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Essays

Principles of Critical Thinking

© Cary Cook 2018

I copyrighted this not because I want to own or control it,
but because I don't want somebody else to copyright it,
and claim that I got it from him.   Steal all you want.

Part 1:  Language

Paragraph breaks indicate next slide.

The only people I'm talking to are rational truth seekers.  If you're not rational, I can't help you.  If you're not a truth seeker, I don't even want to help you.
By truth, I mean objective truth - the kind of truth that remains true regardless of the presence of any minds to believe it or know it.
If a person says there is no objective truth, there is no point in talking to him about objective truth.  The statement, "there is no objective truth" is an objective statement.  Therefore it can't be true.  That's called self-stultification.

If he restates it as a subjective statement, and says, "I think there is no objective truth" it's still an objective statement about what he thinks.  A denier of objective truth denies his own right to make any declarative statement - even a subjective one.  The existence of a subjective opinion is an objective reality.

By rational, I mean you have and use common sense, and you accept deductive logic as reliable for determining propositional truth.  This is not to say that all logical syllogisms have true conclusions, but that all illogical syllogisms have false conclusions, though those conclusions may be coincidentally true statements.
By rational, I also mean that you not only use logic when it leads to conclusions you like, but you also submit to logic when it leads to conclusions you don't like.  That's when logic conflicts with self interest.  When logic conflicts with common sense, start over;  you've made an error in one or the other - usually a false premise.

By common sense, I mean the kind of probability judgment you use when you use inductive reasoning, rather than when you just want to be comfortable.
By deductive logic, I mean that set of statements that is eternally and universally true of the relationships of variables.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

I just proposed 4 stipulative definitions:  for truth, rational, common sense, and deductive logic.  A stipulative definition says, "by this term, I mean this concept in the context under discussion".  There are other kinds of definitions.  A dictionary definition tells us how people use terms - in general and in particular contexts.  Dictionaries rarely tell us when a term is used incorrectly.  They don't make that judgment, sometimes to the detriment of a language itself.

You probably know that Webster's Dictionary has recently added a new definition to the term literal.  It can now also mean figurative.  Note that they are not prescribing this definition;  they are just reporting on how people use the term.  But people who treat dictionary definitions as authoritative now think it is legitimate to use literal to mean figurative, thereby taking an unambiguous and useful word and making it ambiguous, thereby increasing confusion among all English speakers.  That is the reverse of normal and sensible language evolution.

Authorities (even legitimate authorities) can create bogus concepts in uncritical minds.

A stable epistemic foundation is always built on logic rather than authority.  It is always figured out rather than believed.  Now, am I claiming authority to make that statement?  It would be an outright pontification if I were saying "I know what I'm talking about, therefore believe me".  But I'm not.  I'm saying that none of my statements in this presentation require authority.  I'm not asking you to believe any of them.  I'm not even asking you to figure them out.  I'm saying any truth seeker who remains one will figure them out whether he believes me or not.  I'm not here to change your path.  I'm here to help you get to where you're already going faster.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

There are things, concepts, and terms, in that ontological order.  A thing represented in a mind becomes a concept.  In order to keep concepts in order, we label them with terms.  The concept rarely matches the thing perfectly.  David Hume proved that the concept can't be shown to match the thing at all.  But even Hume didn't care, because he kept on talking and acting like it did; and so do we.  Assumed correspondence between thing and concept is necessary for any animal to seek food and avoid predators, much less talk about stuff.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

If a singular thing has a unique term, then the term labels the thing regardless of the concept.

The first time a mind figured out that some things have similarities that make them different from other things, he invented a category, which is a container to put concepts in.  Eventually he figured out terms with which to label his concepts and categories.

If a thing is an abstraction, then the thing exists in minds as well as external reality.  Logic for example:  It exists as verbally expressed laws in minds.  But if logic didn't also exist in ontological reality, the laws would not correspond to anything.

Some abstractions exist only in minds, but that doesn't mean thing and concept are identical.  The concept "beauty" is not the same as experiencing a beautiful thing.  It just means we put the thing in the category of beautiful things.  The concept "thought" is not identical to any particular thought.

