Ethical Realism

September 30, 2013

More Philosophy Definitions Part 6

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 5:27 am
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I have defined several new philosophically-related terms for the Comprehensible Philosophy Dictionary (a work in progress). Some of these are words I’ve already defined before but have been significantly improved. You can let me know if you think any of the terms need further clarification or if any need improvement for any other reason.

actual – (1) What relates to the world we live in. For example, Socrates was a philosopher in the actual world, but was a carpenter in a possible world. (2) In ordinary language, ‘actual’ refers to what is real or what exists.

actual world – The possible world we exist in. We could say that the term ‘actual world’ is indexical because what it refers to depends on who says it. There could be other possible worlds, and people in another possible world say that their world is the actual world. See “metaphysical modality” for more information.

ad nauseam – Latin for “continued to the point of nausea.”

affirming a disjunct – An invalid type of argument with the following argument form—“Either a and/or b.” a. Therefore, not-b.” (“a” and “b” are any two propositions.) For example, “Either Socrates is a man and/or a philosopher. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is not a philosopher.” This fallacy does not apply when the disjunction (either or statement) is an exclusive or. See “inclusive or” and “exclusive or” for more information.

anomalous monism – A view of the mind developed by Donald Davidson. It states that mental activity is physical, but that it can’t be fully determined by laws of nature.

appeal to personal incredulity – A fallacious type of argument based on the unwarranted assumption that what a person can’t understand or imagine can’t be true. For example, some people can’t understand how the eye evolved, so they conclude that the eye couldn’t have evolved. Of course, someone else could understand how the eye evolved, and sometimes it might even take time before people can properly understand something like that. It’s not the case that the eye couldn’t have evolved until we found out how it evolved. The “appeal to personal incredulity” is a type of “appeal to ignorance” fallacy.

appeal to ridicule – A type of reasoning or manipulative tactic that uses mockery or humor at the expense of a person who made an argument or assertion in an attempt to get people to reject the argument or assertion. The appeal to ridicule is more likely to be successful when it causes a certain emotional reaction. An example of an appeal to ridicule is the following—“Johnny believes that humans are made of atoms, which are invisible. I guess Johnny believes in lots of invisible things. He might even have an invisible friend or two.” The appeal to ridicule is related to the “red herring” and “ad hominem” fallacies.

argument from repetition – A synonym for “argumentum ad nauseam.”

argumentum ad consequentiam – Latin for “argument to the consequences.” A synonym for “appeal to force.”

argumentum ad ignorantiam – Latin for “argument from ignorance.” A synonym for “appeal to ignorance.”

argumentum ad infinitum – Latin for “argument to infinity.” A synonym for “argumentum ad nauseam.”

argumentum ad misericordiam – Latin for “argument from pity.” A synonym for “appeal to pity.”

argumentum ad nauseam – A fallacious type of argument or manipulative tactic that attempts to make a statement more plausible by constantly repeating it. Sometimes it is repeated until the opposing side no longer feels the need to challenge it, and then it is said to be unchallenged. Howeever, if a lie is repeated enough, then people are more likely to think it’s true. Perhaps they assume that it would not be repeated so often if it was refuted. The argumentum ad nauseam is likely to be persuasive because of our availability heuristic.

argumentum ad novitatem – Latin for “argument from novelty.” A synonym for “appeal to popularity.”

argumentum ad numerum – Latin for “appeal to the multitude.” A synonym for “appeal to the people.”

availability heuristic – Our tendency to think something is true, frequent, or probable based on the frequency that we hear about it. For example, if a person keeps hearing about bear attacks, then she is more likely to overestimate the odds of dying from a bear attack.

bite the bullet – (1) To agree that there’s something counterintuitive about an assertion, but to decide to still make the assertion. For example, John could say that “killing people is always wrong.” Then Kayleen could respond, “But then it would be wrong to kill people when necessary for self-defense.” John could then agree, “Right, killing people is wrong, even when necessary for self-defense.” In that case John bites the bullet and refuses to see the counterintuitive implications of his assertion to be a reason to reject the assertion. (2) In ordinary language, ‘bite the bullet’ refers to being willing to do or endure something unpleasant. For example, someone might bite the bullet to clean a dirty bathroom.

