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While discussing an issue with non-objectivists, I find it difficult to communicate effectively my position because of the popular conception of certain words or ideas. Selfishness, altruism, values, the good, and the evil are common stumbling blocks. I know this is a common difficulty due to the loose use of the language in our culture. How can I start to bridge the gap without lengthy side track explanations that never seem to penetrate far enough to be effective. Without their willingness to delve deep enough, it seems like a fruitless pursuit.

asked Dec 29 '11 at 16:09

Donovan's gravatar image


edited Dec 29 '11 at 16:48

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

The creative use of words for effective persuasion aka rhetoric.

Who was it that said if you cannot explain it to a child then you don't quite understand as much as you thought: I think it was Einstein. If you cannot communicate it to a child it will not pass into common knowledge like Christianity was vs the other competitor religions that failed to reach the people and survive.

Just read the rhetoric of the bible for clues. It tells parables and stories to convey relationships, a whole story is vehicle for the complex concept of religion for simple minded people.

(Dec 29 '11 at 18:13) Adeikov Adeikov's gravatar image

I think a better analogy is the difficulty in conversing with someone that speaks English as a second language. It is the concepts that may not match, or may not even have any correlation in the others native language.

(Dec 29 '11 at 18:19) Donovan Donovan's gravatar image

I've found the signle biggest problem word to be "objective". People always seem to assume it means intrinsicism, God's-view value judgments, and so on, and can never grasp how human principles can be absolutes while not coming from "outside".

(Jan 08 '12 at 12:33) FCH FCH's gravatar image
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I've dealt with this problem as follows.

Take the commonest problem word: "selfishness." If you tell someone your definition, he'll probably go along, but think you're just being difficult or impractical, since everyone knows definitions are subjective, arbitrary and a product of social convention, after all.

What you have to do is explain your definition and then make clear why yours is right. This is best achieved with a simple but proper example of concept formation. For instance, I usually point out that the reason people call chairs and tables by different names isn't because everybody agreed to do so at some point, but because they are different things.

Most people will grasp this, and with it in mind, they'll understand what you mean when you say that you use selfishness differently, because, for example, stealing from a charity is different from not donating to one.

In short, give an example of an everyday term people use correctly, and then explain how in the word you're using differently, people inappropriately lump together or separate things that shouldn't be lumped or separated. The important thing in terms of making a lasting impact on your audience is to impress upon it that this isn't just you being eccentric, but that there's an objective reason for defining words a certain way.

answered Dec 29 '11 at 20:04

CrownOfTheVirtues's gravatar image

CrownOfTheVirtues ♦

edited Dec 29 '11 at 20:07

My approach to this is to avoid the hot-button and lingo words at first. I talk around them. For example, instead of altruism, I might say duty. Selfishness --> rational self interest. The Good --> things that support my life. A=A --> things are what they are. And so on.

After a while, I can usually start introducing new definitions, but I would normally preface that by explaining how the meanings of some words have been distorted over the years. Using examples of doublespeak from 1984 often helps get the point across. After that, I carefully explain things like when I say "altruism," I mean it in this way, and for this reason.

The challenge here is that this approach relies on the other person being reasonable, which, unfortunately, they often aren't -- so the conversation may never get as far as definitions. At least if I go this route, though, I can be confident that if I fail to get through, it wasn't just a matter of miscommunication, but was something more fundamental.

answered Jan 08 '12 at 05:14

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Rick ♦

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Asked: Dec 29 '11 at 16:09

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Last updated: Jan 08 '12 at 12:33