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MGT210: Short glossary of important philosophical terms

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This glossary has been prepared to help students work on their assignments. NB: Wikipedia, the New World Encyclopedia
and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are reliable on-line sources of definitions of philosophical terms.
Ad hominem Personal; appealing to personal considerations or feelings rather
than to facts of reason.
Aesthetics Branch of philosophy concerned with the study of the beautiful and
the appreciation of works of arts.
Alienation When used by existentialists (see this term), indicates a general
estrangement from everyday life.
Analogy Likeness; to argue by analogy is to infer that, because A is like B in at
least one respect, A and B must be similar in other respects.
Analytic philosophy The most prevalent school of academic philosophy currently;
devotes itself to the analysis of concepts.
Analytic statement Statement that is true by virtue of the meanings of the terms it uses,
e.g. all bachelors are unmarried.
Anarchism Philosophical position according to which human liberty can only be
achieved by doing away with the State, all its bodies and all the
restraints it imposes on individuals.
Animism Doctrine according to which all nature is alive and animated by some
sort of psychological being.
Anthropomorphism Project of human features to the non-human world (e.g.: this
company believes that...).
Anxiety
(also angst or anguish)
For existentialists, anxiety is the results of ones realisation that
ones existence is open towards an undetermined future.
Aporetic Problem or question for which there is no known solution.
A priori Prior to experience; some philosophers hold that some truths can be
known a priori.
A posteriori After or based on experience.
Aristotelianism Philosophy initiated by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC)
His ethics was that virtues (courage, justice, etc.) were middle ways
between two extremes (courage between cowardice and
foolhardiness for example).
Atheism Rejection of the belief in God.
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Atomism View initiated by Democritus (5
th
century BC) that the basic
components of reality are atoms, i.e. tiny and indivisible bits or
grains of matter. Atomism is a version of materialism (see this term).
Axiom Principle from which reasoning begins, assumed or taken to be self-
evident.
Behaviourism In philosophy, the view that all mental states can be defined in
terms of observed behaviour.
Being Anything that is, was or can be; the most general thing that can be
said about any object is that it has being: the object exists or can be
known in some way (applies to physical or mental objects like
thoughts).
Cartesian doubt Suspension or belief, associated with Descartes method (attempt to
doubt everything that is not absolutely certain).
Category mistake Error by which a property is ascribed to a thing that could not
possibly have that property; the expression was introduced by
Gilbert Ryle in his book The Concept of Mind (1949) to remove what
he argued to be a confusion over the nature of mind born from
Cartesian metaphysics. Ryle alleged that it was a mistake to treat the
mind as an object made of an immaterial substance because
predications of substance are not meaningful for a collection of
dispositions and capacities.
Causality (also causation) Relation between two events such that the first brings about the
second.
Cause Thing or agent that brings about change; effect is the immediate
result of cause.
Cogito [ergo sum] Expression coined by Ren Descartes (1596-1650); Latin: I think,
therefore I am (I exist).
Cosmology The study of the universe as an orderly system.
Cretan paradox See liar paradox below.
Deductive method Method of reasoning from general statements to particular
conclusions, used for instance by Ren Descartes and Karl Popper.
Conclusions of deductive reasoning are said to be valid rather that
true to distinguish clearly between that which follows logically
from that is the case; before conclusions drawn from premises can
be considered as valid, it must be shown that they are consistent
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with each other and with the original premise.
Deductive argument Argument whose conclusion must be valid if all its premises are valid
(contrast with inductive argument).
Deism Belief that God exists but has no present active relation to the world.
Dialectic Process of change brought about by the conflict of two forces,
creating a new force called synthesis; a method of discovering truth
by proceeding from an assertion (thesis) to a denial (antithesis),
which in turns becomes a new thesis. For instance: man is good
(thesis); man is evil (antithesis); man is both good and bad
(synthesis). The dialectical system was devised by the German
philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) and later used by Karl Marx (1818-
1883).
