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TRILEMMA

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TRILEMMA

Postby Dr. Goodword » Tue Mar 22, 2011 11:07 pm

• trilemma •

Pronunciation: tri-lem-ê • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A difficult choice between three equally unappealing alternatives.

Notes: We often face dilemmas in life, less often trilemmas. A dilemma originally referred to a decision based on only two choices that lead to equally undesirable outcomes. Similarly, a trilemma is a three-way decision with no acceptable outcome. The meaning of dilemma, however, has been generalized to mean any difficult decision with no positive outcome. We should avoid using using dilemma to simply refer to a tough problem: teenage pregnancy is not a dilemma but a problem.

In Play: The classic trilemma is the one pointed out by the Greek philosopher Epicurus and faced by those who approach religion logically:

    1. If God is unable to prevent evil, he is not omnipotent.
    2. If God is not willing to prevent evil, he is not good.
    3. If God is willing and able to prevent evil, then why is there evil?

(This is why religion is a faith, not a logical conclusion.) Of course, we occasionally face trilemmas in our regular lives: "If I go fishing with dad, mom will get mad; if I stay home and clean my room, dad will be mad; if I don't do either, both will get mad—and I can't do both things!"

Word History: Today's Good Word was created by analogy with dilemma from Greek dilemma "double proposition". Dilemma comes from from di- "two" + lemma "premise, proposition"; tri simply means "three" in Greek. Lemma comes from root of lambanein "to take", used in the sense of "understand" as to take a gesture as an act of kindness or to mistake a gesture as an act of kindness. The root of Greek lambanein was (s)lag- with a Fickle S that does not show up in Greek. It also did not show up in Old English laeccan "grasp, seize", either. That word traveled down to us today as latch. (There is no trilemma here; we have to thank Tony Bowden of the Alpha Agora for suggesting today's often forgotten word no matter what the outcome of our decision.)
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Postby Stargzer » Wed Mar 23, 2011 2:20 am

[WarpedFactor=3]
It sounds like a college fraternity for linguists: "[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemma_(linguistics)]Lemma[/url] Lemma Lemma, otherwise known as Trilemma or Tri-Lem."
[/WarpedFactor]
Regards//Larry

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Postby MTC » Wed Mar 23, 2011 4:18 am

Three points:

1.) To see how the trilemma has been applied in different fields see the Wikipedia article. It's an education.

2.) In the spirit of one-upmanship, there is also a "quadrilemma," or "quardalemma." While I do not find this word in the OED, still it has been defined and did collect 6250 hits on a Google search:

"A quadrilemma is a seldom–used and unconventional term describing a problem requiring a choice among four alternatives. It is in contrast to the standard term dilemma, which is between two opposing alternatives in which a person can only choose one. A less common term trilemma involves choosing either one or two choices among three possibilities.[1]" (See http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Quadrile ... twsApr25-0)

3.) Regarding usage, the authorities are about evenly split on proper usage of "alternative" and "option," with some restricting "alternative" to the situation in which there are only two choices, leaving "option" for use with three or more choices,while other authorities use "alternative" less restrictively for situations with any number of choices. I like the more restrictive usage because it can be useful at times. Dr. Beard and the author of the definition above employ the less restrictive approach.
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Do the Horns of a Trilemma Require a Triceratops?

Postby Dr. Goodword » Wed Mar 23, 2011 9:15 am

Chris Stewart sent a humorous response to trilemma, too. I decided to put it up on the blog at http://www.alphadictionary.com/blog/?p=801. He offers another more common trilemma: lead, follow, or get out of the way faced by someone on a tightrope. It is worth the two minutes it takes.
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