One problem we discovered with terms is that some of them are ambiguous.  What if the concept it stands for is ambiguous?  Can you think of an ambiguous concept?  Or better yet...

Can concepts be ambiguous?

Yes       No



What do you mean, "wrong!"?  What about "table"?  That's almost as ambiguous as a concept as it is as a term.  Even if you specify a flat thing with four legs, there's all kinds of them.

True, but what kind do you have in mind?

coffee table
dining table
end table
folding table
other kinda table


It doesn't matter what kind!  They're all ambiguous until you define them down precisely.

No.  The terms are ambiguous until you define them precisely.  The concept in your mind to which you attach the term is unambiguous.

What if I don't have a specific kind of table in mind?

Then you have a general flat surface with four legs in mind.  A term can correspond to a generality.

Generalities are ambiguous!

General terms are ambiguous.  The concept in your mind, however general, is one single concept, not multiple concepts.

I can have multiple concepts in mind!

True.  And each one is singular.

And each one can be ambiguous!

It can be ambiguous only if it might not be what it is.

How do you know it can't be what it isn't?

Because nothing can be what it isn't.

You're playing with words.

True.  But not to confuse you - rather to unconfuse you.

I may be confused, but I'm not convinced.

It takes a while.

Pompous ****ing *******.



Correct, and congratulations on your philosophical acumen.  Next question:

Can concepts be vague?

Yes       No


Wrong.  Concepts can have unclear boundaries.  e.g.  Gray.

I thought you said the term was vague.

A term is ambiguous if it stands for multiple concepts.  A term is called vague if the concept it stands for is vague.  Actually it's not the term that's vague, it's the concept.

You said before that the term was vague.

Right - because at that time, we had not made a clear distinction between term and concept.

Then when you said the term was vague, you lied!

Define lie.

Everybody knows what a lie is!

In general, yes.  But I need to know your particular definition.

Lie:  saying something is true when you know it's not true - or believe it's not true.

Then you're right; I lied.

Huh? You admit it?

By your definition, yes.  If you had included the attempt to deceive in your definition, I would have denied lying.

But you wanted me to believe something different from what you believe to be true.

No, I wanted you to understand a certain level of truth.  Now that you understand it, I want you to understand a gerater level of truth.

By telling me the first level was a lie.

By telling you the first level was an oversimplification.

Why didn't you just say it right the first time?

Because some truth is complex.  It has to be learned in levels.

Greater levels of precision don't require lying.

Sometimes it's not a matter of precision.  Sometimes a whole paradigm has to be replaced with another paradigm, which is still erroneous, but closer to correct.

But now that I know you're a liar, why should I believe you at all?

You shouldn't.  You're not here to believe me, and I'm not here to be believed.  You're here to understand reality better, and I'm here to help you figure it out.

I don't like doing it this way!

Okay.  Let's start over.  A term is vague if the concept it stands for is vague.  In fact, the term is vague because the concept is vague.  Better?

Fine. Why didn't you just say that?

Because it implies that the term somehow acquires the attributes of the concept, and I wouldn't want to defend that.

But you would defend lying rather than admit that you don't know how reality works.

I'm not saying I understand all of reality; just more than you do.  And if a simplistic lie appears to be the best way to help you understand it better, I will lie.

What if I'm not convinced that you understand reality better than I do?

Then you should stop reading this, and look elsewhere for greater understanding.

I agree.  I don't need lies to help me understand truth.

One final question.  Where are you likely to find greater honesty?

**** you!

Shall we proceed?



Correct again.  Any term that appears vague stands for a concept that is actually vague.  A vague concept definitely includes some things and definitely excludes other things, but is not defined precisely enough to include or exclude all things, e.g.  white, gray, black.  Any line drawn between these concepts is arbitrary.  Not only is gray a vague concept, but black and white are also vague concepts when used in the sense of light perception.  When black and white are used in the sense of true/false, yes/no, on/off, etc. they are not vague concepts; they are distinct concepts.

Do you think concepts are defined by the same criteria as terms are defined?

Yes       No


Wrong, but it was a hard question without examples of the criteria.



Right, but it requires explanation.
A term is defined by identifying the concept to which it corresponds, and possibly the sense in which it is intended.
A concept is defined by isolating it from everything that is not that concept.  If it canít be totally isolated, it is vague.  The degree to which it can be isolated is the degree to which it can be defined.  Some concepts can be perfectly defined (e.g. numbers, polygons).  Most concepts can't.

Now we're going to examine different ways to define them.

Terms first:       back


There are two types of term definitions:  lexical & stipulative.
A lexical definition is a dictionary definition.  It is one of (or a list of) the ways a term is used.  A type of lexical definition is a precising definition, used when a lexical definition is not precise enough.  It simply narrows the range of a lexical definition.
A stipulative definition is a single definition (usually one of the lexical definitions) used in a particular context.  e.g.  "For purposes of this lecture..." A lexical definition can be incorrect; a stipulative definition can't because it is arbitrary - maybe completely arbitrary.

What about denotative & connotative?  Aren't they types of term definitions?

Yes       No





Right.  Denotative & connotative are another two types of term definitions.  The denotative meaning is the concept or thing to which the term corresponds.  A connotative meaning (of which there may be many) is anything in addition to the denotative meaning which is suggested by the term.  e.g.  "cult":  denotatively any religion, connotatively any bad religious offshoot.

Are there any other ways to define terms?

Yes       No


Some sources include a persuasive definition, meaning a definition in effort to persuade somebody of something.  But it's not really a definition; it's just an attempt to confuse people.  Other than lexical, stipulative, denotative & connotative, I don't know of any legitimate ways to define terms.  If you do, please tell me.

What about defining a term by its attributes?



I agree.  So let's move on to ways to define concepts.

Can concepts be defined by their attributes?

Yes       No


Wrong. For example:
Triangle:  closed figure with three straight sides
This doesn't mean all concepts can be defined by their attributes.  Most concepts can be described by their attributes, but not defined.  For example:
Book:  stack of rectangular papers with writing on them and bound on one edge
Not all things that fit this description are books, and not all books fit this description.



Terms don't have attributes; concepts do.  You can define concepts by their attributes.  For example:
Triangle:  closed figure with three straight sides
This doesn't mean all concepts can be defined by their attributes.  Most concepts can be described by their attributes, but not defined.  For example:
Book:  stack of rectangular papers with writing on them and bound on one edge
Not all things that fit this description are books, and not all books fit this description.

This is as far as I've gotten so far. If you have any suggestions, email me.  These things are rather hard to figure out.