Concept and definition

concept is the representation or mental image that we form after abstracting and generalizing the qualities that objects and phenomena have in common.

The definition is the result of the process by which the meaning of a lexical unit (word, phrase or concept) is specified and its characteristics are accurately described.

DefinitionA concept is a mental representation that is built from the categorization of common qualities that are abstracted from objects.The definition is the result of the process by which the meaning of something is specified or the description of the characteristics of a lexical unit is made.
  • It is formed by the abstraction and generalization of the qualities of objects.
  • It is referential, there is a material or immaterial object to which it refers.
  • It is important to acquire knowledge and learn.
  • Building concepts is a human skill.
  • It is dynamic, it changes with experience and understanding of reality.
  • Specifies the meaning of a lexical unit.
  • It is concise and short.
  • It is objective.
  • The word to be defined is not repeated in the definition.
  • It is not defined from negatives.
  • By extension: universal, particular, singular.
  • By understanding: simple, compound, concrete, abstract.
  • By perfection: clear, distinct, precise or exact.
It can be lexical, intensional, extensional, ostensive, stipulative, etc.
ExampleDog: a faithful four-legged animal.Dog: a domesticated quadruped mammal that belongs to the canine family.

What is a concept?

A concept is the representation or mental image that is formed after abstracting and generalizing the qualities that objects and phenomena have in common.

This process of abstraction and generalization allows to categorize objects , thanks to their common qualities. The formation of concepts helps in the development of knowledge of the world in human beings.

The word concept comes from the Latin concipere , and means ‘take within’ and ‘keep’, as well as the action of ‘conceiving’ (that which is conceived after an action is performed, so a concept is something that is it constitutes and is born in the mind.

A concept is considered to be referential. This means that you always have a concept of something, whether it is concrete, such as a person or material object, or abstract, such as an emotion.

Characteristics of a concept

  • It is formed by the abstraction and generalization of the qualities of objects.
  • There is a material or immaterial referent (object) from which qualities are abstracted.
  • They have an important role in the learning process, since they allow to know the world.
  • It has an extension (the objects that are part of it) and an understanding (qualities or characteristics that the concept possesses).
  • Concept formation is a human skill.
  • It is dynamic, it changes with experience and understanding of reality.

Nature of concepts

Concepts have been understood as abstractions that are made after experiencing an object ( a posteriori ), or taking common qualities of an idea, and observing this quality in other objects.

For example, a “city” has common qualities found in places like “Madrid,” “Guadalajara,” or “Los Angeles.”

Likewise, they have been understood as abstractions that are born in the mind without the need for experience ( a priori ). For example, according to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), there are concepts or categories of understanding that are found in the mind and that allow the world to know itself.

Another way of understanding concepts has been to associate them with definitions, as prototypes of a category, or as the real ideas and essences of objects, among other things.

Properties of a concept

A property of a concept is its extension , which is made up of all objects that have the characteristics to which a concept refers. For example, the concept of “dog” extends to all existing dog breeds.

Another property that a concept possesses is its understanding , which is made up of the necessary and specific characteristics that a concept possesses. For example, the concept of “dog” implies that it possesses qualities such as being “an animal”, “a quadruped”, “a living being”, “being faithful”, etc.

Formation of a concept

There are different debates and perspectives on how a concept is formed. However, a general and simple way to understand their training is through the learning process:

  1. A concrete reality is perceived (observe that an orange is round);
  2. An abstraction is made of those qualities or similar attributes that are experienced in particular objects (roundness and the color of orange);
  3. Objects that have the same qualities are categorized (other oranges have the quality of being round and have a similar color);
  4. The common qualities that categorized objects present are generalized (consider that oranges are round and have a similar color).

In this case, a concept is constituted when it starts from a perception and an abstraction is made of those qualities or attributes that are experienced in particular objects. Then the objects that have the same qualities are categorized. Finally, the qualities are generalized to other objects that belong to this category.

Being able to establish differentiated groups of objects implies that human beings have the ability to reason, identify and differentiate between the qualities that objects possess.

Formation of concepts and human beings

The concepts are the result of the contact that the human being has with the world (material or immaterial). Through the senses, information is obtained about what reality is like and its attributes. The mind processes this information and categorizes it. In the case of animals, some may show a certain capacity to form concepts, but very little developed.

