Over at BiblicalTrinitarian.com, I’ve recently published part 4a of my ongoing series looking at various maneuvers and tricks used by enemies of the faith in their argumentation (i.e. Rhetorical Tricks of the Enemies Trade). Here is an excerpt of the article, which you can read in its entirety here.
An Apologetical Reflection on Dialogical Rules of Engagement
Language use varies not only from one group to another, but also from context to context. Academicians, for instance, generally seek to constrain subjective, emotive language as much as possible in order to focus their readers’ attention on the content being argued either for or against. Outside of academic circles, generally most of us employ subjective, emotive language, interestingly, to the same end. Persuasive interpersonal communication, in fact, seems to rest largely on a speaker’s apparent subjectivity and empathy, whereas non-persuasive communication of this kind is deficient in apparent subjectivity and empathy. Within their respective contexts, granting that interlocutors are aware of the context’s rules of engagement (e.g. whether they are engaging in a specialized academic disputation or an informal conversational debate), these modes of communication are not problematic. However, if one is unaware of the rules of engagement, then he is bound to misunderstand the meaning of his interlocutor’s assertions.
For example, the word “all” can function in several different ways in any given informal context. Informal contexts often use the word all hyperbolically, as a means of emphasis. Contextually, assertions of the variety “All x are y!” typically are not quantitatively precise, but serve to emphasize a large quantity of some particular “y.” “All” would mean “most,” not each and every individual x. More precise informal contexts may involve the use of “all” in conjunction with a place, signifying not the entirety of that place’s population, but the entirety of the people representative of that place. The sentence “All New Yorkers are Yankees fans,” for instance, does not mean each and every New Yorker is a fan of the Yankees. Rather, it means that all native New York baseball fans are Yankees fans. The quanitative all here is precise, but it is limited to a subset of the absolute All in the tautologous assertion “All permanent New York residents are New Yorkers.” The precise use of the word all, in other words, is shown to be relative to a particular subset of the complete set of permanent New York residents.
Oftentimes, as has been mentioned already, a failure to properly interpret the informal use of, for instance, the universal quantifier all can lead to much confusion between interlocutors. Informal discourse must be interpreted according to the rules of engagement employed by interlocutors. As regards formal discourse, similarly, the rules of engagement must be understood if proper interpretation is to be achieved. What is key to achieving understanding between interlocutors, then, is both parties understanding the rules of engagement. Are they engaged in informal discourse? Then set-A rules apply. Are they engaged in formal discourse? Then set-B rules apply. The broader categories of formal and informal, moreover, can be further refined so as to ensure that formal scientific discourse, for instance, is not interpreted according to the rules of engagement in formal philosophical, or literary contexts.
To put the matter simply: The words we use typically have several meanings, and these meanings are native to particular contexts. The contexts here refer to (i.)a general dialogical context one is engaging in (e.g. Formal vs. Informal), (ii.)the sub-context of that general context (e.g. Formal-Philosophical vs. Informal-Philosophical), and (iii.)the narrow context between specific interlocutors (e.g. Formal-Philosophical-Ontological vs. Informal-Philosophical-Ontological). With this in mind, we may be able to better articulate our own arguments, as well as better understand which criticisms against our argumentation are legitimate and which are not.
The explicit purpose of this article is to better elucidate and, therefore, understand illegitimate criticisms of theologically sound argumentation, i.e. criticisms that ignore dialogical contexts.