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Universalism and Particularism

(1,269 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F.
1. Terms In philosophy, a universal term refers with the same meaning to each member of a class of objects. Common nouns provide the clearest examples of universal terms. For instance, “dog” refers to each animal that belongs to one of several wild species of canines or the various domestic breeds that derived from them. The correlative universal concept is the thought or idea that we think when correctly understanding and using the universal term. Dictionary definitions give us the meanings of terms by stating the shared essential characteristics of t…

Metaethics

(808 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F.
Moral philosophy comprises not only ethics as such—namely, systems of rules or beliefs that govern human conduct, or ought to—but also their underlying bases. The latter sphere, metaethics, concerns the philosophical status, internal logic, and ultimate justification of systems of ethical norms, beliefs, and discourse. It wrestles with such issues as whether ethical principles derive from empirical study of the natural world or from rational cognition of an autonomous domain of value. Put differ…

Idealism

(2,711 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F.
1. Meanings of “Idealism” Idealism in the philosophical sense embraces a range of positions affirming that ultimate reality consists of mind(s), thought(s), or a domain of nonphysical, mental, or spiritual entities. Some idealists hold that minds and their thoughts are all there is, that physical or phenomenal objects are illusory if taken to be more than just thoughts. Others hold the less extreme view that physical or phenomenal objects actually exist as such, but their existence and natures are u…

Realism

(1,543 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F.
1. Term and Concept Realism in philosophy affirms that the objects of our senses and concepts exist independently of our sensing and conceiving them, and that they possess the properties we experience them as having. Normally these are spatiotemporal properties of physical objects, but not everything called realism fits this profile. Varieties of antirealism include idealism, phenomenalism, and critical perspectives lacking metaphysical commitment to any particular view of the nature of reality. Other disciplines use the term “realism” in ways paralleling its philos…

Theodicy

(2,747 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F.
1. Term The ancients wondered about the reasons for evil in the world, about its causes. In the Bible, Job wrestled with why he had undeserved miseries heaped upon him. In his dialogue The Nature of the Gods, Cicero asked why, if the gods care for human beings, the good fail to prosper or bad people not come to grief (3.79). There Cotta, Cicero’s spokesperson for Skepticism, who attacks the Stoic belief in providence, declares that “divine providence is either unaware of its own powers or is indifferent to human life. Or else it is…

Subjectivism and Objectivism

(1,163 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F.
1. Terms The subject-object distinction and relationship is an important topic in philosophy. In their relationship, the subject is the one engaged in knowing, believing, experiencing, and acting. As the first-person standpoint, as the I, the subject is consciously aware of something. The object is what the subject is aware of, by knowing, believing, feeling, experiencing, or acting upon it. The object is what the subject takes to be the case. So defined, subject and object are mutually related. “Subjectivism” and “objectivism,” however, are positions that focus on one sid…

Utilitarianism

(1,422 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F.
1. Term Utilitarian philosophy is primarily an ethical system of principles for determining what is morally right. Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) is one of its precursors. The principal founders of utilitarianism were the British philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806–73). Hutcheson was perhaps the first to state a version of the principle of utility, according to which the morally right alternative is the one that results in the greatest overall happiness. Bentham may have used the term “utilitarianism” infor…

Voluntarism

(1,413 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F.
1. Term The term “voluntarism” derives from Lat. voluntas, “will.” The correlative term voluntarius refers to acting of one’s own accord. In everyday language, a voluntary decision or act is one free from coercion or external causation. More robust types of voluntarism assert that free acts are not determined even by a person’s innate desires or characteristics, although freedom of choice may be circumscribed by the range of alternatives apparent to or deemed feasible by the chooser. Empiricists who affirm that desire or passion is not under the control of reason are som…

Metaphysics

(3,216 words)

Author(s): Hofmeister, Heimo | Brown, Robert F.
1. Term and Concept The term “metaphysics” derives from the Gk. expression ta meta ta physika (lit. “the things that come after physics”), which stands as the title of a work by Aristotle (384–322 b.c.; Aristotelianism). The name was long attributed to a bibliographic accident, to placement of the book after the Physics in the Aristotelian canon. But the name in fact fits the sequence that knowledge takes according to Aristotle. In controversy with the earlier Ionian and Eleatic philosophies, Aristotle speaks of the archē, or ground of being, the first principles that in the…

Rationalism

(2,563 words)

Author(s): Dierken, Jörg | Brown, Robert F.
1. Term “Rationalism” and its cognates in European languages derived in the 17th century from Lat. ratio, “reckoning,” also “reason,” “plan,” or “theory”; also “the faculty that calculates and plans.” In religion the term designates standpoints based on reason that are critical of beliefs and practices relying on authority and revelation. More broadly, rationalism is any philosophical position affirming the ability of thinking, apart from sensory experience, to discover fundamental truths about the world or re…

Positivism

(2,256 words)

Author(s): Wallner, Fritz | Brown, Robert F.
1. Nature and Origins Positivism as an intellectual attitude emerged clearly in early 19th-century social theory. Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825), the founder of French socialism, was the first to use the term. Auguste Comte (1798–1857), “the founding father of modern sociology,” developed positivism into a comprehensive worldview that spread to other disciplines, in particular philosophy and natural science. The positivist outlook restricts the domain of knowledge to verifiable facts about the world (what is “posited,” from Lat. positus, something “laid down” or “set …

