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Semantic dispute

From Academic Kids

A semantic dispute is a disagreement that arises if

  • (1) the parties to the disagreement disagree about whether a particular claim is true,
  • (2) they agree on all material facts, but
  • (3) they disagree on the definitions of a word (or several words) essential to formulating the claim at issue.

The differences in definition of the word or term puts the parties in a state of semantic discord. Consequently, their disagreeing on these definitions explains why there is a dispute at all; briefly, (2) and (3) together explain (1).

It is sometimes held that semantic disputes are not genuine disputes at all. But very often they are regarded as perfectly genuine, e.g., in philosophy. One might well wonder, of course, exactly what makes a genuine dispute.

It is also sometimes held that when a semantic dispute arises, the focus of the debate should switch from the original thesis to the meaning of the terms of which there are different definitions (understandings, concepts, etc.).

One example is the differing set of interpretations of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw "from territories occupied" in the 1967 Six Day War. The government of Israel holds that this phrase does not mean that Israel should withdraw from all such territories, else the Security Council would have said "from the territories occupied".

Other common traps for semantic disputes includes, but are not limited to, the usage of words such as liberal, democrat, conservative, republican, progressive, free, welfare or socialist whose meaning in English, or in the United States, often is quite different from how the similar words are understood in other languages.

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