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The presence of two or more distinct meanings for a single word or expression. In itself, ambiguity is a common, harmless, and often amusing feature of ordinary language. When unnoticed in the context of otherwise careful reasoning, however, it can lead to one of several informal fallacies.

Example:"I'll give you a ring tomorrow." could signify either the promise of a gift of jewelry or merely an intention to telephone.

Note the difference between ambiguity and vagueness.

Recommended Reading: Israel Scheffler, Beyond the Letter: A Philosophical Inquiry into Ambiquity, Vagueness and Metaphor in Language (Routledge, 1981) {at} and Douglas Walton, Fallacies Arising from Ambiguity (Kluwer, 1996) {at}

Also see Kent Bach, EB, and FF.


Having no bearing on, declining to be influenced by, or making no reference to, moral values or judgments.


The informal fallacy that can result when a sentence is ambiguous because of its grammatical structure, even if all of its terms are clear.

Example: "One morning in Africa, Captain Spaulding shot an elephant in his pajamas. Therefore, it is dangerous for large animals to wear human clothing."

Also see FF and GLF.


Similarity in several respects between discrete cases. A logical argument by analogy relies upon an inductive inference from the supposition that things are similar is certain known respects to the likelihood that they are also similar in some further unknown respect.

Example: "Jennifer enjoys listening to the music of Beethoven, Mahler, and Bartok. Susan and Harold also like Beethoven, Mahler, and Bartok. Chris enjoys listening to Beethoven and Mahler. Therefore, Chris would probably like the music of Bartok, too."

The degree of reliability achieved by such an argument depends upon the extent and nature of the similarities that hold between the instances in its premises and the new case in its conclusion.

Recommended Reading: G. E. R. Lloyd, Polarity and Analogy: Two Types of Argumentation in Early Greek Thought (Hackett, 1992) {at} and Ralf M. W. Stammberger, On Analogy: An Essay Historical and Systematic (Peter Lang, 1995) {at}

Also see SEP, DPM, Keith J. Holyoak and Paul Thagard, EB, Allison Barnes and Paul Thagard, and Amélie Frost Benedikt.


Process of breaking up a complex concept or expression in order to reveal its simpler constituents, thereby elucidating it implicit meaning. The significance and value of this method is challenged by the paradox that analyses seem bound either to be inadequate or incorrect (if they propose major revisions in our understanding) or to be trivial and uninformative (if they do not).

Also see SEP and Jeffrey C. King.

analytic / synthetic

Distinction between judgments or propositions. A judgment is analytic if the concept of its predicate is already contained in that of its subject; if the concepts of its subject and predicate are independent, it is synthetic. Alternatively, a proposition is analytic if it is true merely by virtue of the meaning of its terms or tautologous; otherwise, it is synthetic. For example:

"Golden retrievers are dogs." is analytic.

"Dogs enjoy chasing squirrels." is synthetic.

Empiricists generally suppose that this distinction coincides with the a priori / a posteriori and necessary / contingent distinctions, while Kant held that synthetic a priori judgments are possible. Quine has argued that no strict distinction can be maintained, since the analyticity of any proposition can be denied, with suitable revisions of the entire system of language in which it is expressed.

Recommended Reading: Analyticity: Selected Readings, ed. by James F. Harris, Jr. and Richard H. Severens (Quadrangle, 1970); Arthur Pap, Semantics and Necessary Truth (Yale, 1958); and Willard V. Quine, From a Logical Point of View: Nine Logico-Philosophical Essays (Harvard, 1980) {at}

Also see SEP, G. J. Mattey, EB, Paul Artin Boghossian, and Stephen Palmquist,

analytic philosophy

Twentieth-century methods of philosophizing, generally characterized by the careful effort to uncover logical and philosophical suppositions concealed beneath the superficial structure of statements in ordinary uses of language, pursuit of clarity in the treatment of genuine philosophical issues, and a deep respect for the achievements of natural science. In a variety of distinct forms, philosophical analysis was practiced by Moore, Russell, Wittgenstein, the logical positivists, Ryle, Austin, Bergmann, and Quine. Greatly influential in England and America, analytic philosophy is sometimes criticized for its excessive professionalization of the discipline.

