Gay Marriage and Definitions

July 12, 2006 at 12:28 am 1 comment

I’ve a number of people make what I would term a definitional argument against gay marriage, one of them has even been a philosopher (Burgess-Jackson), unfortunately; a philosopher should know better.

The definitional argument states that since the definition of marriage involves a single man, and a single woman. And so from that, we can conclude (it is argued) that marriage is a union of a man and women. So, gay marriage is a misnomer.

First, the definitional argument trades on a type of definition known as a descriptive definition. Descriptive definitions describe how a word is used in contemporary society, and perhaps also how it has been used. However, this is the fallacy of non-sequitor. Why does it follow that because marriage has been defined by people, and it currently used as a word which means a union of straight people that it should continue to be used in this way.

That is why the definitional argument also commits the fallacy of equivocation going from a descriptive definition to a normative definition–because the word marriage is used in a certain way, it should continue to be used in this way. But it confuses two different notions of definitions, what is the case and what should be the case. There are numerous cases of things are and shouldn’t be, and things that should be and aren’t.

So from this equivocation we can conclude that gay marriage makes little sense? But that is yet to be established, marriage should be a certain way because that is way it has always been?! That is simply begging the question.


Entry filed under: general philosophy, social philosophy.

Nominalism and Laws of Nature Anarchy and Political Philosophy

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. SAS  |  July 23, 2006 at 2:00 am

    Definitional arguments like that are simply wrong: you could by a man a hundred and fifty years ago and now buying a man is excluded from the “definition” of “purchasing”. A definitional argument must only be accepted, in my view, when the general use of a language impedes (for grammatical reasons) logically the sentence. In my opinion marriage is a contract that should be open to al people and that would not be politicized. A man could get married with a sheep if he (and the sheep) wish!.


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