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6. Definition[edit | edit source]

Four difficulties confronting a theory of definition, 109. (i) Verbal and 'real' definitions, 110. (ii) Definitions and statements, (iii) Definitions ad hoc. -- The 'universe of discourse.' (iv) Intensive and extensive definition, 111.

The technique of definition. -- The selection of starting-points with which to connect doubtful referents. -- Types of fundamental connection few in number. -- Reasons for this, 113. Criteria of starting-points, 114. The merits of gesture-language, 116. Complex and indirect relations, 116. Enumeration of common routes of definition, 117.

Application of this technique to discussion. -- Fallacy of seeking the definition of a symbol. -- Systematic and occasional definitions, 121. Non-symbolic, i.e., indefinable terms, 123. Example of 'good,' 124. Influence of purpose on vocabulary, 126. Error of seeking common element in various uses. Reasons for this habit, 128. Difficulty of introducing new terms, 130. The Method of Separation, 131. Rules of thumb. -- The naming of controversial tricks. -- Schopenhauer's suggestion, 132. Three subterfuges distinguished: the phonetic (Mill's case); the hypostatic; the utraquistic, 133. Further safeguards against controversial malpractices. Dangerous words: Irritants, Degenerates, Mendicants (Matthew Arnold), Nomads (Locke), 134. The value of a transferable technique, 138.


In any discussion or interpretation of symbols we need a means of identifying referents. The reply to the question what any word or symbol refers to consists in the substitution of a symbol or symbols which can be better understood.

Such substitution is Definition. It involves the selection of known referents as starting-points, and the identification of the definiendum by its connection with these.

The defining routes, the relations most commonly used for this purpose, are few in number, though specialists in abstract thought can employ others. In fact they may be pragmatically generalized under eight headings. Familiarity with these defining routes not only conduces to ease of deportment in reasoning and argument, but offers a means of escape from the maze of verbal cross-classifications which the great variety of possible view-points has produced.