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Reply #45: "Technical" vocabulary is different from common vocabulary. [View All]

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Speck Tater Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Dec-15-10 04:44 PM
Response to Reply #36
45. "Technical" vocabulary is different from common vocabulary.
Does the word "theory" mean the same thing to the layman as it means to a physicist? No, it does not. But BOTH definitions are correct and both are in the dictionary.

However, when a scientist argues with a laymen about what "theory" means they will go around in circles forever, just like we appear to be going around in circles in this thread.

So let's back up a step and define the word "meaning"

Is "meaning" something determined by the dictionary by way of common usage,


Is "meaning" something determined by a group of specialists for use within a narrow field of discourse?

If we agree on "meaning" as determined within a narrow field of discourse then "atheist" means only, and exactly, "lack of belief in god or gods" and admits of the possibility that such god or gods may exist.

If we agree on "meaning" as determined by common usage then "atheist" has two widely accepted interpretations which include both the narrow technical sense above and the sense of a positive belief in the non-existence of god or gods.

In common use the second definition is the more popularly held among average people. When used in its narrow, technical sense, and among educated people, the first, more literal, definition is the more widely held.

In other words, to quote my earlier list of definitions on the subject:

Atheism is commonly defined as the position that there are no deities. (common usage) It can also mean the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. (Technical usage) A broader definition is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist. (etymological definition)

So we are all agreeing about what we are saying, we are just disagreeing about what words to use, and that disagreement is entirely due to the failure on our part to distinguish between the broad, common usage definition of the word and the narrow technical definition of the word.

So we are not actually disagreeing at all. We are just, all of us, being too casual in our assumptions about what register we are speaking in; common, or technical. I assume the common register. That draws criticism from those who assume that I have assumed technical register.

When we assume...

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