C-81. Theoretical definition

Although the process of defining is understood to have roots in our continuing need for clarification as we try to solve so as to see: i.e., the Read problem — most commonly treated as a secondary read (e.g., word denoting thing), rather than a primary or tertiary read (C-8), undertaking. But we do appreciate more defined images, for example and we do wonder about and want to identify things presented in isolation. And we most assuredly would like to be less befuddled by terms used conceptually in the world of ideas. Tertiary read problems are the bane of scholarly behavior and a barrier to many potential readers.

Conceptual terms, we have seen (C-22, C-28), leave much to be desired when it comes to definition. Definition by synonym is an invitation to dance. Categorical definition (i.e., by citing particulars as instances) falls short – and lends itself to seeing but not having an explanation. (That P. A. Angeles lists 20 modes of definition is a very telling comment on the severity of this solution-incurred [O:Ps] problem. Our linguistic technology comes at a high price. It constitutes a mortgage on our mind, and not an inexpensive one.)

Theoretical constructs are — and are not — the solution. Such constructs (e.g., “electron”) depend on a particular theory for their interpretation. They can be considered a special case of contextual definition, their respective contexts being particular too. They are not the solution just because they depend on a particular theory.

(Peirce’s “pragmatism” seems such a theoretical construct, so limited by his theory that he bridled at James’ extension of pragmatism to other consequences that he relabeled it “pragmaticism.” But James, then Dewey, wanted to attend more of consequentiality, especially into problem solving. So “pragmatism” has become a conceptual term, loosely defined. And not completely explained [e.g., with regard to consequentiality as one of three general persisting conditions of the Nature of Things].)

Theoretical constructs would be the solution if they had a general theory to provide an interpretation for them. (See App. XVIII.) Were this the case, all current conceptual terms that are not mere labels might be transformable to theoretical constructs.

Suppose we visualize a dual-definitional technology. There would be a companion volume to the traditional dictionary types. In this second volume we would find terms (some also to be found in the other volume) that are given a theoretical definition. A definition derived from a general behavioral theory. The second most striking feature of this additional volume would be its modest size … because many terms would share the same clarifying points. Abbreviated entries would be commonplace. (As, for example, the “n,” and “v” entries [for noun and verb] in the first volume.)

This conjecture, however, retains an emphasis on making those languages which we now use work better. Resistance to this can be seen in the innovative conventions now being employed by “thumbing” cell phone users. Both lines of effort would do well to take note of the agreement/understanding ratio (XI) involved with respect to linguistic convention viz. linguistic representation (C-80). As noted in App. XVIII’s discussion of explanation, language is after all a technology for our Read and Tell functional needs. We may want to put more emphasis on improving language’s explanatory aspect, inventing new technologies for that, and less emphasis on struggling to make language’s conventional usages work.

Our educational emphasis on secondary Read and Tell (S-R&T) word-language technology (“3R’s”) also appears out of balance with respect to our needed capabilities in the realms of primary and tertiary reads and tells (P-R&T and T-R&T). See in this regard that part of intelligence which is not tapped all that well by verbal “intelligence tests.”

(c) R.F. Carter