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2002

Philosophical Lexicon

A resource for philosophy students

Basic Terms of Metaphysics

Metaphysics -- The study of reality, as such; the attempt to set forth a fundamental theory of reality; asks the basic question: What is the nature of reality? (this question is divisible into two: What realities exist? and: What are the most general characteristics of reality applicable to all existents?

Substance -- The basic term of traditional metaphysics meaning, Thing. (substances are concrete particular things, as distinguished from the idea that substance is the stuff of which things are made.

Essence -- What a thing is; that in virtue of which a thing is what it is (Aristotle); the defining characteristics of a thing; that which is definitive as opposed to accidental.

Accident -- A non-defining characteristic of a thing.

Existence -- The assertion that a thing is; traditionally essence is said to precede existence because one must first understand what a thing is before one can assert that it is.

Universals -- Those things which range over a group of particulars, and permit us to think the commonalities in them; (treeness is the universal ranging over all trees allowing us to understand the oak and the pine as the same).

Particulars -- Perceived object of sense.

Realism -- Metaphysical position holding that reality is, in itself, just as it is perceived to be.

Naive Realism -- Asserts that every perceived property of a thing belongs to that thing just as it is perceived, and no properties of the thing are dependent upon the position or disposition of the perceiving subject.

Mitigated Realism -- Asserts that basic perceived properties of the thing belong to the thing as they are perceived, but other properties of the thing, while they are dependent upon the basic properties in some way, do not exist in the thing just as they are perceived because those properties are dependent upon the position or the disposition of the perceiving subject.

Primary Qualities -- Those properties which, according to mitigated realism, belong to the thing independently of the perceiving subject.

Secondary Qualities -- Those properties which, according to mitigated realism, depend upon the position or disposition of the perceiving subject.

Idealism -- Metaphysical position holding that reality is mind-dependent.

Materialism -- Metaphysical position holding that matter is the only reality.

Monism -- Metaphysical position holding that there is only one kind of basic reality.

Dualism -- Metaphysical position holding that there are two basic kinds of realities.

Pluralism -- Metaphysical position holding that there are many basic realities.

Basic Terms of Epistemology

Epistemology -- The study of knowledge, as such; the attempt to offer a comprehensive theory of knowledge; asks the following questions: What is knowledge? Is it possible to have knowledge? Can we know when we have knowledge? Is knowing we have knowledge essential to knowledge? Since truth is required for knowledge, what is truth?

Skepticism -- The position that asserts that knowledge is impossible.

Rationalism -- Epistemological position asserting that knowledge rests upon reason alone.

Empirical -- Having to do with experience (usually sense-experience unless otherwise qualified).

Empiricism -- Epistemological position holding that knowledge rests upon experience.

Relativism -- The position holding that knowledge (and truth) are relative to the times, places, groups, or individuals who claim it; there is no absolute knowledge; there can be objective knowledge only within limited frames of reference.

Solipsism -- Position asserting that I can know of, and for that reason can assert the existence of, no other existent than me.

Ineffable -- Indescribable.

a priori -- Independent of experience; if a proposition is knowable a priori, it is knowable without reference to experience; analytical propositions are knowable a priori.

a posteriori -- Through experience; if a proposition is knowable a posteriori, some reference to experience is required in order to have it; most synthetical propositions are knowable a posteriori.

Basic Terms of Value Theory

Ethics -- The philosophical inquiry into the nature and justification of morality; attempts to distinguish what is really right or wrong from variously held moral beliefs.

Morality -- A system of beliefs regarding right and wrong behavior.

Moral Agent -- Any being capable of making moral decisions.

Ethical Theory -- Any attempt to set forth proper standards of moral conduct binding on all moral agents.

Descriptive Ethical Relativism -- The view composed of the following three parts: 1) there are no universally held moral beliefs; 2) moral beliefs are learned through a process of enculturation and are, because of this, culture-bound; 3) those who make cross-cultural moral judgment must be guilty of ethnocentric behavior, behavior based upon the supposedly unjustifiable assumption of the moral superiority of their own culture.

