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Semantics or No Semantics

wrichcirw
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5/30/2013 4:27:52 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
I've had to grapple with this word throughout my time on DDO. On the one hand, it's prima facie clear that there should be "no semantics", because people should know what others are talking about when they use every day language.

On the other hand, many of the more substantive debates here are far more complex than typical water cooler conversations, and many times the exact meaning of certain words and phrases may not be entirely clear.

Utilizing proper semantics would add clarity to such debates. All semantics is in the context of debating is the ability to convey meaning through words. Any and every debate utilizes semantics...how couldn't it? Proper use of semantics, and even arguing through semantics, would allow all parties involved to arrive at clarity on key words and phrases that are pertinent to the debate.

Therefore, when people say "no semantics" during a debate, I interpret this to mean "no semantics abuse". What exactly would semantics abuse mean then?

I can think of at least two examples:

1) Obfuscation. Word choice leads to ridiculously convoluted statements that do not necessarily add any substance to a discussion. An example of this would be a 2nd amendment debate, where one of the parties throws out a phrase like "I believe it's every American's purported obligation to marshal against the ability of abstract entities to delocalize agency apropos of appanages substantially within my province to hold while a member of an amalgam of liberated systems of coercion through which these rights are recognized."

Amazing what a bit of thesaurus usage can do to butcher a sentence. Gee, can't you just say "I'm an American that believes in the right to bear arms, and you best let that be?"

2) Strawmanning...this IMHO is the easiest kind of semantics abuse to envision. Maybe in this 2nd amendment discussion, one side makes an argument along the lines of "The second amendment was written by the Founding Fathers, and so I think it is a basic American freedom that should not be contested."

Someone then replies "But what if freedom implied that you needn't lungs to breathe underwater?"

This is a challenge on the meaning of the word "freedom", one that takes the word completely out of the context of the discussion, and in a way that adds no substance or meaning to the debate. This is IMHO semantics abuse...if the other party even attempts to address this ridiculous line of thinking, the abuser (usually the one without BoP) could then attempt to point out how the other party is so distracted by the abuser's case that he/she deserves to lose the debate.

A more appropriate challenge on the word "freedom" would be "What if the Founding Fathers themselves believed that freedom was a relative right, and not a black and white issue?" The context is clear, the challenge on the meaning of the word is valid. This is IMHO NOT semantics abuse.

3) Clarity. An example of this would be the use of too many pronouns..."I believe that guy over there who said the same thing that that guy over there said." Believe what? Who? And where?

This is indeed also semantics abuse.

---

I am not singling out any specific member...there are quite a few that engage in the more abusive types of behavior in one way or another. What this post is attempting to clarify is that semantics itself is vital to any debate...it is the ABUSE of semantics that leads to the common headaches and annoyances prevalent in some of the debates on this website.
At 8/9/2013 9:41:24 AM, wrichcirw wrote:
If you are civil with me, I will be civil to you. If you decide to bring unreasonable animosity to bear in a reasonable discussion, then what would you expect other than to get flustered?
bladerunner060
Posts: 7,126
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5/30/2013 4:43:54 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
I feel like most semantics issues can just be resolved by an acknowledgement that that is an interpretation, with a clarification of actual meaning. Sometimes what seems like "semantics abuse" might legitimately be someone who misunderstood what you were trying to say.
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wrichcirw
Posts: 11,196
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5/30/2013 4:46:42 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/30/2013 4:43:54 PM, bladerunner060 wrote:
I feel like most semantics issues can just be resolved by an acknowledgement that that is an interpretation, with a clarification of actual meaning. Sometimes what seems like "semantics abuse" might legitimately be someone who misunderstood what you were trying to say.

