Standard Definitions

Perhaps a few general comments on methodology would be useful before we proceed further with this thread.

I suspect that when we create a DefinitionOfStuff? page, we are in fact acknowledging StuckNess in an ongoing debate where the following exchange is becoming common : "...because Y is X." - "Not under my definition of X!" - "What if your definition of X is wrong ?".

(This would seem to be a fairly common occurrence - there are 11 pages with titles starting with DefinitionOf and 47 with titles starting with WhatIs.)

It might be useful to reflect on what a Definition Of X is likely to contribute, esp. as regards StuckNess. Empirical evidence from a few recent attempts suggests the following answer : not much.

"Definition" pages tend to assume a live of their own and spur a debate that follows a course distinct from, if sometimes parallel to, that of the original discussion. The reason usually appears to be that people cannot agree to a common "Definition Of X", because the root of their disagreement is conflicting "Theories of X".


Instead of spawning a DefinitionOfStuff? page from a stuck thread, acknowledge one or at worst a few "Standard Definitions Of X".

One of the "standard definitions" might be the intuitionistic or heuristic definition implicit in the everyday use of the term in dispute.

It might be preferable to acknowledge Standard Definitions silently, with the creation of a StandardDefinition? page kept as a last resort.


Move on directly to the "Theories of X". Definitions are usually only intelligible within the framework of a particular theory.

Supporting with an explicit definition an argument phrased as "Well, by definition Y is X, and that proves my point" will not alleviate StuckNess.

We might expect to get more mileage out of "Well, I subscribe to the Theory of X which defines X as such-and-such, from which I conclude that Y is X; in this theory my point stands."

For a relatively nice example see StandardDefinitionOfUnitTest. A good "Standard Definition", with the exception of the common sense definition, should IMHO include explicit references to the "authorities", "standards bodies", or "schools of thoughts" with respect to which the standard definitions are, in fact, standard.

This pattern appears to occur again and again - this page was extracted from DefinitionOfConsciousness (where it commented that a few instances had already been observed) as an attempt to forestall overly detailed examination of what ObjectOrientedProgramming is defined to be.

Wow, that's a beautiful pattern suggestion! And very well written, too. I'll subscribe to that practice for sure. -- RobHarwood

Some definitions of...

See LaynesLaw

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