Extensional definition

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An extensional definition of a concept or term formulates its meaning by specifying its extension, that is, every object that falls under the definition of the concept or term in question.

For example, an extensional definition of the term "nation of the world" might be given by listing all of the nations of the world, or by giving some other means of recognizing the members of the corresponding class. An explicit listing of the extension, which is only possible for finite sets and only practical for relatively small sets, is a type of enumerative definition.

Extensional definitions are used when listing examples would give more applicable information than other types of definition, and where listing the members of a set tells the questioner enough about the nature of that set.

This is similar to an ostensive definition, in which one or more members of a set (but not necessarily all) are pointed out as examples. The opposite approach is the intensional definition, which defines by listing properties that a thing must have in order to be part of the set captured by the definition.

See also