Saturday, September 04, 2004

Do We Agree about Bush's Swagger?

Justice Potter Stewart famously once said that he knew pornography when he saw it. Stewart's claim has drawn scorn and ridicule from legal scholars for decades.

But consider this: Bush does literally swagger. And I don't like his swaggering.

But my principal objective now is not to express my personal feelings about Bush's swaggering. Instead, now I want to emphasize the following point:

Although I cannot define or describe swagger, I think I know swagger when I see it -- and I bet you do too; to wit, I bet that many of us would use "swagger" in much the same way, that many of us would agree when swaggering is occurring and when it is not.
If I am right about the workings of "swagger" in American English, it follows that at least some words that many of us cannot readily define sometimes serve as useful or meaningful references -- interpersonally consistent references -- to phenomena in the world. Q.E.D.: We don't always need definitions of words to make words useful or meaningful.

But: People who want to create computers or programs that mimic human behavior don't have the luxury of leaving referring words or concepts (such as "swagger") undefined: if it is to emulate human behavior, the computer or program must be instructed on how or when to use "swagger."


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