This is a capsule presentation of many philosophical positions.
Most of these positions are closely related to Christianity
or are responses to it. In the cases that have Christian or other
religious significance, BELIEVE includes thorough
presentations of these subjects.)
- The doctrine that there is one explanation of all
reality-the absolute-that is unchanging and
objectively true. Absolutists (such as G. W. F.
Hegel) hold that this absolute, such as God or
mind, is eternal and that in it all seeming
differences are reconciled.
- The belief that it is impossible to know whether
God exists, or to have any other theological
knowledge. English thinkers T. H. Huxley
(1825-95) and Bertrand Russell were influential
- The ethical theory that morality consists of
concern for and the active promotion of the
interests of others. Altruists strongly disagree
with the doctrine of egoism, which states that
individuals act only in their own self-interest.
- The thinking and writings of Aristotle,
influential until the fall of Rome, when all but
his writings on logic were lost to Christian
civilization in Europe. However, his works were
preserved in Syrian and Arabic cultures and were
revived at the end of the twelfth century.
- The view that attention to the body's needs is
evil, an obstacle to moral and spiritual
development, and displeasing to God. According to
this view, humans are urged to withdraw into an
inner spiritual world to reach the good life.
- The rejection of the belief in God. Some atheists
have held that there is nothing in the world that
requires a God in order to be explained. Atheism
is not the same as agnosticism, which holds that
we can have knowledge neither of the existence nor
of the nonexistence of God.
- British idealism (neo-Hegelianism)
- The philosophy of Hegel as revived in England and
Scotland in the mid-nineteenth century. The most
prominent members of this school were T. H. Green
(1836-82), Bernard Bosanquet (1848 - 1923), and
F. H. Bradley (1846 - 1924). They were united in
their opposition to empiricism and utilitarianism
and in their emphasis on mind and spirit as
- Buridan's ass
- A story, falsely attributed to the
fourteenth-century thinker John Buridan, in which
an ass, faced with two equally desirable bales of
hay, starves to death because he cannot find a good
reason for preferring one bale to the other.
- The theory that general ideas, such as the idea of
man or of redness, exist as entities produced by
the human mind and that they can exist in the minds
of all men. This view is typically contrasted with
nominalism and realism.
- A theory or story about the origin of the universe,
either scientific or mythological. Cosmogonies are
also called creation myths.
- The systematic study of the origin and structure
of the universe as a whole. In such philosophers
as Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, cosmology was
based on metaphysical speculation; today cosmology
is a branch of the physical sciences.
- A philosophical viewpoint appearing in England in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and in
France in the eighteenth century. Deists hold that
although God created the universe and its laws, He
then removed Himself from any ongoing interaction
with the material world.
- The ethical philosophy that makes duty the basis
of all morality. According to deontological
theorists, such as Kant, some acts-such as
keeping a promise or telling the truth-are moral
obligations regardless of their consequences.
- The view that every event has a cause and that
everything in the universe is absolutely dependent
on and governed by causal laws. Since determinists
believe that all events, including human actions,
are predetermined, determinism is typically thought
to be incompatible with free will.
- Any philosophical theory holding that the universe
consists of, or can only be explained by, two
independent and separate forces, such as matter and
spirit, the forces of good and evil, or the
supernatural and natural. See also mind-body
- According to many ethical theories, the basis of
the virtuous life. The Stoics held that man has a
duty to live virtuously and according to reason;
and Kant held that his categorical imperative is
the highest law of duty, no matter what the
- The view that all knowledge of the world derives
solely from sensory experience, using observation
and experimentation if needed; empiricism also
holds that reason on its own can never provide
knowledge of reality unless it also utilizes
experience. See also British empiricism.
- Enlightenment (Age of Reason)
- A period that stretched from the early seventeenth
to the early nineteenth century, especially in
France, England, and Germany. Its thinkers strove
to make reason the ruler of human life; they
believed that all men could gain knowledge and
liberation. Major Enlightenment figures include
Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and Montesquieu
in France; Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke in England;
and Leibniz, Lessing (1729-81), and Herder
(1744 - 1803) in Germany.
- In theology, the study of "final things," such as
death, resurrection, immortality, the second coming
of Christ, and the day of judgment.
- A philosophy of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries. The dogma holds that since there are no
universal values, man's essence is not
predetermined but is based only on free choice; man
is in a state of anxiety because of his realization
of free will; and there is no objective truth.
Major existentialists were Kierkegaard,
Nietzsche, Sartre, Heidegger, Karl Jaspers (1883
- 1969), and the religious existentialists Martin
Buber and Gabriel Marcel (1889 - 1973).
