Talk:Fallacies of definition

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I would argue that "unmarried adult male" is a pleonasm. If one is confused about "bachelor" but not "marriage" or "males" then one knows that only adults marry. There are exceptions to everything but, as we say in french, the exception confirms the rule. The sentient being business isn't very helpful either, as some might argue that X is "male," "adult," "sentient," and a "being" (e.g., God*) and yet claim that it isn't right to say that X is a bachelor. Therefore, I don't think that "unmarried male" is a worse definition than "unmmaried adult male sentient being."

(*) (I'm an atheist. Don't bother me with your theology. This is an example.)

Loisel 03:25 3 Jul 2003 (UTC)

I think "Unmarried adult male Homo Sapiens" is better.

-- Reductio ad absurdum seems to talk about the same matter.

What is saying that God isn't a bachelor? CherubAgent1440 (talk) 09:55, 21 September 2020 (UTC)

Good examples to complement the bad ones[edit]

The examples in this article would be more useful if each bad definition were accompanied by a good one. --Doradus 18:48, Jan 8, 2005 (UTC)


Circular definitions aren't necessarily invalid. For example, the recursive definition of an ancestor as "one's parent, or one's parent's ancestor", is legitimate and arguably useful.

It is also legitimate to define a term using a synonym or near synonym, so long as the synonym has a clear, independent definition.

Townmouse 00:14, 30 October 2005 (UTC)

Is that really a circular definition, or a subset, where all A's are B's, all B's are A's? Parents are ancestors and ancestors are parents, but the idea that a parent could be "one's ancestor's parent" is preposterous in the case of a childless bachelor. Go figure. That situationalism example is better. MMetro 10:04, 12 October 2007 (UTC)
A recursive definition isn't circular as long as it provides an "out" by bringing in entities whose definition is not in terms of entities defined by the recursive definition; parents in this case. The definition of "ancestor" is being made in terms of the definition of "parent". The given definition is an abbreviation of "a person's ancestors are that person's parents, their parents' parents, their parents' parents' parents, their parents' parents' parents' parents, ...". One can start by marking one's parents as "ancestors"; then locate their parents, and mark them as "ancestors". If you encounter a parent who is already marked as an "ancestor", you don't need to continue along their branch of the family tree. The circularity disappears because you are only looking at people's parents, and identifying those doesn't depend on the meaning of "ancestor". Even if the person in question appears in one of those later groups (I'm my own grandpa) there is no circularity, any more than any other person appearing more than once (my parents are 17th cousins); one's ancestors consist of those people that are reached by following the transitive closure of the "parent" relation.

I have a problem with the claim that circular definitions are automatically fallacious. All definitions are, by necessity, circular. Take a dictionary of the entire English language (or some appropriate subset of the language). Now, every word in the dictionary is defined using the English language, which means each word is defined in terms of the other words, which are in turn defined in terms of still other words. Even words not used in the definition of another word are still circular, because every definition will eventually result in one or more loops of some type.

Of course, this all makes sense as soon as we realize that words aren't defined by dictionaries, but by experience, and that dictionaries assume the reader already knows a decent number of words through experience, from which base the rest of the language can be defined. But it also means the definition "Judaism is the religion of the Jews", and a reverse definition "Jews are people who practice Judaism" are perfectly acceptable, under the assumption that the reader already knows one of the two definitions.

A fallaciously circular definition is then a definition which happens to be useless to the particular reader because that reader doesn't have the appropriate real-world experience with which to understand the necessarily circular definitions. The definitions above are likely to be fallaciously circular to anyone who doesn't already know them, but aren't inherently so. (talk) 02:07, 5 March 2017 (UTC)

Another problem in the Circularity section is the "inflammable liquid" definition. "Liquid" isn't circular with "liquid", it is "liquid". The assumption there is that most people already know the word "liquid" without extra help. "Inflammable", on the other hand, is a rather odd word, because most people would look at the prefix "in" and logically conclude it means "not", as in "incapable", "indescribable", etc. So defining "inflammable" as "easily bursts into flames" tells the reader their default presumption is wrong and gives a correct definition.

From there, the phrase "easily bursts into flames" isn't directly circular with "inflammable". You might well see the word as a synonym of the phrase, but the phrase will be defined by the constituent words "easily", "bursts", "into", and "flames". From Merriam-Webster, those words are defined as "without difficulty", "to emerge or spring suddenly" (the phrase "burst into flames" is given here as an example, but not a definition), "to the state, condition, or form of", and "a state of blazing combustion" (again, the phrase "the car burst into flame" is used as an example, but not a definition), respectively.

As I mentioned above, all words are indirectly circular, but "inflammable liquid" isn't directly circular using the definition of "inflammable" currently given with Merriam-Webster's definitions of the words from there, and is therefore a bad example of a fallaciously circular definition. (talk) 02:57, 5 March 2017 (UTC)

Article name[edit]

Should this article not be named in the singular - "Fallacy of definition"? I'm not a logician so I'll leave it to others. Rwxrwxrwx 13:28, 4 November 2006 (UTC)

There are several different kinds of definition fallacies:

Incongruous Definition, Negative Definition, Obscure or figurative Definition, Extraneous Definition

yes they are all about a defintion, but they are different kinds of fallacies, therefore fallacies of defintion! :) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:05, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

Defining with a near synonym[edit]

The meanings of 'beautiful' and 'aesthetic' are nothing like synonymous! Bitbut 03:30, 25 May 2007 (UTC)

Over-narrow definition[edit]

