Philosophy Pages

    Search       Dictionary    Study Guide  Logic   F A Q s
  Traffic   History Timeline Philosophers   Locke


Branch of philosophy that studies beauty and taste, including their specific manifestations in the tragic, the comic, and the sublime. Its central issues include questions about the origin and status of aesthetic judgments: are they objective statements about genuine features of the world or purely subjective expressions of personal attitudes; should they include any reference to the intentions of artists or the reactions of patrons; and how are they related to judgments of moral value? More specifically, aesthetics considers each of these issues as they arise for various arts, including architecture, painting, sculpture, music, dance, theatre, and literature. Aesthetics is a significant component of the philosophical work of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Santayana.

Recommended Reading: A Companion to Aesthetics, ed. by David Cooper, Crispin Sartwell, and Joseph Margolis (Blackwell, 1995) {at}; The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics (Routledge, 2001) {at}; Colin Lyas, Aesthetics (UCL Press, 1997) {at}; Paul Crowther, The Transhistorical Image: Philosophizing Art and its History (Cambridge, 2002) {at}; Richard Wollheim on the Art of Painting: Art as Representation and Expression, ed. by Rob Van Gerwen (Cambridge, 2001) {at}; Aesthetics, ed. by Patrick Maynard and Susan Feagin (Oxford, 1998) {at}; Anne D. R. Sheppard, Aesthetics: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art (Oxford, 1987) {at}; Kai Hammermeister, The German Tradition in Aesthetics (Cambridge, 2002) {at}; and Classical and Romantic German Aesthetics, ed. by J. M. Bernstein (Cambridge, 2003) {at}.

Also see The American Society for Aesthetics, SEP, EB, Mary Devereaux, and ColE.

affirmative conclusion from negative premise

The formal fallacy committed in a categorical syllogism that violates a syllogistic rule by having an affirmative conclusion derived from at least one negative proposition as a premise.

Example: "All senators are eligible to vote on legislation, but no homeless people are senators, so all homeless people are eligible to vote on legislation."

The problem with any such reasoning is that the exclusion of one class from another cannot provide deductively certain grounds for the inclusion of either of these classes with another.

Also see FF and GLF.

affirmative proposition

A statement whose propositional quality is determined by its assertion that some or all members of one class of things are also included as members of some other class.

Examples: "All spaniels are dogs." and "Some children are people who play word games."

The first affirms that every spaniel also belongs to the class of dogs, while the latter affirms that there is at least one member commonly included among both children and people who play word games.

affirming the alternative

A fallacious inference having the form:

	p Ú q


	~ q

Example: "The softball team will win either Tuesday's game or Thursday's. It will win Tuesday's game. Therefore, it will not win Thursday's game."

Arguments of this form should not be confused with legitimate applications of Disjunctive Syllogism.

The logical relation of disjunction expressed by the symbol " Ú " purposefully allows for the possibility that both of its terms are true propositions. In order to exclude that possibility, one must explicitly declare that one or the other of the terms is true, but not both, using the form:

	( p Ú q ) · ~ ( p · q )

Also see FF.

affirming the consequent

A fallacy having the form:

	p É q



Example: "If Dole had been elected President in 1996, then he would no longer be a Senator. Dole is no longer a Senator. Therefore, Dole was elected President in 1996."

Arguments of this form should not be confused with a legitimate instance of Modus Ponens.

Also see FF and GLF.

a fortiori

"To the stronger," or "even more so." We are bound to accept an a fortiori claim because of our prior acceptance of a weaker application of the same reasoning or truth. Thus, for example:

Frank can't run to the store in less than five minutes, and the restaurant is several blocks further away than the store. Thus, a fortiori, Frank can't run to the restaurant in less than five minutes.


The person who performs an action. Ethical conduct is usually taken to presuppose the possibility that individual human agents are capable of acting responsibly.

Recommended Reading: Hugh J. McCann, The Works of Agency: On Human Action, Will, and Freedom (Cornell, 1998) {at}; Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and the Social Self, ed. by Catriona MacKenzie and Natalie Stoljar (Oxford, 2000) {at}; John F. Horty, Agency and Deontic Logic (Oxford, 2001) {at}; Nuel Belnap, Michael Perloff, and Ming Xu, Facing the Future: Agents and Choices in Our Indeterminist World (Oxford, 2001) {at}; and Carol A. Rovane, The Bounds of Agency (Princeton, 1997) {at}.

