An excellent analysis of the issue! It seems like this is a problem for any interesting philosophical question. I’m always struck by how often philosophical disagreements are really just definitional disputes in disguise. It’s particularly troublesome for any discussion about the mind, about us at the most fundamental level, because people have intense emotions about the conclusions.
I recently attended a computing group in which the following question was asked:
Can Software Achieve Human Level Intelligence?
We covered this question over the course of 3 meetings (7-9 hours total). Those meetings didn’t go well. We spent hours talking past each other, objecting to arguments, and accusing each other of missing the point. In the end we gave up and agreed to talk about something else.
How can people spend hours talking about something without anything to show for it?Because we weren’t talking about the same thing and never settled on meanings first to discover that.
After reflecting on those meetings, I thought the following process would have been more productive:
- Each person precisely translates the sentence as they understand it.
- Replace any contentious terms to avoid arguing over semantics.
- Decide if there’s any basis for arguing.
So let’s continue by assuming two arguers: John and…
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