The main way that people express and share the concepts they have learned is through language. Concepts are generally expressed in words (lexical units); however, words are not the concepts they express.

For example, when thinking about the quality of being “faithful” that dogs have with their owners, the degree of validity of this concept is related to what is observed during the interaction with the animal in concrete reality.

On the other hand, you can also have the concept of something in mind, without having words to express it.

In addition, if you think of abstract ideas such as “goodness”, it is because different behaviors that are experienced (observed in people) are later associated, forming that concept.

Concepts and learning

Concepts are important for gaining knowledge and they also play a key role in the learning process. This is because they allow to develop memory, build reasoning to make decisions, and the very act of being able to generalize (infer), among other things.

In the same way, during the learning process, the ability to establish categories is constantly put to the test.

Like knowledge, concepts are dynamic. The known reality is transformed and with it the accumulated experience and the acquired information are also transformed. The concepts themselves are capable of changing other concepts with which they are related.

What is a definition?

The definition is the result of the process by which the meaning of a lexical unit (word, phrase or a concept) is specified , and its characteristics are accurately described. Its objective is to clarify and differentiate the particular characteristics of an object, be it concrete or abstract, material or immaterial.

The word definition comes from the Latin definitionem , which means ‘prescription’, ‘limit’, ‘explanation’, and which, in turn, comes from the word definire , which means ‘limit’ and ‘explain’. That is, the definition delimits and specifies something.

Characteristics of a definition

  • Specifies the meaning of a lexical unit.
  • It is concise and short.
  • It is objective.
  • The word to be defined is not repeated in the definition.
  • It is not defined from negatives.
  • It consists of a definiendum (word or term to define) and a definiens (part that defines the word or term).
  • It can be lexical (like the dictionary), intensional (specifies characteristics of what it defines), extensional (lists objects that fall within the definition), ostensive (define using examples), etc.

Parts of a definition

The lexical unit that will be defined is known as the definiendum , while that which defines it is known as the definiens .

For example, if the definition “a pet is a companion animal” is considered, the word “pet” is the definiendum , while the phrase “companion animal” is the definiens .

Rules of a definition

When specifying a meaning, what is tried is to clarify it . The goal is to keep the definition simple, so you should focus only on what you are defining and its characteristics.

Also, as a definition is used to specify what something means, or to make a description, it must be concise, brief and as objective as possible .

When defining, the same lexical unit is not used . For example, it is incorrect to say that “a father is every male or male who is the father of his children.”

Finally, a definition does not use negatives to define something. For example, saying that “a man is not a vegetable” does not clarify or specify what a “man” is.

Definition types

There are different ways to organize or typify a definition. Here are some of these types.

Lexical definition

A lexical definition is the type of definition found in dictionaries of those lexical units, such as words, phrases, terms, etc., that are used in natural language (the language that people use to communicate).

These are based on the everyday use of language, so they are used to specify the meaning of things. This implies that they are practical, descriptive and general, since their objective is that they are understood by a large audience.

Intensional and extensional definition

An intensional definition refers to the specification of the necessary and sufficient characteristics or attributes that an object must possess to be part of a definition. This type of definition is one of the most common.

In this case, it is necessary that the characteristics are clear and have already been established to understand what they mean and know which objects have them.

An extensional definition refers to the extension that a concept or term has, in relation to all the objects that are defined by that concept or term. That is, those objects that fall within the definition of a concept are listed.

For example, a “collie”, a “cocker”, a “pitbull” and a “bulldog” are animal members of the group of “dogs”.

One difficulty with these types of definitions is that, in many cases, all the members that belong to a concept or term cannot be enumerated.

Ostensive definition

An ostensive definition is basically one in which examples are used to define something . That is, a referent is used that serves as support to give a definition. For example, to define “green”, an image of a tree leaf, a cucumber or an avocado is indicated.

This type of definition is commonly used with children during their early learning period. It is also useful if the terms or concepts are abstract (colors, for example), and it is difficult to define them using a description, so using an example is easier.

Stipulative definition

A stipulative definition is used when a different meaning is applied to a word than it already has (that is, different from its lexical definition).

This type of definition is used in specific contexts, in which there is a kind of agreement between the people who use it.

For example, a stipulative definition is given when someone mentions in a political debate that ” left will be understood as all those political parties that do not approve of free trade.”

This type of definition is connotative, since it refers to something particular in that context and is subjective.

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