Right...abuse would be intentional attempts to veer the debate off course even if the abuser fully understood the intent of the debate/arguments.
At 8/9/2013 9:41:24 AM, wrichcirw wrote:
If you are civil with me, I will be civil to you. If you decide to bring unreasonable animosity to bear in a reasonable discussion, then what would you expect other than to get flustered?
philochristos
Posts: 2,614
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5/30/2013 4:47:53 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
I completely agree with you. When I think so semantic abuse, I think primarily of pretending to misunderstand the other person by taking advantage of an ambiguity in a word or phrase and taking advantage of that ambiguity that interpreting it in a way that is highly unlikely to have been what the person meant.

It's not always easy to prove semantical abuse, though, because sometimes it's not clear what a person meant, and sometimes genuine misunderstandings do happen.
"Not to know of what things one should demand demonstration, and of what one should not, argues want of education." ~Aristotle

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." ~Aristotle
DetectableNinja
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5/30/2013 8:51:06 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
I honestly think semantics are an entirely valid means of arguing, provided no definitions were agreed to beforehand. In debate, the issue of definition and framework can be huge--and it's all part of an effective debate.

I see no problem, unless the argument contradicts an agreement made in R1.
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wrichcirw
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5/30/2013 9:20:29 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/30/2013 4:47:53 PM, philochristos wrote:
I completely agree with you. When I think so semantic abuse, I think primarily of pretending to misunderstand the other person by taking advantage of an ambiguity in a word or phrase and taking advantage of that ambiguity that interpreting it in a way that is highly unlikely to have been what the person meant.

It's not always easy to prove semantical abuse, though, because sometimes it's not clear what a person meant, and sometimes genuine misunderstandings do happen.

Yeah, it usually takes me a while before even considering the charge...intent is always extremely difficult to substantiate.
At 8/9/2013 9:41:24 AM, wrichcirw wrote:
If you are civil with me, I will be civil to you. If you decide to bring unreasonable animosity to bear in a reasonable discussion, then what would you expect other than to get flustered?
philochristos
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5/30/2013 9:34:34 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/30/2013 8:51:06 PM, DetectableNinja wrote:
I honestly think semantics are an entirely valid means of arguing, provided no definitions were agreed to beforehand. In debate, the issue of definition and framework can be huge--and it's all part of an effective debate.

I see no problem, unless the argument contradicts an agreement made in R1.

How would you distinguish between semantical abuse and the strawman fallacy? In both cases, you're pretending your opponent meant something your opponent didn't really mean.
"Not to know of what things one should demand demonstration, and of what one should not, argues want of education." ~Aristotle

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." ~Aristotle
DetectableNinja
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5/30/2013 9:50:15 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/30/2013 9:34:34 PM, philochristos wrote:
At 5/30/2013 8:51:06 PM, DetectableNinja wrote:
I honestly think semantics are an entirely valid means of arguing, provided no definitions were agreed to beforehand. In debate, the issue of definition and framework can be huge--and it's all part of an effective debate.

I see no problem, unless the argument contradicts an agreement made in R1.

How would you distinguish between semantical abuse and the strawman fallacy? In both cases, you're pretending your opponent meant something your opponent didn't really mean.

Not necessarily.

In essence, semantical arguments revolve around urging the judge to prefer your definition or interpretation of the resolution. Now, these interpretations CAN be abusive, absolutely. And that would be a valid argument. But semantics come down to differences in what interpretation should be preferred within the round.

A strawman comes into play when an ARGUMENT is deliberately twisted--a strawman is distinguished from semantics I feel in that it revolves around an actual contention.
Think'st thou heaven is such a glorious thing?
I tell thee, 'tis not half so fair as thou
Or any man that breathes on earth.

- Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
Daktoria
Posts: 497
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5/31/2013 7:24:24 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
wrich, you should read Ludwig Wittgenstein's notion of "language games".

Semantic debates can't be avoided because different people interpret semantics differently. A classic example of this is the difference between running and jogging. The appropriate difference in pace between the two is subjective. What's running to someone is jogging to another.