Determinism Belief that all events in the world happen according to a natural
order that cannot be altered (following the laws of physics for
instance)
Dialogue A process of question and answer between at least two people.
Discourse A long text on a particular subject (also a verb).
Dogma Arrogant and rigid declaration of opinion.
Dualism Belief in the existence of two basic ontological or metaphysical
components (mind and body; noumenal and phenomenal, etc.).
Egalitarianism View that holds that humans are equal or that things should be
changed so that humans become equal with regard to income,
wealth, opportunity, rights, etc.
Empiricism Theory that all knowledge comes from observation and experience.
Empiricists arrive at conclusions by using the inductive method
(opposite of rationalists who begin with a priori principles and use
the deductive method); main proponents include John Locke (1632-
1704) and David Hume (1711-1776).
Enlightenment Or Age of Reason; era characterised by the emergence in 18
th

century Europe of progressive and liberal ideas supported by
science.
Epistemology Branch of philosophy that studies origins, nature and limitations of
knowledge.
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Esse est percipi Expression coined by George Berkeley (1685-1753); Latin: to be is to
be perceived.
Ethics The study of how one should act; virtue and morals.
Existential bad faith For existentialists, one is of bad faith when one refuses to accept
ones freedom, when one believes that one does not have a choice.
Existential guilt For existentialists, guilt is the pervasive feeling one experiences
when one when one renounces the infinity of ones potentialities,
when one abandons freedom; guilt is the price to pay when one
accepts to be an object.
Existentialism Philosophy that emphasises the freedom of human beings to make
choices and to assume responsibility for their consequences, in a
world in which there are no absolute values outside the individual;
main proponents include Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Albert
Camus (1913-1960).
Fatalism View that everything that happens, happens necessarily and that
humans are powerless over preordained outcomes.
Form Structure, pattern or plan of something; in Platos works, Forms
(also Ideas) are the essence of tangible and intangible entities as
well as of moral concepts (Courage, Justice, etc.) the knowledge of
which is the task of philosophy.
Hedonism Moral theory which emphasises pleasure as the goal individuals
should or do seek to be happy.
Humanism Renaissance philosophy revived in the 20
th
century which rejects
beliefs in all forms of the supernatural; humanism is a way of looking
at the world which emphasises the importance of individuals, their
nature and place in the universe; humanism teaches that all persons
have dignity and worth and therefore should command the respect
of their peers.
Hypothesis Term applied to any tentative proposal, theory or suggestion that
has not yet been tested or has not yet been fully established.
Idealism Doctrine that matter is an illusion and that the only reality is that
exists mentally (in the mind). Main proponents include the German
philosopher Hegel, who insisted that consciousness, or reason,
forms the basis of all reality and George Berkeley (1685-1753) who
took the position that nothing was real except ideas and impressions
and that all objects were ideas in the mind of God. Idealism is to be
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contrasted with realism in which the external world is said to have
an apparent absolute existence. Idealism is also the opposite of
materialism, in which the ultimate nature of reality is based on
material substances. Idealism and materialism are both theories of
monism as opposed to dualism.
Inductive argument Argument based on the inductive method (see below); the
conclusion of an inductive argument can be invalid even if its
premises are valid.
Inductive method The reasoning process by which one is to start from a particular
experience and to proceed to generalisations. Example: all apples I
have eaten were sweet; conclusion: all apples are sweet. In fact, the
next apple may not be sweet: the inductive method leads to
probabilities, not certainties.
Inference Process of drawing conclusions.
Introspection Awareness of ones mental states.
Intuition Form of immediate knowledge, of just knowing that something is
so.
Ipso facto Latin: by that very fact.
Irrational Not in conformity with principles of reason and logic; also:
unreasonable, not amenable to reason.
Kants Copernican Revolution Thesis of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) according to which the human
sensory apparatus and the categories of the understanding (among
which time, space and causality) determine the nature of
experience; this view opposes the more traditional conception
which holds that the nature of experience is determined by the
objects of the world that are experienced.