Recommended Reading: James Baillie, Contemporary Analytic Philosophy (Prentice-Hall, 1996) {at}; Michael Dummett, Origins of Analytical Philosophy (Harvard, 1996) {at}; Philosophy and Ordinary Language, ed. by Oswald Hanfling (Routledge, 2000) {at}; Geoffrey Galt Harpham, Language Alone: The Critical Fetish of Modernity (Routledge, 2002) {at}; Avrum Stroll, Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy (Columbia, 2000) {at}; Future Pasts: The Analytic Tradition in Twentieth-Century Philosophy, ed. by Juliet Floyd and Sanford Shieh (Oxford, 2001) {at}; Herbert Hochberg, Introducing Analytic Philosophy: Its Sense and Its Nonsense 1879-2002 (Hänsel-Hohenhausen, 2003) {at}; From Frege to Wittgenstein: Perspectives on Early Analytic Philosophy, ed. by Erich H. Reck (Oxford, 2002) {at}; and Bruce Wilshire, Fashionable Nihilism: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy (SUNY, 2002) {at}.

Also see The Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy, SEP, Floy E. Andrews, EB, and Jean-Michel Roy.

anamnhsiV [anámnêsis]

Greek term for recollection as a source of human knowledge. Socrates himself may have argued that recollection establishes mathematical truths independently of sensory experience {Gk. aisqhsiV [aisthêsis]}. In the mature philosophy of Plato, however, our ability to recollect the immutable form {Gk. eidos [eidos]} is taken to provide direct evidence of the pre-existence of the human soul {Gk. yuch [psychê]}.

Recommended Reading: Dominic Scott, Recollection and Experience: Plato's Theory of Learning and Its Successors (Cambridge, 1995) {at} and F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967) {at}.

Also see EB and PP.

anagkh [anankê]

Greek word for the logical or causal necessity of anything cannot be otherwise than as it is. According to Aristotle, for example, the efficient cause of a thing produces its effect and the conclusion of a valid syllogism produces its conclusion with anagkh.

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

Also see EB and PP.


Belief that an ideal human society should have no organized government. This belief is often accompanied by a practical disregard for the authority of existing governments and by a proposal for abolishing them. Although they sometimes offer good reasons for doubting whether individual citizens are generally obliged to obey the state, anarchists naturally tend not to develop clear conceptions of how a stateless society might function. Prominent modern anarchists include Godwin, Proudhon, and Bakunin.

Recommended Reading: Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread (Black Rose, 1989) {at}; Todd May, The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism (Penn. State, 1994) {at}; Michael Taylor, Community, Anarchy and Liberty (Cambridge, 1983) {at}; and Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism (California, 1998) {at}.

Also see Christopher Joseph Roberson, Peter Kropotkin, ISM, IEP, EB, and ColE.

Anaxagoras of Clazomenae (500-428 BCE)

Presocratic philosopher who taught Pericles and Euripides at Athens, leaving fragments of his philosophical work. Despite his rejection of a fundamental distinction between appearance and reality and adoption of an atomistic natural philosophy, Anaxagoras was the first philosopher in the Western tradition to draw a substantial distinction between inert and chaotic matter on the one hand and mind as an active principle and source of order on the other hand. This view had a significant influence on the philosophy of Plato.

Recommended Reading: Malcolm Schofield, An Essay on Anaxagoras (Cambridge, 1980) {at}.

Also see John Burnet, IEP, S. Marc Cohen, EB, Charles Ess, ColE, ELC, WSB, BIO, and MMT.

Anaximander (611-547 BCE)

Presocratic philosopher. According to fragmentary reports from other philosophers, Anaximander speculated that all matter results from the distillation of hot, cold, dry, and wet elements from apeirwn [apeirôn] (the Boundless), an infinite, intelligent, living whole. Examination of fossil evidence persuaded Anaximander that living beings develop from simpler to more complex forms over time.

Recommended Reading: Charles H. Kahn, Anaximander and the Origins of Greek Cosmology (Hackett, 1994) {at} and Paul Seligman, The Apeiron of Anaximander; A Study in the Origin and Function of Metaphysical Ideas (Greenwood, 1974) {at}.

Also see John Burnet, S. Marc Cohen, ColE, Charles Ess, IEP, ELC, EB, BIO, and WSB.

Anaximenes (c. 550 BCE)

Presocratic philosopher. In fragmentary reports from other philosophers, Anaximenes is said to hold that condensation and evaporation of vapor or mist produces the physical world of earth, water, and fire.

Also see John Burnet, S. Marc Cohen, Charles Ess, IEP, EB, ColE, BIO, ELC, and WSB.


Any relation that holds between two things in virtue of some other relation in which they stand either directly or through intermediaries. Thus, in the eponymous example, "ancestor" is the ancestral of "parent": Alan is an ancestor of Diane provided that either Alan is a parent of Diane, or Alan is a parent of someone who is a parent of Diane, or Alan is a parent of someone else who is a parent of someone who . . ., etc. Frege's method for defining such mathematical ancestrals as "the successor of" and "less than" was a vital step in the logicization of arithmetic

Recommended Reading:

Also see Kenneth G. Lucey.

andreia [andreia]

The Greek term for bravery or courage (from andreios [andreios] — "manly" or "stubborn.") According to Plato, this is the virtue properly exemplified by soldiers in the ideal state.

