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Glossary of Philosophical Terms

Definitions of philosophical terms used on Rational Realm

The definitions below are arranged in alphabetical order. To suggest additions or corrections to this glossary, please contact us.

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Term

Description

absolutism
A normative moral theory that stipulates that moral rules ought to be obeyed, whatever the consequences. Contrasts with consequentialism. See also deontology.
act utilitarianism
A version of utilitarianism that judges the moral praiseworthiness of an act according to the extent that the act, considered on its own merits, would result in the most intrinsic good. Contrasts with rule utilitarianism.
analytic phenomenalism
A version of phenomenalism that posits that 'physical object' talk is linguistically reducible to talk about qualia, sense-data or sense-impressions.
ad hoc hypothesis
A proposition introduced solely for the purpose of saving a refuted theory and thus considered less worthy of consideration.
analytic
A proposition is analytically true or analytically false if it is respectively true or false in virtue of the meaning of the words alone (e.g. 'All bachelors are married'). See also synthetic.
antecedent
In a conditional statement of the form, 'If p then q', p is the antecedent.
anti-realism

In meta-ethics, a class of theories that views moral values and rules as being inextricably embedded within and the manifestations of human or super-human judgements and preferences. Contrasts with realism.

In metaphysics, a type of theory that either denies the existence of physical objects or posits that their existence depends on being perceived or conceived by mind. Contrasts with realism.

