Types of Definition
©1999 Edward G. Rozycki

edited 8/16/11

in Israel Scheffler The Language of Education (Springfield, IL: Thomas, 1968)

Descriptive- purporting to capture the common usage of the term

Stipulative- specifying a particular formulation as the meaning for a particular purpose with no concern for common usage.

Programmatic - a combination of the descriptive and stipulative for argumentative purposes

in Dagobert D. Runes, (ed.) Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: Philosophical Library, 1960)
A. Syntactical (nominal) Definitions- primarily in logic, math
abstract: via relationships, e.g. integers from cardinals

recursive: generated via reflexive application of relationships, e.g. successors to natural numbers

compositional: via multiple recursions, e.g. well-formed formulas

semantic: definiendum = definiens.

B. Real Definitions - attempt to capture "essence" of definiendum.
in Paul Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Free Press, 1967). Particularly, Raziel Abelson, Definition, pp.314-324
A. Essentialist Definitional Types - (Plato, Aristotle, Kant) distinguish between description and definition; seek "essential" characteristics, specifying genus and differentia.

B. Prescriptive Definitional Types- (Hobbes, Russell) Formalisms, e.g. soup = x+water - detergent B, or zx = mRb.

C. Linguistic Definitional Types - (Mill, Moore, early ideal language analysts) - identifying "meaning" of term, e.g. phrase substitutions for terms or (EGR) operational definitions.

D. Pragmatic Definitional Types - look to context and usage.

See also Evaluating Definitions;
Some Dimensions of Definition and
Using Counterexamples


Consider the following statements. Are they definitions, or not? If so, what kind?

1. Paper is what the text you are now reading is printed on.

2. A human being is a featherless biped.

3. A triangle is a three sided polygon.

4. Property is Theft.

5. sin2x + cos2x = 1 (as contrasted with sin2x + cos2x = 1)

6. knowledge = that which can be established by experimental research.

7. Albert Schweizer is a fascist pig.

8. Learning is a change of behavior.

9. John Wilkes Booth is the man who shot Lincoln.