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Ethics:


  • Adaptation The Darwinian process according to which genetic mutations and/or random combinations from the gene pools of individual organisms produce new physical characteristics in the offspring of these individuals. If these novelties prove to be move suitable for survival and reproduction in a given environment than those of the offspring's parental generation, adaptation takes place. Adaptation can lead to specialization,and the creation of new species.


  • Aesthetics- Sometimes refers to judgments about beauty. More commonly, the philosophy of art: the branch of philosophy that investigates questions such as What makes something a work of art? Are there absolute values in art, or are artistic judgments always relative? Can there be rational debates about judgments concerning art, or are such judgments based only on preference? What is the status of art among other human intellectual and creative endeavors?


  • Agency- In ethical discourse, an agent is the individual who acts with intention, responsibility, and effect.


  • Agnostic- In a religious context, designates a person who claims not to know whether God exists. In other fields as well, an agnostic denies either  that knowledge of specific entities is available or that it is possible.


  • Altruism- As a descriptive category, designates acts that are in the interests of others at the expense of the agent's own interests. As a moral doctrine, the view that in certain circumstances one ought to sacrifice one's own interests for the interests of others.


  • Analytic philosophy- The view that, in philosophy, logical analysis and analysis of meaning must be prior to the construction of philosophical theories about the world. Analytical philosophers believe that certain key concepts in ordinary language and in scientific, moral, religious, and aesthetic discourse are philosophically vague or misleading. Philosophical problems can be solved and pseudo philosophical problems can be dispelled through the clarification of these concepts. The theories that analytic philosophers do generate tend to be demonstration of the logical relationships among these different realms of discourse rather than grandiose metaphysical schemes. Although many of the pioneers of this school were  Continental Europeans, the movement has become primarily an Anglo-American one.


  • Analytical proposition- A proposition whose negation leads to self-contradiction. For example, the proposition that squares have four sides is analytic because its negation, that squares do not have four sides, is a self-contradiction.


  • Anarchy- The social state of chaos produced by the collapse of  civil authority.


  • Androcentrism- The prioritizing of the interests of males over the interests of non males.


  • Anthropocentrism- The perspective that sees reality only in terms of human interests.


  • Anticlericalism- Opposition to the power of religious institutions and their influence in public affairs.


  • Apologetic- An intellectual defense of a proposition, argument, or theory that is under attack.


  • A posteriori- A belief, proposition, or argument whose truth or falsity can be established only through observation, usually from sense data.

  • A priori- A Belief, proposition, or argument whose truth or falsity can be established independently of observation. Definitions, arithmetic, and the principles of logic are usaually held to be a priori. Classical rationalism was an attempt to show that all significant knowledge about the world is based on a priori truths, which most of the rationalists associate with innate ideas- knowledge present at birth.

  • Arete- A Greek word appearing often in the works of Plato and Aristotle, usually translated as "Virtue," but sometimes as "quality" or "excellence."


  • Atheist- A person who denies the existence of God or gods.


  • Atomism- The first theory, created by the pre-Socratic philosophers Democritus and Leucippus, according  to which everything in reality is composed of atoms, conceived as indivisible, irreducible basic units of matter that have the characteristics of size, shape, and location, moving along law-determined paths, sometimes coagulating with other atoms, sometimes colliding with them.


  • Beg the question- A circular kind  of reasoning that presupposes in the premises of an argument the very conclusion that the argument is supposed to prove (e.g., to "prove" that murder is wrong, when the very word "murder", means wrongful killing).


  • Behaviorism- The theory that only observable, objective features of human or animal activity need be studied to provide an adequate scientific account of that activity. References to mental states such as plans, goals, and intentions (all of which are unobservable and unconfirmable) have no place in such scientific accounts. Usually associated with the psychologist-or behavioral engineer, as he preferred to be called-B.F. Skinner (1904-1990)


  • Big bang theory- The cosmological theory that the matter currently existent in the universe (e.g., atoms and subatomic particles) was caused in a massive explosion that took place at the beginning of time as we know it. Sometimes called "atomic bake."


