Semantic dispute

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For semantic arguments in linguistics, see verb argument.

A semantic dispute is a disagreement that arises if the parties involved disagree about whether a particular claim is true, not because they disagree on material facts, but rather because they disagree on the definitions of a word (or several words) essential to formulating the claim at issue.

It is sometimes held that semantic disputes are not genuine disputes at all. But very often they are regarded as perfectly genuine, e.g., in philosophy.

It is also sometimes held that when a semantic dispute arises, the focus of the debate should switch from the original thesis to the meaning of the terms of which there are different definitions (understandings, concepts, etc.).

One example is the differing set of interpretations of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw "from territories occupied" in the 1967 Six Day War. Many parties, including the government of Israel, hold that this phrase does not mean that Israel should withdraw from all such territories, else the Security Council would have said "from the territories occupied". Others, including all of the Arab states, hold that the resolution calls for withdrawal from all of the occupied territories.

Other common traps for semantic disputes include the usage of words such as liberal, democrat, conservative, republican, progressive, free, welfare or socialist whose meanings in English, or in the United States, are often quite different from how similar words are understood in other languages, countries, or cultures.

See also

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