Definition 3: Argumentations Exploiting a Definition

1. Definition in the categorization process

Categorization is the process through which an individual is identified as belonging to a category, and is given the name of this category, S. Categorization and Nomination. The definition is the reservoir of essential features allowing this identification.

2. Argumentation exploiting a definition

The definition (the definiens) of a word or an expression (boy, scotch bonnet, democracy, single parent, educated person, British citizen, natural disaster…) provides a stock of definitional features applicable to all the beings, individuals, institutions, events… designated by the definiendum (belonging to the category named by the word). Argumentation by definition applies the definition of the name to a being designated by that name. It operates as follows:

    1. An argument: a statement of the form “I is a D”: I is an individual (identified, categorized, perceived, named… as) “a D”.
    2. A license to infer, found in the definition of D considered as authoritative.
    3. A conclusion: everything said of the D or with them can be truly said of I.

A definition (a definiens) is a rich set of proposals about “what that kind of being is”. It includes doxical assertions based on common knowledge about these beings, to be found in the examples illustrating the definiens as well as in the definiens properly said. To call a being “a D” is to allocate to this being all the properties defining the name “D”, as well as scripts, duties and obligations attached “to Ds”. In other words, the definition (the definiens) of “what is a D” is a stock of inference licenses applicable to all the persons and objects called D.

Using the definition allows inferences of the following type, S. Common Place.

— “Harry is a British citizen”: this claim expresses a categorization of the person Harry, derived from the information that he was born in Bermuda, S. Layout. The categorization (“— is a British Citizen”) corresponds to a local modeling of the person “as-a-British-citizen”, which makes it accessible to the inferential definitional machine. Armed with this information, we can draw from the knowledge stock that defines “what it is to be an Englishman”, and conclude, according to the needs of the moment, that:

He takes tea at five
He will need a drop of milk
We can certainly address him in English
If he has committed a crime abroad, his judicial treatment will be led according the relevant international convention

— “My dear, you’re a little girl!” Traditional wisdom says that girls are like this, should do this and that, etc. So, my daughter, you’re like that, and you must behave accordingly:
— “This is a Scotch bonnet” so, it is “very aromatic, it is delicious prepared in an omelet”; better yet, you can “dry it out, and use it as an aromatic[1], S. Categorization.
— “Now you are undoubtedly one of the great democracies” so we can re-establish diplomatic relations and encourage our citizens to spend their vacation on your beaches.
— “Mrs. Doe is a mother who lives alone” so, on the basis of such and such administrative and financial provisions, she is entitled to a single parent allowance of a certain amount.
— “Mrs. Smith is a PhD student” so she enjoys certain rights and must fulfill certain duties defined by the PhD Charter in force at the university where she is enrolled.
— “He is a bastard” so I do not trust him.

Argumentation by definition ascribes to a definite being a feature actually found in the definition of its name, as found in a dictionary or an encyclopedia. More broadly, it attaches to a being any feature borrowed from the stereotyped notion of the kind of beings bearing that name.
Argumentation by definition is the epitome of what Billig calls “bureaucratic thinking”, which is fundamental in everyday life (Billig [1987], p. 124).

If the criteria used for categorization are defined within a rigorous scientific framework, then argument by definition will be an essential scientific tool. Similarly, in the legal domain, the criteria qualifying an act make it possible to apply the legal syllogism, which delivers routine legal decisions.

3. Lexical definitions as inferential resources for categorization and argumentation from the definition

Some basic argumentative inferences embedded in a word are made explicit in its lexical definition and are suggested in the examples of its usage. Language dictionaries are stocks of accepted ideas and accepted connections between ideas; as such, they provide legitimate inferences from and to a word in the language and culture to which they belong (Raccah 2014) S. Orientation. These inferences are considered rational and convincing insofar as they are the expression of a shared semantic heritage, the treasure trove of discursive rationality. Let us consider the word rich. By merging the definitions of some current dictionaries, we are able to gain some insight into the elementary “licenses to infer”, diversions, or “drifts” from and to this word, that is, the semantic inferences which characterize a basic understanding of the word “rich”. The following information comes from definitions from MW, tfd; CD).

(i) … so he is rich. This claim is justified:

— On an analytical basis: … (he has) a lot of money; of valuable assets, SO he is rich
— On the basis of signs: … (he owns) expensive materials, workmanship (such as mahogany furniture), SO, he is rich
— On the basis of his or her moral character and motives:

he is determined to get rich quickly,  SO, he will probably become rich

 (ii) He is rich, soOn the same analytical basis, or from signs, one can deduce:

(he has) a lot of money; of valuable assets
… (he owns) expensive materials, workmanship (such as mahogany furniture)
… he does not have to work
… he has forgotten his humble background 

This last conclusion admits of exceptions: He is rich, but

… Even when he became rich and famous, he never forgot his humble background.

(iii) An implicit principle, “everybody can get rich” eliminates two rebuttals:

Having a humble background:
Even when he became rich and famous, he never forgot her humble background:

Lacking of formal education:
A lack of formal education is no bar to becoming rich.

(iv) A main opposition: the rich vs. the poor, allows the application of the topic from opposites:

There’s one law for the rich and another for the poor.

[1] Entry Mousseron in J. and J. Manuel Montegut (1975). Atlas des Champignons [Atlas of Mushrooms] Paris: Globus, 1975.