Also see Martha Nussbaum.


Belief that human beings do not have sufficient evidence to warrant either the affirmation or the denial of a proposition. The term is used especially in reference to our lack of knowledge of the existence of god. In this, the agnostic, who holds that we cannot know whether or not god exists, differs from the atheist, who denies that god exists.

Recommended Reading: Clarence Darrow, Why I Am an Agnostic and Other Essays (Prometheus, 1994) {at} and Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (Simon & Schuster, 1977) {at}.

Also see SEP, EB, ColE, and ISM.

Agreement, Method of

One of Mill's Methods for discovery of causal relationships. If a specific antecedent circumstance is found to be present on every occasion on which a phenomenon occurs, it may be inferred to be the cause of that phenomenon.

Example: "It snowed in October only three times during the past seventeen years, and each time was during an "El Niño" year, so the warm Pacific waters probably caused our early snows."

Recommended Reading: John Stuart Mill, System of Logic (Classworks, 1986) {at}.

aisqhsiV [aisthêsis]

Greek term for sense perception, the epistemic significance of which was vigorously debated. The Eleatics argued that mere sensation is inferior to nohsiV [nóêsis], while Empedocles and the Atomists regarded it as a vital connection with the natural world. Plato took perception to be unreliable as a source of knowledge, since it deals only with temporal objects. For Aristotle, on the other hand, aisqhsiV is a basic activity of living organisms, through which they acquire information about material things.

Recommended Reading: F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967) {at}.

Also see PP.

aition [aition]

The most general Greek term for cause or responsibility, used by Aristotle especially in reference to any one of the four kinds of answer it is legitimate to give in response to any "Why . . . ?" question.

Recommended Reading: F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967) {at}.

Also see PP.

akrasia [akrásia]

Literally, "bad mixture," the Greek term for the character flaw of incontinence or weakness of the will, the condition in which agents act inconsistently with their own best judgment about what it would be right to do. Socrates apparently held that doing good follows directly from knowing what is good, so that there can be no genuine instance of akrasia [akrásia]. Aristotle, however, believed akratic human behavior to be commonplace, and offered an extended account of its origin and consequences.

Recommended Reading: Alfred R. Mele, Irrationality: An Essay on Akrasia, Self-Deception, and Self-Control (Oxford, 1992) {at}; George Ainslie, Breakdown of Will (Cambridge, 2001) {at}; and Justin Gosling, Weakness of the Will (Routledge, 1990) {at}.

Also see Deborah Kerdeman, and PP.

Albert the Great (1206-1280)

German Dominican philosopher and Bishop of Ratisbon. Revered by his contemporaries as "doctor universalis" for the breadth of his philosophical knowledge, Albert tried to synthesize many disparate philosophical positions from the Greek, Christian, and Arabic traditions but also encouraged empirical study as a source of knowledge of the natural world. He is remembered chiefly as the teacher and colleague who encouraged Thomas Aquinas to apply Aristotelian arguments to Christian thought.

Also see Olaf Grönemann, Albert Pinto, EB, ColE, ELC, The Ecole Initiative, BIO, and MMT.

alhqeia [alêtheia]

Greek word for truth, which generally marks the distinction between doxa [dóxa] (mere belief) and episthmh [epistêmê] (genuine knowledge) in the philosophy of Plato. According to Aristotle, truth appears in our propositional judgments, whose logical structure mirrors the nature of things.

Recommended Reading: F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967) {at}.

Also see PP.

Alexander, Samuel (1859-1938)

Australian-English philosopher. Alexander defended perceptual realism as an alternative to the idealism of his contemporaries. His theory regarding the "emergent evolution" of mind within the natural order, proposed in Space, Time, and Deity (1920), was similar in many respects to the views of Henri Bergson. Alexander also developed a thorough axiology in Beauty and other Forms of Value (1933) {at}. During his tenure at Manchester, Alexander helped Zionist colleague Chaim Weizmann secure the Balfour agreement, an initial step toward creation of the modern state of Israel.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Alexander, Collected Works (Thoemmes, 2000) {at} and Samuel Alexander, Philosophical and Literary Pieces (Ayer, 1940) {at}.

