Ontdef1. What is a definition?
- 1 Discussion
- 2 What is the definition of definition
- 3 What makes for faulty definitions?
- 4 What is required to understand something?
- 5 Knowing how versus knowing that
- 6 What does it take to understand jazz?
- 7 What makes a good definition?
- 8 Kingsbury and McKeown-Green on definitions
- 9 NOTES
What is the definition of definition
What can count as a definition? To clarify the concept, start with a definition of definition.
Dictionary.com states “A definition is a formal and concise statement of the meaning of a word or phrase or the specification of the essential properties of something, or of the criteria which uniquely identify it.”
The word “definition” comes from Latin, Middle English, and Old French. The French word “definicion” in the 14th century meant “decision, setting of boundaries.”
Given this understanding of definition requires us to give a concise statement of the meaning of the word “jazz” and this can be accomplished by a specification of the essential properties of jazz and the criteria for identifying it and setting its boundaries.
What makes for faulty definitions?
Faulty definitions are caused by Form problems or Content problems.
FORM Problems for Definitions: 
One cannot merely enumerate a complete list of something when defining it, as Socrates objected to in the Euthyphro at 6d: “Piety is doing what I am doing now” as well as in the Meno at 74c-d. Socrates insists that merely citing an instance, or a list of instances (rather than giving a general formula, or description) is inadequate. He has many reasons in his favor for maintaining this view.
- First, there are practical objections to enumerative attempts at definition. Many times trying to list all the instances of the definiendum (what is to be defined) is going to be impractical or unworkable. One cannot list all of the even numbers. Nor, can one practically list all of the aunts in the universe. You might miss the ones on Mars.
- Much worse than the impracticability of enumerative definitions is that too often such a list has nothing to say about why all items are instances of the definiendum.
➢ What are the reasons why each enumerated item exists in the enumerated list, i.e., the purported definiens (what does the defining)?
A complete enumeration of all instances is not sufficient
It is possible to have a complete enumeration of instances of something and yet still not have a definition that specifies what is being represented. There can be two or more logically distinct definitions, incompatible with one another, but each having equivalent classes of instances. Philosophers to prove this point use the example of a creature with a heart versus a creature with a kidney where it is assumed that the extensional classes could be identical, although hearts and kidneys are different, so need different definitions.
A complete enumeration of all instances is not necessary 
Besides the fact that many times a complete list of instances is not possible or practical, it often is the case that a complete list of instances is not necessary. For example, it is possible to know the definition of something without being able to produce a complete enumeration of all of its instances. One can know what a dog is without enumerating every actual dog or even just types of dogs.
CONTENT Problems for definitions:
Broadness and narrowness problems 
The most common problem that Socrates finds with the content of a definition (although not, as we will see, the only kind of problem) is that the proposed definition fails to pick out the right things. A definition may be formally correct, but still go wrong if it does not capture the right class of instances. The description may be too broad because it gives a necessary, but not a sufficient condition. E.g., defining “brother” as “sibling.” Or it can be too narrow because it gives a sufficient, but not a necessary condition.
Worse yet, a proposed definition may be both too broad and too narrow, i.e., it may admit instances that it should exclude, and exclude instances that it should admit. An example would be defining “sister” as “unmarried sibling.” This condition is neither sufficient for being a sister (it includes some brothers, who should be excluded) nor necessary for being a sister (it excludes married sisters).
Better definitions supply an explanation of the phenomenon under question. A good goal for any attempted definition of jazz would be if it could supply an explanation for why something is or is not in the jazz universe. See Ontdef3: The Galactic Model for Defining Jazz that purports to provide an explanatory model for better understanding the nature and dynamics of jazz, as well as powerful explanations for how to determine the status of jazz genres and their positions relative to each other, both their value and significance.
What is required to understand something?
In summary, understanding is a psychological process that occurs when one can successfully think about and apply appropriate concepts regarding the thing to be understood. One succeeds in understanding something to various degrees relative to actions and goals. If one can correctly answer questions about the subject matter trying to be understood or if one can use this understanding and appropriate concepts to manipulate the environment to achieve particular goals.
