*Maybe it's because of my work current work as an ESL instructor that I am a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of discussions that do not introduce precise definitions. If I would start lecturing my students about "the self" without explaining what it means, they would either ask "what is that - self ?" or just slip into apathy. Well, I guess that I am going to do the latter for the time being.
I thought you were a bit more philosophically sophisticated than you appear to be. Remember Wittgenstein? Tell me, now. Which is more enlightening, an attempt to define "game" in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, or a careful description of the network of family resemblances that link all the different kinds of things called games?
I also recommend George Lakoff's _Women, Fire and Dangerous Things_, in which you will find wealth of empirical evidence demonstrating that classical logic dependent on taxonomies composed of categories defined in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions are both a highly unnatural and highly misleading way to think about things. As a teacher you would be better advised to focus on prototypes and exceptions than definitions that leave you and your students trapped in a maze of scholastic logic-chopping.
This isn't to say that definitions can't be useful. One must remember, however, the warning so nicely summarized in the opening paragraph of _Tricks of the Trade_, which is largely a lovely manual of all sorts of different ways to think about things.
"Undergraduates at the University of Chicago, when I was a student there, learned to deal with all difficult conceptual questions by saying, authoritatively, 'Well, it all depends on how you define your terms.' True enough, but it didn't help us much, since we didn't know anything special about how to do the defining."
He then describes a case in point, drawing on the work of sociology professor Everett C. Hughes, who wrote,
"Almost anyone who uses the term [ethnic group] would say that it is a group distinguishable from thers by one, or some combination of the following: physical characteristics, language, religion, customs, institutions, or 'cultural traits'."
But as Hughes goes on to explain, this approach is ass-backwards.
"An ethnic group is not one because of the degree of measurable or observable difference from other groups; it is an ethnic group, on the contrary, because the people in and the people out of it know that it is one; because both the ins and the outs talk, feel and act as if it were a separate group."
Following a similar line of thought, I find Taylor wise to avoid the pointless exercise of trying to define the self at the start and pursuing instead the line of building on intuitions that something like a self exists and exploring what people in different times and places have said about themselves.
-- John McCreery The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
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