Also see Steve Bayne, EB, BIO, and ColE.


Latinized name of al-Ghazàlì.


A purely mechanical procedure by means of which to determine the value of a function. Thus, in propositional logic, truth-tables provide an algorithm for deciding whether or not any well-formed formula is tautologous.

Also see EB and ColE.

alienation {Ger. Entäusserung or Entfremdung}

Extreme separation from one's own nature, from the products of one's labor, or from social reality, which often results in an indifference or outright aversion toward some aspect of life that might otherwise be attractive and significant. Hegel introduced the term, pointing out that human life, unless comprehended through the Absolute, easily becomes estranged from the natural world. Feuerbach, on the other hand, emphasized the dangerous practical consequences of an extreme detachment from one's own nature and activities. Marx carried this line of thought further, by noting that conditions in a capitalist society make it impossible for workers to live meaningfully in relation to each other, to the products of their labor, or even to themselves. Simone de Beauvoir and other feminist thinkers point out that women in a patriarchal culture undergo additional forms of alienation when they are pervasively treated as the objects of male sexual desire and effectively coerced into submitting to male-biased political, social, and intellectual norms.

Recommended Reading: Istvan Meszaros, Marx's Theory of Alienation (Merlin, 1986) {at}; Bertell Ollman, Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (Cambridge, 1977) {at}; Richard Moran, Authority and Estrangement (Princeton, 2001) {at}; and Arthur G. Neal and Sara F. Collas, Intimacy and Alienation: Forms of Estrangement in Female/Male Relationships (Garland, 2000) {at}.

Also see G. J. Mattey and EB.


Latinized name of al-Faràbi.


Logical relation holding between propositions at least one of which is true; see disjunction.

alternative occurrence

The complex event comprising the occurrence of one or the other (or both) of its constituent events. The probability of an alternative occurrence may be calculated by the formula:

	P(A Ú B) = P(A) + P(B) - P(A · B)

Thus, for example, the chances of getting "heads" at least once in two flips of a coin are equal to the chances of getting "heads" on the first toss (1/2) plus the chances of getting "heads" on the second toss (1/2) minus the chances of getting "heads" both times (1/4), or 3/4.

Recommended Reading: Richard Lowry, The Architecture of Chance: An Introduction to the Logic and Arithmetic of Probability (Oxford, 1989) {at}; Ian Hacking, An Introduction to Probability and Inductive Logic (Cambridge, 2001) {at}; and Donald Gillies, Philosophical Theories of Probability (Routledge, 2000) {at}.

Althusser, Louis (1918-1990)

Algerian-French social philosopher. In Pour Marx (For Marx) (1965) {at}, Lénin et la philosophie (Lenin and Philosophy) (1969) {at}, and Lire le Capital (Reading Capital) (1970) {at}, Althusser offered a structuralist re-interpretation of the later work of Marx. According to Althusser, social organization is determined wholly by ideological consequences expressed in economic and political power, enforced in home and family as well as in the workplace. The differential roles to which individuals are assigned in a society, he argued, are clearly signified not only by the presence of particular notions in its cultural paradigms, but even more dramatically by the absence of others. Elements d'autocritique (Essays in Self-Criticism) (1974) includes retractions from many of these central themes.

Recommended Reading: Althusser: A Critical Reader, ed. by Gregory Elliott (Blackwell, 1994) {at}.

Also see EB, ELC, Andy Blunden, EMSF, and BIO.


Belief that an agent's moral decisions should be guided by consideration for the interests and well-being of other people rather than merely by self-interest, as egoism would recommend. Evidence that human beings do sometimes act in order to benefit others for their own sake seems to count against the common psychological claim that all human action is self-serving.

Recommended Reading: Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton, 1979) {at}; Altruism, ed. by Jeffrey Paul, Ellen F. Paul, and Fred D. Miller, Jr. (Cambridge, 1993) {at}; and Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation (Penguin, 1998) {at}.

Also see SEP, EB, ColE, and ISM.


©1997-2006 Garth Kemerling.
Last modified 20 October 2006.
Questions, comments, and suggestions may be sent to: the Contact Page.