  • Brute facts- Simple facts in the world that can be expressed without reference to human mental states or to conventional facts.


  • Calculus of Felicity ( or Felicific Calculus)- Jeremy Bentham's name for an arithmetic test he invented for evaluating the various amounts of pleasure and pain that would be produced by future acts one might choose. The analysis of the prospective acts in terms of the seven categories in the test determine which acts one should choose.


  • Cartesian- Anything having to do with the philosophical, mathematical, or scientific  ideas of the seventeenth-century French philosopher Rene Descartes.


  • Categorical imperative- In Kantian ethics, designates an absolute obligation imposed upon us by our rational nature. There are several formulations of this demand, but its best-known expression is "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."


  • Causality- Explanation of events or process in terms of the mechanics of cause and effect. Causal explanations are usually represented in terms of natural laws. Contrast with teleological explanations.


  • Consequentialism- A view motivating certain ethical theories such as utilitarianism according to which the moral worth of an act is determined primarily by the act's consequences.


  • Conventional facts- Facts (usually) about human activity explained in terms of institutions, conventions, or mores; for example, legal institutions or marriage conventions.


  • Cosmology- The study of the cosmos. The creation of philosophical or scientific theories  of the origins, structure, and content of the universe.


  • Deconstruction- A theory of texts (philosophical, legal, scientific, fictional) according to which, because of the volatile nature of thought and language, almost all texts can be shown to "deconstruct" themselves- to undermine and refute their own theses. Or, deconstruction is the activity of demonstrating that a particular text undermines and refutes itself. Usually associated with the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida.


  • Deflationism- A view held by certain philosophers who believe that it is a mistake to try to generate a full-bodied theory of truth. Rather, they claim, the "problem of truth" is a pseudo-problem. Truth and falsity are not metaphysical entities. The expression, "X is true," can always be restated in non problematical ways.


  • Deontology- The study of moral obligation, that which is binding. Immanuel Kant's moral theory is deontological because of the centrality in Kant's system of the categorical imperative, which always reveals one's duty.


  • Determinism- The view that every event is caused. Every event follows inevitably from the events that preceded it. There is no randomness in reality; rather, all is law governed. Freedom either does not exist (hard determinism) or exists in such a way as to be compatible with necessity (soft determinism).


  • Deus ex machina- A phony solution. Literally " god from a machine." Greek dramatists of inferior quality would create complex plots loaded with difficult problems, and then, with the use of a machine, drop a god onto the stage (played by an actor on a cable) who solved the problems supernaturally.


  • Ego- In Freudian theory, the name of the rational, mostly conscious, social aspects of the psyche, as contrasted with id and superego.


  • Empirical- Having to do with the observational nature of certain kinds of facts.


  • Empiricism- The epistemological view that true knowledge is derived primarily from sense experience (or, in"purer" strains of empiricism, exclusively from sense experience). The classical empiricists were the seventeenth-century British philosophers John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume.


  • Enlightenment- A philosophical movement of the eighteenth century characterized by the belief in the power of reason to sweep away superstition, ignorance, and injustice.


  • Epistemology- Theory of knowledge. The branch of philosophy that answers such questions as what is knowledge? What, if anything, can we know? What is the difference between knowledge and opinion?


  • Essence- The feature or set of features of a thing or an idea that constitutes what the thing or idea is- its necessary condition.


  • Euthanasia- Mercy killing; aiding in the painless death of individuals suffering from painful, terminal diseases.


  • Fatalism- The view that an inescapable preordained fate or destiny awaits each individual.


  • Feminism- The sociopolitical theory and practice defending woman's dignity and rights against patriarchal or otherwise male-dominated power structures that have denied legal and social equality to women, and have demeaned, marginalized, and constricted women throughout history.