For example, one successfully understand jazz if one can correctly answer questions about jazz, or as a jazz musician, you understand jazz when you can play jazz and not some other kind of music. Both of these can be accomplished without having to know everything there is to know related to jazz.
CONCLUSION: One can successfully understand something, including jazz, without having to know everything there is to know about it.
Knowing how versus knowing that
Philosophers often make a distinction between knowing HOW versus knowing THAT. This distinction also applies to understanding. The jazz musician understands WHAT jazz is, even if she claims NOT to be able to define it. She knows when she is playing jazz that she is, and when she is not, that she is not. (If we leave aside “borderline” cases.) So the jazz musician understands HOW to play jazz, but also understands THAT she is playing jazz, when she is. (techne vs. a kind of self-knowledge).
What does it take to understand jazz?
Applying these lessons to our goals in the philosophy of jazz, what shall we anticipate as a model of successfully understanding jazz and what makes some music qualify as jazz? The investigation of the mechanic’s understanding of how to fix the car only required his recognition of some key features that enabled him to achieve particular and relevant goals, as in getting the motor running and you off to work. It did not require him to have knowledge of how to forge steel even though there was steel forging involved in the project.
PhilosophyOfJazz.net promises to achieve a partial understanding (there is rarely a full understanding of anything) of central topics and issues arising when characterizing jazz. If there can be found some good answers to questions about jazz, and especially how to define it, then this achieves an understanding about what is jazz.
What makes a good definition?
Definitions are characterizations or requirements for what something must be like to fall under that definition or set of conditions or properties. All definitions purport to delimit all and only the objects that are those types of objects and not excluding or including any things that should not be included or excluded as one of these types of things.
A definition specifies a set of identity conditions for something to be of that type of thing being defined. When these set of conditions or properties specified in a definition are met a successful definition excludes all objects that people judge not to be of the type being defined and includes what evaluators concur are of the type being defined.
Consider a classically used philosophical definition of a human bachelor being defined as any unmarried adult male. This is a fairly well established and accepted as correct definition. Few people when hearing this definition for bachelor would believe that it is a bad definition. However, consider a complex possible counter-example.
Suppose that Hilda, an unmarried adult human person, was assigned a female gender at birth. Hilda is transgender and believes himself to be of the male gender persuasion. Suppose that Hilda has an out of ordinary genitalia and also has non-typical chromosomal count of XXY. A transgender person is one "whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond to that person’s biological sex assigned at birth.
➢ Is Hilda a bachelor or not?
The fact that this is a borderline case and requires decisions and evaluations to be made does not establish the unacceptability of this definition for bachelor. No one on the basis of this case, (or any other), would claim that the Hilda situation proves that bachelors should be defined as either male or female adult unmarried humans. The question is whether we wish to judge that Hilda qualifies as male and not anything about whether maleness should or should not be included in the definition of bachelor.
Similarly, if a definition for jazz could be established to critic's relative satisfaction then the existence of new problematic cases, by themselves, do not necessarily mitigate against the correctness of that definition for jazz, any more than Hilda's case mitigates against including male in the definition for bachelor.
CONCLUSION: Borderline cases by themselves do not necessarily show that a definition is defective.
Kingsbury and McKeown-Green on definitions
In their challenging paper criticizing disjunctive style definitions, philosophers Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green take seriously the need for definitions, at least sometimes to be about things, and not about concepts or expressions as represented by the next two quotations from their paper, "Definitions: Does Disjunction Mean Dysfunction?."
“It is things, not expression or concepts, whose definition interests us.” (bold not in original)
“By definition, we mean a statement that purports to tell us what it takes for something to be a thing of a certain kind.” (bold not in original)
Kingsbury and McKeown-Green list four factors that often characterize important features had by effective and appropriate definitions.
- Extensionally Adequate definitions cite a condition that is met by all and only things of the kind being defined.
- Criterial Adequacy is the condition in virtue of which those things being defined count as things of that kind.
- Conjunctiveness is understood wherein simpler conditions are individually necessary conditions and together are jointly sufficient for the object of the definition.
