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November 28, 2010

I’m not really used to the whole “functional” definition thing. In most of my writing, I use the definitions that make most sense at the time, or are most convenient for my writing; call me a semantic liberalist, but I think that words are not meant to be accurate, so much as they are to convey meaning. But much writing must be functional, so that a proper context might be established by which to understand the content of the words; this is especially true in technical, legal, and academic writing. In addition, I’ve found that perhaps if I were more functional, not only with my writing, but with my life as well, I could truly be successful (in the eyes of others); this is after all a central principle of the philosophy of Utilitarianism.

When determining something’s function, it also allows for greater understanding; while knowing what something is useful for will not tell you what it is, this kind of concrete way of looking at things provides a greater opportunity for effectively using one’s knowledge of an object/idea to meet objectives. In other words, by knowing something’s purpose, that ‘thing’ can become profoundly more useful, both in-and-of-itself, and in conjunction with related objects.

Functionality is particularly useful for establishing causal relationships, and thus for understanding motivations. If a person’s function is to kill, for example, we can presume that they were conditioned to kill, perhaps even bred to kill (as if the case with certain criminal/religious organizations. By understanding the function of Beauty, we can better understand such concepts as appreciation and aesthetics, and the qualities that cause people to perceive something as beautiful. Everything has a purpose, and knowing that purpose allows for a greater understanding of everything; by understanding the causal relationship between people, objects, and ideas, one can predict, correlate, analyze, and evaluate those entities, often leading to priceless insights.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Karmic Mishap permalink
    November 28, 2010 4:05 pm

    Functional definitions are indeed important when we wish to be precise. As a scientist by training, I’ve gotten past the seemingly-useless proliferation of terms that mean ‘intuitive things’ by remembering that they are vital for effective communication among peers.
    By contrast, I think that the way the media and government play with our language is abominable. They apply words like ‘domestic extremist’ to war protesters and privacy advocates. Sometimes, words have actual meanings, despite our wishes that they could be ‘expanded’.

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