It's for this reason that I very deliberately try to avoid contextual arguments. The appropriate value to something comes from its universal relationship, not its particular context. We should not be prejudiced towards particular results when judging whether or not something is right or wrong. Instead, we should be openminded to the universal processes by which right and wrong are judged.

Otherwise, we're just arbitrarily dictating the definition of right or wrong. We haven't explained why its reliable, but rather we're begging the question of intelligence design as if it's just subliminally obvious why certain evidence is naturally proper.
Daktoria
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5/31/2013 7:34:43 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/30/2013 9:20:29 PM, wrichcirw wrote:
At 5/30/2013 4:47:53 PM, philochristos wrote:
I completely agree with you. When I think so semantic abuse, I think primarily of pretending to misunderstand the other person by taking advantage of an ambiguity in a word or phrase and taking advantage of that ambiguity that interpreting it in a way that is highly unlikely to have been what the person meant.

It's not always easy to prove semantical abuse, though, because sometimes it's not clear what a person meant, and sometimes genuine misunderstandings do happen.

Yeah, it usually takes me a while before even considering the charge...intent is always extremely difficult to substantiate.

I don't buy that.

Intent is rather easy once you acknowledge the universal autonomy of judgment. If someone judges how another ought to live one's life, then, then you have a malevolent personality. Someone is arbitrarily dictating one's judgment on top of another's.

Someone might claim that one was trying to be practical, but what's practical to someone isn't automatically practical to another. It's vital that someone explain's one's judgment from its foundations so another understand's why judgment is being passed. Another's judgment is not inferior to someone's just because someone judges it to be so.
Graincruncher
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5/31/2013 7:48:45 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Sadly, semantics are indeed king; our tools of debate are words. If we can't agree on how each tool functions, we are often going to be trying to perform a single function with two different tools.

This is further complicated by the social nature of language, as many people seem to think they can justify a private, personal definition of a word and bring it to debate as a legitimate tool. This is missing the important point that if the tool is not used that way by society, your definition is meaningless in the context of the debate. Definitions are rules of this social use and nothing more, so trying to define away 'god' or strictly limit 'marriage' is useless in the extreme if you're not working with how society uses the terms. Since different sub-groups use the words in different ways, their definitions only work within their localised language games. So, just as football and American football share many core concepts (goal-scoring, fouls, teams, players etc.), there are subtle differences between what the concept of a 'pass' is between the two. The word in each case draws meaning from how it is used and neither is incorrect. Except for the bit about feet, which doesn't seem to have crossed the Atlantic yet.

The point of the above being that semantic justifications of one use are not convincing to those who are not part of the form of life (linguistic sub-group) from which it originates. Therefore you can validly say that "marriage is a union between a man and a woman" and be both correct and incorrect; your use within your own language game is internally valid, but externally invalid if there are other sub-groups who use the term differently. The whole point of liberal secularism is to ensure as many of these groups are allowed to practice their 'language cultures' as possible without interfering with one another's freedom to do so.
Daktoria
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5/31/2013 8:58:20 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/31/2013 7:48:45 AM, Graincruncher wrote:
Sadly, semantics are indeed king; our tools of debate are words. If we can't agree on how each tool functions, we are often going to be trying to perform a single function with two different tools.

This is further complicated by the social nature of language, as many people seem to think they can justify a private, personal definition of a word and bring it to debate as a legitimate tool. This is missing the important point that if the tool is not used that way by society, your definition is meaningless in the context of the debate. Definitions are rules of this social use and nothing more, so trying to define away 'god' or strictly limit 'marriage' is useless in the extreme if you're not working with how society uses the terms. Since different sub-groups use the words in different ways, their definitions only work within their localised language games. So, just as football and American football share many core concepts (goal-scoring, fouls, teams, players etc.), there are subtle differences between what the concept of a 'pass' is between the two. The word in each case draws meaning from how it is used and neither is incorrect. Except for the bit about feet, which doesn't seem to have crossed the Atlantic yet.

