I have been working a lot more on the Comprehensible Philosophy Dictionary (a work in progress). There will be many corrections coming soon in addition to many new definitions. You can let me know if any of these definitions should be improved or if I am still missing an important philosophy term. The new definitions I am planning on adding are the following:
The Absolute – A term for “God” or “the Good.”
absurdism – The view that it is absurd for people to try to find the meaning of life because it’s impossible to do so.
æon – Latin for “life,” “age,” or “for eternity.” Plato used this term to refer to the eternal world of the Forms.
agent-neutral reasons – A reason for action that is not dependent on the person involved. For example, everyone could be said to have a reason to find a cure for cancer insofar as it would save lives. The assumption is that the reason to cure cancer does not depend on unique motivations or duties of an individual and saving lives is good for its own sake. Classical utilitarianism is an agent-neutral ethical theory insofar as it claims that all ethical reasons to act concern whatever has the most valuable consequences. “Agent-neutral reasons” are often contrasted with “agent-relative reasons.”
agent-relative reason – A reason for action that is dependent on the person involved. For example, a person has a reason to give money to a friend in need insofar as she cares for the friend. Ethical egoism is an agent-relative theory that claims that the only reasons to act are agent-relative. Agent-relative reasons are often taken to only describe ethical reasons for action as opposed to instrumental reasons for action. “Agent-relative reasons” are often contrasted with “agent-neutral reasons.”
The All – Another term for “the absolute,” “God,” or “the Good.”
amoral – Lacking an interest in morality. For example, an amoral person doesn’t care about what’s morally right or wrong, and a person acts amorally when she doesn’t care about morality at that moment in time. Many people think that babies and nonhuman animals act amorally because they have no concept of right or wrong. “Amoral” can be contrasted with “nonmoral.”
Bayesian epistemology – An epistemic theory featuring a formal apparatus for induction based on deduction and probability calculus. The formal apparatus is used to better understand probabilistic coherence, probabilistic confirmation, and probabilistic inference.
class conflict – The struggle between social classes to attain greater power or to maintain their current level of advantage. For example, the working class could fight for a higher minimum wage, and the wealthy could fight to keep receiving corporate welfare.
class warfare – See “class conflict.”
cognition – A mental process. For example “inferential reasoning” is a form of cognition.
conditionalization – Concerning how we ought to update our beliefs and degrees of confidence when we attain new information. For example, a person who believes all swans are white ought to reject that belief once she sees a black swan.
continuant – (1) A persisting thing. For example, we often think people persist through time and continue to exist from one moment to the next. (2) A persisting thing that “endures.”
convention – What is true based on agreement. For example, it’s a convention that people drive on the right side of the road in the United States (on two lane roads), so it would be generally wrong to drive on the left side of the road in the United States.
credence function – A comparison between the actual state of the world and the credence (subjective degree of confidence) a person has of the world being that way. Ideally people will have a strong credence towards factual statements. For example, people should be very confident that more than five people exist considering that society couldn’t function without thousands of people existing.
credence – A subjective degree of confidence concerning the odds we believe that something could be true. See “psychological certainty.”
cultural evolution – See “sociocultural evolution.”
desire-dependent reason – A reason for an action that depends on a desire. For example, a person who yearns to eat chocolate has a reason to eat chocolate. “Desire-dependent reasons” can be contrasted with “desire-independent reasons.”
desire-independent reason – A reason for action other than a desire. For example, John Searle argues that promises are desire-independent reasons. If you promise to do something, then you have a reason to do it, even if you don’t desire to do it. “Desire-independent reasons” can be contrasted with “desire-dependent reasons.”
