Specious Argument Definition Essay

Thirty years ago, when Singer wrote a review in the New York Review of Books entitled ‘Animal Liberation’, the mood was rather different. The use of the term ‘animal liberation’, which drew explicit comparisons with the liberation struggles of the 1960s, provoked widespread ridicule. But according to Singer, the title was used deliberately, ‘to say that just as we needed to overcome prejudices against black people, women and gays, so too we should strive to overcome our prejudices against non-human animals and start taking their interests seriously’.

Despite provoking outrage back then, this insulting comparison between the plight of animals and the oppression of black people, women or gays does not seem to raise many eyebrows today.

As Singer points out in the introduction to In Defense of Animals, ‘in 1970 the number of writings on the ethical status of animals was tiny [and] the tally now must be in the thousands’. In a roundabout way, he takes much of the credit for this growth of the animal rights movement. Philosophers, like himself, ‘were not the mother of the movement, but they did ease its passage into the world and - who knows - may have prevented it being stillborn’, he argues.

The philosophical framework that purportedly acted like a midwife for the animal rights movement is ‘preference utilitarianism’. Building on Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian philosophy, Singer believes that moral consideration should not be based on whether a being can reason or talk but on whether it can suffer. To Singer it is not happiness that matters, but preferences and interests. Preference utilitarianism therefore claims that the morally right course of action should be worked out by weighing up the preferences of all ‘beings with interests’ that might be affected by a certain action.

Singer argues that ‘all beings with interests are entitled to equal consideration: that is, we should not give their interests any less consideration than we give to the similar interests of members of our own species’.

If we tried to live our lives by Singer’s ethical calculus, every moral decision would become a never-ending computation of multifarious, and often unknown, costs and benefits. It would be impossible practically to live like that: indeed, Singer himself has been lambasted for failing to live up to his own moral teachings.

As well as being impractical, Singer’s philosophy is founded on a flawed conception of what it means to be human. He rejects the traditional distinction between humans and non-humans, distinguishing instead between ‘beings with interests’ and those without interests.

The special moral significance given to human beings has historically been on the basis of ‘the ability to reason, self-awareness, possessing a sense of justice, language, autonomy, and so on’, says Singer. But, he asks, seeming to believe that he has boxed humanists into a corner, how can ‘speciecists’ account for the fact that some human beings are ‘entirely lacking in these characteristics’? And what about the evidence for some non-human animals possessing at least some of the advanced cognitive characteristics of humans?

Setting aside the fact that there is no convincing evidence that animals have any capacity for insight - not even the great apes (see Why humans are superior to apes, by Helene Guldberg) - Singer is wrong to conclude that infants and neurologically impaired individuals are somehow less than human.

He has provoked a great deal of controversy in recent years for advocating euthanasia for severely disabled infants. Neonates and neurologically impaired human beings are not persons, in his view - in the sense that they are not ‘beings with interests’ - and therefore they have a lesser moral status than many animals.

However, it is not logically inconsistent to identify the ability to reason and reflect as the defining human characteristic while avoiding using that same criteria to decide whether or not an individual is human, or is worthy of having life.

Human progress has been made possible through our ability to evaluate who we are, where we come from and where we are going. In the past century alone we have constantly innovated to make vast improvements to our lives: including better health, longer life expectancy, higher living standards and more sophisticated means of communication and transport. Human society is thus premised on our ability to reason and reflect.

But the question of when life begins, or questions about the value of life, cannot be reduced to whether an individual has the capacity to reason, reflect and is self-aware - if that was the case, then most children under two would not be seen as human. Neither is this something that can be answered biologically. When life begins is a complex social question, defined differently in different societies in different historical periods.

As lawyer John Fitzpatrick has pointed out on spiked, it is necessary to draw a line as to ‘when life begins’ at some point, and ‘the law confers legal personhood at birth, drawing a crucial line at this point for understandable reasons, not least the fact of separation and entry into the world’ (see Jodie and Mary: whose choice was it anyway?, by John Fitzpatrick).

The distinction we make today between a fetus and a neonate is a social, moral and legal one that cannot be justified in terms of cognitive abilities or biology. The physical event of birth does not transform a fetus into a self-aware person. Yet in most societies a child, once born, is recognised in law as a legal person.

Singer gets himself into a complete muddle because he tries to reduce complex social questions and morality to simple logic. He says that those who believe morality is based on a social contract run into difficulties because ‘it means we have no direct duties to small children’. But you don’t need to be a professor of philosophy to work out that it is possible to confer legal personhood on children without giving them the same rights as adults.

The value of human life - and complex questions about life and death - cannot be reduced to simple arithmetic. It is a sign of a civilised human society that, even if severely disabled, an individual can be included in our common humanity. The value of human life cannot be reduced to a tick-list of capabilities. As Oscar Wilde might have said, that would be the outlook of a cynic: someone who ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’.

Read on:

spiked-issue: On animals

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

You see a new word that absolutely means nothing to you. The word seems interesting enough so as a wise student you decide to look it up in the dictionary. After researching the term online, you find a proper definition that seems logical enough. Great, you have learned a new word!

However, sometimes a term cannot be described in a sentence or two. This word is so complex and deep that it requires hundreds or even thousands of words to explain it.

Table Of Contents

What is a Definition Essay?

A definition essay can be tricky to write. This type of paper requires you to write a partially personal and also formal explanation of . Considering the fact that this is an essay, you can not pick a term that is describable in a few words. It has to be a complex term that has significant background and origin in history, as well as a term that people can relate to in some way or form. For example, the word "love". It is seemingly impossible to explain this concept in a sentence or two, so we must create an entire essay about it to give it an accurate UNIVERSAL representation!