And mind is a dimension in itself, with its own levels to keep straight.

An objectively existing abstraction may be a subjective concept.
Existence is an objective thing and an objective concept.
Everything that exists exists objectively, including subjective concepts.
Everything that exists subjectively exists only in minds.
There is no subjective math and logic, and no objective beauty.  Even if there is a Supreme Being who thinks some particular thing is beautiful, some creatures may disagree with him on it.  That doesn't mean they're objectively wrong.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

If a lot of people acknowledge the same abstraction, then it probably exists objectively.  The first few pages of a dictionary show many examples:  But the popularity of a term or concept doesn't guarantee that it is legitimate in the sense of existing objectively.  We have terms for abstractions that don't even exist.  More on that later.

A subjective interpretation of an abstraction may be different from the objectively existing abstraction.  e.g.  A person may not know that there is a difference between logic and common sense.  He might think they're both correct thinking, and conflate them in his mind.  But they remain distinct objective concepts.  Justice and morality:  different concepts.  Moral right and legal right: different concepts.  They're all over the place.  It would be a tangent to address them now, but I hope to get to them in future presentations.

If a thing is not abstract, what is it?  The term generally used is concrete rather than physical.  So time and space, and everything dependent on time and space are concrete.  But some abstract concepts can also be taken in a concrete sense.  Consider the concept "tomorrow".  Not the term;  the concept.  Is it abstract or concrete?  Well, you can mean it either way.

As an abstract, tomorrow is always a day away.
As a concrete, tomorrow is only a day away.
So now maybe we can get that song straight.

We could say that a thing may be concrete or abstract.

Or we could say that only concrete things can be things, and abstracts must be concepts.  Both paradigms have problems, which you will discover if you try to make a consistent paradigm.

We could say that abstracts may be real or imaginary.
But trying to draw a line between real and imaginary, even a stipulative line, reveals a paradigm problem.  At least it's beyond my ability.
Are future events real or imaginary?
There are no rules on what we could say.

When you hit an epistemic dead end, you don't keep banging your head on it.  You go and seek truth elsewhere - unless you're a quantum physicist.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

Back to things:
A thing is not what it causes, or what causes it.
A thing is not what it's part of, or what's part of it.
Some things are; and some things aren't:
what they appear to be,
what they were, or what they will be.
The only things that are identical to what they were and will be are eternal things.

What is true of all things in general is also true of all concepts in general.  All concepts are things.  All things in minds are concepts.

A concept is a single unit of thought.  It may be composed of parts, but no part equals the concept.  It may have subsets, but no subset equals the concept.

Tree is a thing and a concept.  Trunk, branches, and leaves are parts of it.  Each part is a thing and a concept, containing other parts and concepts down to quantum level and maybe beyond.

A concept may contain subconcepts, but no subconcept is the same as the original concept.  Since it's a category now, we'll call them subsets.  A concept may be divided into pieces or fractions, but none of that diminishes the fact that it is a single unit of thought.

If it's more than one unit of thought, it's more than one concept.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

This one is to remember.
Conflating concepts continually causes confusion.
Note that I didn't say conflating concepts constantly causes confusion.
Constantly and continually are different concepts.

A constant event is one that never stops as long as it remains constant.
A continual event is one that happens repeatedly as long as it remains continual.
If you conflate constantly and continually, you may cause confusion - or not depending on context, and mutual common sense with the audience.

No concept is a member of 2 mutually exclusive categories simultaneously.  Example:
Voluntary acts and involuntary acts are mutually exclusive categories.

No act is a member of both of them simultaneously.  What about blinking and breathing?  Well, sometimes they're voluntary;  sometimes they're involuntary, but never both at the same time.

Calling an act semi-voluntary does not create a category between voluntary and involuntary acts.

