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Concept# Theoretical definition

Summary

A theoretical definition defines a term in an academic discipline, functioning as a proposal to see a phenomenon in a certain way. A theoretical definition is a proposed way of thinking about potentially related events. Theoretical definitions contain built-in theories; they cannot be simply reduced to describing a set of observations. The definition may contain implicit inductions and deductive consequences that are part of the theory. A theoretical definition of a term can change, over time, based on the methods in the field that created it.
Without a falsifiable operational definition, conceptual definitions assume both knowledge and acceptance of the theories that it depends on. A hypothetical construct may serve as a theoretical definition, as can a stipulative definition.
The term scientific theory is reserved for concepts that are widely accepted. A scientific law often refers to regularities that can be expressed by a mathematical statement. However, there is no consensus about the distinction between these terms. Every scientific concept must have an operational definition, however the operational definition can use both direct observations and latent variables.
In the natural sciences, a concept is an abstract conclusion drawn from observations.
Social and health sciences interact with non-empirical fields and use both observation based and pre-existing concepts such as intelligence, race, and gender.
In psychology the term "conceptual definition" is used for a concept variable.
Most interdisciplinary fields are designed to address specific real world concerns and the status of theoretical definitions in interdisciplinary fields is still evolving.
The definitions of substances as various configurations of atoms are theoretical definitions, as are definitions of colors as specific wavelengths of reflected light.
The first postulate of special relativity theory that the speed of light in vacuum is the same to all inertial observers (i.e. it is a constant, and therefore a good measure of length).

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A definition is a statement of the meaning of a term (a word, phrase, or other set of symbols). Definitions can be classified into two large categories: intensional definitions (which try to give the sense of a term), and extensional definitions (which try to list the objects that a term describes). Another important category of definitions is the class of ostensive definitions, which convey the meaning of a term by pointing out examples. A term may have many different senses and multiple meanings, and thus require multiple definitions.

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