Evidence and proof

Bob Fitzke fitzke at VOYAGER.NET
Sat Mar 3 14:11:32 UTC 2001

My polar star for several decades has been Shaw's, "The greatest problem
of communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished."


Duane Campbell wrote:
> On Fri, 2 Mar 2001 14:01:01 -0800 "A. Maberry" <maberry at U.WASHINGTON.EDU>
> writes:
> > 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?
> D

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