It just creates a category that's sometimes one, and sometimes the other.  Many of the terms we use conflate mutually exclusive categories, thus creating bogus concepts in our minds.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

There are bogus concepts and bogus terms.  And sometimes you can't even tell which is which.  A bogus term or concept is one that takes 2 or more legitimate concepts, and mushes them together.

I know of no term that causes more problems in theist vs. atheist discussions than belief.  This term should not be ambiguous, but it has been made so by the New Testament.  Belief should simply mean probability judgment.  If you believe X is true, then you think X is probably true.  Probability judgment is an involuntary act.  It happens in the mind without any conscious decision.  But that definition doesn't work in some parts of the NT.  The Greek word translated belief is also translated faith, and it usually indicates a voluntary act - a decision to trust or not trust that something is true.  Hence belief has become an ambiguous term, and must be disambiguated in order to speak about it sensibly.  But when belief is supposed to be voluntary and involuntary at the same time, it's a bogus concept.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

What is an attitude?  French word...  originally meant the angle of something relative to the ground - or at least relative to something more stable than itself.

Aristocrats no doubt liked this word because it let them criticise subordinates without a specific accusation.  Like "I'm the stable mountain of importance, and he's trivial.  His angle relative to me is what matters."
And by angle he meant some emotional expression on a scale between adoration and defiance.

After a while, the expression became conflated with the emotion behind it.  But the expression is voluntary, and the emotion is involuntary.

So what does that produce?  Is faking humility a good attitude?  Is faking grattitude a good attitude?  No. Gotta be sincere.  A good attitude is supposed to be sincere and voluntary at the same time; and that rarely happens.  Either you express a faked emotion, or you simply have an emotion, and don't try to hide it.

Popular usage of terms creates bogus concepts in uncritical minds.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

Some parents do crap like this to their kids.  Like when they tell them to say they're sorry whether they are or not.  If the kid is not sorry, you're ordering a lie - possibly punishing for not lying.  And though you are preparing your kid for life in a corrupt world, you're also perpetuating the corruption.

"Subsume" is either an ambiguous term or a bogus concept.
The Google definition is no problem.  It just says to include or absorb something in something else.  That means include or absorb a subset into its superset.  That means a subset subsumes its superset.  Fine.

But the Webster's definition makes it go both ways:
1.  to include or place within something larger or more comprehensive
2.  to encompass as a subordinate or component element
So what's actually being said here?
Number 1 says:  A subset subsumes its superset.
Number 2 says:  A superset subsumes its subsets.
So if you use this word, even if you know exactly what you mean, a person hearing or reading you might think you mean the exact opposite.  Sometimes it's obvious by context, and sometimes it's not.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

A definition is a description that isolates a term or concept.
If a definition isolates a concept from all other concepts, it is an exhaustive definition.  If it isolates a concept just enough to identify it in the context under discussion, it is a sufficient definition.  If it doesn't even do that, it is an insufficient definition.

Now technically, definitions apply only to terms.  Concepts aren't defined; they're clarified.  Definition is to terms as clarification is to concepts.  However, I will not be striving for maximum precision in this presentation, but only for that degree of precision which best facilitates communication.  Precision can become tedious, and too convoluted to be beneficial.

That's not a critical thinking principle; it's a pragmatic principle, known in the military as KISS, "keep it simple stupid".

So, a term definition disambiguates that term so you know what concept it refers to.
A concept definition clarifies the boundaries of that concept enough to have it make sense in the context in which it occurs.  But it doesn't necessarily describe the inner workings of the concept, or its relationship to other concepts.

Sufficiency of a concept definition is determined by the context in which its term occurs, and mutual understanding between dialogers.  There are no rules for determining such sufficiency.  We have only common sense.

There is no authoritative referee for term definitions in English;  it's a wild west shootout.  People make stuff up, dictionaries record it, and the people think the dictionary definitions are official.  There is no English Academy like the French Academy to standardize our language.  So English keeps evolving.  But concepts don't evolve.  The terms we use to label them may evolve.

