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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: June 2014

4 - The Acts of Defining


The act of naming is based on a factual premise and a definition, or classificatory principle. Like all conclusions in arguments, the classification depends on the strength of the acceptability of the premises supporting it. The interlocutor can rationally explain that he cannot accept the conclusion because he does not agree with one of the premises supporting it. Emotive words can be used as dialectical instruments of manipulation. They can hide reality or conceal the controversial nature of a definition. In both cases, the interlocutor is prevented from judging a classification and challenging it. Dialectical strategies of hiding facts or meaning can explain the force and the danger of arguments from classification, and help in analyzing the pragmatic dimension of definitions.

The meaning of words can be controversial, vague, or unshared. In these cases, the definition cannot be considered as acceptable by the interlocutor, and becomes the standpoint of a discussion. In the previous chapter we showed how a definition can be evaluated and rejected by showing that it does not fulfill semantic and logical conditions. If ‘true peace’ is defined as ‘waging war against nations breaching civil rights,’ it is possible to attack the definition and show that war cannot in any case be considered as peaceful. There is nothing inherently wrong in redefining a concept, as long as the freedom of altering, choosing, or précising the meaning does not limit the other party’s freedom to accept or challenge it. The thin line between negotiating, discussing, proposing a definition, and imposing it lies in the pragmatic nature of the conversational framework.

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