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The Appeal to Definition Fallacy: When People Misuse the Dictionary

Modern dictionaries

The structure and use of dictionaries have changed as new technologies developed.

  • Easily available online dictionaries make it easier for people to use and cherry-pick preferred definitions in their arguments.
  • Dictionaries can be quickly updated with new words or new meanings of existing words.
  • Dictionaries are able to list a wider range of meanings and connotations.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Virtue signaling
Virtue signaling

Virtue signaling means speaking or behaving in a way that’s meant to prove a person's good moral values.

If a person affirms on social media that they fully support a specific cause, just because they want to show others how caring they are, that person is virtue signaling.

The overall negative connotation of virtue signaling

Usually, ‘virtue signaling’ has a negative meaning (even if there are a few situations where it is likely to lead to meaningful positive outcomes).

This behavior is generally defined as being mainly driven by the desire to signal your good moral values, regardless of whether it leads to a meaningful outcome or not.

Engaging in virtue signaling

Individuals can engage in virtue signaling, as can groups, companies, or governments.

Someone might even engage in virtue signaling in private, by saying things that are meant to convince themselves of their own good character.

The empathy gap
The empathy gap

The empathy gap is a cognitive bias that causes people to struggle to understand mental states that are different from their own.

When someone is happy or angry, they struggle to understand the perspective of someone who is in a different mental state, whether that person is their future self or someone else.

Examples of empathy gaps

The empathy gap causes us to misjudge our own emotions and behaviors. Examples include overestimating our ability to stay composed in a stressful event, overestimating the likelihood that we can control our desire for an addictive substance, such as coffee, or underestimating how much our feelings for someone affected our judgment in the past.

The empathy gap can cause people to be unprepared for situations and act differently to what they would ideally prefer.

Types of empathy gaps
  • Cold-to-hot empathy gaps. When someone is in a cold (emotionally neutral) state, they have trouble understanding someone in a hot (emotional state). A calm person might be unable to predict how they will act when they're upset.
  • Hot-to-cold empathy gaps. Someone in this state might be passionate about a topic but fail to understand how other people feel that are not passionate about it.
  • Intrapersonal bias. An interpersonal empathy gap occurs when someone struggles to consider their own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Interpersonal bias. An interpersonal empathy gap occurs when people battle to consider someone else's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Retrospective bias. A retrospective empathy gap occurs when people fail to understand why they acted emotionally in the past.
  • A prospective bias. A prospective empathy gap occurs when people fail to predict the future behavior of someone who doesn't care about the same thing as much.
  • The outgroup empathy gap. This is a cognitive bias that causes people to be more empathic towards members of their ingroup than toward people in their outgroup.
False equivalence

It is a logical fallacy and it occurs when someone incorrectly asserts that two or more things are equal because they share some characteristics, regardless of the notable differences between them.

For example, saying that cats and dogs are the same type of animal because they're both mammals and have a tail.

The problem with false equivalence
  • The equivalence exaggerates the degree of similarity. I.e, stating that two people share a specific personality trait, but ignoring that they differ in other aspects of this trait.
  • The equivalence exaggerates the importance of the similarity. I.e, focusing on a personality trait that two people share while ignoring that many other people also share this trait.
  • The equivalence ignores important differences.
  • The equivalence ignores differences in orders of magnitude. 
Responding to a false equivalence
  • Show that the similarities between the things being equated are exaggerated, overemphasized, or oversimplified.
  • Highlight the differences between the things being equated. 
  • Explain why these differences are more significant than related similarities.
  • Provide counterexamples.
  • Ask your opponent to justify why they believe that their equivalence is valid, and then demonstrate the issues with the reasoning they provide.