It all depends on what you mean by…..

15 Jul

I know you probably are thinking, “Enough with these terms – get on with the argumentation part of your logic blog!”

I tell you, terms are where it’s at!  Real progress down the road CAN be had in direct proportion to the amount of effective work you do at clearing up and coming to an agreement regarding terms.

When Susie uses a word or words to refer to a single concept (hence a ‘term’), we’ve got to pin her down on what she has in her mind’s eye!

She might say, “It’s not healthy to eat between meals!”

* *

Before launching in with a self-righteous volley right back at Susie like:

“Wait a second, what do you mean it’s not healthy!  Why I think that ….”

..we must clarify with Susie what she means by “meals”

I like to practice creating GooD definitions.  A ‘good’ definition has a genus and a differentia, hence my large and emboldened G, D.

A genus is the family or category the term fits into and the differentia is what makes the family members distinguishable one from the other.

Here’s how to create a definition.  Ask yourself this first question

1)    What is the larger group of things we are talking about, the broader category that meal could belong to?

In this case, it’s probably ‘food’, but that could be food for sale in the grocery store, or food that is used for photographers, or food on display in restaurant counters.

2)    How can I narrow down the category without compromising a full-orbed picture of possible distinctions?

In this example, let’s say that the broader category or genus is “Food prepared for human consumption”

Once we have the genus taken care of we can write:

  • A meal is food prepared for human consumption that________________

Now our task is to think of all the possible items that would fit in that category, kind of like the brothers and sisters of ‘meal’, members of the family of ‘food prepared for human consumption.’

What else might be a food prepared for human consumption that is NOT a meal?

I would suggest these 2 possibilities besides ‘meal’:

  • a single edible item like a CARROT that is seasoned or cooked or cut or arranged in such a way as to have been ‘prepared’
  • a potable drink that is either poured from a container or created from ingredients or seasoned or heated/iced

Now we can describe the differentia for meal to make it DISTINGUISHABLE from these 2 family members.  Here goes:

  • a combination of 2 or more food and/or drink items that is seasoned or cooked or cut or arranged

And our FULL and COMPLETE GooD definition of meal would be thus,

A meal is food prepared for human consumption that is a combination of 2 or more food and/or drink items that is seasoned or cooked or cut or arranged.


Well, speaking about food,  it’s lunch time and I’m going to make us each a meal of roast beef & Swiss sandwiches together with pop corn and Diet Dr. Pepper!    

Next time we’ll run our definition through one more diagnostic test to be sure that it is complete.

Your homework to practice creating GooD definitions?  Pick out some terms that you hear this week and ask yourself what is the broader category to which they belong.

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