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Being Precise with our Terms

I saw a comment on an organization’s post on Facebook calling them bigots. The commentator went on to define bigotry as “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself”. Disregard the fact that the comments and arguments were irrelevant to the original post made by the organization. Ignore the identities of the subjects and the substance of the posts and comments as well, because they are irrelevant here. The point I want to make is the necessity of critical thinking, more specifically being precise and consistent with our terms when making arguments, and not whether the commentator was correct or not.

Too often we like to call people names when we disagree with their views and do not provide proper arguments (which includes good evidence) to support our own views. We’ll call them idiots, capitalist pigs, libtards, devil worshipers, bigots and the list of explicatives and pejoratives goes on. We do this for several reasons, but mainly because we feel attacked, don’t have the evidence to sufficiently argue for our deeply held beliefs and views, and are unable to have civil and cogent arguments. To clarify, argument here means to provide evidence in defense of one’s views. It does not mean to fight which is what typically takes place on social media outlets.

Let’s assume this is a proper definition for “bigotry”. A Google search quickly supports that this is at least the basic and common definition that most people agree upon. A more specific and sophisticated definition can be provided, but this was the definition provided. So, let’s play out the argument:

A holds to a certain view.

B disagrees with that view and calls them a bigot.

C questions B’s assessment that A is guilty of bigotry.

B defines bigotry as “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself” as evidence that A’s view is bigoted.

Hopefully, you’ve caught the irony. Remember, the views and identities of A and B are unimportant here. They can be discussed elsewhere. What is important are B’s definition of bigotry and argument that A fits that definition due to their view. This should bring to light the importance of good critical thinking. Here are at least two reasons to support this:

1. Not being Precise with Terms and Definitions Weakens Your Argument

B’s definition of bigotry is broad and shallow. It encompasses everybody and implicates them as a bigot. They disagree with A’s view to the point they cannot tolerate it (i.e., allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference). They feel the need to voice their view in the hopes that others will ostracize A or that A and others will renounce their view. Therefore, they are a bigot because they have shown intolerance towards those who hold a different opinion.

We all will disagree with others views throughout our lifetime. We can’t all be bigots. Otherwise, bigotry wouldn’t hold the weight and meaningfulness it deserves and was intended in B’s argument. Of course, there are certain views we do need to be intolerant towards (e.g., racism or eugenics). A better definition of B’s argument might have been: showing hate or disdain towards others or their views and opinions due to unfounded reasons. White supremacy is a good example of bigotry. There is no scientific evidence that supports the idea that “whites” (or Caucasians) are superior than “blacks” (and/or other non-Caucasians), and philosophical arguments for racism fail. Therefore, white supremacy and any other form of racism is unfounded and rightfully declared as bigotry. Discrimination and hate towards someone based on the color of their skin is unfounded and terrible and should be rebuked.

2. If it’s an Opinion, then what does it Matter?

I have used the term “view” in our discussion instead of “opinion” for the specific reason to be precise with my terms. Opinions typically don’t deal in facts. Opinions are often how a person feels about something. Views, on the other hand, are conclusions one comes to based on facts and logical arguments. For example, it is my opinion that Dr. Pepper is a superior soda than Coca Cola. It has a better taste and smoother fizz than Coca Cola to me. It is my view that the universe had a beginning based upon scientific, philosophical, and theological evidence. There is no point in arguing with each other about whether Dr. Pepper or Coca Cola is better. We’ll each go on drinking our preferred soda and live in harmony. We can have a legitimate conversation and debate on whether the universe had a beginning, though.

When opinions become issues of serious debate, then we have stooped to a foolishness. While I prefer Dr. Pepper, I would never fathom the idea of incarcerating or committing genocide against Coca Cola drinkers. So what if someone else prefers to drink Coca Cola? It doesn’t change anything about my life as long as they don’t try to shut down Dr. Pepper factories. Then we will have a problem. Now, I wouldn’t argue for incarceration or genocide of those whose views I disagree with either. Only for specific crimes such as murder, which it is my view that murder is wrong, should someone be incarcerated. But many of our views can be debated because we’re dealing in facts and arguments, and some views should not be tolerated.


B’s assessment of A’s view might be correct. I was not trying to argue it was or wasn’t here. Instead, I hoped to have shown the importance of being precise and consistent with our terminology when arguing for our view. B was not and would have made a better argument by providing a more sophisticated and precise definition of bigotry. Scientists and philosophers will define their terms in their writings to help limit any confusion of what they’re discussing and arguing. Words tend to have slightly different meaning and connotations in certain contexts. Therefore, let us endeavor together even if we’re on different sides of the aisle to think more critically by being precise and consistent with our terminology.