Definitions are important tools of thought. They can make the difference between success and failure. Serious, practical success and serious, practical failure. They are not a mere academic issue.
If you want to lose millions, give it to someone who will not define your audience for advertising a product, define your product, or define the message. If you are giving someone that much money, they dang well better identify the market and submarkets for your product, and the interest each group has for the product.
We should train students to use and take seriously definitions in all areas of thought and life.
As an example in math, I recently observed how someone could not solve a world problem applying conic sections to planetary orbits, because he did not define terms. He was given the earth’s perihelion (the point where the earth is closest to the sun) and aphelion (the point where the earth is furthest from the sun), and asked to find an equation for the earth’s orbit.
This is easy to do if you know that “a” is 1/2 the length of the major axis of the earth’s elliptical orbit, and that “c” is the distance from the center of the ellipse to a focus (one of which is the sun for the earth’s orbit).
But if you don’t have that straight, then you’re lost. The student was lost.
Please don’t be lost in life.
But this was an excellent opportunity to discuss the need for and practicality of defining your terms. I took it.
In this case, a + c = aphelion and a – c = perihelion. This allows you to solve for a, which you can then use to find c, both of which you can use to find “b” (1/2 the length of the minor axis of the earth’s elliptical orbit). Then done. Success.
So what about doctors who cannot define health?
And what is “education?” And what is a “teacher?”