More on Absolutes, Qualifying Claims, and Addressing some Objections


Designated; Interplanetary Space Unicorn

As the debate continues, I decided to respond directly to those who have said I am “shifting the goal posts” or trying to “play semantic games.”

Neither is true. I am following the basic logic of how you qualify the claims, which is why I linked to a college text book on how to argue properly. I’ve taught argumentation and rhetoric in the past, so I am quite familiar with the subject.

So, let me respond to some of the comments.

A theist wrote in saying:

I think you are trying to be too clever and falling over yourself in the process. There is absolutely nothing conditional about the sentence “there are no absolutes”.

This is true. We have no context to supply any conditions of not having any absolutes, therefore we cannot qualify the claim as an absolute one. More on this in a minute. Our friend goes on to say:

You are merely saying that you can be lazy about what you are meaning to say because you can always go back and move the goalposts by saying “that is not what I meant and it is the listeners fault for not abiding by the meanings that I have personally assigned to English words and sentences even though it contradicts standard English”.

No, this is all besides the point. I am not talking about semantics here. I am informing how one goes about qualifying a claim when they want to make a conditional statement, such as, there are *always green apples at the store or there are *never green apples at the store or there are *sometimes green apples as the store.

So again, “no” means “none” which is as absolute as it gets. I think you are being a little dishonest since you very well know that saying there is “absolutely none” of something has the same meaning as there are “no” somethings.

It is unclear from the context whether or not “no” in the sentence “there are no absolutes” means not any or hardly any, since the word ‘no’ can and does contain both meanings (as a determiner). None, on the other hand, specifically means not any, i.e. by no amount at all (in its adverbial form).

This only seeks to support my claim that the sentence is a general statement. We can read “no” as either not any or hardly any. In order to know which meaning we are to assume we have to ask what are the conditions being expressed here? This requires us to have a greater context beyond the claim itself.

As it is we still do not know if “there are no absolutes” is *always the case, *never the case, or merely *sometimes the case. Hence the need to qualify the claim.

Subsequently, an absolute statement would look something like this: “there are *always no absolutes” or, to rephrase it without the negative, “there are never any absolutes.”

This is an absolute claim, because the conditional *never any absolutes is met.

Suffice to say, without qualifying the sentence “There are no absolutes” as sometimes, rarely, always, or never no absolutes we cannot consider it an absolute claim.

Moreover, without this necessary qualification to claim the sentence is making an absolute claim, the assumption that the sentence “There are no absolutes” itself somehow qualifies as an absolute claim is rendered false.

Our theist friend didn’t like my answers, naturally, and went on to say:

Shifting the posts and saying that there is a “lack” of something conveys a different meaning than there is “none” of something. Surely you know this? These terms do not have the same meaning and cannot be interchanged. “No’ or “none” does not equate to “lack”. That’s nonsense.

I have not shifted the goal posts. I am merely stating that the statement “there are no absolutes” denotes a lack of absolutes in the same way that the sentence “there are no unicorns” denotes a lack of unicorns.

That is all it states. The sentence “there are no absolutes” is a general statement about a lack of absolutes. It doesn’t provide any conditions for us to qualify this lack of absolutes as an absolute claim.

What I mean by this is that we do not know what possible conditions there are regarding the existence of unicorns no more so than we know the conditions of the existence of absolutes minus any context to determine these conditions.

Which is why we must qualify the statement if we want to make it an absolute claim. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, is it always the case that there are absolutely no unicorns, i.e. is it true that there are never any unicorns? 

Having not qualified it as an absolute claim, however, it is falsely assumed that it *always follows that there are never any unicorns; falsely assumed because this condition of *always is merely assumed after the fact but not because it has been in any sense qualified, hence the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy is revealed.

Likewise, it is falsely assume that it *always follows that there are no absolutes, which is fallacious for the same reasons. The absolute condition of *always has been assumed post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

The mistake is to import the absolute condition of always into the claim “there are no absolutes” and read an otherwise general claim as an absolute one, since we do not know if the lack of unicorns is something that is always true, sometimes true, or rarely true.

Another writer chimed in, saying:

I have to disagree, Tristan … You are definitely implying that there are no, none absolutes by that statement.

See, this is the problem. “There are no absolutes” does mean “not any absolutes,” this is true. But that, once again, is merely a general statement because “not any absolutes” is not the same as “never any absolutes.” The prior being a general claim the latter being an absolute claim. I keep on emphasizing this point, because it seems to be the point everyone keeps missing.

Let’s say I have a basket full of oranges. If I said, “there are no apples in this basket” it would be a correct claim, but it would be wrong to assume that there are *never any apples to be found in my basket. Maybe tomorrow I will buy apples and place them in the basket.

This is why it is a general statement about a lack of apples in my basket, not that there are never any apples in my basket, which is the absolute condition of *always having no apples.

If there were no apples in all of existence, i.e. never any apples, then I could never have any apples in my basket. That not being the case, however, there may sometimes be apples in my basket. Hence, the sentence “there are no apples in my basket” is a general claim about the lack of apples in my basket. Not an absolute claim that there are never any apples in my basket ergo no apples in my basket.

If you want to say there are *never any apples in my basket, like there are never any absolutes, then we need a context which will allow us to determine the conditions which will allow us to qualify the claim as such. But as it is, saying there are no apples in my basket is just a general statement about not having any apples in my basket, just as saying there are no absolutes is a general statement about not having any absolutes.

Our friend gives us a nice analogy, which I will relay in full, because it actually helps to demonstrate my point for me.

If I say, “There are no unicorns.” I mean there is a full count of ZERO unicorns. To counteract that point might be, “Well, there *might* be unicorns on another planet,” which absolutely might be true, but is absurd and pointless.

Granted that it means that “There are no unicorns within my limited knowledge of life in the universe,” but now it becomes rather lackluster.

By changing the scenario, and therefore context, adding that there *may be space unicorns, you have attempted to qualify the sentence “there are no unicorns” as “there are *sometimes no unicorns.”

This actually goes a long way to prove my point. Again, claiming there are *sometimes no unicorns, because there could be space unicorns (context), is different than claiming there are *always no unicorns (minus any context).

The question isn’t on whether or not the scenario is absurd, but whether or not the claim has been qualified as an absolute claim.

Since the claim hasn’t been qualified as an absolute, the theist is ignoring the context, neglecting to qualify the claim, and then assuming that it *always holds that there are never any absolutes. This, of course, is fallacious, because as you pointed out, there could possibly be space unicorns.

However, there *are* absolutes if you want to play semantics. If you go into outer space without protective gear, you will absolutely die.

That’s technically not what semantics means, but I get your meaning. However, notice you have supplied a context which makes it easy to qualify since you supply the conditions for doing so. Since we know that space has no oxygen (context) then we know that minus any protective gear we will absolutely die (condition), since we need oxygen to breathe (qualification).

The point I am making is that the theist, as they employ the sentence “there are no absolutes” hasn’t done any of this.

I think the term “absolutes”, mostly used to describe such concepts as “morality” in these discussions, is a dead end from either side.

The problem is that when we are dealing with conceptual ideas, like absolutes, we don’t know what it would mean to say there are never no absolutes or always no absolutes without a given context or any conditions to qualify the claim as an absolute claim. Normally concepts require specific contexts to make since, because they are dependent on the surrounding grammar, as concepts can only arise from ideas (thoughts) expressed through language.

As such, the only way to think about concepts is to think about how they are being used in the greater context of their usage within the surrounding grammar and language.
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