I was checking out lesswrong.com, and came across "The Worst Argument In The World"
, and realized it could be quickly and easily employed at PD.com.
I like it because it's about definitions of words and semantics, but then overcomes and moves beyond the purely semantic argument. It includes both the specific definition, but also the common usage and context
Basically, the worst argument comes in this format:
"X is in a category whose archetypal member has certain features. Therefore, we should judge X as if it also had those features, even though it doesn't."
So, (to use an example from the article (and I am more or less paraphrasing the article in this post)) While MLK, Jr actually did
break the law, get arrested, and go to jail, it seems entirely disingenuous to say he's a bad person because he's a "criminal".
"Criminal", while technically a correct label for some of MLK, Jr's actions, does not fit the archetypical attitudes, motiviations, or emotional reaction to the vast majority of those in the set of "criminal".
This seems to fit a lot of political and social arguments, such as "abortion is murder" and "taxation is theft", and recognition of this type of argument could possibly allow us to leapfrog the argument when it gets to this point, so instead of pulling out dictionaries when someone says "affirmitive action is discriminatory", we could simply answer, "It doesn't matter how we define discrimination at this particular moment, let's discuss the costs and benefits of affirmative action like mature adults".
I realize that this may look really fucking close to E-prime, but at least it doesn't force us to mutate our syntax any worse that we already do.