Volume 16


Definitional arguments assume that definitions are not neutral; rather, the writers of definitional arguments recognize the epistemological necessity of disputing and refining accepted definitions. Are Central American children arriving on U.S. borders illegal immigrants or refugees? Are gun regulations an infringement on liberty or a public health issue? How do we distinguish between just and unjust laws?

To make a definitional argument, writers must show how a particular term (called the definiendum) is defined by certain criteria (called the definiens), then show how those criteria apply to the case at hand. For example, to make a convincing argument that Catholic activist Dorothy Day was a feminist, the writer would isolate defining criteria for feminism, then show how those criteria should be applied to Dorothy Day.