Some Dimensions of Definition:
What is the Definition of X? How "Objective" is it?
©2008 Edward G. Rozycki

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edited 7/31/08

The usefulness of a definition is dependent to some extent on how one intends to employ the definition. But definitions are also dependent upon the way the term to be defined is normally used in a community of speakers.

There are three dimensions of primary importance to be considered when attempting to construct a definition. They are

A: the emotive. This dimension focusses on expression of feeling, or lack of such expression. e.g. three pounds, 6 feet. light, heavy, cute, creepy. These terms range from dispassionate to expressive with either positive or negative connotation.

B. the descriptive. This dimension focusses on the extent to which judgment is based on presumption as opposed to demonstration, e.g. honest. happy, graduate, felon. equilateral, topology. These terms range from defeasible (presumptive) to summative (invoking the logical sufficiency of necessary conditions).

C. the communal. This dimension focusses on the breadth of community invoked by the judgment. e.g. cute, annoying, criminal. These terms range from idiosyncratic to social.

The chart that follows contrasts and compares these three dimensions.

Dimension Which focusses on? Which ranges from? Examples
EMOTIVE feeling dispassionate to expressive striped, red, ghastly
DESCRIPTIVE presumption in judgment defeasible to summative tactful, shy, felonious
COMMUNAL breadth of community idiosyncratic to social bland, sexy, esteemed

Sort the following italicized words from the examples in List A and List B into the chart that follows.

List A
List B

1. She's a scary person!
2. Mr. Smith is credit‑worthy.
3. These bonds are tax‑free in New Jersey.
4. The background music is distracting.
5. Sam is a felon.

1. My friends are trustworthy.
2. His Ph.D. indicates he is well‑educated.
3. Experience has taught me a lot.
4. Our organization promotes patriotism.
5. Sam is six feet tall.

Sorting Chart

 
Dispassionate
Expressive

Summative

 

 

idiosyncratic

 

social

idiosyncratic

 

social

Defeasible

 

 

idiosyncratic

 

social

idiosyncratic

 

social

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