Demiurge – (1) A godlike being theorized by Plato that is thought to be similar to an artisan who crafts and maintains the physical universe. Plato did not describe the Demiurge as the creator of the entire physical universe, and Platonists often thought that the entire physical universe was created or dependent on a greater being called “the Good.” (2) According to Neoplatonists, the Demiurge is “Nous” (the mind or intellect of the Good).
destiny – (1) A fated course of events, which is generally thought to be fated due to a person having a certain purpose. For example, King Arthur could have been said to be destined to become a king insofar as he was meant to be a king and would become a king no matter what choices he made. (2) A probable future event involving a person’s purpose that could be willfully achieved, but could be avoided given resistance. Perhaps King Arthur was destined to become king and could make choices to become the king, but could have fought against his destiny and become a blacksmith instead.
deus – Latin for “god” or “divinity.”
discursive – (1) Requiring “inferential reasoning.” (2) Rambling or discussing a wide range of topics.
discursive concept – According to Immanuel Kant, discursive concepts are general concepts known through inferential reasoning or experience rather than concepts known from a “pure intuition” (without depending on experience or generalization). For example, the concept of the person is a discursive concept because it requires various experiences and generalizations. “Discursive concepts” can be contrasted with “non-discursive concepts.”
discursive reasoning – See “inferential reasoning.”
divine providence – The view that everything that happens in the universe is guided and controlled by a divinity. It is generally believed that the divinity controls the universe to make sure that better things happen than would happen otherwise. Sometimes it is believed that the divinity assures us that everything that happens is predestined and “for the best” (or at least “everything happens for a good reason”) It is often thought that divine providence is a logical consequence of the assumption that God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful; and it is often thought to conflict with our experiences of evil in the world.
divinity – A god or godlike being. See “God,” “Demiurge,” “Monad,” “the Good,” or “Universal Reason.”
emanation – How lower levels of existence, such as physical reality, flows from and depends on an ultimate eternal being. Those who believe in emanation tend to think that the ultimate reality is God or “the Good.” Emanation is the idea that creation is ongoing and eternal rather than out of nothing. In that sense the physical universe has always existed.
emanationism – The view that reality as we know it exists from emanation—all of existence as we know it depends on and constantly flows from an ultimate eternal being. See “emanation” for more information.
endurance theory – See “enduratism.”
endurantism – The view of persistence and identity that states that a persisting thing is entirely present at every moment of its existence. Endurantists believe that things can undergo change and still be the same thing. For example, a single apple can be green and then turn red at a later time. Endurantists believe that persisting things have spatial parts, but they don’t have temporal parts. See “temporal parts” for more information. “Endurantism” is often contrasted with “perdurantism.”
endure – (1) For a single thing to fully exist at any given moment in time, and to continue to exist at different moments in time despite the fact that it is likely to undergo various changes. See “endurantism” for more information. (2) To survive adversity or to continue to exist despite taking damage. (3) To tolerate an attack or insult.
eon – See “æon.”
eudaimonism – Ethical theories concerned with happiness or flourishing. Eudaimonist theories of ethics tend to be types of “virtue ethics.” Eudaimonist theories tend to argue that we should seek our happiness or flourishing, and that virtue is a necessary condition of being truly happy or flourishing. Socrates, Aristotle, Epicurus, and the Stoics are all examples of “eudaimonists.”
extension – What a term refers to. For example, the “morning star” and “evening star” both have the same extension. “Extension” is often contrasted with “intension.”
extensionality – Exensionality is concerned with the reference of words. For example, “the morning star” and “the evening star” both refer to Venus, so they both have the same extensionality. “Extensionality” is often contrasted with “intensionality.” Also see “sense” and “reference” for more information.
fate – (1) A fated event is an inevitable event that will occur no matter what we do. For example, every choice we make will lead to our death; so it’s plausible to think we are all fated to die. Sometimes it’s thought that a fate is inevitable because of a divine influence. Fate is often thought to be a separate concept from “determinism” in that a determinist does not necessarily think that everything that happens will happen no matter what choices we make. (2) “Fate” is another term the Stoics used for the concept of “Universal Reason.” (3) In ordinary language, “fate” is often synonymous with “destiny.”
foundational – The starting point or building blocks that everything else depends on. For example, a foundational belief can be justified without inferential reasoning or argumentation. The axioms of logic are a plausible example of foundational beliefs.
