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Comment author: satt 14 November 2014 02:58:46AM 0 points [-]

Sorry, what I meant was, "Heaps as they are currently defined can be said to exist because of vagueness in the definition of what precisely makes something a heap." They can also be said to not exist because of vagueness in the definition of what precisely makes something a heap.

That too sounded confusing/wrong to me on a first reading, but are you saying that because the definition of a heap is vague, there are multiple feasible definitions of a heap, so some people (using one definition) would call a candidate heap a heap and other people (using another definition) would say it isn't a heap? (Assuming I've paraphrased you correctly, I think my formulation is clearer.) I'd agree with that.

Vague terms have an extra layer of social construction though, because rather than just giving a term to a phenomenon, they also introduce a simplification. This makes the constructed aspect more obvious.

Almost all terms introduce a simplification, not just the vague ones. Vagueness does often make social construction more obvious, but for a more mundane reason than simplification: vague terms have a wider array of meanings than non-vague terms, so people are more likely to notice the multiplicity of ways to define a term when it's vague.

Comment author: Elund 14 November 2014 06:01:31AM 0 points [-]

are you saying that because the definition of a heap is vague, there are multiple feasible definitions of a heap, so some people (using one definition) would call a candidate heap a heap and other people (using another definition) would say it isn't a heap?

Not that they are necessarily using multiple definitions, but the common definitions themselves do not specify an exact range in quantity in which a cluster of things could be considered a heap. Two people could disagree about whether something is a heap despite using the same vague definition of "heap". They may be comparing the candidate heap relative to things that they have experienced being called heaps in the past. I suppose you could still treat this as being a difference in their personal definitions of "heap". However, I don't think that if pressed to define "heap", that people would be likely to state an explicit quantity range. They would most likely give vague qualitative definitions. The same person may even use inconsistent definitions at different times or forget to include certain aspects that they would consider to be important defining characteristics. People don't normally think in terms of definitions when classifying things. They usually just classify based on what feels correct, and definitions are after-the-fact attempted explanations of their classifications.

Almost all terms introduce a simplification, not just the vague ones.

Doesn't the introduction of a simplification itself give a term some vagueness, because then you don't know the details of the relevant characteristic, just a qualitative judgment? For "heaps", the simplification is one that keeps the exact quantity obscured while providing a qualitative description instead. Even if you had a different quantity term that, unlike "heap", didn't have fuzzy boundaries, it could still be considered vague in a different sense if multiple quantities could fulfill its definition (assuming an exact quantity really did exist in reality). It would certainly at least be considered somewhat ambiguous. For example, the category "integers" has seemingly clear boundaries, but calling an unknown number an integer is still vague if it doesn't express all the relevant information.

vague terms have a wider array of meanings than non-vague terms

Yes, terms can be vague in that way too.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 November 2014 06:43:02AM 3 points [-]

Seems to me this issue too is pretty distant from the remark that kicked things off

Well, speaking empirically, the phrase "race is a social construct" is pretty often followed by "therefore all races are the same in all important ways". "Social construct" implies an arbitrary choice -- our society decided to split humanity into races this way, but another society might do it in an entirely different way and all such ways are equally valid, which is to say, there are no underlying "real" differences.

It's not that it is a personal hobby-horse, it's just that I have some experience in watching similar conversations develop.

Comment author: Elund 10 November 2014 07:58:49AM *  -1 points [-]

"Social construct" implies an arbitrary choice -- our society decided to split humanity into races this way, but another society might do it in an entirely different way and all such ways are equally valid, which is to say, there are no underlying "real" differences.

Supposing someone wanted to split humanity into arbitrary races based on actual genetics (which is not how the concept of race originally started because genetics wasn't known at the time), it would make sense for most races to be African, since Africa has far more human genetic diversity than all the other continents combined do. The reason races are delineated the way they are now is due to social reasons. (It could possibly make sense when you consider the phenotype though, but due to the outgroup homogeneity bias, I have some doubts.)

Still, regardless of where you set the boundaries between races, there will be average biological differences between them (provided you don't do something biologically ridiculous like classifying whites and Asians as the same race but then classifying their half-white/half-Asian children as a different race).

Comment author: Azathoth123 07 November 2014 03:18:35AM 1 point [-]

However, during the part where I talked about how Hispanics are often treated as if they were a race, I was undergoing a shift toward thinking about race as a cultural identity regardless of genetics, which then led me to the statement that race is a social construct.