One thing we truth seekers can do is clarify concepts if we are so motivated.  I've begun such a clarifier on my website.  It's a work in progress, and not ready for publication.  But it would be of great benefit to the world if it were worked out by a team of linguistic philosophers and published.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

What if a term is vague?  Well, technically terms aren't vague,

but the concepts they denote may be vague.

Our understanding of a term may be vague.  In fact, our understanding of most terms is vague.  But that's because understanding is a vague concept.  It has a sliding scale of degrees.

Gray is not a vague term;  it denotes a vague concept.  But we might as well call it a vague term, because we're living in a world that's accustomed to calling things what they're not.  It's good to know what's correct, but saying everything correctly often hinders communication.  We"re back to 'keep it simple stupid".

So if a term is too vague to be understood in context, a stipulative definition may be required, to draw an arbitrary boundary around the concept denoted, or at least between 2 concepts, so you don't conflate them.  Easy in pictures, but often difficult in words,  and often impossible if your target audience is not in sync with your common sense.  In arguments, when your target audience is hostile, a vague term can cause an end of discussion - or worse yet, a protracted discussion that tangents off into whateverland, or goes around in worthless circles.

"Truth seeker" is a vague term.  Defined broadly, everything with a mind seeks some truth - at least enough to be sufficiently comfortable with the amount it knows.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

Can truth be vague?
Note that I'm not asking this question because anyone cares about the answer;  I'm asking it just to show you where critical thinking can take you if you follow it.  Ideologues and faith seekers may use critical thinking to get to where they want to go.  Truth seekers follow critical thinking to see where it goes.
So can truth be vague?  Our understanding of it usually is, but what about truth itself?  Can a thing be vague?  Or is it only our mind's concept of it that's vague?  We could say vagueness applies only to concepts - and then only some of them.  But If we want to reserve the term "vague" for concepts alone, then we still can ask.  "can a thing have indistinct boundaries?  Or does it just look blurred because of our defective vision?"

How about a cloud?  Does a cloud have indistinct boundaries?  Well, some edges look blurred and some look hard.  But that's just appearance.  What about the cloud itself?

A cloud is an object made of atoms and molecules, mostly air, but what distinguishes it from the air around it is mostly water molecules.

Whether or not a particular water molecule is in it or out of it depends on the stipulated boundary of that particular cloud.

No matter where the boundary line is drawn, there may be water molecules straddling it -

unless the boundary line is drawn ad hoc, specifically to avoid molecules.  So technically, unless you draw a boundary specifically around all the borderline cases, some objects can be blurred.  To a quantum physicist, maybe they're all blurred.

Is the general concept of a cloud vague?  Weird question.  How do you draw a line around a general concept?  Once you draw a line, it's no longer general.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

But remember, truth is an abstract, so the thing and the concept may be the same... thing.  Can an abstract be vague or blurred?  Again, poor understanding can make any abstract look vague, but can an actually existing abstract be vague or blurred?  I can't think of any definite examples.

And what if our concept of an abstract is defective?
That can happen - remember?  That means a legitimate abstract, and our concept of it can be different.  So even if our concept of an abstract is vague, the abstract itself may not be.

Let's put the question, "Can an abstract be vague?" in the Who cares? file, and go do something else.  Not the trash can, because we might want it later.  Critical thinking has a lot of compartments, and we have to examine them in the right order.  Some may not be worth exploring at all.  That's not a principle of critical thinking, but it's an important pragmatic principle that critical thinking reveals.

So can truth be vague?  Probably goes in the same file, but let's try another approach.

Truth is a property of a statement that corresponds to reality, or to some particular part or subset of reality.

But now I've introduced a new term:  property.  So now we have to detour into that.
Disambiguation first:
Here's a Google definition of property.  I'm talking only about the second.  So feathers are not properties of birds; having feathers is a property of birds.

There are substances and properties of those substances.  The Google definition of substance doesn't even address concepts or abstracts.  Neither does Wikipedia.
Though there are references to abstract substances, I'm not aware of any references to abstract substances having properties.  Some abstracts obviously have properties.  Ambiguity is a property of some terms. Vagueness is a property of some concepts.

