Friday, May 08, 2015

Beware of Undefined Words

The contemporary political scene seems to be filled with terms that at once evoke strong feelings and yet do not produce clarity of meaning. In critical thinking, slinging around terms with negative connotations is labeled the fallacy of emotive language, as in, "He is a snake," "They are extremists," and "She is a lightweight." But now the political antagonists are using as emotional weapons words that ought to be useful and clearly defined.

For example, we hear everyday comments like these:
"I am for justice."
"You are a racist."
"I support human dignity."
"You are inhumane."
"These people are being exploited."

But what do these statements mean and how should we respond? I think that one way to help increase understanding is to ask the person making the comment to define the term:

"This is unjust."
"Please tell me what you mean by unjust."

"That's unfair."
"I'm not sure what you mean by unfair or in what sense you mean it."

My suspicion is that many people use these words merely as negative emoters, words intended as weapons of disrespect. There may not be a clear definition behind their use in a given context. If that's  true, expect an angry reply rather than a definition.

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