Thursday, April 03, 2008

Labelling Ourselves and Definitions

Invariably whenever I discuss my views with anyone, at some point there arises a disagreement over the meaning of the words I am trying to use. I say "anarchy" and they think "chaos" or "nihilism". They will point out that the dictionary definition of "anarchy" includes and encompasses "chaos" and "nihilism". If I then say I am not speaking of, and very much oppose, "nihilism" as the dictionary defines it, they counter by saying the dictionary definition of "nihilism" is not what they mean when they speak of "nihilism". It becomes a circular discussion over who means what.

When I look up the dictionary definitions of just about anything people are talking about, with regards to philosophies and such, I almost always discover that the dictionary definition is not how the word is being used. Whether it is "libertarian", "anarchy", or "socialism", the adherents always say "but that isn't what it really is!" Yet it seems that only I am expected to stick to the dictionary definition, and always mean the entire list of definitions. I'd hate to debate the definition of the word "ring" with some of these people!

I am not claiming that the dictionary is wrong, just that it is insufficient to really capture the meaning of the words we are actively using as we speak. That is why, from now on I will try to remember to preface my explanations with "when I speak of 'X', this is how I mean it". After all, all my life I have heard people do the same and thought it was an accepted practice.