i need, at least for myself, to clarify my thoughts on some terms which have connections to some ideas that i think are quite useful and important, but which i fear fail to grasp the crucial essence of those ideas, and for which essence, i fear, i still lack proper terms. these terms and ideas are in fact only vaguely connected, and possibly this post should actually be divided into two or more posts, but i also vaguely suspect there could be interesting connections which might also be excavated in the course of this sketchy preliminary exercise.
One of the ideas is connected to the term “cognitive dissonance”. The other is related to terms such as “equivocation” or “tautology”. i will start with the latter as the recent occurrence to me of its parallels to ideas i’d previously had about the former actually inspired this post.
both the latter terms are sometimes found in lists of ‘fallacies’ along with ‘slippery slope’, ‘begging the question’ (whose more general literal misapplication as ‘not answering the question’ may be more useful than its original intension ‘answering the question with the question’), ‘red herring’, etc. i would argue that many of these are not so much fallacies in the sense of being false or invalid in themselves, but in being irrelevant, misdirections, or of questionable pertinence. for instance, a slippery slope criticism of an argument is valid and important in exact proportion to the likelihood of the predicted disasters. in fact, the term is sometimes used to criticize an argument of impending disaster as absurd, and sometimes exactly to suggest disaster will be impending (i.e. legalizing drugs is a slippery slope.-?)
the reader will hopefully forgive these unfocused digressions by recognizing that they are additional examples of the kinds of difficulties of determining correct terminology that this post wishes to discuss.
(which is particularly ironic in that they posture as terms of logic which is intended to achieve a level of clarity lacking in common language)
‘equivocation’ is in fact ‘falseness’ which derives from a kind of incorrect terminology when diverse meanings of a single word are crossed, such as if one argued that since republicans oppose democrats, they therefore oppose democracy. ‘tautology’ is summarized by the formula ‘a=a’ and thus no fallacy but in fact the essence of every valid argument (even argument by contradiction shows the failure of an argument for proving a=-a), but in excess simplicity is simply pointless argumentation for the over-obvious (or simply leaves its actual point unexpressed as in ‘men have to be men’ or ‘boys will be boys’).
the idea that i am interested in is very similar to both these terms, but not quite captured by either. it is more like the ‘redefinition’ of terms to suit one’s arguments, as when clinton supposedly excluded receiving oral sex from the scope of ‘sexual relations’.
rousseau does a similar thing throughout ‘the social contract’, as when he says, ‘when the whole people decree concerning the whole people … it is this act that i call law’ (book 2, chap. 6). at times he may be committing the fallacy of ‘confusing what IS with what SHOULD be’, but here he is clearly refusing to call the dictates of kings and dictators ‘law’ unless they have the support of the WHOLE people. i appreciate the point, but fear more often than not most of us are caught up in debates with a far more mundane kind of law, what he calls ‘decrees of magistracy’.
i would accuse noam chomsky of doing a similar thing in regards to ‘language’ and ‘grammar’ when they are defined in such ways that animals might have ‘communication’ but not ‘language’, or ‘grammar’ is universally biologically-implemented identical structural rules of all languages, and not arbitrary cultural conventions for marking and ordering words in highly language-specific ways.
certainly scientists should speak in more specific ways than lay people, but they do little for common understanding when they simply conflate terms that ordinary people have different interpretations of.
popper’s musings on ‘degenerative science’ should also be somewhat relevant here. as he would have it, science should proceed by identifying the flaws in proposed hypotheses and then determining qualifications which might make them more accurate (all people are selfish? all heretics are selfish? …), but a science stops being scientific when it protects itself from refutation in ways that reduce falsifiable predictions.
possibly each of us must subjectively judge whether we feel narrowing the scope of ‘language’ or ‘laws’ provides a more precise predictable target of inquiry, or removes its realm of prediction to an ideal fantasy that does not correspond to the domain of reality that concerned us.
‘cognitive dissonance’ on the other hand seems to have become quite popular in the collective consciousness, as a general term for almost any kind of confusion or discomfort, though more specifically this discomfort should arise from conflicts in one’s belief systems. apparently the term derives from scientists who studied a religious cult of the 60-70’s which predicted the end of the world, and how they coped with the failure of this prediction (citation?). presumably the dissonance there was between the beliefs ‘i am right’ and ‘i thought the world would end, but it didn’t’, though apparently the religion decided its faith had saved the world, continued on, though with a gradually shrinking congregation.
an almost opposing concept, which might also be relevant to the above situation, is the lack of discomfort which many demonstrate while explicitly advocating wildly contradictory notions, for instance, gun-toting christians, pro-life death penalty advocates, etc.
here again, this may be a simple failure of explicit appropriate qualifications. the bible says ‘do not kill’ but it probably means ‘do not kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it’. the declaration of independence says ‘certain inalienable rights’ but life is clearly alienable in most american states given certain crimes.
so these are some of the concepts that i’m still looking for the proper terms for and the clear connections between.