Mistakes in defining
On our family picnics, we usually race this way: my brother takes his position just a meter behind me, my sister is a meter ahead of me, and my parents take a good 10 meters head start. We start at the same ‘go’ but usually win or lose by a second or two. How do you define this ‘adjustment’ that we make to give everyone an equal chance at winning, accounting for their body weight, age, height, agility and stamina? Is it equality? No. Is it fair? yes.
When I was growing up, ‘equality’ was a buzz word, it never clicked with me. So when it was replaced with ‘equity’, I was relieved. Equity should be contrasted with ‘equality’ but many dictionaries still don't make this distinction quite clear. For example, Cambridge defines ‘equity’ as:
I have a problem with the word ‘equally’ here. It’s misleading and fails to grasp that ‘distinguishing factor’ of the word.
Another famous example is jihad. Cambridge defines ‘jihad’ as :
- in Islam, a religious struggle against evil in yourself or in society.
- a holy war fought by Muslims against people who are a threat to Islam
Thankfully, the first definition is now making its way into people’s minds, yet it has been the narrower second definition which people are still a lot more familiar with and hence might spend more energy on.
So here are the 5 rules of thumb of defining sth. :
- A definition should beجامع مانع or مطرد منعكس . Jami /mun’akis= all inclusive. مانع/مطرد =all exclusive. The second definition of jihad is too exclusive. So it’s مانع but not جامع. A good definition should be both. Put another way, a definition shouldn't be too broad أعم or too narrow أخص or different مباين .
- A definition should be clearer in meaning than the word being defined. Defining an odd number as ‘a number that’s one less than the even number’ is more a riddle than a definition. Defining in relative terms متضايفات is similarly wrong. e.g. defining a ‘dad’ as ‘father of son’.
- the definition (muarrif)shouldnt be the ‘same’ as the one defined (muarraf). Or it would be a synonym but not a definition, e.g. complacency is smugness. The definition should be different from the word being defined. which we usually do this by starting with a broad category and narrowing it down, referred to as الإجمال و التفصيل as in الحد التام (perfect definition). Or by distinguishing it from other similar words. e.g. ‘equity is more about fairness than equality’.
- Definition should be free from circular reasoning or ‘dawr’دور. This dawr could be explicit الدور المصرح as in one-layer circular reasoning or implicit as in multilayered circular reasoning. الدور المضمر .
الدور المصرح: defining the ‘sun’ as: ‘a star which rises during the day.’ bcs if someone didn't know the meaning of ‘day’ and looked it up in the dictionary, they would find ‘day’ defined as ‘time when the sun rises’. So the poor student is stuck between the sun and the day with no way out. This is a one step circular reasonging in definition. Sun > day and day > sun.
الدور المضمر is when the person comes back to the same word in more than one steps. e.g. defining the number ‘two’ as ‘the first even number’. If soemone didn't know the meaning of ‘even’ and looked it up, he would find ‘whole number that can be divided exactly by two’ so we are back to ‘two’ again. This one is trickier than the explicit one as its not just two >two, but two >even >two.
5. the definition shouldn’t include ambiguous words or metaphors. Defining ‘hope’ as ‘flower than blooms forever’.
PS: Medium offers no RTL support so I'm pasting the selected sentences only from the book. Google them if eager.
المنطق — الشيخ محمد رضا المظفر — الصفحة ١٢٥
شروط التعريف (1) الغرض من التعريف — على ما قدمنا — تفهيم مفهوم المعرف — بالفتح — (2) وتمييزه عما عداه. ولا يحصل هذا الغرض إلا بشروط خمسة:
الأول: أن يكون المعرف — بالكسر — مساويا للمعرف — بالفتح — في الصدق، أي يجب أن يكون المعرف — بالكسر — مانعا جامعا. وإن شئت قلت: مطردا منعكسا
الثالث: ألا يكون المعرف بالكسر — عين المعرف بالفتح — في المفهوم، كتعريف الحركة بالانتقال والإنسان بالبشر تعريفا حقيقيا غير لفظي، بل يجب تغايرهما إما بالإجمال والتفصيل كما في الحد التام، أو بالمفهوم كما في التعريف بغيره.
ولو صح التعريف بعين المعرف لوجب أن يكون معلوما قبل أن يكون معلوما (1) وللزم أن يتوقف الشئ على نفسه، وهذا محال. ويسمون مثل هذا “ نتيجة الدور “ الذي سيأتي بيانه.
الرابع: أن يكون خاليا من الدور (2).
الخامس: أن تكون الألفاظ المستعملة في التعريف ناصعة واضحة