Definition

Definition

Definition

Definition

Excerpt

DEFINITION has been practised and discussed for nearly two and a half millenniums. It has been more widely adopted, and less often reviled, than any other part of the original theory of logic drawn up by Aristotle. To-day it is probably the best known idea in the field of logic, except for the idea of inference. The word 'definition' is more often used by the general public than any other peculiarly logical term except the word 'logic' itself. The magazine called Science , a weekly organ of the largest body of scientists in existence, hardly goes a month without printing assertions about definitions or definition in general, explicitly referred to as such. In the thirties the association of U.S. hotelkeepers was much concerned about the definition of 'hotel'. In the lawcourts big payments of money depend upon the judge's definitions. If a man's car is insured against 'collisions', and is then damaged by running into a body of floodwater pouring across the road, must the insurer pay? Can one 'collide' with water? What is the definition of 'collision'? If a haberdasher's stock of oiled raincoats heats up and chars without ever producing smoke or flame, can he collect fire-insurance? What is the definition of 'fire'? Every educated person is familiar with this notion; and even those who most heartily despise Aristotle's syllogism nearly always allow some value to definition, perhaps because they do not connect it so closely with Aristotle.

The purpose of this book, as a whole, is to clarify our conception of definition and to improve our defining activities. But the purpose of the present introductory chapter is not directly to increase clarity but rather to call to mind the obscurities that need clarifying. I here collect and contrast a few of the conflicting views that have arisen about definition in the course of man's long discussion of it. They make a somewhat bewildering set of ideas; but the survey of them shows what a need for clarification there is, and gives more point and value to the analytical work of the succeeding chapters.

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