- The belief that "what will be will be," since all
past, present, and future events have already been
predetermined by God or another all-powerful force.
In religion, this view may be called
predestination; it holds that whether our souls go
to Heaven or Hell is determined before we are born
and is independent of our good deeds.
- free will
- The theory that human beings have freedom of choice
or self-determination; that is, that given a
situation, a person could have done other than what
he did. Philosophers have argued that free will is
incompatible with determinism. See also
- golden rule
- The fundamental moral rule of most religions,
especially Christianity, that states, "Do unto
others as you would have others do unto you."
- Hegelianism (neo-Hegelianism)
- A school of thought associated with Hegel in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
especially in England, America, France, and Italy.
F. G. Bradley (1846 - 1924), Josiah Royce (1855 -
1916), and Benedetto Croce (1866 - 1952) were
prominent members; they emphasized the importance
of spirit and the belief that ideas and moral
ideals are fundamental.
- Hobson's choice
- A choice offered without any real alternative-
therefore, not really a choice at all.
- Any philosophic view that holds that mankind's
well-being and happiness in this lifetime are
primary and that the good of all humanity is the
highest ethical goal. Twentieth-century humanists
tend to reject all beliefs in the supernatural,
relying instead on scientific methods and reason.
The term is also used to refer to Renaissance
thinkers, especially in the fifteenth century in
Italy, who emphasized knowledge and learning not
based on religious sources.
- A term applied to any philosophy holding that mind
or spiritual values, rather than material things
or matter, are primary in the universe. See also
- The view that the individual soul is eternal, and
thus survives the death of the body it resides in.
See also transmigration of souls.
- The view that there are events that do not have any
cause; many proponents of free will believe that
acts of choice are capable of not being determined
by any physiological or psychological cause.
- According to most philosophers, starting with
Plato, the harmonious balance between the rights
of the various members of a society. Justice is
usually understood as including such social virtues
as fairness, equality, and correct and impartial
- logical positivism
- A twentieth-century school founded in the 1920s in
Europe that was extremely influential for American
and English philosophers. It advocated the
principle of verifiability, according to which all
statements that could not be validated empirically were
meaningless. Logical positivism held that this
principle showed that all of metaphysics, religion,
and ethics was incapable of being proved either
true or false. See also Vienna Circle.
- A religious-philosophical doctrine that originated
in Persia in the third century and reappeared
throughout the next 1300 years. It holds that the
entire universe, especially human life, is a
struggle between the opposing forces of good and
evil (light and darkness).
- The political, economic, and philosophical theories
developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in
the second half of the nineteenth century. The
philosophical side of Marxism is called dialectical
materialism; it emphasizes economic determinism.
See also dialectical materialism.
- The theory that holds that the nature of the world
is dependent on matter, or that matter is the only
fundamental substance; thus, spirit and mind either
do not exist or are manifestations of matter.
- A branch of philosophy that analyzes ethics. It is
concerned with such issues as, How are moral
decisions justified? What is the foundation of any
ethical view? What language is used to state moral
- The branch of philosophy concerned with the
ultimate nature of reality and existence as a
whole. Metaphysics also includes the study of
cosmology and philosophical theology. Aristotle
produced the first "system" of metaphysics.
- According to Leibniz, the ultimate and indivisible
units of all existence. Monads are not material,
like atoms; each monad is self-activating, a unique
center of force. All monads are in a
"pre-established harmony" with each other and with
God, the supreme monad.
- The theory that everything in the universe is
composed of, or can be explained by or reduced to,
one fundamental substance, energy, or force.
- Any philosophy whose roots are in mystical
experiences, intuitions, or direct experiences of
the divine. In such experiences, the mystic
believes that his or her soul has temporarily
achieved union with God. Mystics believe reality
can be known only in this manner, not through
reasoning or everyday experience.
- myth of Er
- A parable at the end of Plato's Republic about the
fate of souls after bodily death; according to
Plato, the soul must choose wisdom in the
afterlife to guarantee a good life in its next
cycle of incarnation.
- A philosophic view stating that all there is in
reality is what the physical and human sciences
(for example, physics or psychology) study and that
there is no need to posit any supernatural forces
or being, such as God, mind, or spirit.
- naturalistic fallacy
- A belief of many twentieth-century philosophers in
England and America that it is invalid to infer any
statements of morality (for example, "Men ought to
act kindly") from factual statements (for example,
"Kindness is a natural quality"). The notion tries
to derive ought from is and was first described
- natural law
- The theory that there is a higher law than the
manmade laws put forth by specific governments.