Liar Paradox Paradox generated by a proposition that contradicts itself. Example:
I am a liar or this sentence is untrue; if it is true, then it is untrue,
yet if it is untrue, then it is true! For some, the liar paradox
invalidates the principle of the excluded middle (see this term).
Libertarianism Political philosophy maintaining that every person is the absolute
owner of their own life and should be free to do whatever they wish
with their person or property, as long as they respect the liberty of
others.
Logic Branch of philosophy that studies the rules and methods of
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reasoning (correct thinking).
Machiavellian From Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), author of The Prince, a
treatise on statecraft advocating use of unscrupulous means to
strengthen the power of the State and of its ruler; in ordinary
language: deceitful, cunning.
Management Philosophy in action!?
Materialism Doctrine that all things are made of matter, specifically excluding
spirits, God or gods; materialism is a monist (see this term) view of
the world. It is often opposed to idealism (see this term).
Metaphor Application of name, descriptive terms or phrase to an object or
action to which it is imaginatively but not literally applicable (e.g.
food for thought). Metaphors help understanding; language is itself
a metaphor.
Metaphysics Branch of philosophy that seeks to understand reality beyond what
is known from sense perceptions; the study of the most
fundamental principles of the nature of things based on abstract
general reasoning.
Mind-body problem The problem of explaining exactly what the relationship is between
minds and bodies in space. Three main questions present
themselves: 1) Do minds and bodies causally interact and if so, how?
2) How, if at all, can my mind gain knowledge about bodies and
other minds? 3) What is the relationship between my mind and my
body?
There are three basic theories about these questions: 1) Idealism:
bodies are really ideas in the mind; 2) Dualism: mind and bodies are
separate entities; 3) Materialism: no minds, only bodies. Although
dualism is the most commonly accepted as it is relatively intuitive, it
is unable to explain the exact nature of the link between mind and
body.
Monism Belief that the entire universe is made of a one single substance,
usually mind or (exclusive or) matter in one form or another (e.g.:
modern physics assumes that the world really is energy).
Naturalistic fallacy Mistake of deducing conclusions about what ought to be the case
from premises that state only what is the case (moving from is to
ought); reading into nature how one should behave.
Nihilism View that there are no values, standards, meanings or truths, that
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no action or opinion can be justified.
Nominalism Perspective insisting on a stark distinction between abstract and
tangible entities and holding that universals or general ideas are
mere words; for nominalists, the ultimate sin is that of reification
(see that word below).
Non sequitur Conclusion that does not logically follow from the premises; e.g.:
1+1=2, therefore God exists.
Noumenal Term used by Kant to indicate the world that lies beyond
experience; the noumenal world, or world of things in themselves,
contrasts with the phenomenal world, the world man can
experience and thus can know and study scientifically.
Objectivism With respect to human knowledge, a view which stresses that items
of knowledge have properties and characteristics that transcend the
beliefs of the individuals that holds them.
Ockhams razor Explanations or more generally entities are not to be multiplied
beyond strict necessity.
Ontology Branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature of being, of
existence and especially of human existence.
Oxymoron Figure of speech with contradicts itself; two incompatible words
together, e.g. pleasant pain.
Paradigm Prevalent assumption in science and more generally in thinking.
Paradox A paradox arises when two good arguments, starting from
apparently true premises, lead to a pair of conclusions that
contradict each other.
Parsimony Intellectual economy; of two views or theories, it is generally
accepted that, all things being equal, preference should be given to
the more parsimonious.
Perspectivism Doctrine according to which the external world is interpreted from
different viewpoints, through different systems of values and that
there is no independent criterion for determining that one is more
valid than another; associated with the German philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). The problem with perspectivism is
that it is self-refuting (if true, then it is only a perspective and thus
untrue).
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Phenomena Perceptions; phenomena are the only objects of knowledge.
