The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance

Irish Pennants: The Nature of Flawed versus Sound Definitions

A definition is a form of argument, which once successful, becomes a predicate assumption. And like an argument, a definition may be evaluated for its basis, quality, and outcome. These are handy guidelines which the ethical skeptic may employ to keep a close watch on his definitions, so as to improve the overall value and clarity of his delivery. Altering of definitions is a subtle but oft used tactic of those seeking to obscure information and control thought. Such flawed definitions can be called Irish Pennants. They highlight the difference between a well vetted versus a casually worn science, logic or philosophy.

midshipman K Archer plebe summerWhen standing at attention during Plebe Summer at the United States Naval Academy (the grueling summer of initiation before commencement of your Freshman year), one quickly learns the difference between a uniform which is immaculate, and one which has received ‘gigs.’ Being gigged for uniform violations can result in a number of demerits of varying magnitude. Instances such as when your shirt and trouser lines are not aligned with your belt buckle edge (gig line), or your cover has smiles in it, or you have tiny threads hanging from the sewn seams of your pants or shirt, these things can get a Midshipman in hot water until he or she earns off the associated demerits. Of a particularly frustrating nature is the violation wherein one misses tiny little threads of material hanging from the seams in one’s uniform. These threads are known as ‘Irish Pennants.’ Nail clippers are useful in resolving these seam flaws. Moreover, if one is farsighted it is best to scour your uniform well with your glasses on, prior to any uniformed inspection. Irish Pennants are one of the telltale little indicators which reveal the difference between a well vetted and a casually worn uniform.

The casual wearing of science, logic and philosophy can be detected through a similar manner of silent diligent inspection.

Such diligence and discipline applies to the crafting of a logical calculus as well. It makes sense to keep watch over the means of persuasion, locution and argument one is making – but do we often carry such diligence into the definition coherence of our underlying terms? Social Skeptics appreciate a condition where the uniform of the recipient of authorized one-liner wisdom, is not vetted to the point where the listener can tell when they have been played by means of terminology. The making of an argument is a set of propositions expressed with the intent of persuading through reasoning. In an argument, a subset of propositions, called premises, constraints and predicates, provides support for some other proposition called the conclusion. One of the predicates to an argument is the definition basis for the terms which are employed in its locution. Failure to keep watch over your definitions can result in confusion or a whole host of even worse faulty portrayals of science, logic and philosophy.

puzzle definition 1A definition is an ‘argument which has been brought to concurrence.’ A definition allows two parties to rely upon a stable foundation of understanding and agreement, which allows knowledge development to continue (see Wittgenstein Error and Its Faithful Participants). A definition is a agreement among parties that the context, position, role, logical critical path and enlightening nature of the term has been revealed effectively in discussion. Social skeptics will willingly abrogate such tacit agreement, presuming that they are so smart that they are exempted from this level of integrity requirement. They will game lexicon, amphibology, equivocation and meaning in order to win an argument. This is the psychology of an arguer who has been taught that they must win at all costs.

Ethical skepticism demands that one watch for the characteristic traits which can improve or weaken an argument’s underpinning lexicon. This can be seen through the oft used analogy of a puzzle. When solving a classic die-cut puzzle, one is not solving one problem, rather three problems simultaneously. Three challenges which do not allow for coherence unless all three problem solutions agree independently on the final state of coherence, per below:

puzzle definition 2A puzzle (sans an available reference picture) consists of three layers of logic:

First, resolving the interlocking lexicon (fit) of piece shapes which one is trying to employ,

Second, ascertaining the overall single integral form (shape) that the pieces assemble into and

Third, realizing the argument or picture depicted on the puzzle pieces (image) which one is trying to bring into coherence.

Puzzle Pitfalls

A. If one does not care about the integrity of the first and second solution layers in a puzzle, then the third solution (the image) can be pretty much be a matter of arranging the puzzle pieces in any fashion we (or someone else) chooses, in order to depict any answer we desire.

B. If one is given a solution image in advance, then regardless of whether or not the advance-knowledge image is indeed correct or incorrect, the puzzle solver will tweak the interlocking portion of the puzzle pieces: definitions, persuasions, locutions and arguments, so as to effect that picture and no other (see The Appeal to Skepticism Fallacy).

Unless we can as an ethical skeptic, envision the disarray in the underlying structure of words and meaning and how to resolve such disarray, we may fall prey to the picture we have been given or have been trained to see. An example of just such a terminology misemployment in order to deceive, is shown below, in Irish Pennants 1a – 4e.

Arguments are built and are sustained on just such a platform of established coherence. Therefore, in order to corrupt the processes of science, without manifestly tampering with data, research freedom or the scientific method itself, all one has to undertake is a means by which one corrupts the shape or interlocking fit of the puzzle pieces which are used to assemble the image; that is to say the terminology which underpins the argument, the means by which a threatening or disfavored idea can be brought into coherence.

By tampering with terminology fit, one can render an argument obtuse, and thereby preempt disliked realizations.

This is enacted inside what is called a Descriptive Wittgenstein Error.