- Motivationally Adequate definitions contain descriptions of a well established practice that explains why it is reasonable for one to be interested in whether a thing meets the proposed condition or why there is a recognized category of things which satisfy that condition.
While the authors don't claim that these four definitional criteria are required for something to be an effective definition, nevertheless, they believe any purported definition that fails to meet any of these four criteria automatically supplies a reason for a definition's inadequacy.
“We suspect, though, that if a definition lacks one or more of these features, there is a corresponding respect in which we find that definition problematic.” (bold not in original)
Interestingly, jazz unquestionably meets the fourth criteria of being motivationally adequate. To justify this claim let us look at the author's discussion of when a definition can fail such adequacy. The author's provide an unmotivated definition that nevertheless meets their first three criteria for providential definitions.
“A heagly thing is any thing that is both heavy and ugly. This definition has the first two features on our list, extensional adequacy and criterial adequacy, since we are entitled to categorize things in idiosyncratic ways and make use of those categories. Our definition also has the third feature: it is conjunctive. (bold not in original)
Unfortunately, the heagly definition lacks motivational adequacy because, according to the authors “it is gratuitous: there is no obvious reason for regarding all heavy, ugly things as tokens of a special type of thing. We can gloss our discontent about this by noting that this definition is motivationally inadequate. (bold not in original)
Jazz definitions shall never have this problem of being motivationally inadequate because there are well establish exemplars of actual cases of jazz and any definition of jazz shall always satisfy these requirements for being motivationally adequate. The reasons for this are straightforward. In jazz, there are “well established practices” that “explains why it is reasonable for one to be interested in whether a thing meets [a] proposed criteria” and there already is “a recognized category of things which satisfy that condition.” Furthermore, it is obvious that there are already well recognized categories of things which satisfy whatever might be the things that any proposed condition or set of conditions is trying to pick out. If any proposed jazz definition were to deny or reject all music performed by Duke Ellington or by Thelonious Monk as not qualifying as jazz since it did not satisfy the proposed definition, then we already know that such a definition has failed to properly define jazz.
“It is part of our practice to notice certain things and to group them in certain ways. Sometimes our ways of classifying things depend on their appearance; sometimes they depend on their function; sometimes they depend on our community's evolving ideas about how reality itself is organized. But ultimately, many of the ways we categorize things are due to our own or our community's entrenched and evolving classificatory practices. To a first approximation, a definition of jazz ought to count something as jazz if and only if the community regards it as jazz. (bold not in original)
But herein lies a significant problem. Does the jazz community count acid jazz, smooth jazz, or free jazz as jazz?
Are jazz definitions realist or identificatory practices definitions?
Kingsbury and McKeown-Green distinguish between two fundamental background assumptions/approaches/methodologies when concerned with definitions. A realist definition presumes the existence of natural kinds existing independently of any community's perceptions of these kinds. On the other hand, definitions presuming a definition of a community's classificatory practices are less realistic and such definitions can change over time with both the earlier and the later definitions both being correct because it was the community's classification practices that changed over time. Natural kinds, at least typically, never change over time. They are stable ontological types.
Rinzler's Onion model is tracking community's standards and collective judgments regarding perceived objects in the jazz universe seeming to make his approach based on classificatory practices of the jazz community.
The Galactic model for defining jazz, on the other hand, is a realist style methodology and definitional type. It tracks how independently existing and utilized musical features of HSI (hybridization, syncopation, and improvisation) influence the development and perceptions of both jazz itself as well as why the jazz community and its perceptions and judgments are affected and can change over time.
Kingsbury and McKeown-Green hold the quite reasonable position that any definition of jazz should not rule out what the vast majority of the jazz community accept as being jazz so that both types of definitional approaches can be complimentary and desirable.
“Ultimately, many of the ways we categorize things are due to our own or our community's entrenched and evolving classificatory practices. We have, for instance, a practice of grouping certain things together and calling them jazz. Unsurprisingly, we sometimes take an interest in what it takes to be a thing of one of these practice-mandated kinds. What, we might ask, is jazz? Hence, we offer definitions which are adequate to the extent that they satisfactorily describe the stuff picked out by the relevant community's relevant identificatory practices. To a first approximation, a definition of jazz ought to count something as jazz if and only if the community regards it as jazz.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
In an earlier paper, Kingsbury and McKeown-Green reflect upon relationships between conceptual analysis and possible world thought experiments in relationship to jazz.
