A theoretical (or conceptual) definition gives the meaning of a word in terms of the theories of a specific discipline. This type of definition assumes both knowledge and acceptance of the theories that it depends on. To theoretically define is to create a hypothetical construct. This method of operationalization is not to be confused with operationally defining. An example of a theoretical definition is that of "Heat" in physics, which actually puts forth an entire theory of heat (involving accelerating molecules, etc.).
Theoretical definitions are common in both philosophy and science, 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. 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. 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. 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). 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.
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Other articles related to "theoretical definition, definition, definitions, theoretical definitions":
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... Conceptual definition Operational definition Weight a measurement of gravitational force acting on an object a result of measurement of an object on ... The definitions of substances as various configurations of atoms are theoretical definitions, as are definitions of colors as specific wavelengths of reflected light ... In such cases one definition of a term is unlikely to contradict another definition based on a different theory ...
Famous quotes containing the words definition and/or theoretical:
“Beauty, like all other qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the definition of it becomes unmeaning and useless in proportion to its abstractness. To define beauty not in the most abstract, but in the most concrete terms possible, not to find a universal formula for it, but the formula which expresses most adequately this or that special manifestation of it, is the aim of the true student of aesthetics.”
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