Wittgenstein Error (Descriptive)

Describable: I cannot observe it because I refuse to describe it.

Corruptible: Science cannot observe it because I have crafted language and definition so as to preclude its description.

/philosophy : knowledge development : symbolism and language/ – the contention or assumption that science has no evidence for or ability to measure a proposition or contention, when in fact it is only a flawed crafting of language and definition, limitation of language itself or lack of a cogent question or (willful) ignorance on the part of the participants which has limited science and not in reality science’s domain of observability.

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” ~Wittgenstein

puzzle definition 3However, there is another approach to pseudo-scientific control of thought, and that is the case where an agenda carrying agent realizes that a definition placeholder is mandatory and simply conducting Wittgenstein Descriptive blocking will not be seen as ethical or acceptable. In this case, the agenda carrying agent will attempt to isolate a threatening term as a neologism. Alternatively, if they cannot accomplish this, they will preemptively assign a false, correct-ish sounding version of the definition in advance of its term’s common employment. This is called an Irish Pennant error. It is a term which does not seem to fit the logic, structure or context of all the terms with which it is intended to interplay. Such a term is a pathway to equivocation and ambiguity – useful tools in the process of assembling propaganda.

In order to avoid an Irish Pennant error – to thwart obfuscation by means of terminology tampering – the ethical skeptic must examine the employment of a definition in terms of its integrity, along four characteristics of its effective employment:  Context framed, Isolate in nature, Critical Path in role, and effective in Reducing complicated-ness.

Irish Pennant

/philosophy : knowledge development : symbolism and language/ – a term, language or definition which is non sequitur with, fails to reduce complicated-ness of, is equivocal in meaning inside or otherwise lacks integrity with either the philosophy or remaining set of definitions inside its contended context. A tattered, overlapping or incomplete definition which has been altered through the lens of an agenda, rendering it at least partly incoherent with broader philosophy, or leaving gaps in the Wittgenstein (Descriptive) sufficient understanding of a subject.

Keys to Avoiding an Irish Pennant Error¹                   Example: The current pop-skeptic definition of the term “Pseudoscience”

1.  Terminology Definition Context

a.  Is its articulation in a colloquial or precise expression?                                                                                                                    Colloquial

b.  Is it constrained to an accurate context to the discussion, observation or problem?                                                                             True

c.  Does it possess coherence inside the presented context?                                                                                                                      False

d.  Is its non-applicability readily identified/identifiable?                                                                                                                               False

2.  Terminology Definition Isolate Nature

a.  Is it framed in objectively based terminology?                                                                                                                                          False

b.  Is it framed in employment by a knowledgeable but neutral party?                                                                                                       False

c.  Is it consistent with established understandings of equivalent context definitions?                                                                              True

d.  Does it fit as a puzzle piece inside a cohesive lexicon? Featuring:

       i. a minimum of overlap with other terms.                                                                                                                                                False

       ii. a minimum of multiple contexts of application.                                                                                                                                    False

       iii. fulfills a role in philosophy, logic or science which is otherwise vacant.                                                                                           True

3.  Terminology Definition Critical Path

a.  Does it have integrity with its co-contended philosophy?                                                                                                                        False

b.  Is it salient to the argument contended?                                                                                                                     Relevant but not Salient

c.  Does it complete a logical calculus which underpins an argument?                                                                                                       False

d.  Does it allow others then to understand sufficiently so as to be equipped to replicate this logical calculus?                                    False

4.  Terminology Definition Reductive Nature

a.  Does the term help frame a more clear argument?                                                                                                                                   False

b.  Does the term help improve the nature of a scientific observation?                                                                                                        False

c.  Does the term help improve the effectiveness and salience of a scientific question?                                                                            False

d.  Does its framing and employment improve understanding, or only seek to leverage control of a discussion?                   Seeks Control

e.  Does its framing reduce an alternative set or complicated-ness of a scientific, logical or philosophical question?                            False

It behooves the ethical skeptic to constantly be on guard for employment of terms which can be used to deceive. People love easy reads. But easy reads can be used as a tool of propaganda. Be cognizant of Irish Pennant terms, plied inside of easy or ‘simple’ answers, and be alerted when this is used to excess. Question context, isolate nature, critical path of employment and the reductive effectiveness of each and every instance where a social skeptic has selected an imprecise term or weapon word in the process of condemning a subject they do not like.

Ignore the anger of the social skeptics. Integrity in your words, will lend to integrity in your method, which will end with integrity in your soul.

TES Signature


¹  These characteristics/features regarding definition stem from combining the input from a variety of resources too numerous to list and too convoluted to assign credit to one single source. The features are modified so that they all mutually reinforce each other, provide clarity and a commonality of language inside the contended definition framework. As such, these definitions are the work of The Ethical Skeptic, however may contain phrases common to similar definitions provided by other authors or resources.  Therefore, as definitions in the public domain and in common use and understanding – they are not required to be reference sourced.

January 13, 2016 - Posted by | Argument Fallacies, Ethical Skepticism | , , ,

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