average view
Under utilitarianism, a method of calculating the overall ethical utility of a state of affairs by which the utilities of all of the moral entities are aggregated and then divided by the number of entities. Contrasts with total view and mixed view.
begging the question
A type of logical fallacy in which the truth of the conclusion of an argument is assumed in the defence of one or more of the premises.
biconditional
A type of conditional of the form, 'p if and only if q.', where q is both necessary and sufficient for p.
bundle-theory of mind
In the philosophy of mind, the view first championed by David Hume that the mind is not a subsisting substance but a collection of experiences occurring in succession and likeness.
bypassing
The psychological phenomena posited in epiphenomenalism and fatalism by which an agent's actions are caused by forces that circumvent the agent's conscious self.
circular argument
cognitivism
A class of theories in meta-ethics that renders the meanings of ethical words solely in cognitive terms describing natural and non-natural properties and relations. Contrasts with non-cognitivism.
compatibilism
The metaphysical and semantic thesis that human free will is consistent with the thesis of determinism.
conditional
A hypothetical statement of the form, 'If p then q', where the truth of q depends on the truth of p.
consequent
In a conditional statement of the form, 'If p then q', q is the consequent.
consequentialism
A view in normative ethics that judges the rightness and wrongness of actions solely on the basis of the consequences of those actions. Contrasts with deontology.
consilience
A term coined by William Whewell to denote the overwhelming support for a scientific theory from converging lines of independent evidence, such as the support for the theory of evolution from the fields of genetics, geology and comparative anatomy.
constructivism
A naturalistic view in meta-ethics that views moral principles as the outcome of an idealized process of deliberation and agreement by rational agents.
contingent
A proposition is contingently true or contingently false if its truth or falsity could have been otherwise; that is, a proposition that is neither necessarily true nor necessarily false.
conventionalism
A view in epistemology that attempts to solve the problem of underdetermination of theory choice by stipulating that a community of scientists accepts one of a set of empirically equivalent theories as true by convention.
counterfactual
A type of conditional of the form, 'If it had been the case that p, then q.' and 'If it were the case that p, then q.', where p is in fact false.
cultural relativism
A form of cognitivism and relativism in meta-ethics in which moral judgements are understood as the speaker's report of their social group's accepted norms of behaviour.
DDE
deontology
A view in normative ethics that judges the rightness and wrongness of actions in terms of duties that are independent of the consequences of those actions. Contrasts with consequentialism.
descriptivism
determinism
The view that all human actions have a sufficient physical cause, with hard determinists claiming that determinism is incompatible with human free will and compatibilists arguing that determinism and human free will are compatible. Contrasts with libertarianism.
ditheism
The doctrine that there exist two opposing universal principles or deities in conflict with each other; the one good and the other evil.
Divine Command Theory
A form of cognitivism and relativism in meta-ethics in which what is good is equated with what God approves and what is right is equated with what God commands.
Doctrine of Double Effect
An alternative name for the Principle of Double Effect.
dualism
A view in the philosophy of mind that there exists fundamentally two types of substances; material and mental. Contrasts with monism. See also materialism.
eliminative materialism
A version of materialism that posits that our common sense psychological concepts ('folk psychology'), such as beliefs and desires, are mistaken and lacking predictive value.
emergent property
A property of a complex system that does not also belong to each member of the complex system.
emotivism
A form of non-cognitivism in meta-ethics that stipulates that ethical language is essentially expressive of the speaker's emotions or attitudes.
epiphenomenalism
A view in the philosophy of mind that mind–brain causation is one way in that physical events in the brain cause mental events, but not vice versa.
epistemology
The discipline in philosophy that enquires into the nature of truth, knowledge and its justification.
Error Theory
A form of anti-realism in meta-ethics that views moral agents as falsely ascribing mind-independent moral properties to objects and events.
Euthyphro dilemma
The dilemma derived from Socrates' question to Euthyphro asking whether God loves the good because it is good or whether the good is good because God loves it. Answering either way is thought to present fatal problems for the Divine Command Theory.
evolutionary epistemology
A view in epistemology that eschews solid foundations to human knowledge and instead regards knowledge acquisition as always tentative and provisional in the light of future research and critical analysis.
existentialism
A form of anti-realism in meta-ethics that fundamentally grounds ethics in the human freedom to choose and the imperative to act authentically.
expressivism
A form of non-cognitivism in meta-ethics that stipulates that the meaning of an ethical judgement is given by the speaker's affective psychological state, allowing a logic to moral argument.
falsificationism
A view in epistemology advanced by Karl Popper that purports to solve the problem of induction by positing that scientific theories are falsifiable, but not verifiable.
fatalism
The view that the future is predetermined by inalterable forces that are immune to human volition and will happen no matter what we decide.
fictionalism
A form of anti-realism in meta-ethics that views moral agents as fictionally ascribing mind-independent moral properties to objects and events.
free will
The capacity of agents to choose between genuinely alternative courses of action. See libertarianism and determinism.
ghost in the machine
The term coined by philosopher Gilbert Ryle to depict the mental substance in the traditional Cartesian dualist view that posits two kinds of substances; mind and matter. See also dualism.
hard determinism
The view that determinism is true and is incompatible with the notion of human free will.
hard incompatibilism
The view that human agents cannot possess free will whether determinism is true or not.
hermeneutic fictionalism
A form of fictionalism that regards moral agents as typically pretending to ascribe mind-independent moral properties to objects and events.
Hume's law
Also know as Hume's guillotine. See is–ought fallacy.
Ideal Observer Theory
A form of cognitivism and relativism in meta-ethics in which the standard for morality is equated with what an impartial ideal observer with perfect knowledge and completely free of cultural bias would prefer.
idealism
A type of monism in the philosophy of mind that posits that all that fundamentally exists is mental substance and denies the existence of a mind-independent physical reality. Contrasts with materialism.
Identity Theory
A range of views in the philosophy of mind that equate mental states with physical states of the brain.
iff
illocutionary
That aspect of a speech utterance that is the intention behind the utterance (asserting, promising, inquiring, ordering).
incompatibilism
The view that the concept of human free will is inconsistent with the thesis of determinism. See also hard determinism and hard incompatibilism.
indeterminism
inductivism

In its narrow sense, the view that scientific knowledge proceeds by generalizing particular observations to universal laws of nature (induction by enumeration).