The point of the above being that semantic justifications of one use are not convincing to those who are not part of the form of life (linguistic sub-group) from which it originates. Therefore you can validly say that "marriage is a union between a man and a woman" and be both correct and incorrect; your use within your own language game is internally valid, but externally invalid if there are other sub-groups who use the term differently. The whole point of liberal secularism is to ensure as many of these groups are allowed to practice their 'language cultures' as possible without interfering with one another's freedom to do so.

Eh... sometimes, the "social nature of language" can be self-destructive. For example, homosexual marriage discounts the necessity of dimorphic expertise for the socializing of children. Children are made by men and women, society is composed of men and women, and children can grow up to become men and women. Therefore, children aren't obligated to assume the risk of lacking men or women showing them how to live.

Some homosexual marriage advocates refer to "the village", but that's political cuckolding in expecting third parties to take on the responsibility of other's childbearing, and it forces children to assume the risk of third parties existing as models or mentors to emulate. Even more so, when these models and mentors don't exist, fellow citizens are obligated to assume the risk of future generations being graduated into adulthood prematurely.

Likewise, there's the matter of officially announcing a committed relationship, but if you need a public display of affection to commit, then it begs to know if you're really relating with your partner. If anything, a PDA suggests your relationship is built on provoking jealousy.

The value of marriage comes from ensuring responsible childbearing. Anything else is a results-oriented, rather than process-oriented, identification of intimate relationships.
wrichcirw
Posts: 11,196
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5/31/2013 9:51:28 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/31/2013 7:24:24 AM, Daktoria wrote:
wrich, you should read Ludwig Wittgenstein's notion of "language games".

Semantic debates can't be avoided because different people interpret semantics differently. A classic example of this is the difference between running and jogging. The appropriate difference in pace between the two is subjective. What's running to someone is jogging to another.

It's for this reason that I very deliberately try to avoid contextual arguments. The appropriate value to something comes from its universal relationship, not its particular context. We should not be prejudiced towards particular results when judging whether or not something is right or wrong. Instead, we should be openminded to the universal processes by which right and wrong are judged.

Otherwise, we're just arbitrarily dictating the definition of right or wrong. We haven't explained why its reliable, but rather we're begging the question of intelligence design as if it's just subliminally obvious why certain evidence is naturally proper.

I disagree with a good amount of this.

1) I would replace your running/jogging example and just note how everyone's interpretation of running is different, and how what's running to someone typically isn't running for someone else.

2) Because of #1, I would conclude there is no "universal relationship". Language is all contextual. It is all subjective.

3) This is why "openmindedness" is required, because the "universal relationship" simply does not exist, and we need to be aware when one's subjectivity skews meaning to something different than what we intended.
At 8/9/2013 9:41:24 AM, wrichcirw wrote:
If you are civil with me, I will be civil to you. If you decide to bring unreasonable animosity to bear in a reasonable discussion, then what would you expect other than to get flustered?
RoyLatham
Posts: 4,488
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5/31/2013 11:47:29 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
I agree with the OP. Semantics is
1. The branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.
2. The meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text: "such quibbling over semantics may seem petty stuff".

It's not possible to have a debate without implied meaning of the words. When people say "no semantics" they usually mean "don't deliberately misinterpret what is said." Okay, but that leaves honest disagreements.

If no definitions are given in the debate challenge, we have to go with dictionary definitions. Most words have multiple meanings, so the appropriate meaning has to be selected based upon context. To understand the meaning of the resolution, the Instigator should give enough background information to set the context. Problems arise when a bare resolution is stated and the instigator means something that cannot be unambiguously derived from the resolution. Arguments need not be presented with the challenge, but background articles or other material can be cited to let everyone know what the debate is about.
Daktoria
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5/31/2013 11:56:51 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/31/2013 9:51:28 AM, wrichcirw wrote: 1) I would replace your running/jogging example and just note how everyone's interpretation of running is different, and how what's running to someone typically isn't running for someone else.

