I was reading a blog about what abstract ideas are. In one part of the blog, it mentions:

Another way to think of abstract thinking is to look at broad concepts that may have different meanings to different people.

Most concepts such as compassion, honor, and peace are abstract not only because they lack physical forms but because their definitions can differ from person to person without being wrong.

Imagine that there are ten people sitting in a room together. Each person is asked to define what the term peace means.

While there may be similarities in their answers (“no wars”, “an absence of fighting and conflict”, “quiet and serenity”) there is no one single answer that is more correct than the others.

I had understood that an abstract concept is just something that does not have a physical component, but in this blog it says that it also can be an abstract concept if it has different definitions, is this true?

  • Please cite your source. Dec 25, 2022 at 17:22
  • Hello, Kapoa. 'All A's are B's / B-like' doesn't demand that 'all B's / B-like things are A's'. Your second 'definition' is more of 'one way of looking at'; 'properties most A's. Someone once said that 'all words are infinitely polysemous', meaning at least slightly different things to different people, and even meaning different things to a given person over time. They included 'propanone 2,4-dinitrophenyl hydrazone' (which is pretty well-defined). Hardly what most would call an 'abstract concept'. Dec 26, 2022 at 16:42

2 Answers 2


While there may be similarities in their answers (“no wars”, “an absence of fighting and conflict”, “quiet and serenity”) there is no one single answer that is more correct than the others.

This assumption of relative correctness on the basis that the concept "peace" is abstract, is not valid. A concept, just as a concrete thing, cannot be dissociated from a context. Provide a context and some of those differing views are not correct. For instance, in the context of nations vying with each other and of possible physical harm caused to one nation by another, "peace" can only be "no wars". One nation might be responsible for the accidental explosion of a chemical factory in another nation, which resulted in ecological harm and many deaths, but that is still not war at all. "Quiet and serenety" is irrelevant ("absence of fighting" is a quasi-synonym of "peace"). To say that differing definitions of an abstraction acquire some degree of relevancy to this abstraction just because of the abstract nature of this entity—which is what the assertions in this blog come down to. In the present case of "peace", a particular definition so called no more correct than any other, is deemed correct only in virtue of a human decision that finally amounts to saying that there is an analogy which is sufficiently evident between two entities and that the word "peace" will be associated to that definition in the context proper to the new entity.

No, to have different definitions is not an exclusive characteristic of abstractions. Just consider the several definitions of the word "truck".

1 a large strong motor vehicle for carrying goods, troops, etc.
2 (especiallly North American) a truck driver (metonymy here, no analogy!)
3 (BrE) an open railway vehicle for carrying goods or animals
4 a vehicle for carrying things that is pulled or pushed by hand


All ideas are abstract, because they occur in our minds. Since every mind is different, a thought in one person's mind can't be equated to (or even compared with) a thought in another person's mind. Thoughts can't be observed without using language. And language is not the same as thought; nor are individual thoughts the same as the words one (and perhaps others) might use to identify and describe them.

Your understanding of abstract concepts is unfortunately not complete. An abstract concept is not "just something that does not have a physical component". Nothing that exists lacks a physical component; everything else is patterns that we sometimes notice and draw conclusions from. In our minds.

We can give names to these patterns, and share these names with others because the names, being language, are physical; but we can't ever tell what others understand by those names. As we are seeing now with abstract terms like "freedom", "justice", and "democracy".

As for definitions, they come later; more language, more symbols, less thought, less feeling, less humanity. The more mathematical, the more abstract, and the less in contact with reality, unless special precautions are taken (this is the basis of what we now call "science"). Anything can be defined as anything else -- the mind is a wonderful tool -- but useful metaphors hang together and have their own limitations, which control the possible definitions. If there are any.

  • While I think this is a very good answer, isn't the question itself 'off topic' as not about English language usage but about philosophical thinking? Ought it not, therefore be redirected to 'Philosophy'?
    – Tuffy
    Dec 25, 2022 at 23:55
  • @Tuffy I think the same, the answer is somewhat confusing for what im asking
    – Kapoa
    Dec 26, 2022 at 3:20

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