Chapter 5: ((The Nature of Definition))
((In this auxiliary chapter it is argued that there can be no “correct” or “incorrect” definition for any given term. Instead we must simply attempt to build definitions in ways that seem “useful.”
With the personal entity broadly presented, definitions must be constructed which illustrate crucial details associated with this function. In order to help prepare for this work, however, the nature of definition itself will now be considered. Apparently I have a somewhat unusual perspective in this respect that may require a bit of attention.
There is a tendency in science to search for “ultimate definitions” for various key terms, implying that these terms represent unique entities that require associated definitions that reflect an ultimately specific nature. Therefore a scientist today might consider reality by means of the term “is” — such as “What is time?” “What is space?” “What is life?” “What is consciousness?” and so on. In my own opinion, this convention can be a very unproductive.
To help demonstrate my concern, consider standard debate regarding the term “life.” Observe that some experts argue that viruses must be classified such that they “live,” while others argue the opposite position. The implication here is that if we could determine “the true nature of life” in this regard, then we would gain an additional piece of “the reality puzzle.” Thus among other things we could finally understand whether or not viruses actually do “live.”
I, conversely, do not view the concept of definition in ultimate or unique terms, but rather as a somewhat arbitrary tool that’s simply “built by humans, for human use.” From this perspective viruses might productively be termed “living” in one argument, and then just as productively classified in the opposite manner in a separate one. Each definition that is stated for this term will be just as “valid” as any other, though it may or may not be just as “useful.” Here terms are nothing more than tools which we design in order to build and convey ideas, and this permits us to construct them any way at all that serves our purposes. Therefore a given definition can never be “correct” (or “incorrect”), though a given definition may indeed be useful (or otherwise) in the context of a given argument.
Apparently there is something referred to in the English language as “reality,” as well as a state in this realm which is referred to as “living.” Entities such as these, however, are simply not terms — they are not tools from which to build and convey ideas. But when in the form of a term, “life” is ultimately just one arbitrary term that resides in one arbitrary language. So in order to effectively develop our arguments, we do require a freedom to design our terms however we deem appropriate.
Consider “a chair” for example. Though it may ultimately “exist,” the terms which we use to reference it are simply tools that we build for our own purposes. These terms may seek to represent the chair, but they cannot actually be this specific object — we cannot actually sit upon such a term, for example. Not only must we be free to design our terms however we like, but by definition, each definition that we make cannot be “wrong” or “right.” Instead it will simply exist as stated.
Nevertheless we should also observe that there are more and less “useful” ways to define a specific term in order to support a specific argument — a given term might do this quite well, or it might render an arguement “un-useful” to the point of “nonsense.” Furthermore the continuity of a language does depend upon terms that do often retain somewhat common themes behind the many definitions that they might take. This is a well documented aspect of language that our dictionaries plainly demonstrate. Observe that terms in these references are generally given an assortment of definitions, and often with themes that are related.
Perhaps one reason that science has sought “true” rather than just “useful” definitions for various key terms, is to emulate the language of mathematics. Math is odd in the sense that its terms often do practically take on unique definitions. Consider the number “two” for example. Apparently it is most productive in math for this term to exclusively be defined in one specific way. But as nothing more than a human term, it is my position that it could still be assigned a different definition in an argument, and quite regardless of how useful the argument would then be.
Definitions should essentially be viewed as “given,” I think, or as points from which an attempt to understand an argument must begin. And even when “nonsense” is the only thing that a specific term helps convey, its definition itself simply cannot be “incorrect” — an argument might not be “useful,” though the definitions found within them will, by definition, exist exactly as they are stated.
I address this issue mainly because in the current environment it may be quite simple to dismiss my own ideas through assertions that the presented definitions are, unfortunately, “untrue.” I do object to all such assessments on the premise that definitions must instead be viewed as tools from which associated models may be built. If some of my definitions are indeed just “nonsense” in respect their various models, then so be it. But by definition, these definitions themselves must never be considered “false.”
My current task in this respect is to convince others to momentarily set aside various competing definitions for mutual terms that we happen to use, so that the specific nature of the presented models might become understood. Once this communication occurs it should then be possible for the implications of these models to be assessed against general observations of reality.