Phenomenology Branch of philosophy that concerns itself with the inquiry into ones
consciousness and intellectual processes, any preconceptions about
external causes and consequences being excluded (developed by
Edmund Husserl 1859-1938).
Philosophy Literally, the love of wisdom; the systematic critical examination of
the way men judge, evaluate and act, with the aim of making them
wiser, more reflective and better individuals; thinking deeply,
attempting to find consistent, logical answers to difficult problems
are philosophers tasks; philosophy is concerned with thought and
action as it attempts to justify them on rational grounds.
Platonic Confined to words or theories, not leading to actions; Plato is
considered as one of the greatest philosophers and the founding
father of ancient philosophy because he believed that good
character can be built up on the basis of rigorous physical and
mental training.
Platonism Term used to refer to the philosophy of Plato and to Platonic
realism: the view that there are Forms (Ideas) existing independently
of human knowing and of which ordinary physical objects are but
imperfect copies or reminders.
Pleonasm The use of more word than is necessary (also: pleonastic
expression).
Pluralism In metaphysics, the view that there are a number of basic kinds of
matter; in social philosophy, a principle of tolerance for a variety of
life-styles, religions and moral systems.
Positivism Philosophy that recognises only observed phenomena (material
facts) and excludes speculation about ultimate causes or structures
(metaphysics); informs most of natural sciences since the early 20
th

century.
Pragmatism The philosophy that a principle or action must be judged by how it
works, in its practical consequences, rather than by how it appears;
developed in the 19
th
century in North America by Charles Pierce
(1839-1914), William James (1842-1910) and John Dewey (1859-
1952); Bertrand Russel described pragmatism as a practical as
opposed to a theoretical philosophy: pragmatism defines truth in
terms of its utility, i.e. the utility of a true belief is understood to be
similar to the utility of a good road map.
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Predestination Doctrine that the events of everyones life are predetermined
beforehand by God and that free will is an illusion; was introduced
by St. Augustine (354-430) to the early Christian Church. See
determinism above.
Presupposition Anything that has to be true in order for something else to be true.
Principle of Excluded Middle In logic, principle that states that A and (not A) cannot be true at the
same time (see liar paradox above).
Principle of Sufficient Reason Belief that anything that happens does so for a definite reason.
Psyche Mind or spirit in Platos texts; originally meant life substance or
principle.
Psychology Started as the study of the soul or psyche; can be also defined as the
analysis of private data like feelings, memories, etc. or statements
about them.
Rationalism Philosophy for which knowledge can be derived only from logical or
deductive procedures (deductive method, see this term); 17
th

century European philosophy that held that reason is the only true
source of knowledge, as opposed to Empiricism and the inductive
method (see these terms).
Realism Doctrine that things exist in and of themselves, independently of the
mind that knows them.
Reification Conversion of an abstract entity into a concrete thing.
Reduction ad absurdum Latin: reduction to absurdity.
Reductionism Belief that the basic constructs studied by a science can be
explicated in terms of the science that is one degree more
fundamental; reductionism sees the sciences standing in a hierarchy,
with psychology being one step more fundamental than sociology,
physiology one step more fundamental than psychology, then
chemistry, the physics: ultimately, all scientific explanations would
come within a single framework of theory compatible with particle
physics.
Relativism Relativism denies that there is a universal, a-historical standard of
rationality with which a theory could be judged better than another;
principle proposed by Ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras, for
whom man is the measure of all things, meaning that all
evaluations are ultimately individual ones and that there is no
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universal norm of measurement.
Rhetoric The art of persuasive speech or writing; regarded by Plato as a false
art, providing no more than the appearance of truth contrasted with
logic and dialectic (see these terms).