Types of Definitions commonly used in Definition Essay

  • Analysis: Break the subject into parts and define each part individually.
  • Classification: What classes does the subject belong to?
  • Comparison: Unusual things may be defined by showing its likeness to the common or its contrast from it.
  • Details: What are the characteristics and other distinguishing features that describe the idea of the paper?
  • Negation: Mention what it is not in order to clear the ground for what it is.
  • Origins and Causes: What is the origin of the theme? What is the background information? What is the history of the idea?
  • Results, Effects, and Uses: Describe the after effect and uses of the subject.

Interesting Topics

  • What makes someone a Hero
  • What is Success?
  • Describe Love.
  • Explain the definition of Beauty.
  • What is Happiness?
  • How can one define Respect?
  • What is the definition of Loyalty?
  • What is Courage?
  • Describe Heroism.
  • What is Friendship?

These are just some common examples of definition essay questions and topics that are commonly asked on tests and coursework assignments. There are an infinite number of words that can be defined in the span of an essay. The goal here is to pick one that as a student you feel comfortable explaining and portraying. It is time to become a word artist!


A definition essay outline will vary in length based on the term one is describing. As stated previously, some terms are fairly logical and more or less "easy to understand". There are some terms, however, that require deep research and analysis in order to be able and formulate an accurate representation of its meaning! Regardless Every Definition Essay should be written in the classic Intro-Body(s)-Conclusion format.

Steps to take Pre-Writing

Before you even begin writing, obviously a word has to be chosen for the essay to be based around. Here are a few tips to consider before choosing your !

  • Choosing a Proper Term:
  • As stated previously, it is impossible to write a hefty custom essay on a simple word. That is why it is important to be meticulous during the decision process. Choosing something like a noun is most likely not going to work out. For example, if you chose the term "pencil", there is really not much depth that you as the writer can get into. Sticking in the same sphere, choosing something like "writing" is much more subjective and gives you as the writer some room for implementing different ideas!
  • The Word Should be Multi-Dimensional
  • Think about it like this: there are certain words in every language that have multiple interpretations; some people will perceive them differently than others!
  • Avoid using terms that are universal in every language; an example would be like "hello" or "telephone". Though there are ways you can stretch information on these terms, it is better to pick a juicy one from the start!
  • Term Familiarity
  • It will be practically impossible to write about a term that has no correlation with your life. You should choose a word that you know well and that also has undiscovered boxes in your life. Ideally, in any research assignment you ever get, there will be some personality knowledgeable gain!
  • Do some historical research!
  • Considering that humans have been lingual for centuries, there is a 100% chance that your term has a significant past. Check out the Oxford Dictionary's explanation in order to get yourself a point of relevance!


As with any other essay, you are using this part to start informing your writers about the contents of your paper. In a definition essay, the introduction serves two main goals; first, you must give a "standard" definition of the term, and then give the thesis definition!

  • Standard Definition: The initial section of the introduction should state the dictionary version. This is important for the readers to have a starting point in regards to the term so as to clarify any possible questions. Also, this is especially important because the standard definition will slightly vary from the thesis one, which allows for multi-dimensionality!

Thesis Statement

Similar to the classic thesis statement, the thesis definition is your fully completed version of what the term actually means. This is a hybrid of the standard definition, while also mixing in your personal experiences and explanation style! Do not try and describe too much in this section, as you want to split up the bulk of it for the rest of the essay! Make sure that you don’t use passive phrases involving the word when defining your term. The phrases like and are especially ponderous.

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs are the part of the essay that really breaks down the term into its core parts. You are taking every variation of the definition and its history and breaking it down into organized sections. An example of good body paragraph structure:

  • Body Paragraph 1: History and Origin
  • Body Paragraph 2: Full dictionary explanation and use.
  • Body Paragraph 3: Personal definition created from experience.


The conclusion is fairly simple and to the point. The main goal here is to summarize the main points of your argument. Rephrase the main parts of the definition and make sure you summed up everything you planned on saying. The last thing that should be mentioned is how this term has impacted you. Usually, before even writing the essay, there is a reason a specific term is picked and part of the reason has to do with personal experience.

Post-writing Tip

Mention how the definition you were talking about affected you.

If the term you define plays a specific part in your life and experiences, your final concluding comments are a great place to concisely mention the role it plays.

Definition Essay Examples

Essay Writing Advice From Our Professional Team

Jackson Super Writer, from EssayPro

When writing a definition essay, a common mistake is choosing a term that is way too broad for the given assignment. When you’ve chosen a term, try to narrow it down so it is easier to define and find examples for. As the article articulates, the term’s origin is very important to the word’s meaning itself. For example, the word “crush” comes from a variety of similar words in nordic languages. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to list every single one of those words as examples. As with word “crush”, a word can have multiple meanings. You can crush a bag of chips and you can have a crush on someone. Whatever definition your essay has, make sure to define it in a unique way. Be creative and approach it from a new angle. As the article states, it isn’t a bad idea to put in examples from your own life of how that specific word has impacted you. This will definitely make it more interesting for the reader.

Need Some Definition Essay Guidance?

Sometimes it can be hard to find a term we know well that also has a multi-dimensional definition. This is a common problem for college students and one that is commonly solved by buying an essay online! EssayPro, the best essay writing service on the web, has dedicated paper writers that know all the tips and tricks necessary to write an effective definition essay, leaving you and your professor satisfied!

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