Fallacies of Definition

In order to make our words or concepts clear, we use a definition. The purpose of a definition is to state exactly what a word means. A good definition should enable a reader to 'pick out' instances of the word or concept with no outside help.

For example, suppose we wanted to define the word "apple". If the definition is successful, then the reader should be able go out into the world and select every apple which exists, and only apples. If the reader misses some apples, or includes some other items (such as pears), or can't tell whether something is an apple or not, then the definition fails.

The following are fallacies of definition:

  • Too Broad (The definition includes items which should not be included)
  • Too Narrow (The definition does not include all the items which shouls be included)
  • Failure to Elucidate (The definition is more difficult to understand than the word or concept being defined)
  • Circular Definition (The definition includes the term being defined as a part of the definition)
  • Conflicting Conditions (The definition is self-contradictory)
13 August 1996