I was wondering if some of you have a recommendation for a textbook with some good philosophy on (or some theory of) definitions, or at least some ruminations on what constitutes a good definition of a term.

It's ok if the book is about a more general subject.

  • 1
    You can start with SEP's entry on Definitions Mar 14, 2021 at 19:09
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Yeah, I've read the entry already. Very interesting.
    – Simone
    Mar 14, 2021 at 19:11
  • 1
    IMO it is hard to find a full book dedicated to the topic... too narrow. Mar 14, 2021 at 19:12
  • Isn't it actually intellectually interesting why so few textbooks dedicated to the topic of definition which seems of first fundamental importance to every other topic?... Mar 14, 2021 at 20:47
  • @DoubleKnot ikr? while reading Tankut's recomendations the authors he listed lament the same thing: "There is, alas, hardly any literature on this topic. The discussion will therefore be preliminary, too elementary, and imperfectly plain." Belnap.
    – Simone
    Mar 14, 2021 at 20:51

3 Answers 3


To my knowledge, there is, regrettably, no textbook-style source on the theory of definition. However, Definitions and Definability: Philosophical Perspectives (edited by J. H. Fetzer et al, Springer, Synthese Library, 1991) is quite accessible to the novice and freely available from Springer.

As it is for many topics in philosophy, I would recommend you to read about the historical development of the notion as a smooth way to have a grip on it. In this regard, Essays on Definition (edited by J. C. Sager with an introduction by A. Rey, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2000) and Definition in Greek Philosophy (edited by D. Charles, Oxford University Press, 2010) can be helpful.

N. Belnap's 1993 article "On Rigorous Definitions" (Philosophical Studies 72, pp. 115-146) is informative about recent discussions. There is also R. Robinson's Definition (Clarendon Press, 1950); however, it may remain too outdated.


Perhaps these may help.

"The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language Upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism By Charles Kay Ogden, Ivor Armstrong Richards, Bronislaw Malinowski, Francis Graham Crookshank, John Percival Postgate · 1923"

Free edition here:


Another field to look into would be Semiotics.

"Signs: An Introduction to Semiotics By Thomas Albert Sebeok · 2001"



The most influential philosophical theory of definitions probably still is Russell's On Denoting. A few years ago there was a special issue of the journal Mind, dedicated to the centenary of that paper. I would check that out.

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