Definitions in Arguments
One of the most common problems in argumentation is disagreeing over the
meaning of a word. Many arguments are little more than misunderstanding
what your opponent means. If we can avoid errors in definition we make
the process of argumentation go much smoother.
A definition is simply the meaning we assign to a word-symbol. That is,
when ordinary speakers of a language use a word there are rules to
determine how the word is used. These 'rules' amount to the definition
we assign to a particular word. Every definition has at least two
- The Two Parts of a Definition:
- Definiendum - the thing (i.e., the 'term') being defined
- Definiens - the linguistic expression (i.e., the definition itself) of the definition, the qualities or properties asserted of the term.
NOTE: Equivocation is a logical error that occurs when a term is used in an argument more than once but is attributed two distinct meanings with each usage.
Man is a rational animal. T
Susan is not a man. T
Therefore, Susan is not rational. ?
- Types of Definitions
- Intensional - (connotation) assigns meaning by indicating the qualities of the term
- Extensional - (denotation) assigns meaning by indicating the members of the class of the definiendum
- Ways of Defining Terms
- Stipulative - assigning or giving a meaning to a term for a specific context
- Demonstrative - (i.e., ostension) pointing to an object
- Extension/Enumeration - naming the members of a class
- Difference (i.e., negation) - listing what is not meant by a term; noting the distinctive characteristics of the term relative to what is not intended
- Genus - the meta or larger class of things
- Species - the smaller or subclass of things
- Lexical - The common meaning or usage of a term
- Synonymy - giving other words which have the same meaning
- Enumeration - listing the members of the class which the term denotes
- Etymology - assigning meaning by noting a term's linguistic ancestry.
- Theoretical - assigning meaning based on the theoretical framework the term denotes.
- (Precising - assigning a meaning in a legal or theoretical context in order to clarify the contextual meaning of a word.)
- Persuasive - assigning meaning using emotive language intended to create an emotional response toward the definiendum.
- Problems with Definitions
- Vagueness - lack of precision (a fuzzy definition)
- Quantitative Vagueness - more precise numerical expression needed
- Task-Related Vagueness
- does it apply to a specific case
- further factual information is not helpful in determining
- Ambiguity - more than one meaning is possible; it is unclear which is intended by the context
- Referential Ambiguity - assuming the audience understands which of two possible references is meant.
- Grammatical Ambiguity:
- grammatical structure allows more than one interpretation
- context does not clarify the meaning
Back to the Main Page | Back to PHI 103