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# Theoretical Definition - What Is It?

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Hi guys, i'm really struggling to understand what a theoretical definition is.

The definition I read in a textbook is that a theoretical definition includes an underlying theory about the characteristics of the thing it is trying to define... apparently such a definition suggests "deductive consequences" and "further investigation". Any ideas on what this could mean?

What would you give us a theoretical definition of a soldier? A judge? A doctor? Or for a ship?

Cheers guys.

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For me at least a 'theoretical definition' is the specific definition of a theory!, by that I mean it's the saying, or articulation (the definition) of the mechanism behind some effect or observation.

Newton sees an apple for from a tree he starts to think about how and why the apple falls, in his mind he starts to form a theory to explain the observation and effect he has observed.

At some point in that process, he defines (articulates, describes) his theory, that is it is the definition of the theory, that is a part of what we refer to as 'The Scientific Method', The scientific method is the process of observing some effect (like the apple), developing and defining a theory to explain that observation, then calculating the consequences of that theory, and then as a final step comparing your calculations (of consequences) to nature by further experiment and observation.

This is how you show that your theory is either correct or incorrect.

However, in science to do this procedure correctly you have to be very specific in the definition of your theory, if your definition is very vague then you can use almost any observation to 'confirm' your theory is correct.

A soldier or judge or a ship is already its own definition (by definition), the description already defines what you are describing, the definition of a soldier, is a soldier, in practice and in theory it cannot be anything else.

I hope that was some help..

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For me at least a 'theoretical definition' is the specific definition of a theory!, by that I mean it's the saying, or articulation (the definition) of the mechanism behind some effect or observation.

Newton sees an apple for from a tree he starts to think about how and why the apple falls, in his mind he starts to form a theory to explain the observation and effect he has observed.

At some point in that process, he defines (articulates, describes) his theory, that is it is the definition of the theory, that is a part of what we refer to as 'The Scientific Method', The scientific method is the process of observing some effect (like the apple), developing and defining a theory to explain that observation, then calculating the consequences of that theory, and then as a final step comparing your calculations (of consequences) to nature by further experiment and observation.

This is how you show that your theory is either correct or incorrect.

However, in science to do this procedure correctly you have to be very specific in the definition of your theory, if your definition is very vague then you can use almost any observation to 'confirm' your theory is correct.

A soldier or judge or a ship is already its own definition (by definition), the description already defines what you are describing, the definition of a soldier, is a soldier, in practice and in theory it cannot be anything else.

I hope that was some help..

So at the moment I am studying logic and the book covers the various purposes of defining things (stipulative. lexical, precising, theoretical, pursuasive). So part of your answer would cover a stipulative definition (Newton defining his theory for the first time (the purpose is to stipulate the meaning of a new concept) while also being a theoretical definition. The problem I am having is understanding where one definition purpose ends and another begins and where they overlap.

So for example, it is clear that the definition of gravity or electromagnetism can be given theoretical definition for a purpose  - of which I don't fully understand yet.

A soldier is a soldier, is a type (kind of) of definition rather than a purpose of a definition. For example, if we said a solder was a warfighter we would be using a synonymous definition. The same would be the case if we said a Judge was an adjudicator. That is a particular type of definition but the purpose of the definition is probably lexical.

So a big problem I had with the book is that it gave scientific examples, which are too obvious to be useful. That is why I gave the soldier/judge/ship as an example. I am sure if someone can produce a theoretical definition (a definition for a purpose) of one of these, I will understand its meaning better.

My best attempt for a Judge: A person who applies their broad legal knowledge base to resolve disputes where two or more parties are in conflict.

So the underlying theory here is that the judge applies a broad legal knowledge base to resolve disputes.

The book does not clarify if it uses words like theory in the same sense as science does.

Edited by Wannabelifeguard
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• 8 months later...
On 5/13/2020 at 12:15 PM, Wannabelifeguard said:

For me at least a 'theoretical definition' is the specific definition of a theory!

I was going to agree with that, but then I ran across this explanation in the psychological aspects of defining terms.

Quote

Theoretical definitions are common in both philosophy and science[2], and can be difficult to understand because of their strict, and often conceptual uses. The goal is to eliminate vagueness (e.g. how many metres exactly is a "tall" person?) and ambiguity (e.g. "I purchased a bat" could have many meanings). Theoretical definitions specify exactly when the word should and should not be applied. In this regard they are unlike persuasive definitions, which can be both vague and ambiguous. Theoretical definitions do, however, have one thing in common with persuasive definitions: they are normative, and not merely descriptive. To create a theoretical definition is to propose a way of thinking about an issue.[2][1] Indeed, theoretical definitions contain built-in theories; they cannot be simply reduced to describing a set of observations. The definition will contain implicit inductions and deductive consequences that are part of the theory it pushes.[3] The word "Heat" in physics is not simply describing molecules, it is proposing various laws of nature and predicting certain results.

Like Stipulative definitions, it is not a valid criticism to say that a theoretical definition is "wrong about how most people use the word" nor that "the definition itself is false". Instead one might say that a theoretical definition is unhelpful. This is unlike lexical definitions, which themselves claim to be common, popular uses of a word.[1][2] In contrast, a theoretical definition is only a bad one if the theories that it supports are invalidated or falsified (which occurs through conflict with other theories that have been accepted). It is at that point - once they describe falsified theories - that these kinds of definitions become unhelpful or 'unpromising' (e.g. the theoretical definition of "demonic possession" is not itself false, the ideas are, and so the term is useless to modern medicine).

It is in this way that professional fields build frameworks of agreed-upon theoretical definitions. A case in point, consider "Heat". If a physicist's theories of molecules turn out to be wrong in some sense, this would make "Heat" an unhelpful theoretical definition, not a false one (i.e. this kind of definition only invites us to use certain theories, and the theories make the truth claims).[2] Moreover, like the theories that build them, theoretical definitions change as scientific understanding grows.

Psychology has many examples of ideas that required conceptual definitions, including intelligence, knowledge, tolerance, and preference. Following the establishment of a theoretical definition, the researcher must use an operational definition to indicate how the abstract concept will be measured.

Edited by write4u

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