classical utilitarianism – The view that we are morally obligated to do whatever maximizes happiness to the greatest number of people, and that happiness (or pleasure) is the only thing that’s intrinsically good, and suffering (or pain) is the only thing that’s intrinsically bad. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are the most famous classical utilitarians. See “utilitarianism” for more information.

common cause – One thing that can cause multiple other things to happen or be a certain way. A correlation between two different things (A and B) is likely to indicate either that A causes B, B causes A, or both A and B have a common cause. For example, sneezing and coughing are often correlated, but they don’t cause one another. Instead, they are both generally caused by something else (such as a cold or allergies). In this case having a cold or allergies would be the common cause.

cultural relativism – See “normative cultural relativism” or “descriptive moral relativism.”

descriptive cultural relativism – The view that the moral beliefs of various cultures differ. What one culture says is right or wrong is often different from what another culture says is right and wrong. However, descriptive cultural relativism does not state that what’s actually right or wrong actually depends on culture. “Descriptive moral relativism” can be contrasted with “normative cultural relativism”

epistemic quantifier – Words or symbols used to refer to whether something is known or believed (and how well justified the belief is). For example “Kp” can refer to “knows p,” and “Bp” can refer to “believes p.” See “epistemic modality” for more information.

epistemicism – The view that vague terms actually have precise boundaries, but that we can’t know what they are. For example, a heap of sand might require exactly one hundred grains of sand, and ninety nine grains of sand would completely fail to be a heap of sand. However, we would not actually have a way to know that one hundred grains of sand is a heap. See “vague” for more information.

exdurantism – A synonym for “stage theory.”

externality – An unintended cost or benefit to a third party from business transactions. For example, pollution caused by factories can cause harm to animals and other people who don’t buy any of the products that are being manufactured at the factory.

fallacy of the alternative disjunct – A synonym for “affirming a disjunct.”

false exclusionary disjunct – A synonym for “affirming a disjunct.”

historicism – The view that context is of central importance when we interpret texts and arguments. For example, it is often thought that various cultures have different world views, and that we need to properly understand their worldview and background assumptions in order to properly assess the quality of their arguments. It is often thought that understanding a culture’s history is also of central importance to understanding the context of the culture.

historicity – (1) The view that our worldview changes (sometimes dramatically) in time, and depends on various traditions. For example, the way ancient Greeks thought about the world seems to be quite different than how contemporary Greeks think about the world. (2) In ordinary language, ‘historicity’ refers to the study of actual historical events as opposed to mythological events.

intergroup bias – A cognitive bias that causes people to find other people of one’s own group to be more trustworthy or superior in some way compared to outsiders. For example, people who go to the same church are more likely to trust one another. Racism and sexism are extreme manifestations of the intergroup bias.

invisible hand – (1) Adam Smith’s view that a free market can lead selfish people to behave in ways that benefit humanity because the competition of the free market can encourage them to offer a quality product or service at a reasonable price. (2) A nonrational force that guides things to a favorable outcome.

intellectual duty – Also known as a ‘rational requirement.’ Intellectual duties are things we are required to do based on standards of rationality. Some plausible examples include the following: (a) The requirement to no longer believe something that’s proven false. (b) The requirement to not have contradictory beliefs. (c) The requirement not to believe something based on a fallacious argument.

irrationalism – The view that there are better ways to know about the world than through reasoning, or that there’s something wrong with trying to reason well.

logic-chopping – (1) Making minor conceptual clarifications and responding to minor objections that have no theoretical or practical significance. It is sometimes thought that this type of logic-chopping is a distraction from greater philosophical pursuits. (2) Rationalizations used to support a conclusion through overly complex arguments or deceptive distinctions. (3) A fallacious type of argument that responds to an argument (or statement) by using the tools of logic in a pedantic way while focusing on some trivial detail rather than something substantial. For example, someone might say that “dogs have four legs, so it’s not as easy for them to walk on two legs” and someone else might respond, “but some dogs are born with only three legs.” In this case the fact that some dogs are only born with three legs is ultimately irrelevant, and the response could be taken to be a type of “red herring” fallacy. (4) In ordinary language, ‘logic-chopping’ refers to frivolous bickering, nit-picking, and pedantic criticism. (5) ‘Logic chopping’ used to refer to precise and careful logical reasoning, but that definition is now mainly out of date.

