I believe that the concept of dualism exists throughout the universe.

For every word, phrase, object, and thing in the universe there is a positive and a negative state. For example - up/down, in/out, black/white, left/right, holding/not holding, using/not using.

Now, in the case of holding a pen; the holder decides if they are using it or not. The observer, on the other hand, does not have the right to say that the holder is using it or not using it. The observer can only observe that the holder is holding the pen and can't determine if they are using it or not. This is my opinion of the matter.

Thus, in a democratic society, the holder of a pen decides if he/she is using it or not. In a dictatorship, on the other hand, the rights of the individual are negated and the dictator determines that dualism doesn't exist and that the holder must be using the pen, just because they are holding it. Thus, the dictator has negated logic, laws of physics, rules of grammar in order to justify an enforced and language limiting opinion. Note - As described by George Orwell in 1984 - Newspeak - change language for political gain and to subdue the masses.

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    I’m voting to close this question because it is about philosophy, not law. Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 23:20
  • You seem to have everything sorted out. I'm afraid I can't work out what your question is.
    – Ludwig V
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 7:40

3 Answers 3


Philosophers are notorious for answering questions with, "Well it all depends on what you mean by...". This seems to be one of those cases. It just depends on what you regard 'using' a pen to mean, and there is no single answer. This rather invites an old-fashioned piece of linguistic analysis.

Usually, using something relates to its function. Pens are writing implements so writing with a pen is an obvious way to use it, but it may not be the only way. You could use a pen to point to something, or to tap on a surface to see what noise it makes, or you may just enjoy the way the pen feels in your hand. Also, using does not necessarily imply 'using right this moment'. You may say you are using a pen if you are planning to write with it and are still thinking about what to write.

Whether the person who holds a pen is the only determinant of whether they are using it depends on context. If they own the pen, then we might accept that it is entirely up to them whether they are using it. If it is communal property, someone else might be justified in saying, "You're not using that, so let me have it because I need it to write something.". If an item fulfils some vital role within a community, it might be down to the community as a whole to determine whether an item is being used, and whether it is being used appropriately.

I suppose your reference to a dictator envisages a situation in which someone usurps the authority to determine what use is for everyone in a society, overriding any considerations of ownership or personal responsibility. Such a situation is not one I would like to live under, but I don't see how it relates to logic, physics or grammar.

Finally, I wouldn't say that every word or object has a negative. What is the negative of green, or energy, or bacterium, or Simon Cowell? In practice, understanding negation in logic turns out to be more difficult than it looks. It can be understood in terms of complements, or opposites, or retractions.

  • Green - red, energy - entropy, Simon Cowell - A nice person, lol!
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 11:27

An observer can identify when it is being used as a pen, because it will be depositing ink on to paper. Whether it is being used to point, or as an object to reflect on, less clear.

"In this sort of predicament, always ask yourself: How did we learn the meaning of this word ("good", for instance)? From what sort of examples? In what language-games? Then it will be easier for you to see that the word must have a family of meanings."

-Wittgenstein, in Philosophical Investigations

We have ways we live, and ways we use language. Defining say 'chair' by physical properties is almost impossible, but use as a chair, no problem.

You might like to read this cgallenge to your simple picture of dualisms, that 'opposites' must be understood as a kind of language game: Life and Death as one and the same? Many things can have multiple opposites, depending on context. And we can get prigressively more abstract about what we pair up. See the especially slippery case of: What is "Nothing"?

Your point about the dictator seems to be about a system where there is an ultimate arbiter. A common convention historically was 'the mind of god', and I would argue that the idea there is a single indisputable ovjective reality 'out there' in fact implicitly assumes that there exists a 'god's eye' point of view. But having a Supreme Court is another way of having an ultimate arbiter, if there is some important consequence to whether the pen is being used or not, they will simply decide, make a definition, and in matters of law that will no be settled. It's not oppression to be told that, any more than to be told words have conventional uses in the dictionary - it is simply definitional. 'Using the pen' can just be defined in terms of what is seen.

  • Does the observer have the right to say you are using the pen if you are just holding it?
    – Steve
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 11:31
  • @Steve: It's not being used as a pen. Other uses on a case-by-case
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Jul 22, 2023 at 12:05

I don't know why you have posed your headline question in a philosophy Q&A site, since it seems to be straightforwardly about the meaning of an everyday word. To be 'using' a pen, implies that you are applying it to some purpose or gaining some benefit or effect from it. That need not be for the purpose of writing- you might be using it for any number of reasons- but holding a pen for no purpose would not normally be considered a use of the pen.

Your claim that every word, object etc has a positive and negative state is open to the challenge posed by Bumble- namely that one can easily give examples of words or object that do not have obvious complementary positive or negative partners.

As for your comments about democracy v dictatorship, they seem rather contrived. The meanings of words are largely determined by usage, not by fiat or personal choice. In any case, the suggestion that a dictator would intervene to adjudicate on the purpose of your holding a pen is somewhat improbable.


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