In its broad sense, the view that it is sometimes rational to infer from particulars to more general conclusions. Such rational methods include argument by analogy and inference to best explanation.

inherent value
According to ethicist Tom Regan, it is the value that something possesses logically independently of whether the thing is valued by anyone else and whether the thing is the object of anyone else's interest.
instrumental value
The type of value that a thing possesses in virtue of it being valued as a means to some further end and not for its own sake. See also intrinsic value.
intrinsic value
The type of value that a thing possesses in virtue of it being valued for its own sake and not as a means to some further end. See also instrumental value.
interactionism
A view in the philosophy of mind that at least some human behaviours are the result of the interaction between physical and non-physical forces; between mind and matter. See also dualism.
intuitionism
A form of cognitivism in meta-ethics that stipulates that moral qualities are supervenient on natural qualities and are directly apprehended by moral agents.
is–ought fallacy
The logical fallacy that derives from David Hume's injunction that statements about what ought to be cannot be derived from descriptive premises alone, without the inclusion of a moral premise or assumption.
Leibniz's Law
The law that if two items are numerically identical, then for any property, it is a property of one if and only if it is a property of the other. (Also known as the law of indiscernibility of identicals.)
libertarianism
The view that human agents possess free-will in the sense that free human actions have no sufficient physical cause. Contrasts with determinism.
locutionary
The ostensible aspect of a speech utterance, in contrast with the illocutionary or intentional aspect.
logical empiricism
logical positivism
A view in epistemology that declares metaphysical ideas meaningless and advocates a strict form of empiricism in which the meaning of a synthetic proposition is exhausted by the observation statements that verify its truth. See also verification principle.
logical possibility
A state of affairs that can described without contradiction. Contrasts with physical possibility.
materialism
A type of monism in the philosophy of mind that posits that all that fundamentally exists is material substance and that the mind can be reduced to physical phenomena. Contrasts with idealism.
meta-ethics
The branch of ethics that enquires into the meanings of ethical terms and the role of moral discourse. See also normative ethics.
metaphysics
The discipline in philosophy that enquires into the nature of existence, mind and the supernatural.
Methodology of Historiographical Research Programmes
A method proposed by Imre Lakatos for evaluating competing theories of rationality by gauging how fruitfully each theory reconstructs the history of science.
Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes
A view of scientific progress developed by Imre Lakatos in which knowledge advances by way of competing research programmes that each consist of an irrefutable metaphysical core and a positive heuristic that promotes solutions to anomalies and predicts novel phenomena.
MHRP
Mind/Brain Identity Theory
mixed view
Under utilitarianism, a method of calculating the overall ethical utility of a state of affairs that combines both the average view and mixed view and in which overall utility is a function of both the average utility and the number of moral entities in the population.
modus ponens
A logical argument of the form in which the first premise is a conditional proposition, 'If p then q', the second premise is the affirmation of the antecedent, 'p', and the valid inference to the conclusion that 'q'.
modus tollens
A logical argument of the form in which the first premise is a conditional proposition, 'If p then q', the second premise is the denial of the consequent, 'not q', and the valid inference to the conclusion that 'not p'.
monism
A view in the philosophy of mind that there exists fundamentally only one type of substance; be it mental or material. Contrasts with dualism.
monotheism
The doctrine that there exists one and only one deity.
moral evil
The evil or negative consequences resulting from a moral agent's act of free will, such as those resulting from avarice or murder. See also natural evil.
MSRP
natural evil
The evil or negative consequences resulting from natural events with no human intervention, such as those resulting from epidemics, floods and earthquakes. See also moral evil.
naturalism

In its broad sense, a class of theories in meta-ethics that seek to explain the phenomenon of morality wholly in terms of natural events and properties.

