What is the nature of definition? Present different rules to be applied in framing definitions.

Nature of definition

The term to be defined is called definiendum and its definition is called definien. Definition aims at unfolding the meaning of a term. It is the explicit statement of complete connotation of a term. The connotation of a term consists of essential attributes of the term. The purpose of defining a term is to understand the meaning of a term. For example, while defining man, rationality and animality are the two essential qualities which are considered. Hence man is defined as a rational animal.

There are different kinds of definitions:

  1. Ostensive definition: When we explain the meaning of a term by pointing or showing the corresponding object, it is called ostensive definition.
  2. Denotative definition: When a term is defined by referring to the denotation of that term, it is called denotative definition.
  3. Connotative definition: When we explicate the connotation of a term, it is called connotational or connotative definition.

Different rules to be applied

Rule I: The definition should state the entire connotation of the term, neither less nor more. The connotation of a term consists of common and essential attributes. Example: “Man is a rational animal” i.e., Man is that which has animality and rationality.

Rule II: The definition should be clearer than the term defined and should not, therefore, be expressed in figurative, ambiguous or obscure language

Example for figurative definitions:

Childhood is the morning of life.

Example for obscure definitions:

A girl is a perpendicular biological phenomenon in short skirt.

Rule III: The definition should not contain the term defined, or a synonym of it. Violation of this rule leads to the fallacy of circular definition. For example “the sun is the center of the solar system”. Here the term solar system already presupposes Sun that is to be defined.

Rule IV: A definition should not be negative when it can be affirmative. A definition should positively state what the term means if it is possible to make an affirmation about it. A negative proposition merely states what a term does not mean. Violation of this rule leads to the fallacy of negative definition.

Example:

Mind is not matter.

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