On definitions

Posted by Anton Hughes on Tuesday, May 15, 2007 with No comments
From (Berlinghoff, 1968, 6-7). The quote is talking about the axiomatic method in mathematics, but it seems just as relevant to the process by which the judiciary (and legislature) come up with definitions:

In order to arrive at a common understanding and remove all ambiguity from future discussion it is necessary to define the words we use. The concept of definition involves the statement of a characteristic property; that is, if we are to define a word, we must state a condition such that,
  1. given any object whatsoever, we can determine whether or not that object satisfies the condition, and
  2. the word being defined is attached to an object if and only if it satisfies that condition.
What we are doing, essentially, is developing a system of name tags for ideas. Thus to "define" a word merely by giving a synonym is either meaningless or useless. If we do not know what the synonym means, we have no criterion by which to apply the name; if we do know what he synonym means, it is a perfectly good name for that idea and there is no need to confuse the issue by supplying another.