In its narrow sense, a view within cognitivism that translates moral judgements into natural properties.

naturalistic fallacy
The fallacy that derives its name from G. E. Moore's open question argument of defining ethical terms, such as 'good', in terms of natural qualities, such as 'produces happiness'.
neo-Aristotelianism
A naturalistic view in meta-ethics that semantically grounds ethics in facts about human nature and evaluates living things as specimens of their kind.
neutral monism
A version of monism that posits that material and mental phenomena are different manifestations of a fundamental but neutral substance.
non-cognitivism
A class of theories in meta-ethics that stipulates that the meanings of ethical words are not essentially descriptive and instead are expressive of prescriptions, emotions or attitudes of the speaker. Contrasts with cognitivism.
non-interactionism
A type of theory in the philosophy of mind in which mind and matter do not causally interact. See also epiphenomenalism and psycho-physical parallelism.
norm-expressivism
A form of expressivism that views normative judgments as expressions of the acceptance of systems of rules dividing actions under naturalistic descriptions into those that are forbidden, permitted and required.
normative ethics
The branch of ethics that enquires into which things and properties are of value and which actions are right and wrong. See also meta-ethics.
novel prediction
A statement that is derivable from a theory under evaluation but was not known to be true by the theory's authors. See also postdiction.
Occam's Razor
The methodological principle attributed to William of Ockham stating that of competing hypotheses that are otherwise empirically identical, choose the simpler hypothesis. The principle has been variously interpreted to advise choosing the hypothesis assuming the least number of ontological entities, causes or premises.
omnibenevolence
The capacity of a being to be perfectly benevolent.
omnipotence
The capacity of a being to do anything that it is logically possible to do.
omniscience
The capacity of a being to know the truth value of every proposition.
ontological phenomenalism
A version of phenomenalism that posits that physical objects are literally composed of mind-stuff, such as ideas, sense-data or sense-impressions.
ontology
A field of philosophical inquiry that attempts to explain the apparent diversity and the apparent unity of phenomena.
open question argument
The argument ascribed to G. E. Moore and designed to demonstrate that ethical terms cannot be defined in terms of natural properties because it is always an open question whether that natural property is good.
PDE
phenomenal properties
Properties that are attributed directly to sensations, but attributed only indirectly to items that are not sensations, such as the redness of a colour sensation and the sharpness of a painful sensation.
phenomenal qualities
The qualitative character of our private, conscious experiences, such as the redness of red and the bitterness of bitter.
phenomenalism
A cluster of views in metaphysics that holds that 'physical object' talk can be construed exhaustively as talk about sense-experiences. See also analytic phenomenalism and ontological phenomenalism.
physical possibility
A state of affairs that can described without requiring a contravention of one or more scientific laws. Contrasts with logical possibility.
plan-expressivism
A form of expressivism that views normative judgments as expressions of the acceptance of plans to act in a particular way, depending on the naturalistic circumstances of the speaker.
polytheism
The doctrine that there exists multiple governing principles or deities, each with their own rituals.
positivism
possible world
In modal logic, a world (state of affairs) that can be described without contradiction.
postdiction
A statement that is derivable from a theory under evaluation and was known to be true by the theory's authors, but was not used in the authoring of the theory.
premise
In a logical argument, one of the statements or suppositions from which the conclusion is deduced.
prescriptivism
A form of non-cognitivism in meta-ethics that stipulates that ethical judgements prescribe universal rules for action.
Principle of Double Effect
A principle formulated by Catholic ethicists as an adjunct to an absolutism designed to overcome its problems by making a distinction between those bad effects of a voluntary action that are intended and those that are unintended.
Principle of Simplicity
problem of induction
The classic problem in epistemology in which no finite set of observations logically entails a universal generalization (e.g. 'All swans observed are white' does not entail 'All swans are white'.)
prior existence view
A version of utilitarianism that prescribes an ethical obligation to maximize the aggregate utility of beings that exist, or will exist, independently of the act or rule being considered.
problem of evil
The philosophical problem of reconciling the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent deity with the occurrence of evil, pain and suffering in the world. See also theodicy.
projectivism
A form of expressivism that views moral utterances as projections of approval or disapproval as a property onto an event or object.
psycho-physical parallelism
A view in the philosophy of mind that events in the mind and events in the brain are completely causally disconnected; that there is no causal interaction between the two types of events.
qualia
The private, introspectively accessible features of mental experiences, with the term sometimes restricted to the qualities of sense-datum items only.
radical emotivism
A type of emotivism in which moral utterances are viewed simply as exhortations of emotions, attitudes or preferences with no descriptive content.
rationalism
A form of non-naturalistic cognitivism in meta-ethics that postulates that universalized moral rules can be deduced by reason alone.
realism

In meta-ethics, a class of theories that views moral values and rules as existing in a mind-independent realm, ontologically separate from the judgements and preferences of particular individuals or groups. Contrasts with anti-realism.