  • The Forms- In Plato's ontology, the forms constitute the highest level of a four-tiered division of reality. Everything that exists below them- in the conceptual world, physical world, or the world of mere appearance- is dependent upon the Forms, which are models (essences, universals, archetypes) of all reality. Forms are eternal, unchangeable, and the ultimate object of all philosophy.

  • Genes- Transmittable units of organic matter carrying hereditary traits, found at certain points on microscopic rod-shaped bodies called chromosomes, whose function is to carry these genetic units.


  • Hard determinism- The view that determinism is true and that therefore freedom and responsibility do not exist. Contrast with soft determinism and libertarianism.

  • Hedonism- A theory of motivation according to which the driving force behind all acts either is pleasure (psychological hedonism) or ought to be pleasure (moral hedonism).

  • Hellenic- Referring to Greek culture (art, philosophy, politics, etc.) during the so-called Golden Age of Greece, roughly during the several centuries preceding Aristotle's death (in 322 B.C.E.). followed by the Hellenistic period.

  • Hellenistic- Referring to Greek culture (art, philosophy, politics, etc.) during the two centuries after the death of Aristotle (in 322 B.C.E.), in the aftermath of devastating wars among the Greek city-states, the ravages of the plague, and foreign intervention. Contrasted with the Hellenic period, which preceded it.

  • Homocentricism- Theories and practices that have prioritized the value of human animals over the rest of the kingdom of nature.

  • Hypothetical imperative- In Kantian ethics, designates a rational pragmatic (as opposed to moral) rule of action; its general formulation is "whoever wills the end, so far as reason has decisive influence on his action, wills also the indispensably necessary means to it that lie in his power." It is a "hypothetical" imperative because in specific cases it is formulated as an"if . . . then" hypothesis: for example, "If you want to be healthy, then you should eat well."

  • Id- In Freudian theory, the name given to the mostly unconscious,  antisocial, "animal" self, containing the primitive sexual and aggressive drives, and motivated by the "pleasure principle." Contrast with the ego and the superego.

  • Ideology- Propagandized political philosophy.

  • Immoralist- A person who is either incapable or unwilling to be bound by morality.

  • Indeterminism- The view that there are such phenomena as un-caused events and that therefore determinism is false.

  • Intuitionism- The view that a faculty of intuition allows us to understand things without the conscious use of reason. Or, the view that certain primary ideas (ethical, epistemological, metaphysical, or mathematical) are grasped directly and immediately with the aid of instruction, deduction, or analysis.

  • Is/Ought problem- The claim first articulated by the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume that no propositions containing prescriptive language (language telling us what we ought to do) can be logically deduced from proposition containing only descriptive language (language describing features of the world).

  • Lamarckism- The biological theory derived from the French naturalist  Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in the generation before Darwin according to which the process of evolution is explained in terms of biological transmission from parent to offspring of characteristics acquired by the parents during their lifetime. These transmittable characteristics can be the result of effort, injury, habit, use or disuse of limbs, and so on.

  • Libertarianism- the view that determinism is false and the freedom exists.

  • Logic- The branch of philosophy that studies the structure of valid inference; a purely formal discipline; interested in the structure of representation and argumentation rather than in its content.

  • Marxism- A political or philosophical doctrine based on the writings of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Karl Marx: politically a form of communism, philosophically a form of materialism known as historical or dialectical materialism.

  • Maxim- In Kantian ethics, designates a personally chosen rational policy or rule that can guide action. A maxim that can be universalized is one that is consistent with moral obligation. "Never lie" and "always lie" are both possible maxims, but only the former can be universalized without contradiction.

  • Meritocracy- A political system in which social and economic status has been earned by talent and work.


  • Metaphysics- The branch of philosophy that attempts to construct a general, speculative world view: a complete, systematic account of all reality and experience, usually involving an epistemology, an ontology (theory of being), and ethics, and an aesthetics. (The adjective "metaphysical is often employed to stress the speculative, as opposed to scientific or commonsensical, features of the theory or assertion it describes.