The Good – Plato’s term for the Form of all Forms. It is the ultimate being that all other types of reality depend on for their existence, and it is the ultimate ideal that determines how everything should exist. It’s also known by Neoplatonists as the “One” or the “Monad.” See “Plato’s Forms” for more information.
gunk – Any whole or type of stuff that can be indefinitely split into smaller pieces. Gunk can be made of smaller parts without an indivisible or indestructible “smallest part” (i.e. atom). “Gunk” is often contrasted with “atoms.”
gunky time – The view of time as being infinitely divisible. If time is gunky, then there is no such thing as a shortest moment of time. See “gunk” for more information.
inner sense – Our ability to experience states of the mind as opposed to the external world. “Inner sense” can be contrasted with “outer sense.”
institutional fact – Facts that exist because of collective attitudes or acceptance. For example, the value of money is an institutional fact and money would have no value if people didn’t agree that it has value. Institutions, such as the police force, government, and corporations all depend on institutional facts (and can only exist due to collective attitudes and acceptance).
intension – What a term means or how a word refers to things, which is often given in terms of a description. For example, the intension of “the morning star” is “the last star that can be seen in the morning” and the intension of “the evening star” is “the first star we can see at night.” Therefore, they both have a different intension, even though they both refer to Venus. “Intension” is often contrasted with “extension.”
maximize expected utility – (1) The position of decision theory that states that a person ought to make the decision based on whatever will probably lead to the greatest utility (the most valued or desired state). See “utility theory” and “stochastic dominance” for more information. (2) To make a decision that will probably lead to the most preferable outcome considering all possible outcomes of all possible decisions.
merology – The philosophical study of parts and wholes. Mereology concerns what the parts are of various things and how various parts and wholes relate. One merological question is whether there are atoms (smallest indivisible parts) of all objects, or whether all objects are ultimately gunky (can be split into smaller pieces indefinitely). Another merological question is whether or not an object is the same object if we replace all of its parts with functionally equivalent parts, such as if we replaced all the parts of a pirate ship with new but nearly identical parts.
meronomy – A type of hierarchy dealing with part-whole relationships. For example, protons are parts of molecules.
metalangauge – Language or symbols used to discuss language. Formal logical systems are metalanguages. See “formal logic” for more information.
metavariables – A symbol or variable that represents something within another language. For example, a logical system could have various either/or statements. “A or B” and “A and B, or C” are two different either/or statements within a logical system. We could then use metavariables to talk about all either/or statements. For example, “a or b” would represent all either/or statements of our logical language assuming that the lower-case letters are metavariables.
metalinguistic variable – See “metavariable.”
moral atomism – See “moral generalism.”
moral generalism – The view that there are abstract moral criteria (rules, duties, or values) that can be applied in every relevant situation to determine what we ought to do. Moral generalists often believe that analogies can be used to discover what makes an action right or wrong. For example, kicking and punching are both analogous insofar as we could do either to try to hurt people, and they both tend to be wrong insofar as hurting people is bad. “Moral generalism” is often contrasted with “moral particularism.”
moral holism – See “moral particularism.”
moral particularism – The view that there are no abstract moral criteria (rules, duties, or values) that can be applied in every relevant situation to determine what we ought to do. Instead, what we ought to do depends on the circumstance we are in without being determined by such things. Moral particularists sometimes agree that rules of thumb and analogies can be useful, but they don’t think we can discover objective criteria that determines what we ought to do in every situation. For example, kicking and punching are both analogous insofar as we could do either to try to hurt people. “Moral particularism” is often contrasted with “moral generalism.”
moral rationalization – Arguments used in an attempt to justify, excuse, or downplay the importance of immoral behavior. Moral rationalizations may superficially appear to be genuinely good arguments, but they fail on close examination. For example, many people deny that they are responsible for the harm they cause when they were one person out of many who were needed to cause harm, such as certain corporate employees. They are likely to say they are like a “cog in a machine” or “just doing my job.” See “rationalization” for more information.
moral responsibility – See “responsibility.”
noëtic structure – Everything a person believes and the relationship between all of the beliefs. Also, noëtic structure involves how confident the person is that various statements could be true and the strength in which each belief influences other beliefs. For example, finding out that there is no external reality would have a dramatic effect on our noëtic structure insofar as we are very confident that an external reality exists and many of our beliefs depend on that belief. Perhaps hurting “other human beings” would no longer be immoral insofar as they don’t really exist anyway. See “worldview” for more information.