logocentric – A privileged role of language within a worldview or research program. The assumption of logocentric views is that words actually refer to certain things. It makes sense that the term ‘atom’ should be privileged in physics assuming that there really are atoms, but sometimes words we use might fail to actually refer to real things.

mathematical platonism – The view that there are mathematical facts, and that mathematical abstract entities exist. For example, numbers could be abstract entities that don’t literally exist as physical objects, but still have some type of existence. Mathematical platonism is different from a more traditional view of Platonism (Platonism with a capital ‘P’) in that mathematical platonism does not require the view that there’s an ultimate nonphysical reality (the realm of the Forms) or that nonphysical parts of reality (such as abstract entities) can have a causal impact on the physical world. See “Plato’s Forms” for more information.

methodological naturalism – A synonym for “epistemic naturalism.”

molinism – The view that God has a divine plan, that God can know everything that happens in the future, that people have free will, and that determinism is false (because some events are not sufficiently caused by the prior state of the universe). It is thought that God puts people in situations that makes their decisions predictable. For example, God knows that certain people who find out that lead is poisonous will stop using lead silverware. Molinism is supposed to be a solution to the problem of God’s absolute knowledge and free will.

naturalism – (1) See “epistemic naturalism.” (2) See “metaphysical naturalism.” (3) In ordinary language, ‘naturalism’ refers to a literary movement to attempt to emphasize realism in addition to emphasizing the profound effects that heredity and environmental factors have on human life.

normative cultural relativism – The view that moral statements are true for a culture because those in the culture agrees with them (or have shared moral attitudes). Rape and murder would be considered wrong for a society if that society agrees that they are wrong, but might be considered to be right in another culture. Cultural relativism refers to the view that moral statements are true because a culture agrees with them, but other forms of moral relativism could be individualistic—what’s right and wrong could depend on the individual’s beliefs or attitudes. One form of relativism is the view that morality is determined by a social contract. Relativism should not be confused with the view that an action could be either right or wrong depending on the context. “Normative cultural relativism” can be contrasted with “descriptive cultural relativism.”

the Other – A person other than one’s self that is understood as having important differences from oneself. Also, the Other can refer to a group other than one’s own group when various differences between the groups are emphasized.

perdurantism – The view of persistence and identity that states that a persisting thing only partly exists at any given moment, and it’s entire existence must be understood in terms of a span of moments in time. Perdurantism states that each persisting thing has distinct temporal parts (time slices) throughout its existence in addition to having spatial parts. “Stage theory” and “worm theory” are two different versions of perdurantism. See “temporal parts” for more information. “Perdurantism” is often contrasted with “endurantism.”

philosophical naturalism – (1) See “epistemic naturalism.” (2) See “metaphysical naturalism.” (3) The view that philosophy uses the same methods as natural science.

proof by assertion – A synonym for “argumentum ad nauseam.”

pseudoscience – Something treated as part of natural science that actually fails to be scientific. For example, homeopathy is often treated as a scientifically supported type of medicine when it’s actually just water. Pseudoscience can be used by amateurs who sincerely believe that their conclusions are scientifically supported or it can be intentionally deceptive, such as when a quack wants to trick people into buying junk medicine to make money (by pretending that the product has been proven to be effective). It is not entirely clear how bad science must be before it should be considered to be pseudoscience. A lot of scientific experiments are done poorly and suffer from bias, but they aren’t necessarily considered to be pseudoscience for that reason.