  • Monism- The ontological view the ultimately there is only one thing, or one kind of thing, in the universe.


  • Moral egoism- The ethical theory that the primary moral obligation is to oneself and that, therefore, one ought to pursue one's own interests above the interests of any other person, group, or thing.


  • Mutation- A chemical alteration, usually sudden, in a heritable gene or chromosome of an organism. It is sometimes caused by external events such as radiation, sometimes by internal mechanical events such as the crossing of chromosomes, and it results in altered physical characteristics in the offspring of the parent whose reproductive system has suffered this genetic alteration. In biological theory, mutations play a large part in explaining the evolution of new species.


  • Natural fact- Names facts other than conventional facts; includes brute facts, but also general laws of nature.


  • Naturalism- The ontological view that all is nature, that there are no supernatural or unnatural phenomena and that, therefore, the methods employed in the natural sciences are efficacious in fields other than science as well.


  • Naturalistic fallacy- An alleged logical error detected by the twentieth-century philosopher G.E. Moore. According to Moore, the fallacy is committed by anyone who attempts to define the word "good" in terms of natural features of the world, such as "the 'good' is pleasure." The fallacy is revealed by demonstrating the nonsensical conclusions implied by such definitions.


  • Necessary condition- X is a necessary condition of Y if Y cannot exist in the absence of X (or, if X and Y are propositions, if Y cannot be true if X is false). For example, oxygen is necessary condition of combustion.


  • Necessary connection- A logical relation between two sequential ideas or propositions "p" and "q," such that one cannot assert "p" and deny "q" without self-contradiction. Also called a relationship of "strict entailment."


  • Nominalism- The theory of meaning and language according to which the classes of objects named by abstract nouns and adjectives are determined conventionally or even arbitrarily rather than being determined by real essences in nature.


  • Nonconsequentialism- Ethical theories are nonconsequentialist if they claim that the moral value of an act is not primarily determined by the results of that act but resides in the act itself, or in the motivation or intention behind the act.


  • Normative- Having to do with attempts to establish norms or standards or with prescribing rules.


  • Noumenal world- In Kantian metaphysics, designates the ultimate reality that exists behind the world as it appears to us through the gridwork of time, space, and causality. We humans are constitutionally ignorant of the structure and content of the noumenal world.


  • Ontology- Theory of being. As an adjective- ontological- having to do with the status or the category of being: for example, what is the ontological status of reflections in a mirror and of rainbows? Are they real, or are they mere appearances?


  • Open concept- A concept or idea that cannot be exhaustively defined, even through it can be generally understood; a concept whose necessary conditions cannot be stated (e.g., game, love, art).


  • Oxymoron- A figure of speech containing components that are in direct conflict with each other, such as "hot ice," or the "sweet sorrow" of Romeo and Juliet.


  • Peloponnesian War- A devastating, prolonged war fought from 431 to 404 B.C.E. among the city-states of ancient Greece, mainly between Athens and its allies and Sparta and its allies, terminating in victory for the Spartans.


  • Phenomenal world- In Kantian philosophy, the world as it appears to us through the gridwork of time, space, and causality- an objective world, but not equivalent to the noumenal world, which is ultimate reality.


  • Phenotype- In biology, the physical organism that is the result of its genetic inheritance (called a genotype) interacting with the physical environment that the organism find itself occupying.

  • Philosophy of science- That branch of philosophy that studies the key concepts of scientific discourse, as well as its methods, models, and practices, querying their meanings, implications, and the logical relations among them.

  • Pluralism- The ontological view that reality is composed of a multiplicity of things or different kinds of things and that this multiplicity cannot be reduced to one category (monism) or two categories (dualism).

