Friday, May 29, 2020

Definitions of "Murder" and Anything Else

I recently had a discussion with someone who insisted this: when and where abortion is legal, it cannot be "murder" because murder only has a legal definition, 'illegal killing.' 

I responded that "murder" also has a moral definition, at least "wrongful killing" or the "wrongful killing of a person."

This person denied this definition, insisting that anyone who understood "murder" this way is just mistaken.

How can this dispute be resolved? In general, how can disputes about definitions be resolved?

One response to the question involves thinking about what definitions are, or how to define "definition."

In many cases, definitions report on how people use a term: if people use some words to express an idea, they are defining that idea, at least in one way (since terms sometimes have multiple definitions).

So then how do you find out how people define a word? You can do a survey! So that's what I did:
So, at least many people are willing to define "murder" as wrongful killing.

If they are mistaken, how exactly could that be shown, if it could?

First, you could read an encyclopedia entry on definitions also. And you could check our discussion of attempts to define, say, human embryos as "babies" or "children", or watch this video on definitions below.

Definitions define a topic, of course, and definitions often dictate what we need to argue about and what we can let go, sometimes for the sake of argument. So the more you know about definitions, the better you can engage the issues that define the topic. If you'd like more sources on how to evaluate definitions, especially for terms related to ethical issues, let me know!

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