I have doubt about the usage of the term arbitrary limit, which confuse me with its initial definition from the various dictionary.

The definitions for arbitrary from the major dictionaries could be grouped in two ways, which are random and dictatorial.

I am confused with the usage of this term in some of the speeches that I have searched that provides 2 different meanings.

Example The government's arbitrary limit will deprive the economy of skilled workers it needs but barely dent overall migrant numbers.

The Statement above would tell a limit set by an absolute authority, or rather would be random with own preference limit.

The usage of this term has been around, and it's common to be used in the study of Science.

Do appreciate any insights about the clarification of usage.


The two aspects are often related. In your example, for instance the government's limit has been decided in a dictatorial manner - nobody from the public, or industry groups, or other interested parties had any input and there's probably no easy way for the limit to be changed.

The government's limit is also random - or at least not backed by analysis, studying of requirements or any recognised methodology that could be calculated and verified by someone else. It's a figure some politician or public servant decided on. Often it will be suggested the figure was arrived at by use of a dart board or coin toss.

  • Thank for the insight. As far as the usage of arbitrary limit is concerned, there is another narrative, which I have heard from a forum, that goes as: " Why does a cell die after a day and a human dies after only a hundred years? These seem like really arbitrarily short limits when you think about the total amount of time in the universe. But these are not arbitrary limits. They're dictated by one simple thing, and that thing is the Sun." My take on this: The lifespan of organism is perceived as arbitrary limit, which confused me because the limit of lifespan is based on science factor – Vincent Feb 8 '18 at 9:19
  • Certainly, things that seem arbitrary can have a root cause that is unknown to the person making the accusation. Often, whoever is accused of being arbitrary will then produce reasons to justify the decision that may or may not be relevant or accurate. Maintaining critical thinking helps with working out who is correct. The perception of arbitrariness doesn't necessarily equal arbitrariness. – mcalex Feb 8 '18 at 9:27

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