  • Political philosophy- That branch of philosophy concerning itself with the legitimacy of government and the organization of humans governed by law. Political philosophy overlaps social philosophy, which is usually seen as concerning itself with theories of justice.

  • Polytheism- The belief in many gods, contrasted with monotheism (one god) and with atheism (no gods).

  • Postmodernism- As used here, a term designating a contemporary posture of skepticism concerning the values of traditional philosophies and institutions, fascination with popular culture and the domination of technology over human endeavors, and dwelling on semiotic strategies that prioritize signs and images over substance and truth, reproduction over originality, and representation over reality.

  • Pragmatism- An American philosophy flourishing at the beginning of the twentieth century, claiming that the meaning of an idea or proposition can be established by determining what practical difference would be produced by believing the idea or proposition to be true and that the truth of the idea or proposition can be established by determining that belief in the idea of the proposition "works"- that it places the person who believes the idea or proposition in a more satisfactory relationship with the rest of her beliefs and experiences.

  • Pre-Socratic philosophers- The philosophers of early Greece who flourished before Socrates (469-399 B.C.E) and who meditated on the ultimate nature of being, unlike Socrates who was more concerned with the world of human activity.

  • Principle of falsifiability- A criterion of scientific meaning set forth by Sir Karl Popper according to which a proposition or theory is scientific only if its wording would allow recognition of the kind of evidence that would refute or falsify the theory. The implication of the principle is that every true theory must rule out some possibilities; any putative theory that is compatible with every possible state of affairs is no theory at all.

  • Principle of uncertainty- A theory of quantum mechanics created by the twentieth-century German physicist Werner Heisenberg, according to which the location, velocity, and direction of subatomic particles (electrons, neutrons, etc.) cannot all be know simultaneously. The implication of the principle is that the traditional theories of causality in physics must give way to statistical models.

  • Principle of utility (or of happiness)- The founding principle of utilitarianism, defended by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, according to which we should only perform acts that help achieve the goal of "the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. Takes only into account the number rather then severity.

  • Proposition- Whatever is asserted by a sentence. The sentences "it's raining,"Es regnet," and "llueve" all assert the same proposition.

  • Psychological egoism- The theory of motivation claiming that the object of every action is the self-interest of the agent. According to this theory, altruism is impossible.

  • Quietism- The psychology or philosophy of inaction. Doing little or nothing is better than doing something. Don't just do something; stand there!

  • Rationalism- In the broadest sense, philosophies committed primarily to reason. More precisely, the epistemological view that true knowledge is derived primarily from reason (or exclusively from reason in the purer strains of rationalism). Reason is conceived as the working of the mind on material provided by the mind itself. In most versions. this material has the form of innate ideas. Therefore, for rationalists, the purest type of knowledge is a priori.

  • Realism- The theory of language and meaning holding that the entities named by nouns, including abstract nouns, are real entities in the world that have essences; opposed by nominalism.

  • Reductio ad absurdum- Reduction of a theory or proposition to an absurdity by showing that its consequences are impossible or ridiculous.

  • Reductionism- The attempt to show that all objects and events distinguishable at one level of analysis can be reduced to simpler objects and events at a more basic level of analysis (e.g., the attempt to demonstrate that all physical objects can be analyzed in terms of molecular structures or that molecular structures can be analyzed in terms of atomic structures).

  • Relativism- In ethics and aesthetics, relativism is the view that there are no absolute values; all values are relative to time, place, and culture, In epistemology, relativism is the view that there are no absolute truths; all truths are relative to time, place, and culture.

  • Semantics- Theory of meaning.

  • Sense data- A sense datum is that which is perceived immediately by any one of the senses prior to interpretation by the mind. Sense data include the perception of colors, sounds, tastes, odors and textures, pleasures and pains. Classical empiricism claimed that sense data are the source of all true knowledge.

  • Sexual selection- In Darwinian theory of evolution, designates a process by which genes are passed on, not by "natural selection," but by individual choice based on the attraction of opposite-sexed members of a species for each other, as when a female elk "chooses" as a partner the male with the largest antlers.