Part of the reason is that if you restrict to the population of the United States they are (more-or-less) a separate genetic cluster. (Yes, that cluster doen't perfectly correspond to the official definition of Hispanic but a better term doesn't exist).

The idea that gender is a social construct is a pretty uncontroversial one, as far as I can tell.

Only because anyone who dares to point out the obvious truth that it isn't gets called a "sexist transphobe" and unfit for polite society.

Comment author: Elund 07 November 2014 05:46:44AM *  -1 points [-]

Part of the reason is that if you restrict to the population of the United States they are (more-or-less) a separate genetic cluster

Well, I wasn't restricting to the population of the United States. Anyway, race is still a socially constructed identity. This is apparent with mixed-race people who often identify with one race more than another based on how they were raised, how they look, how other people identify them, and whether they act more like a stereotypical member of one of their races than another. The race they identify most with might not be the one that makes up the largest proportion in their ancestry.

Only because anyone who dares to point out the obvious truth that it isn't gets called a "sexist transphobe" and unfit for polite society.

My understanding is that gender is specifically used to refer to the socially constructed identities. Biological sex differences get lumped under sex rather than gender, which is why people can believe in the social construct of gender while also believing that biology contributes in some degree to stereotypical gender roles. I'm not an expert on gender though, so I should probably leave it to someone else to debate you on this point.

Comment author: TobyBartels 06 November 2014 08:01:06PM 0 points [-]

I really want to know this, and maybe you should make it a top-level comment. (Or maybe I should.)

I feel cheated by taking it as soon as I saw it.

Comment author: Elund 06 November 2014 08:07:34PM 1 point [-]

Done.

Comment author: Elund 06 November 2014 08:06:43PM 21 points [-]

From what people have said, it seems that after the survey was posted a new question was added about our favorite LW post. Were there any others?

(Posted as a top-level comment at the request of TobyBartels)

Comment author: Vulture 06 November 2014 01:57:43AM 1 point [-]

(Yvain has also on occasion made little changes to the survey after it's been posted, but I don't think that's enough to be a good incentive to take it later.)

I'm strongly considering it for next year.

Comment author: Elund 06 November 2014 03:07:41AM 1 point [-]

From what people have said, it seems that after the survey was posted a new question was added about our favorite LW post. Were there any others?

Comment author: Vulture 06 November 2014 02:04:48AM 5 points [-]

It seems that I was the one who downvoted you, but now I don't remember why. I've retracted it for now, since I don't see anything wrong with the comment. May have just been a clicking error.

Comment author: Elund 06 November 2014 02:48:23AM 3 points [-]

Thank you.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 November 2014 03:38:45PM 0 points [-]

Maybe the problem is with terminology. Let's taboo "race" and talk about "gene pools" or "genetic clusters". Will you still say that these are not useful concepts?

Comment author: Elund 05 November 2014 09:51:44AM *  0 points [-]

I never said race wasn't a useful concept. I specifically said in my earlier post: .

I'm not saying that "heap" and "race" are not useful terms. They do correlate with actual differences,

I think my initial post that started this discussion may have been a source of misunderstanding. When I called race a social construct, I wasn't trying to say that race is a useless concept, but instead indicate that it could be useful as a cultural/identity concept. Initially when I talked about "mixed race" and "Hispanic" not technically being races, I was defining race according to the mainstream definition that treats race as a genetically distinct group of people, since that is my default. However, during the part where I talked about how Hispanics are often treated as if they were a race, I was undergoing a shift toward thinking about race as a cultural identity regardless of genetics, which then led me to the statement that race is a social construct. I meant it in a similar way to what people mean when they say that gender is a social construct. When people say that, they're not implying that gender is a useless concept, but that it is a personal subjective choice of identity. Significantly, I then spent the rest of my post talking about race as a personal choice of identity.

The idea that gender is a social construct is a pretty uncontroversial one, as far as I can tell. People seem to be somewhat less likely to say the same thing about race though, probably because "race" as a cultural term doesn't have a satisfactory parallel term to refer to biology the way "gender" has "sex". It didn't matter for me in practice though. I thought of race as a social construct regardless of whether it was approached from a biological or cultural perspective, which is why I didn't feel a need to distinguish between the two in my statement. However, subsequent comments drawing attention to its biological validity (e.g. would doctors agree?) pushed me to address my point underlying my passive implication that the biological aspect is also a social construct, which then skews the discussion in a way that buries much of my original meaning. The social construction of race as a biological concept is not itself adequate to explain why I would support including non-genetic race answers to a race question, but the social construction of race as a subjective personal identity is.

