Talk:Circular definition

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Philosophy of language

The 'circular definition' article is more dictionary focused. The 'vicious circle principle' article is more mathematically focused. I think the articles should remain separate, but I will add cross-references. Lexyacc (talk) 20:54, 2 August 2016 (UTC)

The temptation is so great to summarize the article as See: Circular definition. Scooter

This is BS because EVERY definition is circular. unsigned comment 00:46, 14 March 2004 by User:Bensaccount

I tried to get that effect by adding circular definition to the links page, which someone thought shouldn't be a link. However, I think the page has enough useful information that the joke isn't going to help. MShonle 03:48, 14 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Recursion is fine if it terminates.. Infinite recursion isn't really that successful on most of the computers I have access to Mozzerati 07:13, 2004 May 16 (UTC)

Infinite recursion is fine if it's a read-eval-print loop in Scheme, which utilizes tail call optimization. You might argue that TCO is really iteration, but for the sake of this article it's recursive.

What's the definition of a definition then? --Eddwardo 23:42, 23 January 2006 (UTC)

The library in the adventure game 'Monkey island 2' has many circular definitions in it's book index, all of them are red herrings while 3 of many books are essential. --Ollj 01:28, 17 February 2007 (UTC)

Re: "EVERY definition is circular" -- true, strictly speaking "circular definition" is a fatuous concept. Take words for instance: All words are defined in terms of other words, therefore their definitions are circular. But the "meanings" of the words, i.e. their signification (what they point to), at least in regards to some words, are learned via experience and not through definitions, if this were not so, all definitions, in addition to being circular, would be meaningless as well. (What it means to "mean", on the other hand, is a thornier issue) Cueyatl (talk) 01:02, 11 March 2008 (UTC)

I agree with Bensaccount above, this article, to put it bluntly, is bollocks. There are many definitions in mathematics where the term being defined appears in the definition. A famous one is the golden ratio: A line is defined as being in golden ratio to a section of the line when the two line sections are in golden ratio. This ratio is a definite, non-fallacious number approximately 1.618... I fail to see how a circular definition can be a fallacious argument. A definition is not any kind of argument, fallacious or otherwise, it is, well . . ., a definition. SpinningSpark 23:19, 14 January 2009 (UTC)

Deletion of so-called examples[edit]

As far as I can tell, see:see is not a definition of see, nor is see:recursion a definition of recursion. They are cross-references, and if they are under see and recursion respectively then they are self-references. Self-referencing and circular-referencing are not circular definitions, and I have therefore deleted these "examples". Does anyone disagree with me here?God Emperor (talk) 13:38, 19 April 2009 (UTC)

Examples given are terrible[edit]

None of the dictionary examples of circularly defined word sets are true circular definitions, because in addition to referencing each other, the sets also contain additional nondependent elements.

"Hill" references an "elevation of land" and "mountain" references a "landmass that projects conspicuously above its surroundings." The references to each other merely provide comparative information, not an essential aspect to the basic definition. One can extrapolate the meanings of the terms without requiring a pre-existent knowledge of said meanings.

The patronizing/condescending illustration suffers a similar flaw. In order for this to be circular, one would have to examine the definitions of "haughty" and "cool" as well, since the definition of "patronize" adds "to treat haughtily or coolly." It is, therefore, not a circular set of definitions as given in the article, since one with no knowledge of either term can continue to definitions of the terms "haughty" and "cool" for clarification. (In addition, the definitions referenced are both supplemental definitions, meaning a person with good deductive reasoning could extrapolate the abstract definition from the concrete.)

In conclusion, it's risible that this article defining a flawed type of reasoning is flawed in its reasoning. (talk) 09:36, 16 November 2010 (UTC)

Responding to this almost a decade later... yeah, that section is original research because we as Wikipedia editors are drawing our own conclusions, instead of repeating what is said in a reliable source. This is a violation of the no original research policy. I've tagged the section accordingly. Mz7 (talk) 06:29, 12 April 2020 (UTC)

Humorous Recursive Definition[edit]

A common joke is the following "definition" of recursion.[1]

See "Recursion".

This is a parody on circular references in dictionaries, which are sometimes understood to be explanatory, rather than descriptive. Jokes often have an element of wisdom: In some cases, dictionary descriptions lead to circular definitions among related words. However, jokes also can have an element of misunderstanding: This parody is the shortest possible example of an erroneous recursive definition of an object, the error being the absence of the termination condition (or lack of the initial state, if looked at from an opposite point of view). It is also an erroneous example of possible recursive definition, where the more general error it makes is in mistaking dictionaries to involve procedures in the logico-mathematical sense. The circular dictionary definition, which results from the activity of looking up a word whose entry provides a definition in terms of that word (or in terms of another word defined in terms of this word), is not circular in the logico-mathematical sense. For that to be true, the activity of giving a definition for a word would have to be the same as providing an explanans for an explanandum, which is not what lexicography attempts to do. While any dictionary might be believed, from a prescriptivist perspective, to dictate correct usage, the use of dictionaries is not itself a rule-following practice independent of the give-and-take of using words in context. For this joke to be a well-formed example of recursive definition, the practice of using dictionaries would have to involve a function; say, a "look-up" procedure that a computer can perform. If dictionaries were logico-mathematical texts, then so-called circular definition would amount to infinite regress, where one of the steps involved in running the procedure is to run the procedure; and, in the context of explanation (as opposed to description), this would be a vicious infinite regress. Newcomers to recursion are often bewildered by its apparent circularity, until they learn to appreciate that a termination condition is key. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:18, December 22, 2010 (UTC)


  1. ^ "recursion". Retrieved 2010-04-07.

The definition seems circular...[edit]

It says "circular definition is one that uses the term(s) being defined". So your definition of "circular definition" has the word "define" in it, thereby making it a circular definition, in and of itself. In other words, you understand the definition, you must already prior understand the constituents of the word itself, rendering the definition useless (talk) 15:12, 9 August 2014 (UTC)