Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Definition Exercise

As a grampa, my babysitting is sometimes done at their house and sometimes at my house. When I go to my son's houses I usually take a book to read in the event the tykes take a nap. One day a few months ago I went to sit and forgot the book. I had a legal pad out in the car so I decided to try my hand a putting together some formal definitions in an effort to hone my skill at it. I started out with Rand's definition of table at the top of my list as a model. So here for your perusal and criticism is my short list.



An item of furniture...


with a flat, level surface and
supports, designed to support
other, smaller objects.

>Duffel Bag


An item of luggage...


in the shape of a bag, with
compartments, designed to hold
personalized items usually for
one person.



A small space or room within a human habitat...


designed to store small accessories such as apparel or



Part of a fence or enclosure...


that opens to allow passage from one side to the other.

>Television Set


An electronic communication receiving device...


that recieves audio and visual communications via microwave signals.
Admittedly this is a short list and only very simple things defined. While doing this I refused to consult a dictionary for assistance for two reasons. One, many dictionaries don't give genus/differentia definitions and second, I need to get better at identifying definitions myself. So if you're a mind to, spare no criticism.


Ryan said...

I like to do this too, especially when reading books that do not explicitly define the terms they use.

Your definition of the concept television set needs revising. A counterexample is that a satellite dish could be a television set. The differentia needs to include what the device does with the signals.

I also question whether receiving data in the form of microwaves is what differentiates the concept of television set from all other electronic communication devices.

Another possible revision to the proposed definition is if a computer with television tuner card that is capable of performing the visual and audio functions of a television set is a television set.

Such revisions illustrate that definitions are contextual to current knowledge. This is discussed in the Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and also in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.


Mike N said...

Thanks for the input. You're right, my definition of television set needs work. But I don't think satellite dish would fall under my definition since it would have to be defined as both a reciever and transmitter even though it recieves signals. I think too that computer monitors with TV capability would be sub catagories of TV just as coffee table is to table.

I think that with technical definitions I have to be more well, technical while being essential. I wonder, is TV an item of furniture with a rectangle shape, a screen and speakers used for visual and audio communication?

TV set I think is a sub set of television which is the transmitting of visual and audio signals to recievers. So what I'm trying to define is the sub set of recievers.

And you are right about ITOE and OPAR. I refer to them often. But I want to get better at definitions without having to always refer to books. In conversation, one doesn't usually have the ability to look things up.
Thanks again for the input. It helps.

Burgess Laughlin said...

I would suggest first that a TV set, as a piece of equipment, is a part or element of a TV transmission system. A part is not a subclass of a genus, but simply a piece of a whole.

Instead, the essential defining characteristic should be the one that causes all, most, or many of the other characteristics of the thing. In this case, the thing is man-made, so the purpose of the thing is the essential defining characteristic. The designer designs it so that it fulfills a certain purpose. (See Ayn Rand's definition of table for the role of purpose.)

I offer my understanding of "essentializing" in the May 2, 2008 post here:

(I welcome instruction on how to turn a web address into a link. What angle brackets should I use to make the word "here" a link?)

Mike N said...


Yes, I see I need to be more specific about its purpose. by the way, I read your post on 'Essentializing' earlier this week and it reminded me of the definitions I wrote. When I found the pad Tuesday, I decided to make a post on it for Wednesday.

I don't know how to create a hyperlink on the comment board, only on a blog post. But I too would like to know. Sorry!

Tv brackets said...

This is a great exercise for ESL students especially. I used to work at Berlitz and i used to give them that exercise a lot. It helps them process the words properly and it helps remember. I think exercises are a lot better than lectures. It helps people revise the words and because they write the meaning and the word it somewhat engraves the word and meaning in their minds

However, this is not only for ESL students and students i use this myself when reading serious literature and philosophy books etc. I used to use this a lot as a teenager when studying things such as Shakespeare or studying for the SATs.


Mike N said...

Yes I too think exercises are better than lectures. And I'm glad you use them for ESL. I also like to do them whenever I'm stuck waiting for something that is if I have a smell pad handy. Even without one I can still run them through my head. Thanks for the input.

Mike N said...


Opps! That's supposed to be "small" pad.