[lit-ideas] What Do Ostensive Definitions Define?

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 31 May 2004 13:25:31 EDT

In a message dated 5/30/2004 1:39:44 AM Eastern Standard Time,  
Robert.Paul@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx quotes from Wittgesntein:
"[32] 'Someone coming into a strange country will sometimes learn the  
language of
the inhabitants from ostensive definitions that they give him;  and he will 
to _guess_ [shades of Quine!] the meaning of these  definitions; and he will
guess sometimes right, sometimes  wrong."
I would guess Wittgenstein took the notion of 'ostensive definition' from  
Johnson is the first cite given by the OED for that collocation.  (Johnson 
was professor of logic at Cambridge). 
I guess Wittgenstein identified the idea of 'ostension' with his own  
preferred idea of 'show' (rather than 'tell' or 'say': 'If you cannot tell,  
One may wonder, with K. Amis -- cited in the OED's entry below -- what  
'ostensive definitions' define, though and _how_ -- or what the defininiens and 
the definiendum are.
Once, someone tried to define (ostensively) the meaning of Tamil, "je'rog!"  
and failed -- Why? Which are the ways ostensive definitions can go wrong?  
Wittgenstein's idea that to define ostensively 'x' you must know what _to do_  
with the referent of 'x' seems pretty restrictive, if Heideggerian.
From the OED
ostensive  definition 
(Philos.), the explanation of a word by pointing at or otherwise  indicating, 
or by presenting, one or more objects to which it applies. 

1921 W. E. JOHNSON Logic I. vi. 94 
We may now  introduce the technical term â??ostensiveâ?? which will suggest as 
its opposite the  familiar term â??intensiveâ??... Imposing a name in the act 
indicating,  presenting or introducing the object to which the name is to 
apply,..this it is  that constitutes ostensive definition. 
1940 A. J. AYER  Found. Empirical Knowl. ii. 88 
This is effected  by the method of ostensive definition. 
1950 R. ROBINSON Definition ii. 15  â??Ostensive definitionâ?? is the name of a 
method, the method that  makes use of pointing or physical introduction. 
1953 I. M. COPI  Introd. Logic iv. 108 An  ostensive definition refers to the 
examples by means of pointing or some other  gesture. 
1960 K. AMIS  New Maps of Hell (1961) i. 21 
One might under  adverse conditions learn a human language, by ostensive 
definition and the  like.
1968 J. LYONS  Introd. Theoret. Linguistics ix. 409 Ostensive definition, of 
itself, is never sufficient.

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