So if properties are things had by substances, and statements are abstractions, then either some substances are abstractions.
Or... abstracts can have properties, and we don't even need to address substances.
Critical thinking does transcend dictionaries and Wikipedia.

Can a property be vague?  Yes.  Gray is the standard example for a vague concept; and gray is a property.

So can truth be vague?

If truth is a property, and some properties are vague, is truth vague?
Not necessarily.

And that's not even what we're asking.  We're asking if some truth can be vague.  But it doesn't work this way either.
The only way to know is to find an example of a vague truth, that doesn't just look vague because we don't see it clearly enough.

So until then, file it.  We discovered that we can't answer the question by critical thinking - at least not at our present level.  But even if we fail to answer the question we asked, we may find good stuff along the way.  Look at the principles we've accidentally stumbled on.

Even if all known members of a particular category have a particular property, it is not proven that all members of that category have that property.

The only known way to prove that something has a particular property is to show an example of that property in that thing.

If all known members of a particular category have a particular property, does something shown to be in that category probably have that property?  This is a question we will have to address when we get to inductive reasoning.

Understanding of critical thinking is cumulative.  The more you figure out, the more you can figure out.  But you also discover that some things you thought you had figured out were just accepted on faith.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

After defining something genetically, you may have to then define it compositionally or attributively in order to distinguish it from other things in the same genetic category.

For any of these 3 categories, a list of examples does not define a concept, unless that concept is a category containing nothing but those examples.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

Definitions can be categorized according to usage:

Definitions can be categorized according to precision:
They can be broad or narrow.  There may be no distinct categories here, but just a sliding scale, arbitrarily assigned and intuitively understood.

e.g.  What is a beard?  Does it have to be on a chin?  How many hairs does it take to make one?  How long does each hair have to be?  Where does a moustache hair become a beard hair?  Totally arbitrary.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

Here's a stipulative definition of critical thinking:  Systematic identification of objective truth, and the knowledge of how to apply it.  I wish I could call that an official definition, but I don't have that right.  I can't even call my definition of definition authoritative.  I don't know of a single philosophical term that has an official definition.  Definitions arbitrarily agreed on by whomever is dialoging are all we've got.  I'm totally convinced that my definitions should be considered official, but people who disagree with me think the same of their own definitions.  Science has official definitions accepted by the general public:  Salt is sodium chloride.  But philosophy has few if any outside of math and logic.

I defined deductive logic as that set of statements that is eternally and universally true of the relationships of variables.  Many people object to that.  They prefer to think logic is a human construct - a tool to use when desired, and ignore when not desired.  And they may back up their objection by refering to dictionaries.

If you are such a person, what do you call that set of statements that is eternally and universally true of the relationships of variables?  If you want to call it something other than logic, that's fine.  Just substitute that term whenever I say logic, and we'll communicate.  But if you assert that there is no set of statements that is eternally and universally true of the relationships of variables, I can prove you wrong simply by listing a few.  e.g.  If all A = B, and all B = C, then all A = C.  That would be true if there were no minds to know it or believe it.

Principle:  If people won't accept your definition of a term, tell them the concept you're talking about, and let them assign a term to it.

Ignoring the term/concept distinction can cause problems.  e.g.  "What is X?" is an ambiguous question.  Are you asking what the term means or what the concept is?  i.e.  Are you asking:  Of all the concepts conventionally labeled X, which one do you mean?   or   What are the boundaries of concept X?

Ignoring term/concept distinction can also cause problems when asking questions of the form "Is A in category B?"  e.g.
Is America a Christian nation?  You can quote founding fathers all day, and never arrive at an unchallengable conclusion.  Assuming you agree on what America is, and what a nation is, the question is still unanswerable until Christian is defined.  Define Christian sufficiently, and the question is answered.  Getting your opponent to agree on a definition is the hard part.  Does Christianity have an official definition?  Nicene Creed?  Apostles' Creed? - which wasn't even written by apostles.  What if Christian is defined minimally as believing those doctrines agreed on by all 7 eccumenical councils, and the Orthodox Church, and mainline protestants?  Surely that's as official as we can get.  Well, then even William Lane Craig isn't a Christian, because there are parts of that he disagrees with.