This may be a bit nitpicky, but "object used to sit on" doesn't seem like a too narrow definition to me. After all, you can use a table, wardrobe, bed, etc to sit on. Wouldn't "designed to be sat on" "or meant to be sat on" make a better example? Baranxtu (talk) 08:51, 23 July 2008 (UTC)

Merger proposal[edit]

I propose that Fallacies of definition be merged into Formal fallacy. I think that the content in this article does not warrant it having its own exclusive article. With all due respect, Orpherebus. (talk) 02:43, 28 April 2012 (UTC)

I took a look at Formal fallacy, and I'm not sure I agree with you that merger would be a good idea. Formal fallacy defines its subject as "is a pattern of reasoning that is always wrong", and the fallacy of definition is not a fallacy of reasoning. Furthermore, the other article's "See also" section refers to many others whose common theme seems to be "unsound thinking", such as Cognitive bias, Demagogy, Fallacy, False statement, Invalid proof, and Sophism. I added the present article to the list, and added Fallacy and Formal fallacy to the present article's "See also" section. Is this a satisfactory solution to you? Teemu Leisti (talk) 11:59, 12 August 2012 (UTC)
I disagree. A formal fallacy is a defect which can be identified by analyzing the logical structure of an argument. However a fallacy of definition is false due to its premise. This article should not be merged there. Slacka123 (talk) 03:13, 6 October 2012 (UTC)
A "formal fallacy" is a flaw in logical deduction, whereas a "fallacy of definition" would be an example of an informal fallacy. I've changed the suggested merge target accordingly.—Machine Elf 1735 10:54, 17 October 2012 (UTC)

Definitions are not arguments, though they may be used in such, and they may be argued about. In light of this, and seeing as this proposal hasn't attracted any support, I am closing this proposal as failed. If anyone objects, they are of course welcome to revive the discussion. Paradoctor (talk) 12:19, 23 July 2014 (UTC)

Introductory Paragraph[edit]

Both sentences in the introduction make the use/mention error (see WP:REFERS), and I can't parse the meaning of the second sentence. I would prefer something like "Fallacies of definition are ways in which a definition may fail to be meaningful. They are examples of informal fallacies." 2001:44B8:5129:A700:5842:BA72:69BC:6C96 (talk) 08:34, 9 July 2013 (UTC)

Added example for Circularity[edit]

I find it clearer with an example; however I could only think of this one. If a better one comes to you, please feel free to change it, of course. Cheers, Thouny (talk) 00:04, 15 January 2014 (UTC)

Self-contradictory statements in context[edit]

I am not sure the example given in this paragraph is actually self-contradicting. There are 2 elements required for 'society to be free', liberty should be _maximized_(made as big or great _as possible_) AND people should take responsibility for their actions.Ezetreal (talk) 18:31, 18 March 2014 (UTC)

I scrapped it, I'm certain we can do better. Paradoctor (talk) 15:24, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

For clarity, the scrapped example referred to above:

  • Often statements can contradict themselves due to a difference in definitions while defining something. For example, the statement "A society is free if and only if liberty is maximized and people are required to take responsibility for their actions" is true or paradoxical, depending on the individual's definition of liberty. If liberty is taken to mean "the ability to exercise one's rights as provided for by the law and nature" then this is true, but if it means "the state when one is not held to nor required to perform anything against their will" then this is clearly false.

Hyacinth (talk) 15:28, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

The quote or statement "A society is free if and only if liberty is maximized and people are required to take responsibility for their actions" is awesome. Where is it from? Misty MH (talk) 06:54, 8 April 2018 (UTC)


What is the criteria for including or excluding examples? Hyacinth (talk) 15:30, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

Just my opinion: Ideally, one used widely in the relevant literature, literally a textbook example. Other than that, editorial consensus, with a default of "none". I object to the "circular definition" example because it is directly self-referential. I daresay that circular definitions are usually considerably less painfully obvious. You'll note that the article talks about pairs of definitions, each relying on the other. I would support an illustration of this kind.
In general, I think the "start-class" rating for this article is rather generous. What is sorely needed is solid sources, not just two WP:SPS, one of which may at least be presumed remotely "expert" on the topic. Paradoctor (talk) 16:00, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
That is criteria for inclusion. What makes the current examples, none of which are cited and none of which are cited as widely used, acceptable?
What is the pair of definitions discussed for "square"?
Hyacinth (talk) 16:40, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
"pair of definitions" If you kindly check the text again, you'll see that one these is not a definition of "square". I think it is time for a WP:COOLing break. Later. Paradoctor (talk) 16:58, 28 August 2014 (UTC)
I'm not sure how/why I upset you. How about you quote the two definitions of square here. Hyacinth (talk) 23:11, 28 August 2014 (UTC)

Mutual exclusivity[edit]

This section could probably be worded more carefully. I had some trouble trying to figure out what was event intended. I originally thought it referred to what the article calls "Self-contradictory requirements". At this point I 'believe' the intended meaning is "no part of the false definition is present in a correct definition, and no part of a correct definition is present in the false definition". (Although either half of that sentence is sufficient, I assume the "mutual" part of the label is intended to imply both halves.)

If my interpretation is correct, then the example is incorrect, since cows are, in fact, animals. Instead of "cows are flying animals with no legs", "cows are flying insects with no legs", or something, would be better. (talk) 02:25, 5 March 2017 (UTC)

Self-contradictory requirements[edit]

Dynamic equilibrium can exist. CherubAgent1440 (talk) 09:58, 21 September 2020 (UTC)