The original working title of this post was A teleological perspective on the reconciliation of antinomies in interpersonal interactions and the implications of reconciling ambiguities for clarity of communication and improved understanding, because I wanted something bright and punchy, but ultimately it ended up different. Hope it’s okay.
Notwithstanding the wide range of disparate disciplines involved, our field is characterized above all by endless, circular debate over seemingly-trivial differences in word-meanings. After many years as one of those irritating people who’s always harping on word-meanings, I’ve come around to thinking it’s not the precise use of clearly-defined words that fosters useful communication, but rather the process of reconciling ambiguity. Not the reconciliation itself, if indeed it happens at all, but the process of reconciliation.
If we take antinomy at its meaning in philosophy rather than in law, “a contradiction between two statements, both apparently obtained by correct reasoning”, then a teleological view of debates over word-meanings reveals they serve the function of inviting alternative perspectives, questioning assumptions, sharpening arguments, and broadening understanding. From this viewpoint, debates may actually be the core method of learning, growth, and improvement rather than the childish distraction they appear to be.