Monday, March 19, 2018


"You can't say 'more unique,' or 'very unique,'" is a thing pedants sometimes say. "Either something's unique or it isn't!" But is that really true? First, we have to determine what exactly we mean by "unique." Isn't it self-evident? No, not really! And if you're a pedant, you have to care about exactitude in definitions.

If we think "unique" must denote an absolute, there are two ways we could potentially think of it. First, we could posit that something is unique if any aspect of it is different in any way from something else, down to the molecular level. But that's not really useful, is it? It would mean that everything, even mass-produced products, are "unique" in a really trivial and meaningless way.

Alternatively, we could say that something is unique if and only if absolutely every aspect of it is utterly dissimilar from anything else--again, down to the molecular level. However, this seems equally unhelpful, as it means that absolutely nothing is unique.

So what do we do? What do you mean when you call something "unique" anyway? It's pretty obvious that if I call this animal or that academic program unique, I'm not using either of the above definitions. Rather, I'm--wait for it--talking about something somewhere in the middle. It's clear that, for all practical purposes, there's a sliding scale of uniqueness, and if you attempt to hew to absolutes you just define the word out of useful existence. Hence, it's perfectly okay to say that something is more unique than something else or, indeed, very unique, queue ee dee.

I suppose you could make a better case for "perfect," but only a little. In any case, why bother?  Does being tedious really bring you that much personal satisfaction?


Anonymous Anonymous pontificated to the effect that...

I think this basically reduces to Aristotle's question about how to define the "essence" of something - is something defined by its component parts, or does it become something qualitatively different when you put those parts together in a certain way? And if so, does that mean that the essence of that object exists in some way independently from the physical object itself? Whoa, man.


9:57 PM  

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