This law is universal, unchanging, and a
fundamental part of human nature. Advocates of this
view believe that natural law can be discovered by
reason alone. The theory originated with the Stoics
and was elaborated on by St. Thomas Aquinas, among
- natural rights
- Certain freedoms or privileges that are held to be
an innate part of the nature of being a human being
and that cannot be denied by society. These are
different from civil rights, which are granted by
a specific nation or government. Philosophers have
differed on which rights are natural, but usually
included are life, liberty, equality, equal
treatment under the law, the pursuit of happiness,
and equality of opportunity. Locke's influential
views on natural rights inspired the writers of the
- A school of philosophy that flourished from the
second to the fifth centuries A.D. It was founded
by Plotinus and was influential for the next
- A term first used in Fathers and Sons (1862) by the
Russian novelist Turgenev. Ethical nihilism is the
theory that morality cannot be justified in any way
and that all moral values are, therefore,
meaningless and irrational. Political nihilism is
the social philosophy that society and its
institutions are so corrupt that their complete
destruction is desirable. Nihilists may, therefore,
advocate violence and even terrorism in the name
of overthrowing what they believe to be a corrupt
- The view that general terms, such as "table," do
not refer to essences, concepts, abstract ideas,
or anything else; "table" makes sense only because
all tables resemble each other. According to this
view, such general terms do not have any
- The view that there are moral truths that are valid
universally and that it is wrong to knowingly gain
pleasure from causing another pain.
- In ethics, a moral necessity to do a specific deed.
Some ethicists, following Kant, hold that moral
obligations are absolute.
- Ockham's razor
- A principle attributed to the fourteenth-century
English philosopher William of Ockham. It states
that entities should not be multiplied beyond
necessity, or that one should choose the simplest
explanation, the one requiring the fewest
assumptions and principles.
- A branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of
existence or reality, as such, as opposed to
specific types of existing entities.
- operationalism (operationism)
- A philosophy of science according to which any
scientific concept must be definable in terms of
concrete, observable activities or the operations
to which it refers.
- The belief that God and the universe are identical;
among modern philosophers, Spinoza is considered
to be a pantheist.
- Pascal's wager
- An argument made by Blaise Pascal for believing
in God. Pascal said that either the tenets of Roman
Catholicism are true or they are not. If they are
true, and we wager that they are true, then we have
won an eternity of bliss; if they are false, and
death is final, what has the bettor lost? On the
other hand, if one wagers against God's existence
and turns out to be wrong, there is eternal
- A term applied to any philosophy that makes
personality (whether of people, God, or spirit) the
supreme value or the source of reality. Personalism
as a movement flourished in England and America in
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Personalists are usually idealists.
- The philosophic attitude holding that hope is
unreasonable, that man is born to sorrow, and that
this is the worst of all possible worlds.
Schopenhauer's philosophy is an example of extreme
- philosopher king
- In Plato's Republic, a philosopher trained by
formal study in disciplines including mathematics
and philosophy. Plato emphasized that philosopher
kings' leadership would be shown by their ability
to see the Forms, or universal ideals.
- philosophy of mind
- The area of philosophy that studies the mind,
consciousness, and mental functions such as
thinking, intention, imagination, and emotion. It
is not one specific branch of philosophy, but
rather an aspect of most traditional branches, such
as metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics.
- philosophy of religion
- A branch of philosophy concerned with such
questions as, What is religion? What is God? Can
God's existence be proved? Is there immortality?
What is the relationship between faith, reason, and
revelation? Is there a divine purpose in the world?
- philosophy of science
- The branch of philosophy that studies the nature
of science. It is particularly concerned with the
methods, concepts, and assumptions of science, as
well as with analyzing scientific concepts such as
space, time, cause, scientific law, and
- Thoughts and writings developed in the fifth
century B.C. in Athens by Plato, the greatest
student of Socrates. Platonism's chief tenet is
that the ultimate reality consists of unchanging,
absolute, eternal entities called Ideas or Forms;
all earthly objects are not truly real but merely
partake in the Forms.
- Plato's cave
- An analogy in Plato's Republic between reality and
illusion. The main image is of men who see on the
walls of a cave only the shadows of the real
objects moving around outside the cave. When these
men leave the cave and see the real objects, they
cannot, upon returning to the cave, convince those
who have never left of the reality of the objects.
- The view that there are more than two kinds of
fundamental, irreducible realities in the universe,
or that there are many separate and independent
levels of reality.