It's semantics to judge whether someone's movement is running or jogging while at a certain pace.

At 5/31/2013 9:51:28 AM, wrichcirw wrote: 2) Because of #1, I would conclude there is no "universal relationship". Language is all contextual. It is all subjective.

What I mean is the process by which language is brought into existence, not the actual result which is brought which we call language. The process is universal such that we can all relate through it even if we use the process differently for different results.

At 5/31/2013 9:51:28 AM, wrichcirw wrote: 3) This is why "openmindedness" is required, because the "universal relationship" simply does not exist, and we need to be aware when one's subjectivity skews meaning to something different than what we intended.

It's the essence, not the existence, which counts. Existence does not just spontaneously generate in space. It's generated from self-determination over time.
Daktoria
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5/31/2013 12:08:14 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
At 5/31/2013 11:47:29 AM, RoyLatham wrote:
I agree with the OP. Semantics is
1. The branch of linguistics and logic concerned with meaning.
2. The meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text: "such quibbling over semantics may seem petty stuff".

It's not possible to have a debate without implied meaning of the words. When people say "no semantics" they usually mean "don't deliberately misinterpret what is said." Okay, but that leaves honest disagreements.

If no definitions are given in the debate challenge, we have to go with dictionary definitions. Most words have multiple meanings, so the appropriate meaning has to be selected based upon context. To understand the meaning of the resolution, the Instigator should give enough background information to set the context. Problems arise when a bare resolution is stated and the instigator means something that cannot be unambiguously derived from the resolution. Arguments need not be presented with the challenge, but background articles or other material can be cited to let everyone know what the debate is about.

You're ignoring the pragmatic language paradox. Contextual properness depends on what you're trying to practice, yet if you refer to dictionary definitions when multiple definitions exist, then practice can be defined in multiple contexts.

This is especially problematic in counter-instigations where someone might offer a proposition for another to defend. The offer happens because someone was originally instigated, yet despite how the proposition was poorly defended, it still won the debate due to sloppy or dishonest judging.

If context is used, then the counter-instigation can be poorly judged again if the debate is accepted by another who intuitively conspires with the original proponent. Another can simply call someone autistic for not having a presdestined calling to understand the appropriate context as if someone is just out of touch with intelligent design.

You said that background articles can be presented, but the original instigator and someone can claim that's an excessive burden of proof because the context is supposedly just common sense while accusing someone of being autistic.
Stephen_Hawkins
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6/1/2013 10:10:54 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
Semantics in debating is not a debatable issue. Or, to clarify, you cannot debate what it means to be "playing semantics", AKA squirreling, in a debate, just as you cannot debate whether you need to have a second speaker, or need 'rounds'. If you don't both have the same idea of what the topic is, you're not having a debate. You're two boats blindly going across in the ocean, not seeing each other, and so not engaging each other, having two unproductive monologues.

That's not to say philosophy of language isn't useful - it just has no place in organising rules to a debate, if we say that language is wholly subjective. Otherwise, debate is meaningless (which negatives the foundation of what we're starting at - the attempt to have meaningful discourse).

Now, on topic. To avoid semantics, add the two following rules:

1) You must take the meaning of the words as most commonly used/meant, and the meaning of the resolution as something debatable.
2) You must take the meaning of the first speaker, where rule (1) does not resolve the meaning.

Or something along these lines. If done properly, there is no way to keep to these rules yet have a meaningless debate. Moreover, if someone does break the rule in your eyes, simply end the debate (calling it a draw is best unless uncontroversial squirreling occurs). Resolves most issues.
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AlbinoBunny
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6/1/2013 3:02:16 PM
Posted: 3 years ago
If we could just impart unambiguous meaning in writing and speech, we wouldn't be in this position. :P
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