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Posted: 04 March 2014 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Here we are in a Humanist forum, with the last post on Humanism being more than a month old. I maintain we spend far too much time shooting ourselves in the foot, arguing incessantly over things that don’t matter. So I open this topic in the hope that we can move forward on an issue that has stalled Humanism for decades.

A few days ago, in the Religion and Secularism forum, a member wrote that “if we’re going to use (the term “religious humanist”) in a descriptive way, as in a “religious humanist”, we ought to assign it one clear and unambiguous meaning that an ordinary person can grasp without taking a doctorate in comparative theology.” I responded with a series of questions meant to illustrate that this is not what definitions are for or how they work. My response is at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/16919/P165/#193748 .
I invite participants to consider those questions, and also to consider how successful groups and organizations treat the word(s) that define(s) them. What is “the definition” of:
-  Democrat
-  Republican
-  Socialist
-  Communist
-  Libertarian
-  Liberal
-  Conservative
-  Jew
-  Christian
-  Catholic
-  Muslim
-  Buddhist
-  Hindu
-  Atheist
-  and for that matter, Humanist.

There are many others. I cannot think of any successful group that assigns a single unambiguous definition to itself, because in point of fact, not everyone in the group will look at it in the same way. To be sure, the group needs enough definition to be inviting, attract members and move forward toward its goals. The ones who succeed do not spend anywhere near as much of their time arguing over their own internal definitions as we do. Ironically, the groups with the clearest definitions are rigid groups whose definitions are forced from on high; in other words, the closest models for this sort of thing exemplify what we oppose most strongly.

I hope this topic will get some play, not because we should spend our time arguing about “what is a religious humanist” but precisely because we should not. We spend too much of our time and energy doing that, and I would like for us to put that unproductive practice to bed.

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Posted: 07 March 2014 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well I must say this is news to me!  You can’t think of a SINGLE descriptive word that has a single, unambiguous meaning?  And what is even more surprising to me, these things “don’t matter”!?!?!?!?!

Look man, the only reason I got embroiled in this topic is because you said that as a Religious Humanist, you were sometimes offended and insulted at the way people use the term “religion”.  Now how in the Hell (pardon my French) can we avoid insulting you if you can’t even tell us the difference between “religious” and “secular” as it applies to Humanists?  And now you claim IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER???

I am officially OUT of this conversation, as of right now!

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Posted: 07 March 2014 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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advocatus - 07 March 2014 09:10 AM

Well I must say this is news to me!  You can’t think of a SINGLE descriptive word that has a single, unambiguous meaning?  And what is even more surprising to me, these things “don’t matter”!?!?!?!?!

Look man, the only reason I got embroiled in this topic is because you said that as a Religious Humanist, you were sometimes offended and insulted at the way people use the term “religion”.  Now how in the Hell (pardon my French) can we avoid insulting you if you can’t even tell us the difference between “religious” and “secular” as it applies to Humanists?  And now you claim IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER???

I am officially OUT of this conversation, as of right now!

Well, I certainly am glad you’re not reacting emotionally to this. And what a relief it is to me that this topic isn’t being completely ignored. If you’re going to make a fool of yourself, you might consider turning down the volume.

Of course I can define these terms. Like most people, and most standard dictionaries, I can give you several definitions for these words, depending on the angle of approach. I’ve already explained this regarding “religion” and “religious.” The definition of “secular” depends on whether it is intended to refer to a set of fact claims, an attitude or in an organizational sense. Probably there are others.

I didn’t say I can’t define these words. I said that “we” cannot “assign” an unambiguous definition, “we” implying us as a group. That meaning seems clear from my list of groups whose members do not agree on a single, unambiguous definition for their group; and our inability to do it seems clear from these very discussions. I hoped that this observation might lead to a discussion about how maybe - just maybe - an assumption that keeps getting thrown around when certain words come up may not be true. In fact, it’s clearly not true. Groups like ours, and most groups that are quite unlike ours, do not act that way, and have no reason to do it. Quite to the contrary, they invite and encourage members to bring different perspectives to the group. Yet somehow they manage to survive and thrive. In fact, many of those groups swamp us in numbers, funds and commitment to cause.

I was hoping we might discuss that, so we can put these silly, self-destructive word wars to end. I still hope that we, as a group, will have that discussion.

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Posted: 07 March 2014 02:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The problem is that people cannot avoid discussing or at least thinking about these topics.  If the members of the discussion can’t agree on the definition of the terms they are talking about, the discussion is about as fruitful as two mono-lingual people talking with each other in different languages.  While the topic word definition may not agree with the general ideas of the public, as long as the discussants agree on the meaning, they are likely to have a meaningful discussion. 