- A theory originated by French philosopher Auguste
Comte. It holds that all knowledge is defined by
the limits of scientific investigation; thus,
philosophy must abandon any quest for knowledge of
an ultimate reality or any knowledge beyond that
offered by science. See also logical positivism.
- An American philosophy developed in the nineteenth
century by Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 - 1914)
and William James, and elaborated on in the
twentieth century by John Dewey. Its central
precepts are that thinking is primarily a guide to
action and that the truth of any idea lies in its
- principle (or law) of noncontradiction
- Dating back to Aristotle, this universally accepted
"law of thought" has two parts: a statement cannot
be both true and false; nothing can both have a
quality, like red, and not have it, at the same
- The philosophic approach that holds that reality
is knowable by the use of reason or thinking alone,
without recourse to observation or experience. See
also seventeenth-century rationalists.
- The major medieval and modern view on the problem
of universals other than nominalism. Extreme
realism, which is close to Plato's theory of
Forms, holds that universals exist independently
of both particular things and the human mind;
moderate realism holds that they exist as ideas in
God's mind, through which He creates things.
- The precept that people's ideas of right and wrong
vary considerably from place to place and time to
time; therefore, there are no universally valid
- A general term referring to the Christian
philosophy of the Middle Ages, especially at the
medieval universities. The Scholastics basically
followed Aristotle's empiricism, using highly
analytical logical and linguistic methods of
argumentation, especially with respect to the
problem of universals.
- The theory that one cannot know anything other than
his or her own thoughts, feelings, or perceptions;
therefore, other people and the real world must be
projections of one's own mind with no existence in
and of themselves. See also egocentric predicament.
- A term referring to the belief that spirits of the
dead communicate with the living, for instance, at
seances or through a medium.
- The view that the ultimate reality in the universe
is the spirit. Advocates of this view may disagree
about the nature of the spirit.
- A Greek school founded by Zeno in the third
century B.C. Stoics held that men should submit to
natural law and that a man's chief duty is to
conform to his destiny. They also believed the soul
to be another form of matter, and thus not immortal.
- The belief that there are forces, energies, or
beings beyond the material world-such as God,
spirit, or occult forces-that affect events in our
- A kind of deductive reasoning or argument. As
defined by Aristotle, it was considered the basis
of reasoning for over two thousand years. In every
syllogism, there are two statements (premises) from
which a conclusion follows necessarily. Syllogisms
are of three basic logical types, as illustrated
by these examples:
- 1. If a broom is new, it sweeps clean; the broom
is new; therefore, it sweeps clean.
- 2. Either the horse is male or female; the horse
is not female; therefore, it is male.
- 3. All philosophers are men; all men are mortal;
therefore, all philosophers are mortal.
- tabula rasa
- A Latin phrase meaning "blank slate," used by
Locke to describe the state of the human mind at
birth. Locke believed there are no innate ideas and
that the mind gets all of its ideas from
- teleological ethics
- In contrast with deontological ethics, this moral
theory holds that whether an action is morally
right depends solely on its expected consequences.
See also utilitarianism.
- The philosophical and theological system developed
by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.
One of its chief principles is that philosophy
seeks truth through reason while theology seeks it
through revelation from God; therefore, the two are
- Beyond the realm of sense experience. In many
religious views, God is held to be transcendent.
- A nineteenth-century movement developed in New
England and expounded by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803
- 82) and Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 62). It
maintains that beyond our material world of
experience is an ideal spiritual reality that can
be grasped intuitively.
- transmigration of souls
- The belief that the same soul can, in different
lifetimes (incarnations), reside in different
bodies, human or animal. While typically a part of
most Eastern religions, the doctrine came into
Western philosophy from Pythagoras and his
contemporaries in the sixth century B.C. and
especially through Plato.
- A theory of morality holding that all actions
should be judged for rightness or wrongness in
terms of their consequences; thus, the amount of
pleasure people derive from those consequences
becomes the measure of moral goodness. Jeremy
Bentham and John Stuart Mill, in the nineteenth
century, were the chief proponents of this view.
See also principle of utility.
- The belief in the possibility or desirability of
not just a better but a perfect society. The term
derives from Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516),
which depicts an ideal state. Utopian states also
appear in the writings of Plato and Bacon.
- Young Hegelians
- A group of thinkers in Germany in the first half
of the nineteenth century whose views strongly
influenced Karl Marx. They were followers of
Hegel who believed that the political conditions
under which they lived were irrational. They held
that the goal of philosophy should be to promote
a revolution of ideas and critical thinking about
the world. Ludwig Feuerbach (1804 - 72) was the
most important of the Young Hegelians.
Major World Philosophers
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