In metaphysics, a class of theories that have in common the assertion that physical objects do exist and that they do not depend for their existence on being perceived or conceived by mind. Contrasts with anti-realism.

relativism
A naturalistic view in meta-ethics that translates statements about moral properties into statements about the preferences of a privileged individual or the group to which the speaker belongs.
replaceability thesis
The view advanced in some versions of utilitarianism that allows the replacement of one moral entity with another of at least equal utility.
retrodiction
A novelly derived fact about an event in the past. See postdiction.
revolutionary fictionalism
A form of fictionalism that advocates that moral language be reformed to continue the fiction in which moral agents falsely ascribe mind-independent moral properties to objects and events.
rule utilitarianism
A version of utilitarianism that judges the moral praiseworthiness of an act according to the extent that if everyone performed the act, it would result in the most intrinsic good. Contrasts with act utilitarianism.
rules in practice utilitarianism
A form of rule utilitarianism in which a social practice receives utilitarian justification and in which the rules of the practice are defined logically prior to the acts subsumed under the practice.
semantics
The branch of logic and linguistics concerned with the meanings of signs and the things to which they refer.
sense-datum
The private, introspectively accessible experience resulting from observing a physical object or process.
sense-impression
social contract theory
A theory of ethics that derives ethical obligations from explicit and implicit contractual arrangements between rational, sentient beings. See also constructivism.
soft determinism
solipsism
A radical skeptical view that posits that nothing can be known except one's own private, mental experiences.
sophisticated emotivism
A type of emotivism that views moral utterances centrally as expressions of attitudes and preferences while also peripherally describing the object of evaluation in some way.
subjectivism

In its broad sense, a class of theories in meta-ethics that regard ethical language as a function of the preferences and judgments of human beings.

In its narrow sense, a view within relativism and cognitivism that translates moral judgements into sentences describing the speaker's subjective psychological states.

sound
A type of logical argument in which the premises are true and the argument is valid.
synthetic
A proposition is synthetically true or synthetically false if it is respectively true or false in virtue of the way the world is (e.g. 'The earth is 4.5 billion years old'). See also analytic.
subjunctive conditional
supervenient property
A property is supervenient on another set of properties if and only if the former necessarily coexists with the latter.
syllogism
A form of logical argument consisting of two premises and a conclusion.
theodicy
A philosophical argument that attempts to explain why an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent deity causes or permits evil, pain and suffering in the world. See also problem of evil.
theism
A cluster of doctrines that affirm the existence of at least one universal principle or deity.
total view
Under utilitarianism, a method of calculating the overall ethical utility of a state of affairs by which the utilities of all of the moral entities are aggregated. Contrasts with average view and mixed view.
underdetermination
A problem in epistemology where empirical evidence supports equally two or more rival logically incompatible theories.
utilitarianism

A naturalistic view in meta-ethics that semantically equates morality with facts about what promotes the welfare or interests of sentient creatures.

A consequentialist theory in normative ethics that postulates that right actions are those that bring about the most intrinsic good, usually understood as happiness or pleasure, or prevent the most intrinsic evil, usually understood as pain or suffering.

valid
A type of logical argument for which to assert the premises and deny the conclusion is to entail a logical contradiction. See also sound.
verification principle
The criterion of meaning integral to logical positivism that states that the meaning of a synthetic proposition is equivalent to the observation statements that verify its truth.
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