UCTAA churchlight

Site Search via Google

Discussion 3 to Talk Back 74
It's just being pedantic with semantics

by Incitatus

To add to this discussion (or any other,) please use the Contact form.

First a word of warning: The philosophers among us are likely to take much glee in tearing apart the flawed logic of this now somewhat notorious thought experiment (it has been doing the rounds on the net for sometime). Basically, it’s what we call being pedantic with semantics, and throwing a straw man in for good measure. The main flaw is that neither party defines their terminology, rendering all the arguments presented null and void. When you accept, as every dictionary does, that cold and darkness are defined specifically as the sensation of caused by lack of heat and light respectively, you see that the student's argument is completely redundant; it is not even an argument. It only appears like an argument because the professor insists that ‘cold’ and ‘darkness’ do exist of their own right. Which of course is where the straw man comes in, because no philosopher (I assume the professor is a philosopher) would ever make such a dubious claim without first settling on specific definitions of ‘cold’, ‘darkness’ and 'existence' in the context of the objective and subjective. But now I’m being pedantic with semantics.

Anyway, as it is I think I can argue from a biological point of view that both ‘cold’ and ‘darkness’ do in fact 'exist'. At least, subjectively speaking. You see, whether something exists or not from a person's point of view is dictated entirely by their sensory perception. When temperature exceeds a certain level it stimulate a particular sensory receptor called TrpV, which subsequently causes a particular set of nerves to communicate the sensation of 'hot' to the brain. When temperature drops below a certain level it stimulates another receptor located on a different subset of sensory neurons called TrpM. Now, although you can argue, tentatively, that cold is simply a lack of heat and thus does not 'exist' in a material sense, what you can't argue is that a person's sensation via their cold-detecting neurons, does not exist. It does, and the fact that the ‘existence’ of the cold sensation is brought about by an ‘absence of heat’ is neither here nor there. It is a physical sensation born of a physical reaction and interaction of biological molecules to an absence of heat. Given that cold has only ever been used to describe a temperature from the subjective view of a person, whether it exists or not must also be determined from a purely subjective, rather than objective (as the student tries to do), viewpoint. Case in point; the TrpM receptor is also stimulated by menthol, which is why you get that ‘cold’ sensation in your mouth when you eat a breath mint. We still call that sensation ‘cold’ despite the fact that it is not brought about by a lack of heat. Therefore, ‘cold’ is a purely subjective term that doesn’t even always mean ‘absence of heat’! Objectively, 'cold' has no value nor definition, and therefore the statement that it doesn't exist is again redundant.

Evil, incidentally, is also purely subjective (unless you believe evil lurks in the depths of space light years from intelligent life). However, unlike cold, evil is more difficult to define specifically. Whereas the definition of 'cold' is fairly uniform to everyone (except macho men and people with thermosensory nerve disorders), the definition of evil has yet to be fully understood. In fact, many people argue that it is impossible to define.

So in fact, even from a subjective viewpoint it is far easier to argue that cold ‘exists’ than it is to argue that evil does.

Hope that helps.