2010-09-13

The good guys, and using definitions

Continuing along from my last post--where I typographically realized that most of my ideas are in fact not mine, but belong to dudes that are bigger, badder, and more thorough than myself--I'd like to draw your attention to an organization that magically appeared out of nowhere the instant I publicly called for a movement based on rational empiricism with a bit of humanism thrown in. Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Center for Inquiry and its affiliates. They even have representation at the U.N. here in Vienna, as well as Geneva and New York.

The Center for Inquiry defines itself based on--or in contrast to--religion, as do all of the major "freethinking" organizations I've come across, but I think I can forgive them for that if they do a real good job with the whole rational empiricist part.

In other news, there was an unassailably brilliant post at Rationally Speaking a few days ago. In it, Julia Galef concisely attacks the tendency to let definitions drift when under fire and directs some of her comments at her fellow blogger Massimo Pigliucci, who responded on the following day with a post that is equally unassailable, though less satisfying. If you fancy yourself a good arguer, reading these two short essays are well worth the time. In the end, you'll see that it's not only the definition that is important, but also how you use it.

If you're like me, you'll also find yourself with a renewed appreciation for philosophy. Until now, I thought that descriptive, linguistic definitions (as Pigliucci mentions) were the only definitions worth using. Now I realize that prescriptive, conceptual definitions can also be worthwhile, and they are in a sense the basis of many necessary branches of philosophy. My delay in coming to this realization is likely a byproduct of my mathematics education; mathematicians don't do prescriptive. Thus, I'm finding myself without the tools I need to intellectually pursue moral, ethical, and humanistic goals. I'm slowly getting there, though.

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