“We indulge in conceptual analysis when we reflect fairly systematically on some notion—like rules, moral agency, jazz, or infinity—which forms part of some human practice. Systematic reflection means, roughly, deciding which possible scenarios are scenarios in which we have something to which the notion applies, which possible scenarios are ones in which the notion is not applicable, and which scenarios are ones in which it is indeterminate. Thus, we distinguish cases of jazz from cases of non-jazz and both from borderline cases.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
“Although any complete analysis of a concept has to be a statement of necessary and sufficient conditions for its application—a definition, if you like—it might not be a definition of the sort one would naturally wish for. For a start, we should not be surprised if some of the rules we implicitly follow when classifying things as jazz or non-jazz, right or wrong, art or non-art, water or non-water, are horrendously complicated and gerrymandered. It would be marvellous if the quest for a conceptual analysis often terminated in a more or less pithy statement of necessary and sufficient conditions like Grice's candidate for a definition of awe: ‘a mixture of fear and admiration.' Unfortunately, however, our informal, everyday classificatory practices evolve over time in response to changing circumstances and are not subject to careful review by the philosophy department or the Crown Law Office. The question of whether to include a particular musical event among the jazz may well depend on vagaries: what were the journalists working for Downbeat Magazine most interested in during the late '50s? What kinds of music did most of the jazz players from the thirties move on to when the big bands disbanded? Perhaps the best definition of the concept JAZZ will be a motley disjunction of conditions.” (bold and bold italic not in original)
Are jazz classifications "horrendously complicated and gerrymandered"?
Well, we know jazz classifications are not simple. If there were such simple classifications available for characterizing jazz, then there would have been less controversy over the past contentious one hundred years. As is well known, it would not be unfair to claim that every new jazz style has met with resistance and complaints from prior jazz establishments. Swing was not Dixieland, Bebop wasn't Swing, Free Jazz wasn't Jazz, Jazz-Rock fusion didn't meet neo-traditionalist's perceptions for jazz, and so forth.
Surprisingly, it is unclear whether jazz classifications are or are not gerry-mandered. If all musical forms with the label jazz are in fact jazz then how could this be gerry-mandered? Gerry-mandering happens only when disparate and unrelated components are strung together as a (typically political) unit to achieve particular purposes by having this particular grouping.
Because gerrymandering has negative connotations because of deliberate manipulations of (political) boundaries these carry over when used to describe possible jazz groupings. Embedded in the concept of gerrymandering is the inappropriateness of generating the district being manipulated to achieve some particular advantage(s).
➢ Has this happened to jazz as an overall 'district' or style of music?
If such jazz gerrymandering has taken place, who did the redistricting and what were the (political) advantage(s) for having so included some sub-genre of jazz that doesn't 'really' belong in this group? Does including acid jazz in the market for jazz records increase acid jazz CD sales because it purportedly falls within the borders of jazz as a more general category that allegedly includes acid jazz as a sub-category of jazz? Hardly.
Therefore, it is likely that the use of the term "gerrymandering" is too fraught with inappropriate connotations and should not be so applied when analyzing the structure of jazz genres in relationships of appropriateness and genus/species groupings. The negative connotations of gerrymandering prejudice the question of the relationships between jazz sub-genres. Because of this the term is begging the question in favor of the position that the connections between sub-genres of jazz are arbitrary and unmitigated as opposed to there being a coherent explanation for jazz inclusions and exclusions.
Conceptual analysis requires reflections on possible cases and scenarios, as espoused by Frank Jackson, as well as by Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green.
