rounds, and in turn supports the cruelties of factory farms.
3) Additionally, status quo language is believed by most humans to include only humans. By supposing that anthropocentric language is objective we pretend that the screams of non-human animals as they are painfully slaughtered are incomprehensible.
V: End of Sympathy: By assigning words inherent meaning, the my opponent validates the "self" and "other" distinction, which has a number of effects:
1) Decrease in empathy. Psychologists found that one must relate to suffering of others to help others.
2) Foundation of racism: racism is founded on the notion of in-groups and out-groups. We must not validate this distinction, but by reinforcing categorization through their misuse of definitions the government team has done so.
3) One cannot treat another as oneself with the "otherized" framework. The belief that "others" are fundamentally different is what allows rape and violence and the destruction of the environment"these ideas are based on the notion that the "object" and "other" are entirely distinct from the "subject" and "self".


Loveshismom forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


While I appreciate and respect my opponent for taking on this difficult topic, I am disappointed that my opponent has forfeited her/his round. This inaction of my opponent means that (s)he either concedes to or drops all of my previous arguments. Judge, please extend all of the arguments I have made in Round One, especially those arguments that state that:
(These are simplified versions, or course!)
1. Objectivity does not exist
2. Language is inherently subjective and anthropomorphic
3. Treating words as objective is a manner of self-deception
4. The meaning of words comes from their context, and therefore their interpretation, and are thus subjective and not objective.
5. The notion of objective words is a means by which the powers-that-be maintain their power.
6. The notion of objective words is sexist, racist, homophobic, and anthropocentric.
7. Arguing that words are objective is reinforces these problematic hierarchies.
8. The notion of objective words means that labels are absolute.
9. The notion of objective words leaves no epistemological space for queerness or reconstruction
10. We cannot truly address vegetarianism is words were taken to be objective.
11. Objective words sets up humans as above animals, which allows for the genocide of other species.
12. Objective words reinforces the self/other categories, which foster racism, rape, violence, and environmental destruction, and inhibit humans from helping humans.

I will add some further points. While I understand that life gets in the way, I must add some of the problems with forfeiting rounds.
1. It's rude. I have spend a lot of time constructing these arguments, so for someone to simply not contend with them is very disappointing, and possibly a tad disrespectful. This might be reason enough to penalize my opponent. I don't know how you respond to rudeness judge, but if you respond to it negatively this might be something to consider in your final analysis.
2. It's bad for debate. We are not able to come to a more educated understanding of the topic if only one side responds. I will have no idea what my opponent was thinking when (s)he wrote "I accept your challenge." I will have learned virtually nothing. In addition to that, people who read this debate will only witness one side of what ought to be a two-sided issue. Demonstrating two sides to an issue to increase education is what debate is all about, but my opponent has done the opposite of this. Even if my opponent debates next round, I will not be able to respond, so therefore I will not be able to engage in my opponent's opinions. Such a case would not be a debate but a mere coinciding of opinions. Anyone who reads this debate in that case would incorrectly assume that I have no argument against my opponent's case, since I would be unable to respond to it. Thus, because Loveshismom forfeited this round, this can no longer be a debate (since I can't engage in dialogue). Because (s)he has removed the validity of this debate and made this all a waste of time, I believe that you would be justified in voting for me in this debate for that reason alone.
3. It's unfair. My opponent has saved all of his/her arguments until the last round. I will try my best to cover my bases, but if my opponent's argument is not what I expected I will (1) have wasted my time in this second round and (2) be unable to respond to these new arguments. This means that my opponent's entire case will go uncontested in this second round. I beseech the judge to remember that I cannot address those new arguments. Therefore, judge, please penalize my opponent for this unfair strategy or accidental but unfair and unethical advantage. If not, please at least penalize my opponent's last argument since I will be unable to respond to it no matter what.

I will now move into my offense a bit more. I propose that the idea of objective words is ethnocentric. Quine and Wittgenstein spend much of their careers pointing out that people have entire schema within their beliefs. By pretending that one schema is objective (that is, words, especially English words), one assumes that one's culture schema is objectively right. This (1) makes dialogue difficult since one is unwilling to change, and (2) makes one's own culture seem superior. In any instance where another's culture conflicts with one's own culture, the idea of the objective validity of one's own cultural schema causes one to reject the other culture's schema. This criticism holds for each and every word in the English language (which is what we are focusing on) and other words in other languages for that matter.

In addition, words according to Wittgenstein stem from "language games" based on one's culture. The consequence of this belief is the acknowledgment that all words are wholly separate from objectivity. (See Wittgenstein's book, _On Certainty_.)

One of my siblings was kicked out of her/his school for being openly gay. Because the principal's absolutist ideology stemming from her belief in the objective validity of her particular schema concerning "gay," my sibling was taken out of school. My sibling had committed no other "wrong" that admitting to her/his own identity. There was no way that her/his sexual orientation would inhibit her/him from being a leader or succeeding as a student, but the principal, convinced of her/his objective understanding of "gay," put her/him into an epistemological box and sent her/him away from the school. There was no room in the principal's mind for a "gay" person would could also be a "good student" or a "good Christian." This demonstrates the importance of remembering that words are subjective and never objective.

As a historical example, it was the belief that one is absolutely (objectively) "right" that caused the Crusades and continues to cause terrorism. It was this ethnocentrism that caused the European colonists to assume that Native Americans were only "savages," which caused massacre, theft, rape, war, and domination. It was the belief that persons of color were "objectively" inferior to whites that made slavery possible.

My opponent has not responded to any of these difficulties that I have outlined. This silence is enormously problematic, suggesting that my opponent was unmoved by these societal problems. I encourage you, judge, to break the silence and validate the need for justice in your ballot. I have demonstrated multiple time in multiple ways that all words are never objective, and that this belief can be disastrous and even lead to evil. Additionally, the forfeiting of this key round is rude, will make these posts counter-productive, and will force me to not respond to her/his new arguments. For all of these reasons, please vote in favor of my uncontested arguments.


Loveshismom forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by kbub 2 years ago
NOTE IN CASE CONCERN OVER FRAUD: I wish to point out that bits of this argument are from an essay I am constructing. I am putting up this notice so that people will not think it is fraudulent when/if I publish it.
Posted by kbub 2 years ago
Good question! I have posted these definitions as a tool for debate. I am not suggesting through the definitions that these words are "objective," but only that this debate might utilize these definitions as a means of achieving education, fairness, and clarity within the debate.
Posted by Ore_Ele 2 years ago
If they have no meaning, does that mean Con can reject your definitions and use whatever they want to change the debate into something that they will easily win?
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by dtaylor971 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Forfiet, so pro wins. Also, pro had a very thorough argument that would've won in most debates.
Vote Placed by Ragnar 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Probably depends on the word. Anyway forfeit.