If, say, Lois and I have a discussion about religious humanism, PlaClair may think we are both crazy and just babbling, however, it’s likely that both of us can get some personal clarification of our thinking from the discussion.  If PlaClair wants to get involved in that discussion, all three of us must agree on the definition of the words. 

However, a dicussion of the meanings of words is just plain crazy.  They are not beings of themselves and have no intrinsic meaning beyond what we all agree they have; they are merely tools we use to communicate.

Occam

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Posted: 07 March 2014 02:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I was envisioning a court room, PlaClair, in which you are questioning a witness.  Each time you ask a question, s/he asks you to define the words you used so s/he can answer more accurately.  As you do so, s/he asks for the definitions of the words you used to define the earlier ones, and so on.  What would the outcome be?

Occam

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Posted: 07 March 2014 03:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Occam. - 07 March 2014 02:52 PM

I was envisioning a court room, PlaClair, in which you are questioning a witness.  Each time you ask a question, s/he asks you to define the words you used so s/he can answer more accurately.  As you do so, s/he asks for the definitions of the words you used to define the earlier ones, and so on.  What would the outcome be?

Occam

I have no idea why you think that has anything to do with this discussion. Could you please explain.

My point, which I’ve stated a couple times on this thread alone, is that groups do not assign themselves an unambiguous definition that all their members agree on. They have enough agreement on what the group is about to allow them to function. Actions usually speak louder than words, as they say.

Can anyone answer my question: which of the groups I named in the opening post has a clear, unambiguous definition of itself? I maintain, none of them. Yet they function better than we do, partly because they act on what they understand to be their common commitments instead of sitting around arguing about what to call it.

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Posted: 07 March 2014 07:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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PLaClair - 04 March 2014 03:33 PM

Here we are in a Humanist forum, with the last post on Humanism being more than a month old. I maintain we spend far too much time shooting ourselves in the foot, arguing incessantly over things that don’t matter. So I open this topic in the hope that we can move forward on an issue that has stalled Humanism for decades.

Which thread was that?

A few days ago, in the Religion and Secularism forum, a member wrote that “if we’re going to use (the term “religious humanist”) in a descriptive way, as in a “religious humanist”, we ought to assign it one clear and unambiguous meaning that an ordinary person can grasp without taking a doctorate in comparative theology.” I responded with a series of questions meant to illustrate that this is not what definitions are for or how they work. My response is at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/16919/P165/#193748 .
I invite participants to consider those questions, and also to consider how successful groups and organizations treat the word(s) that define(s) them. What is “the definition” of:
-  Democrat
-  Republican
-  Socialist
-  Communist
-  Libertarian
-  Liberal
-  Conservative
-  Jew
-  Christian
-  Catholic
-  Muslim
-  Buddhist
-  Hindu
-  Atheist
-  and for that matter, Humanist.

There are many others. I cannot think of any successful group that assigns a single unambiguous definition to itself, because in point of fact, not everyone in the group will look at it in the same way. To be sure, the group needs enough definition to be inviting, attract members and move forward toward its goals. The ones who succeed do not spend anywhere near as much of their time arguing over their own internal definitions as we do. Ironically, the groups with the clearest definitions are rigid groups whose definitions are forced from on high; in other words, the closest models for this sort of thing exemplify what we oppose most strongly.

Then stay off my case for expressing my strong opinions about those groups which “we oppose mosts strongly”. Instead you cite a few groups i have never even heard of and beat me over the head for being too militant in my stance on those minor and insignificant pseudo religious philosophies.

Can anyone answer my question: which of the groups I named in the opening post has a clear, unambiguous definition of itself? I maintain, none of them. Yet they function better than we do, partly because they act on what they understand to be their common commitments instead of sitting around arguing about what to call it.

Every word in your list has clear (and sometimes very nuanced) definitions in about 4 major literary reference dictionaries and encyclopedias.
By all means , lets start a whole new encyclopiedia and dictionary to redefine all those words so that we know what we are talking about.

Lets start with the definition of God. Seems to me that, except for the political parties, this is a common theme in most of the examples.

Oh and CFI Home page clearly spells out the definition CFI is using for the word Humanist.  Are you proposing we should discuss and redefine the philosophical foundation and tenets of this site?  I know you have a problem with the site by your signature, but I have yet to hear you explain in detail what part of CFI you cannot agree with in “good conscience”

You may do the honors as host to this thread.  Good luck!

[ Edited: 07 March 2014 08:33 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 07 March 2014 08:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Write4U - 07 March 2014 07:28 PM

Every word in your list has clear (and sometimes very nuanced) definitions in about 4 major literary reference dictionaries and encyclopedias.
By all means , lets start a whole new encyclopiedia and dictionary to redefine all those words so that we know what we are talking about.

Lets start with the definition of God. Seems to me that, except for the political parties, this is a common theme in most of the examples.

