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Old Jul 11th 2010, 07:20 PM
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WFCY WFCY is offline
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Default Re: Literal isn’t Lazy

Originally Posted by Lily View Post
This is all very interesting. It would seem to me that for any two people to communicate effectively, they would first have to come to an agreement on a definition of a word. I suppose one could argue all day long about the "common" definition of the word "atheism" vs. the "philosophical" definition, but I'm not sure that argument would get either one any closer to an understanding or respect of the others' true position.
It is important indeed to agree on definitions when communicating. However, the next question would be "who's definition shall we go by?". Well, in philosophical discussions, often there are standardly accepted definitions available on subjects which people have established- precisely because others before us have gone through the same process as we are about to, and we do not need to reinvent the wheel all over again, to try to come up with new definitions from scratch.

However, and without appealing to authority, let us simply ask- why should we use the "common" definition (in Lily's words), if there is one, above the "philosophical" definition? This begs the question- What is the "common" definition if it is not the philosophical one when involved in a philosophical discussion about religion?

I am by no means a Sophist, and I am not interested in vacuous rhetorics. So I will simply say that there is probabily none- unless one strongly believes that one's own personal definition, is conventionally, widly, and popularly accepted by everybody else in the world. When one is not knowledgable about the issue she speaks of, one often believe that to be true, that she really could make a claim on the definition of a pre-existing word with a pre-existing definition because of her own ingenuity, there just might be a chance where she outshines all the thousands of years of her forerunners and overwrites them. Unfortunatly, the self-righteous "common" definition usually don't outshine its forerunners, and have a very short lifespan when serious people are involved, which is why people need to study and have some basic understandings about the topics in which they talk about.

I have so far demonstrated the overlaps of the definitions of the terms involved, but there are certain key basis for their distinction nevertheless- so for example, Antitheism differs from atheism in that it is an opposition to the belief of a god in some social context addressing topics related to organized religion, or opposition of god (questioning/denying the key definitions which constitutes god), whilest atheism is the explicit denial of god's existence, or a belief of his non-existence, both of which runs into the problem that there cannot be positive proofs of non-existence, and therefore atheism is a belief not based on knowledge alone, or certainly not based on knowledge which are verifiable via scientific methods. This epistemological problem is what distinguishes atheism from agnosticism- not because people who claim to be agnostic wish to appear sophiscated- but rather, some makes the distinction based on moral grounds (like Clifford), some held onto their integrity as scientists and modern philosophers- there just couldn't be a justified belief either way.

The way in which we convey these distinctions with our language is also intricate, and worth looking into. I have mentioned in the earlier posts-(denial/believe in the non-exitence), (lack of belief), (against the belief), are three different things. If it is not entirely clear at this point, I will give examples to distinguish them.

Making a statement such as "There is no unicorn in the world" is the denial/ believe in the non-existence of unicorns- an "a-unicornist", if I may exploit our very primitive "common" language for a moment. The prerequisite of this statement being true is that I know/have positive proof that there are no unicorns. Clearly I do not have a justified belief when making such statements. Now if you replace "unicorn" with "god", you have atheism.

"Either there are unicorns/is the unicorn, or there are no unicorns/is no unicorn", is the lack of belief in the existence of unicorns (Margot: Kind of like saying, per Grice, "I don't believe in existence of unicorns, but if there are some unicorns which I am not aware of somewhere, fuck it"). The person making the statement can be said to be an "ag-unicornist". He does not know nor can he pass verdict with his own knowledge, affirmative or otherwise on the subject of the existence of unicorns. Or, suppose someone is not even aware of what a unicorn is (say, he is from the Amazons or Tibet), and hears the above statement (or its negation), he obviously cannot decide either way- but he can still say "either X or Y", or "Not X, or if Y, etc", X being affirmative of the unicorn's existence, and Y being the negation of unicorn's existence. Now if you replace "unicorn" with "god", you have agnosticism.

"I oppose the belief in unicorns/You should never believe in a unicorn", and "I am against unicorns (presupposing that they exist already)", are "anti-unicornist". Against the belief of X, or against X. If you replace "unicorn" with "god", you have antitheism.

Different terms are used differently, in fact, defined differently by philosophers who came to pass, the "philosophical definition" in Lily's words- for precisely the reason that we do not want to confuse ourselves in relevant discussions due to their commonalities. There are certainly overlaps in religious concepts, but when all three (atheism, agnosticism, antitheism), or all two (atheism, agnosticism) are involved in a discussion at the same time, then their overlaps must take a backseat, and their differences be accentuated. This is not because we want to look like smart asses, it is because we want to avoid confusion! The same thing could be said about a discussion about the differences between modern conservativism vs neoliberalism, or communism vs socialism, or catholicism vs protestantism. Nobody wants to argue whether sugar is an ingredient when talking about the differences between coke and pepsi. It would be a futile and stupid effort based on misconceptions of the topic.

I mean, this is why even within agnosticism and atheism, there are strong vs weak, and explicit vs implicit. The distinctions become important when certain subjects are invloved, I won't go into the minute details as the links are already provided. The point remains, and I think it should be fairly clear by now, philosophical discussions assume established terms and definition unless you have a reason to ignore them. But then the burden of proof is on the one who ignores the established definitions. To flout them and to expect everybody else to abide by one's own personal definitions, is intentionally misleading if not outright demonstrating one's own ignorance about the subject matter in which she is talking about.
"Déjeme decirle, a riesgo de parecer ridículo, que el revolucionario verdadero está guiado por grandes sentimientos de amor. Es imposible pensar en un revolucionario auténtico sin esta cualidad."

Ernesto 'Che' Guevara

Last edited by WFCY; Jul 11th 2010 at 07:34 PM.
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