“Since completed analyses need not yield satisfying, quotable sound-bites, conceptual analysis must not be identified with what Stephen Stich calls the 'method of proposing definitions and hunting for intuitive counterexamples’ (Stich 1993, 354). To be sure, a fun way to elicit intuitive judgements about whether a concept (JAZZ, for instance) applies to a possible case or not is to entertain a definition of it and search for counter-examples. However, conceptual analysis, as Jackson understands it, is the process of reflecting on possible cases and this need not, though it may, consist in auditioning, testing, refining, rejecting and replacing definitions.”  (bold not in original)
“Our reply: We don't always need a complete analysis of a concept in order to learn something worthwhile about it from the business of analysing it. Failure to net the necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of some concept to a circumstance need not spell a failure to learn more about the application of the concept. It might still be of interest to uncover, as we have done in the case of knowledge, necessary but insufficient, or sufficient but unnecessary, conditions for its application, and we should not regard the unavailability of even provisional definitions of some concept as a sign that we are getting nowhere with the analysis of it.” (bold not in original)
And Kingsbury and McKeown-Green rightfully conclude that even incomplete conceptual analysis that does not provide a finished set of all necessary and sufficient conditions remains valuable to scientists, philosophers, and theorists because of the insights partial analyses provide.
“In sum, conceptual analysis, regarded as the probing of our intuitions about the application of some notion in various possible scenarios, is alive and well: it makes unobtrusive contributions to scientific, philosophical and ordinary reasoning. It pays dividends even when it does not converge on an exceptionless criterion of application for a concept.” (bold not in original)
This is highly relevant to the investigation into a conceptual analysis of jazz, especially concerning its definition. We know there are many poor and inadequate definitions of jazz, for examples see Ontdef4. Unhelpful definitions of jazz. Nevertheless, as Kingsbury and McKeown-Green are quick to point out, such failures are no reason to stop searching for superior, even if incomplete, conceptions and definitions for jazz. For example, finding a sufficient condition for jazz is a major theoretical accomplishment as established at Ontdef3. "A sufficient condition for playing jazz".
The authors themselves find some disjunctive styles of definition problematic and unacceptable whenever it is true that the object/thing being defined has a more unitary and coherent nature or form.
“Opponents of this sort of approach feel that artworks are being represented here as a less unified kind than they surely are. That seems like a problem if we think that art is a robust, well-motivated category, grounded in reality or in our practice.” (bold not in original)
- Dictionary.com's definition of bachelor.
- "Definitions: Does Disjunction Mean Dysfunction?," Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 106, No. 10 (Oct., 2009), p. 573. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20620204.
- “Definitions: Does Disjunction Mean Dysfunction?,” Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 106, No. 10 (Oct., 2009), pp. 568. Published by the Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20620204.
- “Definitions: Does Disjunction Mean Dysfunction?,” Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 106, No. 10 (Oct., 2009), p. 569. Published by the Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20620204.
- "Jackson's Armchair: The Only Chair in Town?," Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green, in Naturalism and Analysis, Robert Nola and David Braddon-Mitchell (eds.), MIT Press, December 2008, second and third pages of their article. DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262012560.003.0007.
- "Jackson's Armchair: The Only Chair in Town?," Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green, in Naturalism and Analysis, Robert Nola and David Braddon-Mitchell (eds.), MIT Press, December 2008, fifth paragraph in the Reply section under "1. First objection: The record of forays into conceptual analysis is dismal," ninth page of their article. DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262012560.003.0007.
- Wikipedia on gerrymandering describes the process and the product resulting from gerrymandering as “the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. The resulting district is known as a gerrymander. However, that word can also refer to the process. The term "gerrymandering" has negative connotations. (bold and bold italic not in original)
- "Jackson's Armchair: The Only Chair in Town?," Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green, in Naturalism and Analysis, Robert Nola and David Braddon-Mitchell (eds.), MIT Press, December 2008, eleventh page of their article. DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262012560.003.0007.
- "Jackson's Armchair: The Only Chair in Town?," Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green, in Naturalism and Analysis, Robert Nola and David Braddon-Mitchell (eds.), MIT Press, December 2008, twelfth page of their article. DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262012560.003.0007.
- "Definitions: Does Disjunction Mean Dysfunction?," Justine Kingsbury and Jonathan McKeown-Green, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 106, No. 10 (Oct., 2009), p. 571. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20620204.