The Definition Argument

The Definition Argument answers the questions "What is it?" "What category does it belong to?" In other words, the Definition Argument attempts to assign a specific case to a larger category because it shares the essential characteristics of that category. Examine the following definition claim:

A hog "factory" is an environmentally-unsound farming practice.
Notice that this claim argues that the specific case, hog factory,  belongs to the category of environmentally-unsound farming practices. The underlying structure at work in definition claims can be expressed as x is y, where x stands for the specific case and y represents the larger category.

The definition argument requires that we generate a list of essential criteria of the y term (category). Thus, the essential criteria of an environmentally-unsound farming practice might look like the following:

Now we can add the criteria to the claim and express the argument as a complete enthymeme:
A hog factory is an environmentally-unsound farming practice because it damages the environment, such damage is severe, it poses a risk to area wildlife, and it threatens human health.

The underlying structure of the definition argument's enthymeme can be expressed as x is y because it possesses the characteristics A, B, C, D, . . .


The definition argument has two areas of major concern: 1) the criteria and whether they sufficiently characterize the y term (category), and 2) the match, or whether the x term (specific case) actually possess the criteria.

In the above example, our concern about the criteria might lead us to question whether the category of environmentally-unsound farming practices need be characterized by "significant or irreparable" damage. Perhaps, we could argue, any damage at all constitutes an environmentally-unsound farming practice. Notice that, at this point,  the discussion of the criteria isn't concerned at all with the x term (hog factory) at all. Rather, the criteria discussion focusses on accurately characterizing the y term (category).

During the match portion of the definition argument, on the other hand, our concern is to demonstrate that the criteria apply to the x term (hog factory). We are obligated to prove that a hog farm does indeed damage the environment, that such damage is significant, that it threatens area wildlife, and that it poses health risks to nearby human populations.

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