How To Do Things With Words

I propose some new terminology: left-conflationism and right-conflationism.

Left-conflationism is the error of treating the evils of existing corporatist capitalism as though they constituted an objection to a freed market. Right-conflationism is the error of treating the virtues of a freed market as though they constituted a justification of the evils of existing corporatist capitalism.

Bosses of the Senate

Yes, these are basically just Kevin’s “vulgar liberalism” and “vulgar libertarianism” in new garb. And yes, the new terms sound more awkward and jargony than their predecessors.

But the advantage I claim for them is that they also sound less insulting than their predecessors. Of course neither set of terms entails anything about the etiology of the views it names. Nevertheless, left-conflationism and right-conflationism sound like intellectual mistakes, ones that well-meaning people might fall into; by contrast, vulgar liberalism and vulgar libertarianism sound like character flaws – the outlooks of, well, vulgar people. And to be sure, in many cases they may be. But not all; and we only make it harder for ourselves when our terminology alienates the very people we’re trying to persuade.

I’m not suggesting that we should simply junk the terms “vulgar liberalism” and “vulgar libertarianism.” There’s a time for polemics, and when we want polemical terms it’s handy to have them. But when we’re not engaged in polemics, it’s also handy to have a term for our interlocutors’ position that isn’t a conversation-stopper.

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140 Responses to How To Do Things With Words

  1. smally January 18, 2011 at 12:37 am #

    Hi MBH.

    At your linked post, you write of “Loughner’s inability to see that ‘grammar’ is not only a printed word but also references a concept”.

    How can Loughner be using grammar in the sense of “philosophical grammar” if he’s unable to see it as more than just a “printed word”?

    • MBH January 18, 2011 at 12:52 am #

      He’s not. I say he intends to. After all: he’s talking about the internal universe and the external universe. He’s probably referencing this guy‘s use as an excuse to assassinate someone he hates. But to reference another person’s use of a word is not the same as using their reference.

    • MBH January 18, 2011 at 1:47 am #

      Here‘s a better link to the NY Times discussing the influences on Loughner’s.

    • MBH January 18, 2011 at 2:04 am #

      If there’s any doubt that Loughner doesn’t understand the reference of philosphical grammar, just listen to his video. He’s spouting talking points without an understanding of why they’re supposed to be the case.


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