non-discursive concept – According to Immanuel Kant, it’s a concept known from “pure intuition” (known a priori without depending on experience). For example, space and time. According to Kant, we couldn’t even have experiences without these concepts. “Non-discursive concepts” can be contrasted with “discursive concepts.”
non-discursive reasoning – See “non-inferential reasoning.”
nonmoral – Something that is neither morally right nor morally wrong. For example, mathematics is nonmoral, and a person who scratches an itch is acting nonmorally. “Nonmoral” can be contrasted with “amoral.”
The One – A Neoplatonist term for “the Good.”
outer sense – Sense perception used to experience the external world, such as the five senses (touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight). See “perception” for more information. “Outer sense” can be contrasted with “inner sense.”
objective reason – See “agent-neutral reason.”
partonomy – See “merenomy.”
perdurance theory – See “perdurantism.”
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 its existence at every single moment that it exists. Perdurantism states that each persisting thing has distinct temporal parts throughout its existence in addition to having spatial parts. See “temporal parts” for more information. “Perdurantism” is often contrasted with “endurantism.”
perdure – For a single thing to only partly exist at any given moment in time, and for its full existence to require a description of it at every single moment in time that it exists. See “perdurantism” for more information.
philodoxer – “A lover of opinion.” Philodoxers love their own opinion more than the truth. They are contrasted with “philosophers” who love the truth more than their own opinion. Philodoxers are more close-minded than philosophers.
philosopher – (1) “A lover of wisdom.” Used as a contrast to “sophists” who claim they are wise and “philodoxers” who love their own opinion more than the truth. (2) A lover of learning. Someone who spends a great deal of time to learn and correct her beliefs. (3) A professional who is highly competent regarding philosophy, and spends a lot of time teaching philosophy or creating philosophical works.
post-hoc justification – A justification given for a belief that we already have. Although we often have a hard time explaining why our beliefs are justified, even if we know they clearly are, post-hoc justifications do not explain why we actually have a belief. As a result, they often exist to persuade or even manipulate others into sharing our belief. Post-hoc justifications are often motivated by bias rather than a genuine interest in the truth, and they are often rationalizations rather than genuinely good arguments. For example, people have been shown to be generally repulsed by consensual incest and they have an intuition that consensual incest is wrong, but most of the arguments they give against consensual incest are superficial. See “rationalization” for more information.
probability calculus – Mathematical rules that determine the odds of various propositions being true. For example, the probability of a tautology being true is 100%, and the probability of a contradiction being true is 0%. Also, in general, the odds of two propositions being true is lower than merely one of the two being true.
predestination – (1) The view that a deity determines everything that happens, usually thought to be “for the best.” Predestination in this sense is thought to logically imply that determinism is true, and it has inspired debates over “free will” for that reason. See “divine providence” for more information. (2) A synonym for “fate” or “destiny.”
predetermination – See “predestination.”
probabilism – The view that the degrees of confidence we have for various beliefs ought to be based on probability calculus. Probabilism states that we often lack certainty, but we should still try to believe whatever is likely true. For example, we ought to be confident that we won’t roll a six when we roll a six-sided-die, but we should not be confident that we will roll a two.
problem of evil – The question about how a divinity could exist if evil exists. It is sometimes thought that a divinity exists that’s all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, but that would imply that the divinity would assure us that less evil exists than actually exists. For example, it is plausible that the divinity would not make lead such a convenient yet poisonous metal that would take us thousands of years to discover to be poisonous.
providence – See “divine providence.”
pure intuition – An a priori cognition. According to Immanuel Kant, a pure intuition is the way we know about “non-discursive concepts,” such as space and time.
rationalization – Persuasive nonrational arguments given to believe something without a genuine concern for what’s true. Rationalizations are meant to superficially appear to be genuinely good arguments, but they fail on close examination. For example, a person who believes that the Earth is flat and is told that we have pictures of the Earth from space and we can see that it’s round could rationalize that the pictures are probably fake. A great deal of philosophical writing could be closer to rationalization than to genuinely good argumentation, but rationalization plagues everyday thought and can be difficult to avoid. See “moral rationalization” and “post-hoc justification” for more information.