Romanticism Style of literature, art, music and philosophy of the late 18
th
to mid-
19
th
centuries characterised by freedom from form and structure,
emphasis on will, imagination, individuality and passion rather than
reason; romanticism favours full expression of the emotions and
free, spontaneous action rather than restraint and order. Romantics
believe mans creative powers work best when the imagination is
unrestrained: they stress freedom for the individual and reject
restricting social conventions and unjust political rule. The
revolutions in France (1789) and in America (early 1770s to mid-
1780s) were deeply influenced by romantic ideals. The Franco-Swiss
philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) taught that man is
naturally good but has been corrupted by the institutions of
civilisation. Kant (for whom Rousseau was a great thinker), through
his insistence that the phenomenal world was the product of the
human mind, also (if unwillingly) influenced the Romantic vision of
man as gifted by an almighty will.
Semantics Study of the relations between the meanings in language.
Scepticism Denial that humans possess sound knowledge; Greek doctrine that
everything is open to doubt, later adopted by the French
philosopher Ren Descartes (1596-1650) who, as a starting point,
doubted everything except the workings of his mind.
Scholasticism Philosophy practised in schools of medieval universities.
Socratic Fallacy Belief that it is impossible to argue about X unless a definition of X is
provided.
Socratic Method Method of persistent questioning associated with Socrates, whereby
one attempts to clarify the ground, meaning and implications of an
initial opinion.
Solipsism Belief that the self is the only knowable entity; belief that the whole
world is a creation of ones own self.
Soma Since Plato, the body; in Homers texts, the term refers to dead
limbs on the battlefield.
Sophism False, misleading or tricky argumentation (also called sophistry).
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Stoicism Philosophy that virtue, not status, family or possessions is the only
worthy aim in life and that virtuous individuals can achieve
happiness however adverse their circumstances; view that the
universe is a rational whole in which all things happen for the best,
from which it is derived the precept that the wise person is one who
has learnt to accept stoically (with good grace) whatever happens,
even things that strike the unwise as negative.
Structuralism Doctrine according to which observed social phenomena can only be
understood through their underlying structures and systems.
Sui generis Latin: of its own kind.
Syllogism Traditional argument pattern composed of a major premise, minor
premise and a conclusion. Example: all men are mortal (major
premise), Socrates is a man (minor premise), therefore Socrates is
mortal (conclusion).
Syntax Rules governing the grammatical construction of sentences of the
language.
Synthetic a priori Synthetic a priori propositions were proposed by I. Kant as a way to
address Hume's challenge. They were thought to be always true (a
priori) yet relevant to experience.
Synthetic statement A synthetic statement is a statement which purports to convey
information gained through experience, i.e. about the world.
Synthetic statements are either true or false.
Tabula Rasa Latin: blank tablet; the term was used by John Locke (1632-1704)
to summarise his claim that the mind comes into life blank or empty
and is written on my experience as thought it was a clay tablet
waiting to be market by a writing stylus. Locke was arguing against
the then widely held view that the mind comes to experience with
ideas which are built into it.
Tautology Sentence which is always true; needless repetition of an idea.
Truth The definition of what truth is and means exactly forms an entire
domain of philosophy (epistemology)! One difficulty with the notion
of truth is that its use can lead easily to paradoxes (see liar paradox
above).
Utilitarianism Belief that good can be conflated with useful; more precisely,
doctrine for which good consists in creating the greatest happiness
for the greatest number of people. Its main proponent as the British
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philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).
Utopia Term used to refer to an imaginary ideal world; title of a very
famous book by English philosopher, lawyer and statesman Thomas
More (1478-1535) which describes a fictional island in the Atlantic
Ocean, possessing a seemingly perfect socio-politico-legal system.
Virtue Positive characteristic, or excellence, of a thing or person; in
ordinary language, a virtue is simply a good habit.
Vitalism Doctrine for which the phenomenon of life cannot be fully explained
in material terms but that there is something non-material in living
organisms that differentiates them from inanimate bodies (opposes
reductionism, see that term).
Voluntarism Belief that the true nature of reality is will (Schopenhauer).
Wisdom Goal of philosophy.