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Chapter 4 language


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Chapter 4 language

  1. 1. Management and Law Department (MLD)Centre for Foundation Studies and Extension Education (FOSEE) PCR0025 Critical Thinking All Foundation ONLINE NOTES FOSEE , MULTIMEDIA UNIVERSITY (436821-T) MELAKA CAMPUS, JALAN AYER KEROH LAMA, 75450 MELAKA, MALAYSIA. Tel 606 252 3594 Fax 606 231 8799 URL:
  2. 2. PCR0015 Critical Thinking Chapter 4: LanguageIntroductionThought and language create our world, and so to think critically about the world wemust pay careful attention to words – the words we choose and the words others use. Inthis chapter you will learn the skills of choosing the right words, defining words, andidentifying the emotive and slanted messages some words carry.The Need for PrecisionFailure to be precise in communicating can result in confusion and misunderstanding.What makes perfectly good sense to one person might be confusing to someone else.Lack of understanding or misunderstanding hinders discussion, dialogue, and debate.In fact, misunderstandings are quite often the causes of disagreements. For example,suppose that both you and I know that Bob committed a certain crime and that his trialhas not occurred yet.I might say: • (1) “Bob is guilty” Now (1) can mean two things: • (a) He committed the crime. • (b) He has been convicted of the crime. • If I mean (a), but you think I mean (b) we will say we disagree about whether (1) is true, when in fact we share the same beliefs (we both think he did it and know that he hasn’t been convicted yet). But not until I clarify what I mean by (1) will this fact become evident.But when you can’t be understood, it is not the other person’s fault. If others can’tunderstand you, you need to be more precise! Without precision, one cannot be correctlyunderstood. Let’s study on how to be clear and precise with our word so that it can beunderstood by others.Ways to be un-precise 1. Vagueness • Borderline cases 2. Overgenerality • Too general; too many things fit the description of the answer and thus the answer is not useful. 3. Ambiguity • A word is ambiguous when it has more than one common definition.1. Vagueness______________________________________________________________________________________MM 2/ 2
  3. 3. PCR0015 Critical ThinkingA word (or group of words) is vague when its meaning is fuzzy, blurry, or inexact.Usually you can tell a word is vague when there are borderline cases, for exampleminimal pay, middle-aged, indecent, obscene, etc. The phrase minimal pay is vaguebecause it does not indicate precisely how much money is paid to laborers. In term ofmiddle-aged, in some cases, there are clear cut (20 is not middle aged, and neither is 80,but 45 is), but there are examples where it is unclear (like 33 or 56). We can see that insome venues the word is appropriate, but usually try to avoid it, especially inargumentation.2. OvergeneralityAn overgenerality is a statement that provides too much information to be useful (in agiven context). However, overgenerality is often confused with vagueness. But, we candistinct between the two. Words are vague if they have fuzzy or inexact boundaries andhence give rise to unclear borderline cases. On the other hand, words are overgeneral ifthe information they provide is too broad and unspecific in a given context. They will notbe vague (i.e., they won’t give rise to borderline cases), but will not be useful. • Example of an overgeneral answer: • Q: “What is 7+5?” A: “More than 2.”Whether an expression is overly general usually depends on the context. The Contextmust be relevant. For example, “Human” is an alright answer to a question about yourchess opponent (which could be a computer), but not a question about your new fiancé.3. AmbiguityAmbiguity is a doubtful sense of a word or phrase. A word or expression is ambiguous ifit has two or more meanings and the context does not make clear which meaning isintended. Eg: “Ambi” means “both”; a word that is ambiguous has two meanings, but can’t “mean” both at the same time.Ambiguity is what makes pun and many jokes funny, but used unintentionally it candestroy the effectiveness of an argument. There are two types of ambiguity 1) Semantic Ambiguities: Ambiguities that result from uncertainty about the meanings of an individual word or phrase • e.g., Johari went to the bank. • (What kind of bank? Financial Institution? A slope that boarders a river? A blood bank?) 2) Syntactical Ambiguities: ambiguity due to sentence structure or faulty grammar. • “Cat for sale. Eats anything and is especially fond of children.”However, miscommunication may occur when a word has more than one meaning andintended meaning is not clarified by definition or by context. It can result either to verbaldispute or factual dispute.______________________________________________________________________________________MM 3/ 2
  4. 4. PCR0015 Critical Thinking 1. Verbal Dispute: occurs when people appear to disagree on an issue, but in actuality have simply not resolved the ambiguity of a key term. • A disagreement about “Steve loves Mary.” • Steve: Of course I love you! • (Steve thinks “I love you” means “I get ‘warms feelings’ when I think about you.”) • Mary: No, you don’t love me! • (Mary thinks, “I love you” means “I don’t want to be with anyone else.”) They agree about the facts (they both know that Steve gets warm feelings, but that he wants to see other people), they just are using a different definition of the word “love.” 2. Factual Dispute: Disagreements where people actually disagree about the facts, not the meaning of the words. • O.J. killed Anna Nicole! • No he didn’t!The Importance of Precise DefinitionsClear and accurate definition of language makes a convincing argument. Consequently,failure to define terms carefully can result in a messy battle, where we can see that somepeople struggling to find the truth and others fighting to avoid it.Types of Definitions: 1. Stipulate Definitions – Coining a new word or using an old word with a new meaning 2. Persuasive Definitions – An arguer defines a term in an effort to persuade a reader or listener to agree with arguer’s point of view regarding the thing being defined 3. Lexical Definitions – A word is defined in the way it is standardly used in the language 4. Precising Definitions – Intended to make a vague word more precise so that the word’s meaning is not left to the interpretation of the reader or listenerReasons for Defining 1. Stipulative definitions: When you create a definition for a new word (or use an existing word in a new way, and set forth that new use), you have stipulated a new definition. 2. Persuasive Definitions: Defining a term to convince someone of something. • Capital Punishment means vengeful murder.______________________________________________________________________________________MM 4/ 2
  5. 5. PCR0015 Critical Thinking 3. Lexical Definitions: state the conventional, dictionary meaning (derived from how it is commonly used). 4. Precising Definitions: taking a vague word/phrase and clarifying what you mean by it (in a certain context) (i.e., taking a vague word and making it more precise).Strategies for Defining – ways to explain the meaning of word 1. Ostensive Definitions: physically identifying the definition of a word/term. • Example: These are parentheses: ( ) 2. Enumerative Definitions: listing examples of individual things that “fit” the definition: • “Bible-belt state” means Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the like. • Such definitions are very useful but can be misleading; someone might identify a commonality in your examples you didn’t foresee. • “oh, bible-belt State” means “Southern states west of the Mississippi.” 3. Definition by Subclass: listing examples of classes or categories that “fit” the definition. • Mammal means gorilla, horse, lion, whale, human, etc. • Such definitions are very useful but can be misleading for the same reasons as above. 4. Etymological Definitions: definitions that articulate the history of a word’s use or its origins. A good dictionary provide this information 5. Synonymous Definitions: defining a term by giving a synonym for which the definition is known. • “Loquacious means talkative.” • These are helpful but sometimes imprecise; • e.g., “rob” and “steal” are synonyms, but have slightly different definitions. 6. Definition by Genus and Difference: defining a term by identifying its class and then differentiating it from other members in the class. • Calf is young cow; i.e., a cow (genus) that is young (difference).______________________________________________________________________________________MM 5/ 2