Recommended Reading: Walter T. Schmid, On Manly Courage: A Study of Plato's Laches (Southern Illinois, 1992) {at}.

Also see Plato's Cratylus, PP.


German word for the anxiety or anguish produced by an acute awareness of the implications of human freedom. An important notion for existentialist philosophers, including especially Kierkegaard and Heidegger.

Recommended Reading: Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. by Joan Stambaugh (SUNY 1997) {at}; Soren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety, ed. by Albert B. Anderson (Princeton, 1981) {at}; and James Leonard Park, Existential Anxiety: Angst (Existential Books, 1996) {at}.

Also see G. J. Mattey.


Latin term for wind, breath, life. Thus, for Descartes and other philosophers, the rational soul of any human being.

Also see PP.


Many philosophers of the Western tradition have considered the relationship between human beings and other species of animals. Although some have been impressed with the obvious similarities in organic structure and behavior, most have tried to draw a clear distinction between the two. Only recently have a few taken seriously the extent of our moral obligations to fellow sentient beings.

Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas all supposed that the ability to reason makes human souls uniquely superior to those of all other beings. Descartes regarded it as a consequence of mind-body dualism that non-human animals are mere machines incapable of thought of any sort. But Locke, Étienne de Condillac, and Bayle noticed that many of the capacities and activities exhibited by animals are similar to those of human beings, and La Mettrie argued that purely mechanistic explanations could be given for both human and animal behavior.

Recommended Reading: Leonora Cohen Rosenfield, From Beast-Machine to Man-Machine: Animal Soul in French Letters from Descartes to La Mettrie (New York, 1941) {at} and Marc D. Hauser, Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think (Holt, 2000) {at}.

Also see Colin Allen, Roger Fellows, SEP, EB, and ColE.

animal rights

The ontological status accorded to non-human animals has obvious consequences for the morality of our willingness to use them for our own purposes. Kant argued that animals do not qualify as members of the kingdom of ends among whom morality properly holds, while Bentham supposed that the evident pleasure and pain experienced by animals deserve to be included in any utilitarian calculation. More recently, Mary Midgley makes concern for animals central to moral philosophy, Peter Singer shows that mistreatment of animals is the result of a morally indefensible 'speciesism,' and Tom Regan argues that animals are entitled to basic rights.

Recommended Reading: Mary Midgley, Animals and Why They Matter (Georgia, 1998) {at}; Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (California, 1985) {at}; Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (Avon, 1991) {at}; RJane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton, 2001) {at}; Paola Cavalieri, The Animal Question: Why Non-Human Animals Deserve Human Rights, tr. by Catherine Woolard (Oxford, 2001) {at}; Dale Jamieson, Morality's Progress (Oxford, 2002) {at}; Richard Alan Young and Carol J. Adams, Is God a Vegetarian? Christianity, Vegetarianism, and Animal Rights (Open Court, 1998) {at}; and Michael P. T. Leahy, Against Liberation: Putting Animals in Perspective (Routledge, 1994) {at}.

Also see the Animal Rights Resource Site, IEP, Ethics Updates, SEP, Hugh LaFollette, EB, LaFollette and Shanks, and ColE.


Belief that everything in the universe (or the universe itself) has some kind of soul or is a living being.

Recommended Reading: Edward Clodd, Animism: The Seed of Religion (Holmes, 1993) {at}.

Also see ColE, ISM.

anomalous monism

The philosophy of mind according to which mental predicates are irreducibly alternative descriptions of physical events. According to Donald Davidson, for example, mental properties supervene upon physical events, but there are no psychophysical laws of nature by means of which we could predict the mental from a scientific study of the physical. Such a position is sometimes supposed to have been anticipated in the philosophy of Spinoza.

Recommended Reading: Donald Davidson, Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective (Oxford, 2002) {at}; Donald Davidson, Essays on Actions and Events (1980) {at}.

Also see DPM.

Anscombe, G. E. M. (Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret) (1919-2001)

English philosopher who edited and translated much of the work of Wittgenstein after his death. She has also written extensively on human action and ethics, most notably in Intentions (1957) {at} and her Collected Papers (1981) {at}.

Recommended Reading: Logic, Cause and Action: Essays in Honour of Elizabeth Anscombe, ed. by G. E. M. Anscombe and Roger Teichmann (Cambridge, 2000) {at}.

Also see ELC and The Window.

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

British Benedictine theologian who devised the Ontological Argument for the existence of god.

For a discussion of his life and works, see Anselm.


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Last modified 21 October 2006.
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