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Since we have been debating this topic regularly for 11 years, I'll chime in to keep it going.

I do not disagree that definitions have real-world consequences, and I don't think EY was ever trying to imply in his writings that they do not. Of course, if you compress meaning down into an word that stands for multiple characteristics, what characteristics are included in a particular use-case become important when two humans must achieve business together using those definitions.

However, no one is cheated by an ebay seller and is still intellectually confused afterward about the fact -- I mean the fact itself -- that the seller has left out pertinent information. When the one says that the seller sold a blegg that was not a blegg, they are actually asserting that the seller's item did not include important characteristics of bleggness and thus they were cheated. They grasp the problem in the same instant.

If I buy a microwave at an estate sale, I take it home and make sure the electronics aren't fried. If the estate sale organizers tried the microwave and found that it did not work, but sold it anyway and then refused to refund, they are committing fraud by implying a characteristic that was not present, of which they were fully aware. If an Amazon seller sends me a book and it is blindingly obvious that it was stolen (middle school library markings that have not even been crossed out or perhaps marked as a textbook exclusively for an overseas market), then I'm not confused about why I am mad. The item included a detrimental characteristic that was not specified in the listing. (The same essential problem -- added or subtracted characteristics -- in both cases, but this second one is not actually a definition problem -- a stolen book is still fully a "book.")

It is very easy and intuitive for me to think these things about items I have spent my money on, and if a judge ruled that the car I bought online at full market value for a running car was delivered without a motor, but I'm still on the hook for paying full price, "Because the ad never claimed it had a motor or could run," I would not only spend years griping, but all my friends would probably agree I had been cheated by both the seller and the judge.

The point about rationality literature is not particularly to point out where the world and our mental models meet and agree. It's to point out where the world and our mental models clash and break down, and our mental models win (incorrectly), like when we ask, "But is it a blegg!?" not for the sake of a real world dispute, but because the blue, fuzzy, etc. thing can't be gotten out of our mind until we have labeled it and put it to rest.

In other words, you are right but not particularly useful.


If you really wanted to nitpick, you could also point out non-driven wheels on cars. Such a wheel doesn't turn anything useful itself (it is turned but does not turn anything), but it still successfully prevents one end of a vehicle from dragging on the ground, which is its actual purpose. But we're merely amusing ourselves with literalistic counter-examples at this point, as I see you are well aware.