Normative Ethical Relativism -- The position that asserts that, in any given situation, the right act is the deemed to be right by the culture in which the act is committed.

Teleological Ethical Theories -- All theories asserting that the rightness of an action is dependent entirely upon the consequences of the action.

Deontological Ethical Theories -- All theories asserting that the rightness of an action does not depend entirely upon the consequences of the action.

Intrinsic Value -- Valuable in itself.

Extrinsic Value -- Valuable because it leads to something else of value; sometimes referred to as instrumental value.

Psychological Egoism -- A theory of motivation that asserts that human beings are, by nature, selfish; all human beings, regardless of circumstance, will always act in the way they deem to be in their own best interest.

Ethical Egoism -- A teleological ethical theory asserting that everyone ought to be selfish by producing the greatest amount of goodness for themselves; all moral agents, regardless of circumstance, ought to do what is in their own best interest.

Utilitarianism -- A teleological ethical theory asserting that all moral agents ought to act in ways that will maximize goodness for everyone affected by the act; for John Stuart Mill, the right act was the act that would produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.

Aesthetics -- Philosophy of art; how is the work of art different from the commonplace object? What is the meaning of beauty, and how can it be distinguished from the ugly or the mediocre?

Political Philosophy-- Philosophy of the state; asks the following questions: What is the nature of the state? What is the best form of government? Is any form of government better than anarchy?

Basic Terms of Logic

Logic -- That discipline of philosophy which identifies the fundamental principles of rational thought; the science which evaluates arguments.

Argument -- A list of two or more propositions, one of which is claimed to follow from the others.

Proposition -- The idea expressed in a declarative sentence; its basic property is the capability of being true or false.

Conclusion -- That proposition within an argument which is claimed to follow from the others.

Premise(s) -- Those propositions within an argument from which another (the conclusion) is claimed to follow.

Truth Value -- That property of a proposition indicating whether it is true or false.

Syllogism -- An argument composed two premises and a conclusion.

Analytical Proposition -- A proposition whose truth value is determined by the ways in which the words relate to each other.

Analytical truth -- A proposition whose logical predicate is already contained in its logical subject; a proposition the denial of which produces a contradiction.

Synthetical Proposition -- A proposition that is not analytical.

Contradiction -- A proposition that is analytically false; a proposition asserting the conjunction of two component propositions which must have opposite truth values.

Law of Contradiction -- A thing cannot both be and not be in the same place, at the same time, in the same respects.

Law of Identity -- A thing is what it is and is not something else.

Law of excluded middle -- Either a thing is what it is, or it is something else.

Deductive Argument -- An argument whose conclusion is claimed to follow from its premises necessarily.

Valid argument -- An argument whose conclusion follows from its premises necessarily; an argument wherein it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion to be false; an argument structured such that if the premises are true, then the conclusion has to be true.

Sound argument -- An argument that is valid and has true premises.

Inductive Argument -- An argument whose conclusion is claimed to follow from its premises with some degree of probability always less than 100%; even in the best inductive argument, the conclusion will never follow from its premises necessarily; even in the best inductive argument, if the premises are true, the conclusion might still be false.

Strong Argument -- An inductive argument whose conclusion follows from its premises with high probability; an argument structured such that if the premises are true, then the conclusion is highly probable.

Cogent Argument -- An inductive argument that is strong and has true premises.

Necessary -- Not possibly not. (If a proposition is necessarily true, there are no conditions under which it could be false; if a proposition is necessarily false, there are no conditions under which it could be true; if a being is necessary, it is not possible for that being not to be.)

Contingent -- Possibly not. (If a proposition is contingent, it will be true under some conditions and false under others; its truth value is dependent upon which conditions prevail; if a being is contingent, then even though it exists, it is possible for it not to be.

Begging the question -- Any argument wherein the truth of the conclusion is already assumed in one of the premises; while such arguments are valid, they are still bad arguments insofar as they can never establish their conclusions.

Proof -- An argument that successfully establishes its conclusion.