by Robert Brow   ( www.brow.on.ca ) Kingston, Ontario

Disagreements are mostly due to a failure to agree on the meaning of words. How do we learn to navigate our way through a quarrel?

First we need to know that words have no meaning apart from a form of life in which they have a use. What is the meaning of the word SQUARE ?

In a geometry form of life a square is an invented figure with four sides of an equal length.

In the naming of tools in carpentry a square is two pieces of wood or metal set at right angles.

In an urban geography form of life a square is an area bounded by buildings on four sides.

In a conflict form of life the two sides square off to assume a fighting stance.

In an algebra form of life the square of a is the symbol a multiplied by a.

In a slang form of life a square is someone who is old-fashioned.

In an eating form of life a square meal is on that is amply satisfying.

Once we have identified a form of life we can learn the language game for the accepted use of that word. In geometry a square is distinguished from triangles and circles.

There are family connections between these different uses of the word square, but we make no progress by assuming that there is one meaning underlying them all. The meaning of a word is therefore the particular way it is used in an activity or form of life. And if we know the language we will use the word correctly. A disagreement will normally be dissolved if both parties agree to use the word in the same way.

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