redistribution of wealth – To take wealth away from some people and give it to others. It is sometimes thought that it is morally justified to tax the wealthy to provide certain services for the poor. For example, many people insist that Robin Hood is a hero because he risks his well being to take from the rich to give to the poor (who would otherwise suffer from an unjust system).
redistributionism – The view that we should have “redistribution of wealth” (perhaps to take from the wealthy to help the poor).
responsibility – (1) Being in control of one’s moral decisions. A person who is morally responsible can be legitimately praised or blamed for her moral actions. Moral responsibility requires a certain level of sanity, competence, and perhaps free will. It is plausible that small children and nonhuman animals lack responsibility because they might lack the competence required. Additionally, there are excuses that can temporarily invalidate a person’s moral responsibility, such as when people are harmed on accident or when a person is coerced into harming others. (2) To have a duty or to be morally required to act a certain way. For example, parents are responsible for caring for their children.
scientific method – The way science makes discoveries, which involves hypotheses, observations experiments, and mathematical models. It is often thought to follow the “hypothetico-deductive method.”
sensible intuition – According to Immanel Kant, it’s the concepts required for experience. For example, space and time. Without those concepts it would be impossible to experience the phenomenal world.
sentential – The property of being related to sentences or propositions. For example, sentenial logic is a synonym for “propositional logic.”
social convention – See “convention.”
social construct – Something that exists from collective attitudes and agreement. For example, money or the Presidency of the United States. These things wouldn’t exist if people unanimously decided that they don’t exist.
social progress – For a culture to be improved through changes in political institutions, economic systems, education, technology, or some other cultural factor. Technological improvement is perhaps the least controversial form of social progress.
sociocultural evolution – The view that people continue to find ways to adapt to their environment using technology, political systems, laws, improved education, and other cultural factors. See “social progress” for more information.
sophist – (1) “Wise person.” (2) A rhetoric teacher from ancient Greece. Some of those teachers traveled to other countries, and questioned the taboos and cultural beliefs of the Greeks because those taboos and cultural beliefs were not shared by everyone in other countries. (3) Someone who is willing to use fallacious reasoning to manipulate the beliefs of other people. This sense of “sophist” is often contrasted with “philosopher.”
spatial parts – Physical parts of an object, such as molecules, hairs, or teeth. “Spatial parts” can be contrasted with “temporal parts.”
statewise dominance – The property of a decision that can be said to be “superior” to another based on the decision-maker’s preferences and the fact that the outcomes of the decision are preferable. Every possible outcome of a statewise dominant decision is just as preferable as the other except at least one outcome must be more preferable. See “stochastic dominance” for more information.
state-by-state dominance – See “statewise dominance.”
stochastic – Regarding the probability calculus. Stochastic systems have predictable and unpredictable elements that can be taken to be part of a probability distribution.
subjective reason – See “agent-relative reason.”
syntactical variable – See “metavariable.”
temporal parts – Time-dependent parts of a persisting thing often thought of as time-slices based on the assumption that a persisting thing only exists in part at any given time-slice. We can talk about the temporal parts of a person in terms of the person yesterday, the person today, and the person tomorrow; and the person is thought to only exist in her entirety given every moment of her existence. We can talk about the person in any given time slice (such as August 3, 10:30 am). One reason some philosophers believe in temporal parts is because it can explain how an object can have two conflicting properties, such as how a single apple can be both green (while growing) and red (when ripe). If it has temporal parts, then we can say it is green in an earlier time-slice, and red in a later time-slice.
Universal Reason – The mental or intelligent element of the universe conceived as a deity by the Stoics. The Stoics saw the entire universe as a god—matter is the body and Universal Reason is the mind. They believed that Universal Reason has a divine plan and determines that everything that happens in the universe happens for a good reason.
world of ideas – The realm of the Forms. See “Plato’s Forms” for more information.
worm theory – See “perdurantism.”