Dictionary of Arguments

Philosophical and Scientific Issues in Dispute

Are philosophy books a guarantor of truth? - It's not the whole text we compare.

Interview with Martin Schulz

Arguments – not Persons
Distribution of Knowledge
Particularities of the Lexicon
Searching on Paper – or on the Web?
Books are not a guarantor of truth
Dialogue or Paper?
Content: Storage or movement?
Platform for Researchers: A larger audience
My ideas – are they new? Which counterarguments are there?
Flood of Information
E-Learning – Better learning from controversies

Why arguments and not persons?

There are already many lexicons for factual issues that are organized by persons. In the case of philosophy there surely are more lexicons that are arranged by persons than ones that are arranged by factual programmes. In the media there is even more enthusiasm for arranging factual issues by persons. Almost as if to say: "if this Person said that, then it’s true“. Or "in that case it can’t be true“. Or it deserves more attention. Or it deserves less attention.
It’s interesting to see that if two authors say the same thing but one of the two is more prominent than the other, the less famous author might have come up with the thesis earlier, but it was only when the more famous one published it that it got attention. Isn't it good to come to know about these mechanisms - solely because of righteousness? The Lexicon of Arguments helps you with that.
A propos biographies: would you tend to credit an author with more truthfulness if you heard that he had a hard childhood? – Wouldn’t it be better to separate these things? Wouldn’t it be better that children have a good time and authors have better arguments?

Do you think the web changes our approach to knowledge?

Of course it does. The traditional way of dealing with knowledge was to keep new insights secret until the book was printed. The same was true for newly discovered sources that one wanted to exploit as long as possible before others got wind of it. However, nobody wants to be himself an “unknown source”. Funded research had no interest in publishing the data before the next phase was approved. Otherwise one would have endangered the continuation of the project.
The old saying “Knowledge is power” probably has something to do with this. It seems to me that it refers to a situation in which knowledge is unevenly distributed. It is the question whether the web will change this way of handling knowledge.

Are there more things in the Lexicon that can’t be found in other lexicons?

Yes, we have a point called "Specific Terminologies” where you will find idiosyncratic uses of terms by authors that are diverging from the use by others. Under "Specific Notation“, we show the deviations between different authors and between different books. Also we indicate our sources: author/title/page.

Where will the Lexicon of Arguments help its readers?

It helps gathering the material for your PhD or for your master's thesis. It prevents you from getting any illusions about the novelty of your own ideas. It helps you catch up on information about the state of the art in your field of research.  

What is different from printed lexicons?

There are differences in comparison between printed literature and all online-projects: they are permanently updatable und correctable. As we say: science is a self-correcting business. This should be fostered by completing the books with an aspect of dynamic media. It is happening on the web and in our Lexicon of Arguments.
There is an old saying: you don’t have to know everything – it is sufficient to know where to look it up. Education for our grandparents was the ability to look for information at the right place. When they couldn’t find „Armageddon“ in their encyclopedia, the educated knew that they had to look it up under the letter „H“. It is not necessary to know that anymore in times of the world wide web. You will automatically be lead to the right spot. Unfortunately there is no „fuzzy“ search on printed paper – something that will show you the desired results even if there is one or two wrong letters in your spelling.

Your Lexicon of Arguments wants to make the books unnecessary doesn’t it? You will copy the books illegally, won’t you?

Books won’t be unnecessary and they aren’t copied in our lexicon. It’s about something else: Imagine this situation: students returning from Paris tell their assistant professor in Nairobi that they found an interesting new book from his field of specialization that comes up with some fascinating new ideas in the field of his research. For financial reasons, the students weren’t able to buy the book in Paris. The professor will be able to look up the table of contents of the book on the internet, but in the table he will not find the decisive argument. When the book is not available as an e-book he will depend on the consignment per mail which is more than precarious. His further research tells him that the next copy of the book is in a library in Johannesburg (some thousand miles away from Nairobi). Thank God this library is also on the web which is no great wonder in our days. But here again he only can examine the table of contents. How will you help the professor?
Not by scanning the book illegally or make a handwritten copy overnight. Here’s a solution: readers who studied the book may make an excerpt of the decisive new argument and send it to the Lexicon of Arguments (with indication of the source). It is not illegal to read books and to pass on what you have learned. It is not about copying the text verbatim, but summarizing it. If you wanted to prohibit this, you would have to forbid free-range brains.  

Many still mourn the book!