Oh and CFI Home page clearly spells out the definition CFI is using for the word Humanist.  Are you proposing we should discuss and redefine the philosophical foundation and tenets of this site?  I know you have a problem with the site by your signature, but I have yet to hear you explain in detail what part of CFI you cannot agree with in “good conscience”

You may do the honors as host to this thread.  Good luck!

You don’t hear a thing I say. I have no problem at all with CFI’s mission statement, in fact I think it’s terrific. You assumed otherwise, and you’re wrong - again.

I added my disclaimer when the current head of CFI did what I thought were some very foolish things, publicly. They damaged CFI and Humanism in my opinion. I told him so privately, and posted the statement. It has nothing to do with CFI’s definition or mission statement.

And you’re right, dictionaries and encyclopedias do have relatively clear definitions for these terms but rarely do they have only one definition beyond saying something like “a Democrat is a member of the Democratic party.” Often the definitions are nuanced, exactly right. So why are you arguing with me?

Maybe you think you answered my question but you didn’t. What is a Democrat? Define it unambiguously and in a way that will encompass all Democrats - other than merely to say they are members of the Democratic party. You can’t because members of the Democratic party are not all in the party for the same reasons. Stop reacting and listen for once.

What is a Christian? I asked my wife what she thought this evening, and she said a Christian was someone who follows the teachings of Christ. Many Christians would agree but many others would call that definition inadequate: following Christ’s teachings is not enough (many Buddhists do that), you must accept Christ as your Lord and Savior in order to attain salvation. OK, let’s make that the definition. That won’t work either because many Christians don’t believe that.

I make a very good living with words. I know what I’m talking about. Humor me. Answer the question, and maybe you’ll understand what I’m trying to tell you.

[ Edited: 07 March 2014 10:40 PM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 07 March 2014 08:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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PLaClair - 07 March 2014 08:40 PM

I make a very good living with words.

LOL

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Posted: 07 March 2014 09:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’m sorry if it was too complicated for you, George. My conception of humanism is that we take ideas seriously, and that if someone poses a challenge, we take it up. If the person is wrong, it will be obvious soon enough.

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Posted: 07 March 2014 10:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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PLaClair - 07 March 2014 08:40 PM
Write4U - 07 March 2014 07:28 PM

Every word in your list has clear (and sometimes very nuanced) definitions in about 4 major literary reference dictionaries and encyclopedias.
By all means , lets start a whole new encyclopiedia and dictionary to redefine all those words so that we know what we are talking about.

Lets start with the definition of God. Seems to me that, except for the political parties, this is a common theme in most of the examples.

Oh and CFI Home page clearly spells out the definition CFI is using for the word Humanist.  Are you proposing we should discuss and redefine the philosophical foundation and tenets of this site?  I know you have a problem with the site by your signature, but I have yet to hear you explain in detail what part of CFI you cannot agree with in “good conscience”

You may do the honors as host to this thread.  Good luck!

You don’t hear a thing I say. I have no problem at all with CFI’s mission statement, in fact I think it’s terrific. You assumed otherwise, and you’re wrong - again.

You are the one begging the question. Are you assuming others do have a problem with CFI’s mission statement? What is a person to think? Especially if you close eveery post with a complaint about CFI “leadership”.

I added my disclaimer when the current head of CFI did what I thought were some very foolish things, publicly. They damaged CFI and Humanism in my opinion. I told him so privately, and posted the statement. It has nothing to do with CFI’s definition or mission statement.

No you did not just lodge the complaint and posted the statement. You are using it as you closing signature in every post.

Maybe you think you answered my question but you didn’t. What is a Democrat? Define it unambiguously and in a way that will encompass all Democrats - other than merely to say they are members of the Democratic party. You can’t because members of the Democratic party are not all in the party for the same reasons. Stop reacting and listen for once.

If you have a problem with the word Democrat or Democratic, I suggest you look it up. It’s the definition most of us use. I do.

What is a Christian? I asked my wife what she thought this evening, and she said a Christian was someone who follows the teachings of Christ. Many Christians would agree but many others would call that definition inadequate: following Christ’s teachings is not enough (many Buddhists do that), you must accept Christ as your Lord and Savior in order to attain salvation. OK, let’s make that the definition. That won’t work either because many Christians don’t believe that.

That is a problem for the Christians then isn’t it. If they cannot even define their own belief system, what do you expect me to do about it? I judge people by their actions, not their belief system, unless it seeks to dictate the way I should believe or conduct myself.

I make a very good living with words. I know what I’m talking about. Humor me. Answer the question, and maybe you’ll understand what I’m trying to tell you.

Ah, we are speaking from authority now.

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Posted: 07 March 2014 10:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Write4U - 07 March 2014 10:39 PM

You are the one begging the question. Are you assuming others do have a problem with CFI’s mission statement? What is a person to think? Especially if you close eveery post with a complaint about CFI “leadership”.

