Ostensive definition

Ostensive Definition

Ostensive definition

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An ostensive definition conveys the meaning of a term by pointing out examples. This type of definition is often used where the term is difficult to define verbally, either because the words will not be understood (as with children and new speakers of a language) or because of the nature of the term (such as colors or sensations). It is usually accompanied with a gesture pointing out the object serving as an example, and for this reason is also often referred to as "definition by pointing". Ostensive definitions rely on an analogical or case-based reasoning by the subject they are intended to.

For example, defining "red" by pointing out red objects—apples, stop signs, roses—is giving ostensive definition, as is naming.

Ostensive definition assumes the questioner has sufficient understanding to recognize the type of information being given. Ludwig Wittgenstein writes: So one might say: the ostensive definition explains the use—the meaning—of the word when the overall role of the word in language is clear. Thus if I know that someone means to explain a colour-word to me the ostensive definition "That is called 'sepia' " will help me to understand the word.... One has already to know (or be able to do) something in order to be capable of asking a thing's name. But what does one have to know?Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations, §30.

The limitations of ostensive definition are exploited in a famous...
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