Sure, we should not underestimate the haptic effect alone. Every one of us has memories from his childhood and adolescence – the feeling of turning the pages, the thin printing, the drawings, the smell! Nevertheless this is not all lost. Nobody asks you to throw away your old books. But the book itself is not a guarantor of truth - it is a storage medium. Many a lie was protected by a gilt edge. Books don’t make it easy for us to catch the truth. We will have to spoil it by writing things on the edge in order to find it again later. This contradicts the idea of the book as a sacred cultural asset. Why do we want to find something in a book? Because we want to compare it to other books. And it’s not the whole book we want to compare but only single places from it with single places from other books.
Books are passive. They are not true by themselves and they do not announce a thing by themselves. Books are neutral. Their readers may disseminate information after reading them. Books stand quietly on the shelf. To say that they talk to us is only an enthusiastic way of expressing our love to them – similar to the love we show to our pets. Books are a commodity. Only few question themselves. But they should be questioned. In the long run, every book should be questioned. But the books themselves rarely contribute anything.  

Now, if books are not a guarantor of truth, as you say – what would actually be one then?

Communication, talk, discussion. There are problems, of course, with the competence and involvement of those who take part in the discussion if it is eventually about decisions. These are no trivial problems. It is an interesting question if the web has caused these things to become obsolete. I would tend to say no. As a recipient you don’t have endless time to receive all information that is available. Therefore for our Lexicon of Arguments the slogan is “Summarise!”.

Well, you cut the books into pieces, until there is nothing left but scraps?

We don’t destroy a single book. We open them for the dialogue. There can be hundreds of things mentioned in a book and practically all of them will be found in other books. We confront excerpts from books with excerpts from other books by arranging them according to subjects. There is nothing that is cut out or destroyed. Nothing is taken away! This was put nicely by the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann: “Nothing is given away in communication.” Many who discuss the future of books speak of "cutting out“ and "sticking things together again“. Well, this is problematic because you will destroy your books by doing it. We in the Lexicon of Arguments leave the books as they are. We don’t glue them and we don’t cut them – we just set up some synopses of the best arguments.

Now, when books are not a sacred cultural asset – what might be one, though?

Our best cultural asset is reflecting on information. We need storage media like books or contemporary forms of storage to feed our reflecting of information. The idea of something sacred was linked to a commandment to handle/store it carefully. This explains the shift from content to storage. And there really is the danger of spoiling Information by altering it. Nevertheless we don’t need holiness to keep up a careful treatment of our stuff. Otherwise it would be too easy sort out men and things we do not consider to be sacred. Respect is more interesting than holiness, as respect is a two-sided relation, while holiness is linked to a single object.
Talking of the sacred cultural asset of reflecting: we never reflect on a book as a whole, but on individual statements from them. Unfortunately the paper resists this undertaking in a technical sense. It should not be cut into pieces and it doesn’t really help the inquiry.  

May we say that movement is brought into the game by the new media?

Well, first of all there is a lot more that is being stored. And with it, there also is a lot more of deviant content that is stored. Chris Anderson showed in “The Long Tail” that there are people who are interested in very specialized topics. For those it was much more difficult to get information about their field of interest in the times before.
Movement comes into play by better search options – but in the end the question is what you will do with what you found. So we do have more stuff that is stored but also more things that are found and which will then be stored again. The storage stops the movement again. Storage may be called the opposite of movement. At the end there are hundreds of editions of a book side by side.
Well, we have a lot of movement when it comes to our personal data – they are used to record our movement profiles or sold to advertisers – we don't desire that much movement!
There is an amazing example for movement of data in the sense of combining them in a new manner in bioinformatics: results from different laboratories are sometimes compiled by Semantic Search so that they form a whole reaction cycle. This cycle had never been seen in a single laboratory – the components had been found in texts of published results. Unfortunately I am not an expert for this but I find it fascinating.  

Is your lexicon a platform for an appearance on the web if one has a good idea?

If your idea is a scientific idea or an idea from the field of the humanities, yes. And remember: publishing is the best protection against plagiarism. So if you have an idea, go ahead. With the lexicon you will have one website with e.g. 400 authors out of your field of specialization compared to 400 single websites. With that your idea will have a greater audience. Well, the number 400 was only an example for a very limited field of specialization. The number of authors who take part in the discussion might be a lot higher in other fields.  

Won’t you have to write a PhD in the future?

Anyway, nobody needed to do this up to now. But if you want to, it may be much easier with the Lexicon of Arguments to collect material and to assess whether your own ideas are as novel as you hope they are.

