An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. But in the realm of cognition, nothing is as bad as the approximate.
Observe the technique involved . . . . It consists of creating an artificial, unnecessary, and (rationally) unusable term, designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concepts—a term which sounds like a concept, but stands for a “package-deal” of disparate, incongruous, contradictory elements taken out of any logical conceptual order or context, a “package-deal” whose (approximately) defining characteristic is always a non-essential. This last is the essence of the trick.
Let me remind you that the purpose of a definition is to distinguish the things subsumed under a single concept from all other things in existence; and, therefore, their defining characteristic must always be that essential characteristic which distinguishes them from everything else.
So long as men use language, that is the way they will use it. There is no other way to communicate. And if a man accepts a term with a definition by non-essentials, his mind will substitute for it the essential characteristic of the objects he is trying to designate . . . . Thus the real meaning of the term will automatically replace the alleged meaning.
[The second quote is less relevant than the first, but I include it for completeness.]
The discussion went as follows:
My friend observed a news article about a man who is currently/was previously a man, and his decision to live 'as a woman' from now on. He has not had surgery to alter his sex. The article referred to the subject throughout as 'she' and 'her', and my friend commented that it was great to see an article that used the correct pronouns throughout.
I said that surely it would be correct to use either male or female pronouns since he/she can refer both to gender, and also sex. Since he is of the male sex but (self-identified as being) of the female gender, both pronouns are valid, it merely depends on the usage i.e. if we want talk about his sex, we say 'he', if we want to talk about his gender, we say 'she'.
Her response was that this is strictly correct but that it is polite to refer to people how they wish to be referred to. Her friend (the friend of the friend) made a more interesting response though. Her argument is not merely that referring to this person as female (leaving out their male sex) is polite, but that they actually are female and are not male. That is to say that either gender and sex are synonymous, relating to the mind not the body, or that gender is a valid concept while sex is not (I am not sure which precisely she believes). My original position was that he is both male (sex) and female (gender), but she argued that there is no duality, he is simply female and nothing else.
We do have working definitions of 'male' and 'female' that are based around the presence of different reproductive organs and the makeup of genes. A simple set of definitions would be:
A male is a human with a penis
A female is a human with a vagina
A male is a human with XY chromosomes
A female is a human with XX chromosomes
These specific terms are variations of what we call 'sex' e.g. "His sex is male because he has a penis." They are not individually exhaustive or mutually exclusive, however; one may meet neither definition and therefore be sexless, or meet both definitions and therefore be of both the male and female sexes.
These definitions meet Rand's requirements: They take all of the things subsumed under the term (all men, all women) and differentiate them from all other things in existence by way of a defining characteristic (particular reproductive organs or chromosomes). To say "He is male," is to convey the information that the person in question has a penis, XY chromosomes, and so on, while to say "She is not male," conveys that they do not have a penis or XY chromosomes. Therefore the concept is useful. Its usefulness is increased because we can also draw certain likelihoods from this information e.g. If we know he has a penis and XY chromosomes, we can be 90-98% sure he has a sexual preference for females, we know it is likely he will be physically larger and stronger than the average person with a vagina, we know he is likely to cut his hair short, and so on. These are not defining characteristics of the male sex, but they are tendencies of those who meet its definition so the word goes beyond conveying merely the information contained within its definition, to a whole range of likelihoods associated with those meeting it.
I had initially simply accepted that the person in the article is of the female gender since they say so, but her argument that gender = sex (or that gender is a valid concept but sex is not) got me thinking. We can define sex, it is a valid and useful concept, but what about gender? Thinking about this, and her alleged definition in particular, has lead me to believe that gender is in fact an anti-concept.
When I asked her what the definition of female was, she replied that a female is someone who identifies as female. This is circular. You cannot define something with reference to itself. To demonstrate this, replace the term 'female' in her definition with its own definition and you end up with:
- "A female is someone who identifies as someone who identifies as someone who identifies as someone who identifies as someone who........ [ad infinitum]"
- The new word will be called 'frammastan'
- A frammastan is someone who identifies as a frammastan
This would be bad enough by itself, but her argument is specifically to obliterate the concept of sex as independent of gender (defined as 'whatever one identifies as'). Not only is it meaningless, it is destructive of another, valid concept i.e. it is an anti-concept.
This is only one person's attempt at a definition though, so perhaps we can arrive at an objective definition of gender that actually has some meaning. We know what makes someone of the female sex, but what makes someone of the female gender? We do have a set of characteristics that we expect to find in females and not males, a fondness for the color pink, for example. But then is anyone who likes pink a female? And anyone who does not like pink excluded from the female gender? We might say that one is female if one is more feminine (see below) than the average human, and that one is male if one is more masculine than the average human. This kind of definition I think works adequately with something like 'tall'. Even if we cannot specifically name the average height of a human, we have a pretty good idea of when someone is taller or shorter than the average. But how do we know what the average degree of femininity/masculinity is? How do we objectively weight different feminine/masculine traits in this calculation? Do liking pink and liking shopping both weigh equally? Does any fondness for the color pink in any way lead to one additional unit of femininity, or does it matter how much one likes pink? I cannot think of any way to define genders in this way that is not arbitrary, does not lead to absurdity, or that serves any useful purpose.
Now, I do think it is possible to define 'feminine' and 'masculine' in non-biological terms (which is something like gender). These are matters of degree, everyone falls somewhere on a scale of femininity/masculinity. We can say that liking the color pink is a feminine trait and contributes to one's femininity, but that does not make one 'a female'. Precisely what traits to consider masculine/feminine is probably simply a matter of what is commonplace among those of the male sex (corresponding to masculine) and of the female sex (corresponding to feminine), perhaps there is a more sophisticated formulation but I don't think that is important here.
'Male' and 'female' genders, however, are discrete concepts - one is either, or both, or neither, but we must be able to determine if someone does or does not fall under those terms. Some people must be excluded (not everyone is of both genders or there would be no need for two terms) and we do not talk about being more or less male/female than someone else. Since there is no rational way to categorize people into these two camps, and since the above definition ("your gender is whatever you identify as") is meaningless, and since the concept is (I believe) used to destroy the concept of sex (which has meaning and use), gender is an anti-concept.
It is also, I think, a worrying example of a kind of anti-reality thinking that can be described as "Wishing will make it so."
Edited by SFreeman89Vision, 10 May 2012 - 04:04 AM.