The Instigator
kbub
Pro (for)
Winning
10 Points
The Contender
GarretKadeDupre
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

Words do not have objective meaning

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 2 votes the winner is...
kbub
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/13/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,819 times Debate No: 42326
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (20)
Votes (2)

 

kbub

Pro

"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."

Burdens:
This Pro/For in this debate will be burdened with defending that words do not have meaning, or in the event that this cannot be know, that the proposition that "words have meaning" is very 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.

Thanks, and good luck!

--kbub (Pro)
GarretKadeDupre

Con

I accept!
Debate Round No. 1
kbub

Pro

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

I am quoting here a bit of an essay that I wrote (I may publish this): "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" [1]. 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 dictionary.com, 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."
Vs:
"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].
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".

[1]http://archive.org...
[2]http://www.psychologytoday.com...
GarretKadeDupre

Con

Many text, much walls, wow.

I'm sure you put a lot of effort into your essay though! I just wish it had more spaces. Anyways.

My opponent's argument seems to hinge around the assumption that words can't have multiple meanings, and the context is what determines which meaning is being conveyed. Once one realizes that this assumption is false (as it self-evidently is), her entire argument falls apart. Here's an example of a single word having multiple meanings which can only be identified through context:

"I might go."
"He has great power and might."

The former means that the validity of the statement is uncertain, while the latter means strength.

In reference to understanding words out of context, Pro says that "It would be like trying to grasp the picture on a television by looking at only millions of disorganized multicolored pixels." Yet, this does not demonstrate that individual words lack objective meaning anymore than individual pixels lack color.

Interestingly, my opponent has already admitted defeat in this debate by her own admission: "The testimony of an "objective person" carries an equal weight to the testimony of a coffee cup." If my opponent considers herself as objective, then any argument from her position can be considered as ridiculous as the testimony of a coffee cup. If she considers herself subjective, then her argument fails simply because my arguments are objective.
Debate Round No. 2
kbub

Pro

Thanks for the response, Con.

Sorry about the spaces.

First off, I want to make sure that readers realize that I don't think words are meaningless. I just don't think they are subjective. In fact, I think that a wordview in which words are subjective is a lot more logical and meaningful.


Roadmap. I will:

1. Address each of my opponent's defense

2. Explain how each of my opponents' defesive arguments is invalid

3. Go on to briefly review my previous arguments (most of which should flow through uncontested)

4. Offer some new explanations of my debate from Quine & Wittgenstein

5. Give a personal testimony about how beleiving in objective langauage can be harmful

6. Explain why my opponents' bringing up brand new arguments about my first round would be unfair in the final round.


Addressing my opponent:

My opponent offers three arguments against my position:

1. My argument hinges on words only having one meaning.

I am very confused as to why my opponent thinks all of my arguments "hinge" on words having singular meaning. In fact, the opposite is true. I point out in part one (I): "There are 49 definition of "good" in dictionary.com, not including idioms. Obviously, the meaning of the words itself changing in relation to the social context."

I strongly believe that words have multiple meanings. My opponent has given an example of a word that has multiple meanings that change depeding on the context. "Might" can mean one thing in one context, while another in another context. I agree wholeheartedly. The very fact that people use context to determine a words' meaning proves that the words themselves do not have inherent meaning but have a meaning that changes depending on the context. This means that PEOPLE MUST interpret "might" based on their subjective ideas about the "right" context.


2. My metaphor involving pixels "does not demonstrate that individual words lack objective meaning anymore than individual pixels lack color."

This argument seems to be misunderstanding my quote. I was explaining how the fact that there are so many meanings of "good" means that meaning depends on the context, and hence words are not objective (that is, their meaning depends on the person encountering the word).


3. My opponent says that my quote The testimony of an "objective person" carries an equal weight to the testimony of a coffee cup demonstrates that I have lost the round, because while my arguments are subjective my opponent's argument is objective. There are a lot of problems with this idea. I think first of all there was a logical step missed somewhere.

If I am correct in saying that there can be no objective testimoney, then neither of our testimonies are objective. I have never said that only my words are subjective. I am saying all words are subjective. I have conceeded nothing.

I wish to point out again, though, that while I believe my arguments are subjective, I believe they are meaningful, and I think that even though they are subjective (perhaps because they are subjective) voters will vote for me, since my arguments flow through.



Dropped Arguments:
Far from hinging on the fact that words have one meaning, I actually argue that words have multiple meanings. My opponent did not read my case carefully. Because my opponent did not attack these arguments specifically, they are therefore dropped. (simply saying that my arguments hinge on one thing does not mean they actually do!). Because this is the last round, these dropped arguments must be considered to be conceeded.

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.

Wittgenstein & Qunine
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 work, _On Certainty_.)

Personal Testimony Concerning the Problems of Objective Language Beliefs
One of my family members 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.

Historical Example of Problems of this mentalit
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.

