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Philosophy: The Basics
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This is a brief glossary of some of the general philosophical terms and basic concepts used in philosophy to explain other concepts and doctrines, and which do not have a page of their own in this website. It is not an exhaustive alphabetical listing of the schools, doctrines, branches and concepts themselves.

  • Agency: the capacity for humans to make choices and to impose those choices on the world.
  • A posteriori: where knowledge is possible only subsequent, or posterior, to certain sense experiences, in addition to the use of reason (empirical).
  • A priori: where knowledge is possible independently of, or prior to, any experience, and requires only the use of reason (non-empirical).
  • Axiom: a proposition that is not proved or demonstrated but considered to be self-evident and taken for granted.
  • Causality: the law that states that each cause has a specific effect, and that this effect is dependent on the initial identities of the agents involved.
  • Consciousness: the faculty which perceives and identifies things that exist, and the relationship between oneself and one's environment.
  • Contingency: the status of facts that are not logically necessarily true or false (the possibility of something happening or not happening).
  • Deductive Reasoning: reasoning that proceeds from general principles or premises to derive particular information (what follows necessarily from given premises).
  • Dialectic: the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments, respectively advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses), in arriving at a conclusion (synthesis).
  • Emergence: the way complex systems and patterns arise (emerge) out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.
  • Entity: something that has a distinct and separate existence, although not necessarily a material existence.
  • Essence: the attributes that make an object or substance what it fundamentally is, and that it has necessarily.
  • Existence: the state or fact of existing or being (the continuance in being or life).
  • Fallacy: any sort of mistake in reasoning or inference (essentially, anything that causes an argument to go wrong).
  • Formal Language: an organized set of symbols which can be precisely defined in terms of just the shapes and locations of those symbols, without any reference to any meanings or interpretations.
  • Forms (Platonic Forms): the universal concepts or ideas which make all of the phenomenal world intelligible (the essences of objects, rather than their physical forms or appearances).
  • Freehought: the general philosophical viewpoint that holds that beliefs should be formed on the basis of science and logic, and should not be influenced by emotion, authority, tradition, or dogma.
  • Free Will: the capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives.
  • Hermeneutics: the study of theories of the interpretation and understanding of texts (often the Bible).
  • Hylomorphism: the theory which conceptually identifies substance as matter and form, such that substances are conceived as forms inhering in matter.
  • Identity: whatever makes an entity definable and recognizable, in terms of possessing a set of qualities or characteristics that distinguish it from entities of a different type (essentially, whatever makes something the same or different).
  • Inductive Reasoning: reasoning that proceeds from particular information to derive general principles (arriving at a reliable generalization from observations).
  • Infinite Regress: a causal relationship transmitted through an indefinite number of terms in a series, with no term that begins the causal chain (going back through a chain forever).
  • Instantiation: the representation of an idea in the form of an instance or example of it.
  • Law of Non-Contradiction: the basic law of logic which states that it is not possible for something to be and not be at the same time.
  • Monad: an unextended, indivisible and indestructible entity that is the basic constituent of physical reality.
  • Natural Language: a language that is spoken, written, or signed by humans for general-purpose communication (ordinary language as opposed to formal or constructed languages).
  • Normative: indicative of how things should or ought to be (as opposed to positive or descriptive).
  • Noumenon: the intellectual conception of a thing as it is in itself, not as it is known through perception (c.f. Phenomenon).
  • Object: a thing, an entity or a being, that can have properties and bear relations to other objects. They are usually types of particulars, but there can also be abstract objects.
  • Ontology: the study of conceptions of reality, existence and the nature of being.
  • Paradox: a statement or sentiment that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense, and yet is perhaps true in fact, or a statement that is actually self-contradictory (and therefore false) even though it appears true.
  • Particular: a concrete individual object which cannot be copied without introducing new distinct particulars.
  • Phenomenon: a thing as it appears to be, as constructed by the mind and perceived by the senses (c.f. Noumenon).
  • Predicate: that which is affirmed or denied concerning the subject of a proposition (i.e. how we describe the subject of a proposition). The predicate is one of the two main constituents of a sentence (the other being the subject), containing the verb and its complements.
  • Premise: one of the propositions in a deductive argument. Essentially, it is a claim that is a reason for, or objection against, some other claim.
  • Property: an attribute or abstraction characterizing an object, but distinct from the object which possesses it.
  • Proposition: the content or meaning of an assertion or declarative sentence, which is capable of being either true or false.
  • Qualia: properties of sensory experiences, or the nebulous concept of "the way things seem to us".
  • Scientific Method: the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
  • Social Contract: that idea people give up some rights to a government and/or other authority in forming nations in order to jointly preserve or maintain social order and security.
  • Society: a collection or grouping of individuals with some shared interactions and common interests.
  • Substance: the unchanging essence of a thing, that exists by itself, and which has attributes and modes which, however, may change.
  • Syllogism: a logical argument in which one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises) of a certain form.
  • Tabula Rasa: the idea that individual human beings are born with no innate mental content, but their knowledge is built up gradually from their experiences and sensory perceptions of the outside world (literally, "blank slate").
  • Teleology: the belief that events occur with a natural purpose or design, or in order to achieve some specific goal.
  • Theodicy: an attempt to reconcile the existence of evil or suffering in the world with the belief in an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God.
  • Theology: the study of the nature of God and religious truth, which seeks to justify or support religious claims.
  • Theorem: a statement which has been proven to be true by a rigorous argument.
  • Universal: a property of an object, which can exist in more than one place at the same time (e.g. the quality of "redness").
  • Virtue: the moral excellence of a person, or any trait valued as being good.
  • Zeitgeist: the intellectual and cultural climate of an era (literally, "the spirit of the age").
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