shifting the burden of proof – An attempt to force the denial of one’s own claim into having the burden of proof (and to avoid having to give any arguments supporting one’s own position). “Shifting the burden of proof” can be legitimate when one’s own position doesn’t have the burden of proof (perhaps because it’s already been proven), but it is often done in a manipulative way. Consider the following illustration. Dana tells us that “we know unicorns exist” and Derek asks, “Why should we believe in unicorns?” Dana could then reply, “We should assume unicorns exist until we have a reason to think otherwise. Do you have any reason to think they don’t exist?” In this case Dana has the burden of proof. She can’t rationally expect people to agree with her that unicorns exist without giving an argument, and she can’t claim that the assertion that “unicorns exist” is somehow a default position—one that requires no argument prior to debate. She is illegitimately shifting the burden of proof onto anyone who doesn’t think unicorns exist.

stage theory – The view that actual existing things only exist for a single moment in time. According to stage theory, we think of things like tables and chairs as existing one moment to the next, but actually there’s something different that exists each moment. The chair that exists one moment is replaced by a nearly identical object (a counterpart) in the next moment. “Stage theory” is a type of “perdurantism.” See “temporal part” for more information.

subjective idealism – The view that the ultimate reality is mental existence. The universe and physical world only exist insofar as they are experienced. It might be useful to think of the world as we know it to actually be part of a shared dream, but the rules of the dream also seem to be very predictable and inflexible.

supernatural – A realm concerned with miracles, gods, ghosts, angels, demons, and various extraordinary mental powers. It is sometimes thought that one or more of these things exists in a nonphysical part of reality, can violate laws of nature, and can interact with things that exist in the physical world. Some people also include all nonphysical parts of reality in the category of supernatural things, so a dualist view of the mind could include the mind as a supernatural part of the world. Platonic forms and abstract entities might also be included.

telishment – To punish innocent people for the greater good. For example, to frame an innocent person for murder (and punish her) in order to give people the impression that murderers are often caught and punished. This could then deter other people from deciding to murder others.

vacuously true – Something that’s true without giving any factual information. There are two main types of vacuously true statements: (a) A material conditional statement that’s true because the first part is false. Each material conditional has the form “if a, then b.” When the first part (“a”) is false, the material conditional is automatically true (and is vacuously true). For example “If the President of the USA is a dog, then the President of the USA is a mammal.” That statement is true, even though the first part is false—the President of the USA is not a dog. Some vacuously true statements are less intuitive, such as “If the President of the USA is a dog, then the President of the USA is a cat.” (b) A universal statement of an empty set. For example, “All unicorns are mammals” is true. A less intuitive example would be, “All unicorns are reptiles.”

weasel words – (1) See “loaded language.” (2) See “doublespeak.” (3) Words used to clarify a point with the intent of deception. For example, something with a sale sticker is likely to be thought to have a discounted price, but it might just be for sale. Also, a product that contains 100% beef might only have a small amount of beef in it.

worm theory – The view that each moment in time contains part of an entity. A rock doesn’t entirely exist in any given moment, but the rock’s entire existence actually includes every moment of its existence. Each moment of the rock’s existence could be said to be a part of the rock. Worm theory uses the image of a worm—every object’s existence in any given moment is part of the object similar to how each segment of a worm is a part of the worm. “Worm theory” is a type of “perdurantism.” See “temporal part” for more information.

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5 Comments »

  1. So “Ethical Realism” is not actually a philosophical term?
    In the course of finding that out (and trying unsuccessfully to find a pattern in the usage of “ethical” and “moral” as modifiers) I was led to wish that your dictionary had links rather than just references to synonyms and related concepts and so I am puzzled by your choice of a flat pdf as the vehicle for presenting it.

    Comment by alQpr — October 20, 2013 @ 6:59 am | Reply

    • It is sometimes used as a synonym for “moral realism.” There’s also a book called “ethical realism” that has to do with foreign policy.

      Comment by JW Gray — October 20, 2013 @ 7:56 am | Reply

      • I suspected that, but was put in doubt by the fact that the term you use as your blog title doesn’t appear in your own dictionary.

        Comment by alQpr — October 20, 2013 @ 10:39 am

      • I will have to add it then.

        Comment by JW Gray — October 21, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

  2. Reblogged this on ambulivictor's Blog.

    Comment by ambulivictor — October 31, 2013 @ 9:27 am | Reply


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