So I’m back and yada yada… How’s the family? That’s good to hear. Anyway… Last night I failed at attempt to mock winning an argument by definition but fortuitously reminds me of a larger problem in our society.
I jokingly said I must be correct because “what we mean when we say X is Y and the the dictionary also says Y about X.” The problem with this style of argumentation is it hides the real dispute and nowhere is this more evident than public discussions of same-sex marriage.
A large section of the opposition has come by saying proponents of same-sex marriage are “redefining marriage” including today by Justice Alito during the SCOTUS hearings on Prop 8. Aside from the historical silliness of attempting to win an argument about marriage by definition, these aren’t, by and large, people who would agree to grant rights to same-sex couples provided we called such unions “schmarriage.” Clearly then the disagreement isn’t really over what the word “marriage” means but what real world changes will occur if same-sex couples are afforded the benefits traditionally reserved for straight couples.
But aside from the specifics of same-sex marriage, attempts to use “by definition” with regard to laws prove too much if successful. If we were to take them seriously this would have also been a legitimate reason to oppose any and all changes to classifications. In the 1920s traditional voting literally meant one man, one vote and in 1850 the same argument could have been used to prevent non-property owners from voting.
Simple rule of thumb: Argue about and for the consequences of changes that will occur in the real world instead of pointing to a dictionary and shouting “A Ha!”