If you have a problem with my disclaimer or are unsure what to think, ask me. A few people have done that, and I told them why. You have a tag at the bottom of your posts, too. Are we to think CFI is just about the arts? Why is this even an issue?

Write4U - 07 March 2014 10:39 PM

If you have a problem with the word Democrat or Democratic, I suggest you look it up. It’s the definition most of us use. I do.

There you go again. I didn’t say I had a problem with it. I said it’s not an unambiguous definition. I looked it up. All the dictionaries I looked at said that a Democrat is a member of the Democratic party, which doesn’t tell me anything. By that standard, what is a humanist? A member of a humanist group? And if that’s not the definition you use, then what definition do you use? 

Do the same thing with any of the groups on the list. I know you have a bug about Christians but at least you acknowledge that there are many strains and varieties of Christianity. The problem with your “thinking” is that you think your disdain for Christianity answers the present question. Your disdain doesn’t tell us anything about Christianity, only about you. The point about diversity among Christians is that Christianity succeeds very well with not just one definition but with many, and a wide range of what “Christian” or “Christianity” means.

What about Jews? We have liberal/reform, conservative, orthodox, hassidic, and others. So what is a Jew? What does it mean to be Jewish? Well, are you talking about a religion or a culture, a set of rules or an identity? And that’s a start.

Look up Hinduism. It is characterized by being hard to pin down.

What about Muslims? Are you referring to Sufis, Sunnis or Shiites? They’re not the same.

You don’t like religion, let’s talk about something else. What is a liberal? Go ahead, pin it down to one unambiguous definition. I’ll buy you dinner if you can do it, and I’ll do you the favor of not coming with you.

Don’t pretend to address the question without doing the work. Take each of the groups and analyze it. Is there a single core meaning for each of them? This is such an obvious point, I don’t know why you’re arguing about it. Then, when you have an intelligent answer, you can start thinking about what that means for humanism, and whether we should assign a single, unambiguous definition to humanism, which was the point of contention that prompted this topic.

[ Edited: 07 March 2014 11:06 PM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 07 March 2014 11:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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In a sentence such as: The Democrats are up in arms about the proposed budget cuts by the Republicans, you want to start with definitions of Democrat and Republican?

The need for exact definitions only occurs in science and mathematics. It is impossible to achieve what you ask for in language.  For one thing, every country has a different word for everything and each word has a slightly different interpretation in accordance with that country’s demographics and every human has a different relative worldview.

Remember the phrase “one man’s religion is another man’s witchcraft” and you seek agreement on a single definition of the word religion?  Dang, you didn’t include that word in your list.  I suggest we add it to the list or did we conclude the previous thread trying to define “religion vs science” to everyone’s satisfaction?

[ Edited: 07 March 2014 11:32 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 07 March 2014 11:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Write4U - 07 March 2014 11:07 PM

The need for exact definitions only occurs in science and mathematics. It is impossible to achieve what you ask for in language.  For one thing, every country has a different word for everything and each word has a slightly different interpretation in accordance with that countrie’s demographics.

Remember the phrase “one man’s religion is another man’s witchcraft” and you seek agreement on a single definition of the word religion?  Dang, you didn’t include that word in your list.  I suggest we add it to the list or did we conclude the previous thread trying to define “religion vs science” to everyone’s satisfaction?

If you would read what I’m actually writing, you might realize that that is exactly what I’ve been telling you all along. I do not seek agreement on a single definition of the word; on the contrary, the very point of the opening post on this topic is that it’s not achievable. I am not asking for what you correctly observe cannot be achieved; that’s my point. I am saying exactly what you’re saying about this. We are in complete agreement on this, so why are you arguing with me?

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Posted: 07 March 2014 11:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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(post duplicated - deleted)

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Posted: 07 March 2014 11:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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PLaClair - 07 March 2014 11:15 PM
Write4U - 07 March 2014 11:07 PM

The need for exact definitions only occurs in science and mathematics. It is impossible to achieve what you ask for in language.  For one thing, every country has a different word for everything and each word has a slightly different interpretation in accordance with that countrie’s demographics.

Remember the phrase “one man’s religion is another man’s witchcraft” and you seek agreement on a single definition of the word religion?  Dang, you didn’t include that word in your list.  I suggest we add it to the list or did we conclude the previous thread trying to define “religion vs science” to everyone’s satisfaction?

If you would read what I’m actually writing, you might realize that that is exactly what I’ve been telling you all along. I do not seek agreement on a single definition of the word; on the contrary, the very point of the opening post on this topic is that it’s not achievable. I am not asking for what you correctly observe cannot be achieved; that’s my point. I am saying exactly what you’re saying about this. We are in complete agreement on this, so why are you arguing with me?

I have been wondering about that ever since you started disagreeing with me. But all is well that ends well. choir.gif

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