Nominalism

(1,423 words)

Author(s): Knuuttila, Simo | Brown, Robert F.
1. Origin and Nature of Nominalism The original use of the term “nominalism” was in the context of disputes in medieval Scholasticism about the metaphysical status of universals and about the epistemological status of universal terms and their correlative concepts. Issues raised there are perennial ones that also played a part in philosophical debates both before and after the scholastic era, though they are not always defined exactly as they were by the nominalists and their opponents. Aristotle (384–322 b.c.) in his Categories discussed how we use names or terms to speak of …

Ontology

(1,435 words)

Author(s): Pöltner, Günther | Brown, Robert F.
1 Term and Concept Ontologia is a term coined in the 1600s, from Gk. ta onta (existing things) and logos (reason, doctrine). Its first use may have been in the Lexicon philosophicum (1613), compiled by Rudolf Goclenius the Elder (1547–1628). With the meaning “doctrine of being,” some authors used the term synonymously with “metaphysics.” Others treated ontology as one branch of metaphysics, alongside the other two branches, cosmology and rational or philosophical psychology. 2. Ontology in the History of Philosophy The topic of ontology (without the name) appears early in …

Reason

(2,628 words)

Author(s): Wagner, Falk | Brown, Robert F.
1. Term and Issues The term “reason” derives from Lat. ratio. Earlier in history Gk. nous and logos expressed some of the same meanings. Reason is usually said to be an intellectual or mental ability or faculty, one distinguished from other psychological or bodily powers or activities of will, emotion, and sensation. Philosophers work with diverse concepts of reason and use the term in different ways. A number of issues arise in considering the nature, operations, and limitations of human reason. Is it a theoretical faculty, an ability to grasp the natures o…

Philosophy of Nature

(3,093 words)

Author(s): Rudolph, Enno | Brown, Robert F.
1. Term and Concept In a secular context “nature” refers to “all that there is,” all the matter and energy in the universe, all the objects and forces that can be studied by the physical sciences. A narrow and popular sense, as in “nature study,” concerns mainly the plant and animal species, as well as the geology and meteorology, of earth’s environments. Philosophy of nature in the broad sense involves theoretical consideration not only of the kinds of natural entities that exist but also their int…

Meaning

(2,351 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F. | Schwartz, Werner
Overview “Meaning” has diverse senses in everyday language and in various scientific and cultural disciplines. The context is crucial for clarification in each particular instance. In general, finding meaning concerns the ability to recognize salient features of the world and to employ that recognition as a framework of understanding or as information useful for accomplishing a specific purpose. Theories differ as to whether meaning resides primarily in thought, in a person’s linguistic expression or act, in some featur…

Sign

(3,172 words)

Author(s): Rudolph, Enno | Brown, Robert F. | Slenczka, Notger
1. Term A sign in the most general sense is something understood to stand for something else, for something other than the sign itself. To serve as a sign, it must be recognized as signifying what it stands for. People and computer programs recognize and employ signs. To determine whether other animals do too depends on what counts as a sign, and on the assessment of their cognitive and instinctual functions. There is no unanimity as to what counts as a sign or how to classify different sorts of signs. Some signs have a direct or natural connection between their characteristics or oc…

Kantianism

(1,495 words)

Author(s): Zimmerli, Walther C. | Brown, Robert F.
1. Kant’s Philosophical Achievement The thought of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) is central to modern philosophy in two respects. First, it is a definitive synthesis of rationalism and empiricism, the two main strands of early modern thought. Second, it became the basic position to which all subsequent philosophies were more or less explicitly related. Kant’s writings are customarily divided into two periods, precritical and critical. The second began in 1781 with publication of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, which lays out the basic elements of his theoretica…

Philosophy

(4,783 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F. | Nagl-Docekal, Herta
1. Introduction In the Republic of Plato (427–347 b.c.) the ideal ruler excels at philosophy, or love of wisdom (Gk. philosophia, from philein, “to love,” and sophia, “wisdom”). This love comprises knowledge of what is highest and best, as well as wisdom in living one’s life well. Its enduring symbol is the owl associated with the goddess Athena. In the popular mind authentic philosophy is wisdom in living, more so than a highest knowledge. Misconceptions and caricatures of philosophers and philosophy abound. Philosophers are held in awe yet said to be inept in every…

Epistemology

(1,972 words)

Author(s): Brown, Robert F. | Schwartz, Werner | Reichenbach, Bruce R.
1. Philosophical 1.1. Knowledge and Belief Epistemology (Gk. epistēmē, “knowledge”) concerns what counts as knowledge and how we acquire it. Formal systems (logic and mathematics) are known a priori, apart from experience. Philosophers disagree as to whether knowledge about the world is a posteriori (derived from experience) or is in some sense also a priori. Most discussion involves knowledge of propositions (expressed in language), although other kinds include tacit knowledge (without explicit awareness of it) and “knowing how,” or skill in doing something. Plato (427–347 b…
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