Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Word of the Week: Trilemma

Sometimes when reading, I run into interesting words.  In this case I found the word "trilemma", which like a dilemma, is about a difficult choice.  The only difference is that Tri literally means three options but a dilemma is a uncounted number of options.  I sometimes randomly look through wiki entries to see what additional data I might gain, and think critically about a subject (E.G. Keeping the saw sharp).   If you want to read this, you will need to have at least glanced at that wiki link, as I will reference it multiple times.

 In wiki they seem to cite multiple different styles of usage.  The computer-oriented example they give is the very well know "Good, Fast, Cheap, pick two" phrase in reference to computers.  This doesn't sound exactly like a trilemma to begin with, but rather a dilemma of some sort, where you can choose two out of a set of three.  Then, when you think more deeply about it, there are three bad groupings you can pick: "Fast-Cheap", "Fast-Good", "Good-Cheap."  This makes it a trilemma and now you can label that triangle.

Another style of this is the Apologetic trilemma, roughly simplified that Jesus is either a "Lunatic, Liar, or Lord."  I don't want to comment on the merits of the argument other than to note that it appears only like a trilemma because the list of options was artificially limited to three.  Where is Legend, Lithographic error or any of the other possible choices?

As the last "style" of trilemma I want to talk is the trilemma in law example given.  Basically it is 3 singular choices, each of which is direct and unique.  Either you can swear to something and lie, keep silent and go to jail or tell the truth and go to jail.  This is the easiest to identify and it doesn't appear there are any other options.  That means it really is a trilemma.

Ultimately, I just enjoy pulling out my thinking error bingo cards when reading a wiki page, not because I think Wikipedia is intentionally misleading, but because the sometimes author's perspectives are limited and concentrated on the work at hand.  QA is a second (or Nth) set of eyes to consider a topic.

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