Evidence and proof

Duane Campbell dcamp911 at JUNO.COM
Sat Mar 3 03:16:54 UTC 2001

On Fri, 2 Mar 2001 14:01:01 -0800 "A. Maberry" <maberry at U.WASHINGTON.EDU>
> And the "dialect" aspect would be ... ?

My post, as originally written, was quite lengthy and addressed just
that. I read it over before sending (which, contrary to the consensus, I
do on rare occasions) and it bored even me. Hey, I thought, this group
will get it, and I placed my cursor at the end of the first paragraph,
hit ctrl-shift-end, took a deep breath, and hit Delete.. The first
response I read showed me I was wrong. And the second.

I apologize. I did not mean it to be primarily a political comment. In
fact I even replaced "the shriveling corps of Clintonistas" with "all
Clinton supporters" in deference to some on this list who perhaps do not
share my sentiments.

There have been at least two threads recently which have revolved rather
ponderously around dictionary definitions of particular terms. Even the
best conventional dictionary, of course, can give only the briefest
synopsis of the range of perceived meaning of a given word, and while
scholarly dictionaries do better, they still come up short. As everyone
here understands, almost any word is at best an imperfect symbol for a
range of things that are real in a way that a word cannot be.

The nuances of meaning of any word fall along a continuum, and different
people will place their full understanding of a word at different points
on that continuum. Often a difference of opinion cannot be resolved only
because two people are placing subtly different meanings on the same word
while both presume they are talking about the same thing. I judged a
regional forensics tournament last weekend ( wonderful experience which I
would recommend to everyone here), and I watched two otherwise very
bright young people beat themselves against the rocks of this very
problem for sixteen minutes, which is probably why it is in my mind.

That's just the problem of two people using slightly different meanings.
It becomes more confusing when the same person uses a single word in two
different ways without realizing it. I have seen this happen often in
political debate.

Reaching consensus or even peaceful disagreement is difficult enough
using language conventionally and honestly. How much more difficult it is
when language is used cynically.

Because of its ubiquity, I have little doubt that the word "evidence" was
run through a focus group, or at minimum carefully crafted by people who
know what they're doing. Evidence is (captiously consulting several
dictionaries and paraphrasing) information used to form a conclusion or
judgment. There is plenty of information about what happened. There is
not proof.

Their use of the word was dishonest. Well, depending on how you
personally define "dishonest". Which brings us to a further point.

Some wordsmiths decided that "no evidence" was the best phrase to advance
their cause If they were dull, they probably thought that it would work
because people didn't really understand what "evidence" meant. But they
weren't dull. They were sharp. And they realized that many people would
place their understanding of the word on that continuum according to what
they want to believe.

That brings us to the next stop in definition. We can semiconsciously
move the arrow along the continuum like a box in the Control Panel to get
it to where we want it to be. That says something about language and the
way it is used in cognition and epistemology (better believe I checked
THAT spelling).

This is an inadequate reconstruction of what I first said, which was
doubtless brilliant but is now deleted.

Last paragraph. Justto see if anyone actually read this far. Decades ago
I read a passage that has stuck in my mind, even changed my
Weltanschauung. I have never been able to find it. I have the idea it was
Pei, but I have reread his books and can't find it, so perhaps not. It
goes something like, Most of the problems of the world could be solved if
people truly understood the nature of language. Anyone help?


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