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(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…


(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…


(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…


(2,971 words)

Author(s): Bucher, Anton A. | Brown, Robert F. | Rudolph, Enno | Bürki, Bruno
1. Term “Symbol” (Gk. symbolon, Lat. symbolum) is a broad term with various senses and applications. Symbols are like signs in that they represent, or refer to, something that is other, or more, than themselves. The category of symbols is usually said to overlap that of signs. Some interpreters use the two terms almost interchangeably; others treat symbols as special kinds of signs with characteristics of their own. Still others seek to distinguish clearly between the two (Sign 1). Symbols and signs point beyond themselves. The conventional kind of sign usually has a singl…


(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…


(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…


(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…


(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 …


(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…


(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…


(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.…


(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 philo…


(2,628 words)

Author(s): Wagner, Falk | Brown, Robert F.
1. Term and Issues The term “reason” deriv…


(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 providenc…


(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 order of things precede physical nature and determine both what it is and that it is. Aristotle begins his inquiries in the Physics and related writings with nature as such, but then proceeds in the Metaphysics to what is, in the order of being, prior to nature—that on which nature depends, the principles underlying…

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 interconnections and functions or ways of acting, expressed in terms of general laws. It is not science as such but a more general understanding of the world as science depicts it and of the scientific methods used in doing so. Philosophy of nature will therefore be part of any systematic philosophy or comprehe…

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 side or the other of the relation and make that side the determining feature of philosophical reflection. They also raise the issue of whether, or how, subject and object exist independently, apart from standing in the subject-object relation. 2. Subjectivism versus Objectivism Subject and object are basic elements in systems of epistemology, as well as of metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and other branches of philosophy. Subjectivism in epistemology reduces the truth of our judgments or convictions to the subjective certainty with which we hold or affirm them. Objectivism, in contrast, regards their truth as a function of circumstances that exist unconnected to our subjective expe…


(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 …

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…
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