Earlier I was wondering why my comments were getting downvoted. What could possibly be so controversial about the idea that human genetic variation is a continuum, or that linguistic terms are socially constructed? Now I can see that if these are interpreted as if they are supposed to be arguments in support of including non-genetic answers to a race question or a lack of average differences between races, they might seem like bad arguments, but I wasn’t intending them to support those premises, and I didn’t think that people would think I was intending them to.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 November 2014 03:50:39PM *  4 points [-]

Heaps can be said to exist because of vagueness in the definition of what precisely makes something a heap. Race is the same way, which is why it is a social construct. I'm not saying that "heap" and "race" are not useful terms. They do correlate with actual differences, but they are social constructs because they are convenient simplifications to help us describe phenomena.

If "heap" is a social construct, so is all language, basically, and then everything is a social construct. Sigh.

Maybe this will help -- hot off the bit presses:

Post-modernists sometimes say things like “reality is socially constructed”, and there’s an uncontroversially correct meaning there. We don’t experience the world directly, but through the categories and prejudices implicit to our society; for example, I might view a certain shade of bluish-green as blue, and someone raised in a different culture might view it as green. Okay.

Then post-modernists go on to say that if someone in a different culture thinks that the sun is light glinting off the horns of the Sky Ox, that’s just as real as our own culture’s theory that the sun is a mass of incandescent gas a great big nuclear furnace. If you challenge them, they’ll say that you’re denying reality is socially constructed, which means you’re clearly very naive and think you have perfect objectivity and the senses perceive reality directly.

Plus, you might be interested in the wonderfully named Troll's Truisms:

A Troll’s Truism is an ambiguous statement by which an exciting falsehood may trade on a trivial truth. For example, ‘morality is socially constructed’ sounds like a radical assertion of cultural relativism until we are told that by ‘morality’ the speaker means not morality itself but just our beliefs about right and wrong. Of course, these beliefs are, in some sense, socially constructed, if only because our acquisition of many beliefs is mediated by language and beliefs about right and wrong are certainly among those acquired in that way. Hence in this sense of ‘morality’ the statement is true and trivially so.

Comment author: Elund 05 November 2014 08:20:08AM *  2 points [-]

If "heap" is a social construct, so is all language, basically, and then everything is a social construct. Sigh.

It is true that all language is socially constructed, but I was trying to draw attention to how "race" is especially subjective. Many linguistic terms are much more precise. A "species" for example refers to related individuals who reproduce among themselves, producing viable offspring. There is still some room for ambiguity, but it is less than what you get with "race". Besides, what's wrong with the idea that all language is socially constructed? It is possible to believe that without falling prey to the fallacy of grey.

Then post-modernists go on to say that if someone in a different culture thinks that the sun is light glinting off the horns of the Sky Ox, that’s just as real as our own culture’s theory that the sun is a mass of incandescent gas a great big nuclear furnace.

I would personally prefer to use the term "better informed" rather than "more real". Hypothetically, if both theories turned out to be completely false, and supposing we learned of that but still had no idea what the actual truth was, it wouldn't be certain which of them is more "real", but it would be relatively clearer which one had stronger evidence supporting it at the time. To give a different example, if we knew that one of the two theories is 100% true but aren't told which one it is, it would be reasonable for us to think it is far more likely to be the theory based on scientific evidence (i.e. the theory that actually aligns with the scientific definition of a theory as being a coherent group of tested general propositions, commonly regarded as correct, that can be used as principles of explanation and prediction for a class of phenomena:).

Comment author: wedrifid 04 November 2014 01:39:44PM 1 point [-]

The way people decide boundaries between races is an arbitrary social one.

Beware The Fallacy Of The <Kinda Brownish>.

Comment author: Elund 05 November 2014 07:14:40AM 0 points [-]

You're ignoring the part where I said human variation is a continuum. The fallacy of grey is where people deny the existence of the continuum.

Also, I did mention evidence about people's varying definitions of the "white race" to illustrate how people do in fact use arbitrary social reasons to decide the boundaries between races.

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