Is atheism a religion?  Which atheism?  Classical atheism or the new agnostic atheism?  The latter isn't even a philosophical position.  It's just a statement of one of many things a person doesn't do.  Classical atheism may say gods don't exist, or God (capital G) does not exist.  Is classical atheism a religion?  Now you have to define religion.  You can define it broadly or narrowly or in between.

Here are 3 Google definitions of religion.  I won't bother reading them all.  The first definition is narrowest;  the 3rd is broadest, though religion can be defined more narrowly and more broadly.  By the 3rd definition, even agnostic atheism is a religion to some people.  Even your career or political position could be a religion by the 3rd definition.  Any pursuit or interest could be a religion, if religion is defined broadly enough.

A term (or concept) must be defined broadly enough to include everything you're talking about, and narrowly enough to exclude everything you're not talking about.

You can't know if a particular thing is in a particular category until both are sufficiently defined.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

A category is a set of concepts identified and labeled by something they have in common.  A category may be labeled by several terms.  The set of all left handed people in the room may be the same as the set of all blonds in the room.  If so, they are the same category called by different names.  A category is the sum of its members regadless of how it is named.

Further ambiguity:
When asking, "Is A in category B?", if A is a single and recognized thing, it's already sufficiently defined.  Is Fred a man?  Yup.  No problem, if you know what Fred you're talking about, and you agree on the definition of man.  But if A is a vague concept, then you have to define it enough to answer the question.

That may imply assigning arbitrary boundaries.
After that, you may have to clarify "is".  Do you mean always is, generally is, or sometimes is?
If A is a category, then do you mean all A, most A, or some A?

This produces 9 possibilities.
And there are more, but we don't need to list all of them:  "Is A now in category B?"  "Ever in category B?"  "Potentially," etc.

Also, a category can be inside another category.  But no category can be inside of itself.  There is no such thing as the set of all sets.  That's an illegitimate concept like square circle.  The fact that language allows us to stick words together doesn't mean the concept intuitively implied exists.  Square circle is 2 words stuck together, but the implied concept can't even be imagined.

When talking about non-controversial things, context and common sense are usually sufficient to communicate.  But with controversial discussions, your opponent may pretend not to know what you're talking about even if it's obvious.  If you and your opponent can't agree on definitions, the truth seeking is over.  Discussion beyond that point is game playing.

Principles:  Every ambiguity or vagueness of every term is an obstacle between you and knowledge of truth.  It's also an obstacle between you and communication.
You canít think or communicate any more precisely than your language allows.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

Do all terms have to be sufficiently defined?  Let's see.  What does "is" mean?  We can't define the term or the concept without assuming we already know what it means.  But we can identify 4 different subsets of it.

There are 4 kinds of is:
  1. is identical to (ontological)
  2. is a property of (ontological)
  3. is in the category of (epistemological)
  4. is equivalent to (axiological)

But the intended meaning is almost always obvious by context.  When it is obvious, there is no point in talking to a person who demands a definition of "is" before answering a question in which the term "is" occurs.  Just as there is no point in discussing objective truth with a person who refuses to recognize its existence.

We must accept the fact that some terms are indefinable, because they cannot be defined without using terms which are themselves defined by the term in question.  I don't know if there is a term for these terms, so I'm choosing to call them epistemically basic terms, and they denote epistemically basic concepts.

Here's a list of some:

Sometimes there are mutually defining terms which together denote an epistemically basic concept.  And sometimes they're not even synonyms.  When you define each in terms of the other, you have the illusion of having made a sensible statement, without having isolated the concept.

Some synonyms do not denote an epistemically basic concept, but nevertheless denote the same concept.
Ethics and morality denote the same concept - the set of values pertaining to conduct.  But they have different connotations - often arbitrarily assigned.  Accomplish and achieve - same concept.  To try to do something, and succeed at it.
Normal and ordinary - same concept - part of the majority.  Yet nearly everybody wants to be normal, but hardly anybody wants to be ordinary.