  • Skepticism (or scepticism)- The denial of knowledge. General skepticism denies the possibility of any knowledge; however, one can be skeptical of certain fields of inquiry (e.g., metaphysics) or specific faculties (e.g., sense perception) without denying the possibility of knowledge in general.

  • Sociopath- A person suffering from a pathology that prevents interiorzation of moral and social instruction, sometimes aggressively antisocial.

  • Soft determinism (sometimes called compatibilism)- The view that determinism is true but is compatible with freedom and responsibility.

  • Solipsism- The view that the only true knowledge that one can posses is the knowledge of one's own conscious states, According to solipsism, there is no good reason to believe that anything exists other than oneself.

  • Sophists- A group of philosophers-or, more accurately, rhetoricians- contemporary with Socrates who traveled through ancient Greece teaching argumentative skills as the vehicle to political power. Philosophically, the sophists defended relativism, skepticism, and subjectivism.

  • Speciation- In evolutionary theory, indicates the process whereby individual offspring are distinct enough from their parents that their birth represents the creation of a new species.

  • Speciesism- The view that bestows one natural species (usually the human species) with moral and/or ontological qualities superior to those of other species.

  • Straw man argument- An argument attacking views falsely attributed to the opponent; an attack on views that no one actually holds.

  • Sufficient condition- P is the sufficient condition of Q if the presence of P guarantees the presence of Q (or, if P and Q are propositions, then if the truth of P guarantees the truth of Q). For example, the presence of mammary glads in an animal is a sufficient condition for designating that animal as a mammal. (It is also a necessary condition for doing so.)

  • Superego- In Freudian theory, the component of the psyche that counteracts antisocial desires and impulses of the id by attaching conscious and unconscious feelings of guilt to them.

  • Synthetic a priori- According to Immanuel Kant, a proposition is a priori if it cannot be confirmed or refuted by sense observation, and it is synthetic if it makes factual assertions about the visible world. Hume claims that such a synthetic a priori truth is impossible, but Kant believes that they do exist.

  • Synthetic proposition- A proposition is synthetic if it makes assertions about facts in reality, and if its negation does not lead to self-contradiction. For example, the proposition that Jupiter has a square moon is synthetic, even though it is false, because it asserts something about the real world and because its negation, that Jupiter does not have a square moon, is not self-contradictory; generally contrasted to analytic proposition.

  • Tautology- A repetitive or redundant  proposition. for example, definitions are tautological because their predicates form the equivalency of the term being defined: " A sister is a female sibling." Each side of the copula "is" constitutes the equivalent of the other side. Similarly, "A sister is a female" and "a sister is a sibling" are also tautologies, though they are not definitions.

  • Teleology- The existence of purpose, intention, and design, or the study of the evidence for the existence of purpose, intention, and design in the universe. A teleological explanation is the explanation in terms of goals, purposes, and intentions, and is contrasted with a causal explanation, which looks for mechanical relationships rather than purpose.

  • Telos- The Greek word for goal.

  • The Terror- The period of the French Revolution between 1783 and 1784 when the ruling faction of the revolutionary goverment executed thousands of its perceived enemies and even former allies by firing squad and guillotine. Eventually, the leaderof the faction, Maximillien de Robespierre, was also sent to the guillotine.

  • Thanatos- In Greek mythology, the god of death, In psychoanalysis, the death instinct, a suicidal drive that Freud finds in all living matter.

  • Truism- A self -evident truth; a platitude.

  • Universalizability- A moral principle or a rule, or maxim, is universalizable if it can be recommended to all individuals without producing a self-contradiction. Universalizablity is a moral criterion in Kantian ethics (the categorical imperative) and in Christian ethics ("Do unto others as you would have the do unto you").

  • Utopianism- Any political theory motivated by the belief that a prefection is possible in the building of human societies.