Theoretical definition

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A theoretical definition is an abstract concept that defines a term in an academic discipline. Without a falsifiable operational definition, conceptual definitions assume both knowledge and acceptance of the theories that it depends on.[1] A hypothetical construct may serve as a theoretical definition, as can a stipulative definition.

A theoretical definition is a proposed way of thinking about potentially related events.[1][2] Indeed, theoretical definitions contain built-in theories; they cannot be simply reduced to describing a set of observations. The definition may contain implicit inductions and deductive consequences that are part of the theory.[3] A theoretical definition of a term can change, over time, based on the methods in the field that created it.

In different fields[edit]

Sciences[edit]

The term scientific theory is reserved for concepts that are widely accepted. A scientific law often refers to regularities that can be expressed by a mathematical statement. However, there is no consensus about the distinction between these terms.[4] Every scientific concept must have an operational definition, however the operational definition can use both direct observations and latent variables.[5]

Natural sciences[edit]

In the natural sciences, a concept is an abstract conclusion drawn from observations.[5]

Social and health sciences[edit]

Social and health sciences interact with non-empirical fields and use both observation based and pre-existing concepts such as intelligence, race, and gender.

  • In psychology the term "conceptual definition" is used for a concept variable.[6]

Interdisciplinary[edit]

Most interdisciplinary fields are designed to address specific real world concerns and theoretical definitions in interdisciplinary fields is still evolving.[7]

Examples[edit]

Theoretical or Conceptual definition Operational definition
Weight: a measurement of gravitational force acting on an object a result of measurement of an object on a Newton spring scale

In natural science[edit]

The definitions of substances as various configurations of atoms are theoretical definitions, as are definitions of colors as specific wavelengths of reflected light.

Physics[edit]

The first postulate of special relativity theory that the speed of light in vacuum is the same to all inertial observers (i.e. it is a constant, and therefore a good measure of length). Of interest, this theoretical concept is the basis of an operational definition for the length of a metre is "the distance traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second". Thus we have defined 'metre' according to other ideas contained in modern scientific theory. Rejection of the theory underlying a theoretical definition leaves the definition invalid for use in argument with those who reject it — neither side will advance its position by using terms the others do not accept[citation needed].

Heat explains a collection of various laws of nature and that predict certain results.[2]

In Medicine[edit]

In social science[edit]

Psychology[edit]

In psychology, the concept of intelligence is meant to explain correlations in performance on certain cognitive tasks.[8] Recent models suggest several cognitive processes may be involved in tasks that have been associated with intelligence.[9] However, overall the "g" or general intelligence factor is relatively supported by research[citation needed], though there are challenges.

Philosophy[edit]

Differing theoretical definitions of "thinking" have caused conflict amongst artificial intelligence philosophers, illustrated for example by the different responses to the Chinese room experiment.[citation needed] Some philosophers might call "thought" merely "having the ability to convince another person that you can think".[citation needed] An operational definition corresponding to this theoretical definition could be a simple conversation test (e.g. Turing test). Others believe that better theoretical and operational definitions are required.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b About.com, Logical Arguments, "Theoretical Definitions"
  2. ^ a b A Concise Introduction to Logic by Patrick J. Hurley. 2007. Cengage learning. Entry on "Theoretical Definitions" may even be available through google books[full citation needed]
  3. ^ (6 January 2009). Theory and Observation in Science. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  4. ^ Scientific Laws And Theories. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b Watt, James H.; van den Berg, Sjef (2002). Philosophy of Science, Empiricism, and the Scientific Method. p. 11. Retrieved 24 March 2015. 
  6. ^ Hypotheses. Retrieved on 5 December 2016.
  7. ^ Defining Interdisciplinary Studies. Retrieved on 5 December 2016.
  8. ^ "Intelligent intelligence testing". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 24 March 2015. 
  9. ^ Conway, Andrew R.A; Cowan, Nelson; Bunting, Michael F; Therriault, David J; Minkoff, Scott R.B (1999). "A latent variable analysis of working memory capacity, short-term memory capacity, processing speed, and general fluid intelligence". Intelligence. 30 (2): 163–183. doi:10.1016/S0160-2896(01)00096-4. Retrieved 24 March 2015.