Could one write a PhD without studying at all?

The students learn at the university how to work scientifically and how to collect material. Without this knowledge one is totally lost in a library. It is necessary that the professors recommend the relevant and appropriate books and sort out the less important ones. Of course it would be good if every student had the time to discover new books on his own.
In times of the web it has become much easier to find new literature. So the working method changes. It has also become easier to confront different sources in new ways that go beyond the possibilities of the old universities and libraries in the time before the internet. This also makes it possible to get new ideas. If you got an idea, you may look up in the lexicon of arguments whether there are already results in that field and whether there are already counterarguments against it.

A very fast search is available today!

It is available today – for instance the issue of "Big Data“ and the fascinating results of it. In the humanities, there is an enormous amount of data that has to be searched. There you have several editions of the complete works of an author and you may want to look for divergences and faults. Researchers use mainframes for this work. But the huge amounts of data are no problem for the computer – they are a problem for the human user. It is he who has to draw conclusions from the results. Human work and lifetime is at stake.
If the query in the complete works of an author – maybe thousands of pages – leads to results, it should be possible to bring these results to a point. It can be a pleasure to read the complete works to be sure, but when it is about finding the one point the whole research was about, one might miss it. It is important to get the overview and have an eye on contradicting and only seemingly contradicting positions and to distinguish between real and only seeming contradictions.

hy not automate everything? Why is human work necessary at all?

Human work is necessary because concepts may appear in different meanings in the different fields of specialization. Also, novelty does not only mean a later date of publication but also a diverging content that makes it a new contribution to our knowledge. Above all the ease of use is in the synopsis. For computers the synopsis is already given from the start, so to speak.  

Isn’t the flood of information continuing to grow by the help of your lexicon?

"Summarize!“ is the motto of our whole project. And it is important, because you can better invest the time for further research. In the long run, we paralyze ourselves with the growing amount of secondary literature which we will have to scan for new information and not for the repetition of what we already now. However, everything that is written is labeled "new", of course. No one would say “Hey, I just repeated something!” Nevertheless this is happening quite often when an edition is placed next to another.
The academic practice requires you to refer to the state of the art first. This again leads to a multiplication of the body of knowledge. Now, when all of this is on the web, it is still different from being in the archive in the basement. But when we all are whacked with material, it takes so much time to scan it and it will take more and more of our time. Therefore we say “Shorten the arguments to single statements“(plus indication of the source).
Knowledge structuring is an important issue in the sciences today where a fast access to growing masses of information is needed. If you stored a lot, you got the data. But do you have the access? You won’t if the amount of data is growing.  

Why should we learn better in the Lexicon of Arguments?

We don’t say that with our lexicon you will learn better than anywhere else. But it is fun to see how authors contradict each other and things are usually a lot more impressing when they are learned within lively controversies. It is the perception of the material as being controversial that makes it an experience.
Another aspect is that the learner tests himself on arguments and tries to find better ones. In the long run, of course, it will be more and more difficult to find arguments that outrule everything else. Just try!

Some people doubt that you can achieve education and knowledge on the internet.

Some people believe that contents aren’t explained enough. First of all this isn’t true for Wikipedia which helps you learn the ropes of really difficult topics. Additionally, the Lexicon of Arguments may help make the learning material more understandable – especially when no teacher is there – and to explain why a state of affairs is presented, but a concept that you would expect to appear in this context isn’t used. This is an interesting question.

At first sight your website seems quite specific and highbrow – it is probably only for people who already know everything about philosophy?

Not at all! You can look up the concepts you don't know right on the spot. So you continue to work without having to leave the site and what’s even better, you can have fun seeing how the authors contradict each other. The more you understand the faster it goes. And this is true for any search: the more you know the better you will search.

Can one build a personalized Personal Learning Environment (PLE)

You can. And you can also let others benefit from it by gathering information and putting it together in our spreadsheets. These spreadsheets are getting better and better, because they are also shaped by others.
Some information may not withstand the test by others, so they will be improved. By doing this, we get a better learning environment over time. We will make a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) out of the more personal PLE.

What else are you up to?

Well, I have been thinking for years that one should collect the numerous comments that have been made on (famous) pictures in the course of time. It would be fascinating to see how these comments contradict each other. This would allow one to see how the reception changed over time. Again this should be done in the form of short statements. In this form it is easier to compare them.
Thank you, Martin Schulz!
My pleasure.
Ulrich Crüwell talked to Martin Schulz.
Mai 2013