The Definition of Definition

A word is defined in a context in which it is always present. A thief (defined as – one who steals) is defined in the context of the act of stealing, in which it is always present. (Similarly, the stolen thing CAN BE defined in the context of the act of stealing, in which it is always present). A bed cannot be defined in the context of the act of stealing since a bed may not necessarily be present in the act of stealing always. (A bed is defined in the context of sleeping or lying down). 

There are 2 parts to any definition – 

Part 1) What it is – what the thing is literally

Part 2) Context – the context in which it is ALWAYS present.

E.g. – bullet : a small metal object fired from a gun.Here, Part 1 – small metal objectPart 2 – the contexts of gun and firing in which it is always present.

Now, let’s compare Part 1 and Part 2.Consider this – When you think of a thief, the stronger commonsensical link is of robbery/theft/stealing than the fact that it is a person. When you hear/think of a bullet, the stronger link is of gun or firing than the fact that it is a small metal object. Now, actually, a ‘person’ (part 1) is a closer link to a thief than ‘one who steals’ (part 2) and similarly a ‘small metal object’ is to a bullet than ‘firing or gun’, since they are what those things firstly are! And commonsense is the most immediate link from anything. So how come commonsense skips this super-obvious connection and goes to the next obvious one? Somehow, the super-obvious gets skipped compared to the comparatively slightly less obvious. What could be the reason?

– One thing is that ‘part 1’ is not necessarily fixed. A bed may not always be a rectangular wooden structure, a thief may not necessarily be a human and a bullet may not necessarily be a small metallic object – stretching your conventional imagination. But the contexts (Part 2) are more certain associations than these. 

– Another reason could be that we will come across these words mostly, already, in some context. Hence the contextual connections dominate.

– Or is it that the part 1 connection is a part of the very “registry” of the word in the mind, and hence isn’t really a “connection” as such, like part 2 is?

So cognitively speaking, the context is a stronger definer than the ‘what it is’ part. Of course, when you hear an apple, you think of a red “sphere”, but that’s because there isn’t a necessary context in which an apple is always present in.

Commonsense thinking about something seems to rest more on context than on the literal description of that thing.

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