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Friday, February 18, 2022

Role of Definitions in Thinking

 In my essay on Means of Valid Knowledge (timeforthought.net on February 16, 2009), I left out an important element in the cause for differences of opinion between different schools of philosophy. That is definition of words and concepts.

In formulating discussions on concepts, the problem is often with definition. Scientific philosophy emphasizes definition of concepts and objects so that others can repeat experiments using objects with the same or similar properties and confirm or refute the conclusions. Other systems do not. Therefore, concepts in metaphysical systems are not amenable to verification and confirmation.

If soul is defined as that which occupies a body and it can exist outside the body, all future discussions on the topic will revolve around that definition, whether that definition is acceptable to everyone or not.

If self is defined as that outside of objective world and cannot be analyzed or understood but can only be experienced, all discussions start from that point, assuming that self has been defined accurately.

Any discussion on such concepts will be circular, just by the nature of the definitions. “I said so; therefore, it is”.

Both these examples make the definition such that they cannot be tested empirically. They depend on faith. Therefore, they get to be established dogma just by repetition.

In general, if definitions are not based on objective, verifiable facts (observations, data), there will be differences of opinion and it will be difficult to have any meaningful discussion.

It is also true, that many a time, a concept is visualized before empirical studies can be done. Scientific advances are full of such example – “ether”, “atom”, quantum……

In some aspects of life, faith is the only option. I have already written about the role of faith in our thinking repertoire, when to use faith and how.

 

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