Why my opponent's missed arguments ought to be "conceeded"
My opponent drops the vast majority of my arguments. If my opponent tries to bring up new points about my old arguments, this would be unfair since I wouldn't be able to answer them. My opponent had plenty of space last round to bring up many more arguments than s/he did. It would be very sneaky to insert some in the round where I can't respond; I'd have wasted this whole round on debating the wrong points. Therefore, the points that my opponent dropped out to be counted as "conceeded."


Sources:
Wittgenstein, On Certainty
GarretKadeDupre

Con

Trying to formulate an argument is hurting my head, I give up.
Debate Round No. 3
20 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by GarretKadeDupre 2 years ago
GarretKadeDupre
iamanatheistandthisiswhy:

"I am surprised Con did not bring up the word "the" to show that the debate argument is invalid."

Care to elaborate?
Posted by kbub 2 years ago
kbub
That was "mentality" btw
Posted by kbub 2 years ago
kbub
Oh, ok. To be honest Niezsche's kind of hit or miss for me too. Do you know+have and opinion about Wittgenstein?
Posted by WhereDoWeBegin 2 years ago
WhereDoWeBegin
Yes, I realize it comes from Nietzsche. I'm not, needless to say, a fan of Nietzsche or anti-rationalism.
Posted by kbub 2 years ago
kbub
Oh, and it's Nietzsche who says all words are metaphors that we forget are metaphors. XP
Posted by kbub 2 years ago
kbub
@WhereDoWeBegin: I would be happy to debate you sometime. Right now I hope you can forgive me for not doing so, since I'm a little busy with GarretKadeDupre. Good questions though.
Posted by WhereDoWeBegin 2 years ago
WhereDoWeBegin
kbub:

This assertion is problematic:

"The context of words partially determines its meaning. If this is true, then such words do not have inherent (objective) meaning...."

Your second sentence does not follow from your first. Your use of the word "partially" does you in. To say that the meaning of a (or every) word is "partially" subjective is not at all the same as to say it has no objective component. You seem to want to assert a false dichotomy: EITHER meaning is objective, OR it is subjective. IF it is (even in part) subjective, THEN it cannot be (at all) objective. Why not?

Second, you assert that "context ... determines meaning". This is to say absolutely nothing about the subjectivity or objectivity of that meaning. I can say, "That animal's a dog." I can also say, "That movie's a dog." Just because the word "dog" has multiple meanings, and I need context to determine which is meant is not at all to say that the meaning is therefore subjective.

Unless you mean something completely different by "subjective". But then see my previous comment.
Posted by WhereDoWeBegin 2 years ago
WhereDoWeBegin
@Concade:

"does the Pro have the burden the show how words are't beyond subjective influence?"

I think Pro must do more than that. Because Pro asserts that words have NO objective meaning, she must demonstrate that there is NO (recoverable) objective component, not merely that the objective component can be subjectively influenced. When you and I hear the word "dog", you may think of a German shepherd while I envision a dachshund (my childhood pet). But there is still a core of ontological meaning there, as evidenced by my asking, "But do you agree that dachshunds are also dogs?"
Posted by WhereDoWeBegin 2 years ago
WhereDoWeBegin
A, BTW, deny that words can be "metaphorical". A word is simply a linguistic entity that is associated with a concept. A word cannot be metaphorical; it can, however, be used metaphorically.
Posted by WhereDoWeBegin 2 years ago
WhereDoWeBegin
First, I note that the title of this debate is "words do not have objective meaning". I will therefore restrict myself to the linguistic issues, and merely note that your ethical points are off-topic.

I still don't make sense of your argument. We need to clearly define four things: "word", "meaning", "subjective" and "objective". By "word" I intend "a single distinct linguistic element (whether oral or written) that is associated with an idea". By "meaning" I understand "a concept or idea that is associated with a word". By "subjective" I mean "according to the personal preferences, tastes or feelings of a given individual". By "objective" I intend largely the opposite of "subjective", that is, "external to and independent from any one person's preferences, feelings or tastes". This would include shared ideas.

Thus by "words do not have objective meaning" I understand you to be saying, "the concept or idea associated by a person with a word derives entirely from that person's preferences, tastes or feelings, and has no correlation with any objective reality".

Before we continue the discussion, I would enquire as to what you mean by the words.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by iamanatheistandthisiswhy 2 years ago
iamanatheistandthisiswhy
kbubGarretKadeDupreTied
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: The argument goes to Pro, as Con conceded in the last round. I am surprised Con did not bring up the word "the" to show that the debate argument is invalid. I would like to hear Pros thoughts on this, or am I misunderstanding? Sources go to Pro, as sources were provided. Grammar and conduct is split as both debaters displayed good grammar as well as conduct. In closing on comment for Pro, the personal testimony to words meaning was out of context and if Con had not conceded could have cost you as been an irrelevant emotional appeal.
Vote Placed by OtakuJordan 2 years ago
OtakuJordan
kbubGarretKadeDupreTied
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: Con forfeited.