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37 Ways That Words Can Be Wrong

I find a lot of these guidelines to be consistent with my own view. (Especially common and destructive to mental functioning in philosophy is 26.) But, to clarify, this view is one of concepts, not of words, per se. The concept is the actual mental integration for which the word is a conventional symbol. (Different languages assign different words to the same concepts, like "agua" and "water.") Certain concepts can vary from one person/culture to another, but in order to actually be concepts, they must be formed in accordance with a certain method.

A theory of the method of forming concepts is described in Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology by Ayn Rand. I highly recommend this book to anyone who hasn't read it.

The example of "sound" in 15 is a case of a single word representing two different concepts, which can be neatly pried apart. But if the partner in a discussion or opponent in a debate is really using an invalid concept, then I consider it worthwhile to state that the concept is invalid, and to argue over it, rather than simply doing a definition comparison. This is because concepts are not reducible to their definitions. The definition specifies the essential characteristics that set the boundaries of the concept in our current context, but it leaves out a lot of information pertinent to the entities subsumed by the concept.

For example, Aristotle's (and Ayn Rand's) definition of man is "the rational animal." But humans have a lot of other, non-defining characteristics in common (being naturally bipedal, having a single heart, etc). If an alien came to earth that was a rational animal, but had tentacles, claws and two hearts, calling this creature a "man" or "human" would destroy the concept. To protect the integrity of the concept, the definition would have to be a bit more specific; say, "the rational animal that developed on earth."

So, a particular concept's definition depends on the sum of knowledge available at a given time, but the concept itself subsumes the same open-ended set of entities or phenomena in reality, based on their essential similarities.

I think if you understand Ayn Rand's theory of concepts, you will find that a lot of the guidelines on this page will stem from her theory.