Principles:
Every term that is defined is defined in terms that ultimately rest on epistemically basic concepts.  Their existence must be accepted in order to make sense of propositions.

Otherwise ultimate justification for epistemology is impossible, because the effort to tie up the loose ends just creates more loose ends.
That last one is not really a principle.  It's more of a pragmatic boundary beyond which critical thinking stops providing useful information.

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

Some terms appear to denote different concepts, but when examined critically, prove to denote the same concept.

Wisdom and sanity are denotatively the same concept.  But you'd never know it by looking them up in dictionaries.  Here are the Google definitions of wisdom and sanity.  They do not clarify the concepts.  They only tell us how people use the terms.  If we were trying to clarify the concepts they denote, we could easily pick these definitions apart.  Maybe it's worth your time, but it's not worth mine.

Here's what these concepts actually mean.
Wisdom and sanity both mean knowing how to get what you want without doing things that will get you more of what you don't want later.
Wisdom is the high end of sanity.
Sanity is the low end of wisdom.
The wiser you are, the saner you are.
I'm not going to defend this definition.  I'm just going to leave it in the air, for the benefit of truth seekers, so that when you figure it out, maybe you'll remember who told you so.

Sometimes a term denotes a concept that means only the absence or opposite of another concept, which is the absence or opposite of it.
Sometimes with a neutral midpoint
Some concepts can be defined only in terms of what they are not.  If something is defined in terms of what it is not, the definition is sufficient if the audience has the same intuitive understanding.  It's exhaustive only if there is nothing else that is not those same things.  If you say A is not B, that's not a sufficient definition - unless the audience understands what you mean in context.  If you say A is the only thing that's not B, that's an exhaustive definition.

What does "perfect" mean?  Having no defects.  What is a defect?  An imperfection.  What makes something a defect?  Some mind judging it to be so - possibly not even a human mind.  Some animals kill offsring which they judge to be defective.  What if perfect is defined as being complete?  What does complete mean?  Is a 3 legged dog incomplete?  Only if dogs are defined compositionally or attributively, and the definition includes having 4 legs - in which case no 3 legged animal is a dog, regardless of it's parents.

In order for perfect to be a meaningful term, it must be defined as conformity to a given standard.  That standard will necessarily be arbitrary.  Is God perfect?  Well... to what standard does he conform?  No, you can't say that!  God is the standard of perfection.  Fine, then all you've said is that God is what he is.  Everything is what it is.  Saying God is perfect says nothing.

Sometimes a concept is understandable only in contrast to supposed antonyms. What does "actual" mean?

1.  existing as opposed to apparent
2.  existing as opposed to imaginary
      A.  existing as opposed to fictitious
            i.  existing as opposed to hypothetical
3.  existing as opposed to possible
4.  existing as opposed to potential

Discussion break:  5 minutes max

Another principle:  Epistemically basic concepts are to concepts as axioms are to propositions.
Epistemically basic concepts canít be defined.  Axioms canít be proven.
Understanding of epistemically basic concepts must be assumed in order to think and communicate anything that is based on them.
Axioms must be accepted as true in order to think and communicate anything that is based on them.

Why are geometric axioms not called geometric laws?  Because they cannot be proven.  Does that mean laws can be proven?  What about laws of physics?  If we call them laws, surely they must be provable.  Does our inability to find an exception to a law prove it to be a law?  If so, why does our inability to find exceptions to geometric axioms not make them laws?

Here's another example:  What about the laws of thought?
We can't prove any of them.  We just accept them as laws because we can't think of exceptions.  Can any law be shown to exist?  Or are all assumed laws only axioms?  Of course there are judicial laws, but that's a different concept called by the same term.  Other than that, I can't think of a single assumed law which does not prove to be anything more than an axiom upon examination.  But if I now assert that all assumed laws are only axioms, I fall into the same error that I have just exposed.

The next part of this series will be on epistemology.

Final discussion