Intent and Meaning (Part 3)

Photo Credit: caterpiya via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: caterpiya via Compfight cc

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

There wasn’t supposed to be a part 3 for this series, but one of my readers sent a strongly-worded reaction that meant either he was misreading what I wrote or that I didn’t do a good enough job of explaining it. In any case, I thought it would be a good idea to publish his response alongside my own reactions to his response in order to clarify my point, and so other readers who have similar reactions can also read what I have to say on the matter.

I will be publishing the reader’s comments plus my reaction in dialogue form, so you can immediately see my response to the current point being made.

Comment: These arguments are always a loaded mess. Through manipulation, all you are really saying is the only meaning that really counts is what someone wants to accept. A nugget of truth wrapped around a buttload of lies.

Me: The first sentence is a faulty generalization made to make people think that I am deliberately confusing them — as evidenced also by the last sentence in that paragraph accusing me of wrapping truth “around a buttload of lies.” I want to ask though, what arguments are you referring to when you say “these arguments?” I’m not aware of any other arguments currently in the discussion. Are they “always” a “loaded mess?” Always? That’s a pretty sweeping statement you’re making. It makes you seem knowledgeable though, as if you’ve gone through many similar arguments as mine and have come to conclude that ALL of them are a mess.

But that is an unestablished claim and I would like a list of what other sort of arguments you’re referring to that are ALWAYS a mess.

Comment: The world tolerate used to MEAN that you accepted the person and treated them like a human being. Through manipulation, it has now come to mean that the other person’s views are true, whether or not it really even could be.

Me: I’m not aware of using the word “tolerate” in my article, and not in the fashion that you say it has come to mean,  so I don’t know where this is coming from. If you are just making an independent point though, let me say that I disagree with your statement. To tolerate someone else’s views doesn’t mean that the other person’s views are true or that you affirm them to be true.

In fact, tolerance is not about truth at all but about acceptance of differences. It means that even though I don’t see eye-to-eye with someone else on the matter, I will grant his right to have his own opinion on the matter, and I will treat him with dignity and respect as a human being, however wrong I think his views may be.

Comment: A famous story this reminds me of goes like this:

“Hillary, an amateur genealogical researcher, discovered that her great-great uncle, Remus Rodham, a fellow lacking in character, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows.

On the back of the picture is this inscription: “Remus Rodham; horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.”

In Hillary’s Family History, her staff of professional image consultants cropped Remus’s picture, scanned it, enlarged the image, and edited it with image processing software so that all that’s seen is a head shot.

The accompanying biographical sketch is as follows:

“Remus Rodham was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.”

In the end, a lot of words were used. The truth was the same, but the meaning was manipulated. Remus was still a horse thief.

Me: This shows that you missed the point of the entire article. Your story is a perfect example of an assertion I did NOT make. Determining the meaning of a text is not about manipulating it to get it to mean what you want. In fact, I wrote about this explicitly in part 1 when I said: “Is meaning then determined by the reader? Can the reader then take any piece of literature and then make it mean whatever she wants it to mean? The answer is of course, no, because if you could make anything mean whatever you want, then that would render any text irrelevant. Anyone’s opinion on what a text means could be just as valid as anyone else’s, no matter how absurd…And that in itself is absurd.”

My point was simply that if you want to say the text means this or the text means that, then you have to base your arguments on the text itself, and NOT on an appeal to what the author really meant (for reasons already mentioned in the previous articles).

In fact, I said in part 2 that if someone were to present a weak argument, then I would “dissect his arguments, showing from the text how his interpretation was off the mark, or why his arguments were weak…I would show where his analogies break down, and why [my] interpretation is more on target because paragraph so-and-so supports it, and so on.”

If you notice also, that is exactly what I am doing here. I am quoting from my own text to support my arguments against your comments. I do not simply say, “Well this is what I really meant.” I use the text that I have already “released” to make my case.

If you notice also, I made no effort to manipulate or change your comments. I copied and pasted them as is (except to correct a couple of obvious typos). So what I did and what Hillary’s image consultants did in your example are worlds apart.

So no, sir, I am not talking about manipulation nor am I condoning it. In my arguments and examples there is a presumption of regularity and honesty in one’s search for meaning.

I hope this sheds more light on the matter.

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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