Some disputes seem irresolvable because people are using language differently. They aren’t quite talking about the same thing. I’ve experienced this many times when discussing “free will”. Everyone talks about it, nobody defines it, so why think we’re talking about the same thing? Same thing with “faith”, “justification” (both theological and epistemic), and “dispensationalism”. When a dispute seems particularly incorrigible, it can be helpful to stop and ask each other how we define the key terms in the dispute. Wouldn’t it be nice if it turned out that we actually agree but are simply using these key words differently? In other words, we’ve not been talking about the same thing. This is what some people call a “merely verbal dispute.”
Sometimes, people even get offended. I remember having a discussion with someone about some deep philosophical issue and I referred to it as a “basic” issue. Then he argued that it wasn’t really basic at all. By “basic”, I meant that it was a foundational issue but he thought that, by basic, I meant easy and that you’d have to be a dummy not to understand it. He agreed that it was a foundational issue and I agreed that it wasn’t an easy issue so we realized that the dispute was “merely verbal”.
The other day, I came across a good lecture by David Chalmers on identifying and resolving verbal disputes. I think that this provides some good tools to help us think through issues and not get hung up on confusing terminology. Watch or listen to David Chalmers on Verbal Disputes.
Who knows? Maybe Chalmers’ approach will help you solve most of the disputes you are currently in…your disputes with your in-laws, marriage disputes, your arguments with your boss….your credit card disputes, all kinds of disputes…so long as they are merely verbal. Let Dr. Chalmers help.