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HarperCollins Dictionary of Philosophy

HarperCollins Dictionary of Philosophy

by Peter Adam Angeles
The student of philosophy often feels bewildered by the vast terminology of the subject. HarperCollins Dictionary of Philosophy helps lessen the confusion by providing a single source of clear and understandable definitions of philosophic terms. Emphasis is on the areas most commonly covered in introductory philosophy courses: epistemology, metaphysics,


The student of philosophy often feels bewildered by the vast terminology of the subject. HarperCollins Dictionary of Philosophy helps lessen the confusion by providing a single source of clear and understandable definitions of philosophic terms. Emphasis is on the areas most commonly covered in introductory philosophy courses: epistemology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics and the philosophies of religion and politics.

Author Biography: Peter A. Angeles received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University, New York.  He has taught philosophy at the University of Western Ontario, Canada; Albert Schweitzer College, Switzerland; the University of California at Santa Barbara; and in Arizona taught at Northern Arizona University, Yavapai College, Mesa College, Scottsdale College, and the University of Phoenix.  He is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Santa Barbara City College, where he taught and was Chairperson of the Department of Philosophy from 1970 to his early retirement in 1990.  He is the author of an Introduction to Sentential Logic; the Possible Dream: Toward Understanding the Black Experience; The Problem of God and Critiques of God (ed.); Dictionary of Christian Theology; When Blind eyes Pierce the Darkness; and numerous articles in scholarly journals.

He is currently living in Santa Barbara, California and writing a Dictionary of World Religions and a Dictionary of Philosophic Concepts for College Students and another series of 52 half-hour weekly children's stories for his radio show The Children's Story Time; and is writing and producing more of his one-act plays.

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Abelard, Peter (1079-1142) French medieval dialectician, logician, theologian; born near Nantes; lived in Brittany, where he was a monk at the Abbey of St. Denis; taught at Paris. (He is remembered popularly for his love affair with the beautiful and talented Heloise.) His principal works include On the Divine Unity and Trinity, which was denounced and burned at the Eccesiastical Council at Soissons in 1121; and Sic et Non, on dialectic, debate, and apologetics.

absolute (from Latin, absolutus; ab, from, away + solvere, loosen, free) 1. free from limitations, qualification, or restrictions (absolute being, absolute beauty, absolute good, absolute authority). 2. independent and not relative (absolute space, absolute time). 3. free from variability, change, error (That is the absolute truth.) 4. certain and true without reservation (Matter is physical.) 5. not arbitrary or relative but (a) as in aesthetics, objectively real and applicable; (Proportionality, symmetry, harmony, consistency, suggestibility, economy of attention, unity in variety, and richness of imagination are a few of the absolute standards by which a work of art is judged.); or (b) as in ethics, completely and universally binding ("It is an absolute duty.") 6. in metaphysics, absolute is used with concepts such as completeness, totality, all-inclusiveness, perfection, independence, objective reality; that which is underived, unconditioned, uncaused, unchanging, unwavering, pure, positive, simple, universal.

absolute, the 1. the ultimate, underlying reality, world ground, or cosmic principle that is theorigin of existence and all its activity, unity, and variety (see entries under logos). 2. that being which depends on nothing else for its existence and activity, but (a) upon which all other things depend for their existence and activity and (b) to which they can ultimately be reduced. See necessary being (theology). 3. the all-inclusive, perfectly interrelated organic and thinking whole (reality, being) that is in the process of actualizing and fulfilling all finite, transient existence. See entries under idealism, absolute. 4. reality (being, substance) as it is in itself in contrast to its appearance to us. See entries under noumenon.

The absolute in all the above senses is regarded as one, perfect, eternal, uncaused, complete, all-embracing, infinite--actualized thought (spirit, ego) engaging in the multifarious activities of a finite and imperfect universe. The concept of the absolute is found in varieties of idealism. The absolute is not directly given to us in the world of phenomena or appearances and is often believed to be unknowable in any complete sense.

absolutism 1. the view that truth (value, reality) is objectively real, final, and eternal. 2. the belief that there is only one unchanging and correct objective explanation of reality. Contrast with entries under relativism and subjectivism. 3. in political theory, the demand for unquestioning allegiance to a ruler or ruling class.

abstraction (from Latin, ab(s), from, away + trahere, draw, hence "draw away from") 1. that which is regarded apart from reference to any particular object or event and which represents symbolically, conceptually, or imaginatively something not directly or concretely perceivable in experience. Examples: the abstraction (abstract concept) of redness, justice, humanity. 2. the end product of a process (of abstracting) by which a quality, a relation, or some feature of a whole (class) is separated as an idea from that whole. 3. in traditional logic, the universal derived from an examination of what is common to a number of particular things. Abstraction is also the process of deriving a universal. Example: Deriving the universal human from an examination of particular instances of women and men.

abstractionism see hypostatization, reification/reism.

absurd (from Latin, absurdus, harsh-sounding) 1. contrary to reason, to the rules of logic, to what is obvious to common sense and to the truth. 2. in existentialist philosophies, absurd refers to life's meaninglessness, inconsistency, and lack of structure. 3. nonsense, that which does not make sense or have meaning, and hence is not understandable. An example of an absurd statement is, "The time colored itself ready, and slept always awake." See category mistake.

accident (from Latin, accidere, happen; from ad, down, to + cadere, fall) 1. an event that occurs without intention, foresight, necessity, or expectation, and need not have occurred at all. 2. that which interferes with (or assists in) a process without itself being necessary or integral to that process.

accidental attribute sometimes also referred to as accidental property, characteristic, quality, or predicate. 1. an attribute not definitely excluded by the essence of a thing that may or may not be possessed by that thing during its existence. Example: Having measles is an accidental attribute that may or may not be possessed by an individual. 2. a quality (characteristic, feature, property) of a thing that (a) is not essential to the true nature of the thing, (b) is not needed by the thing in order to be what it is, and (c) cannot be inferred from the essential nature of that thing. Example: the redness of an apple. 3. an incidental quality of a thing that is not essential or necessary for its inclusion as a member of a particular class. Example: Having black skin is an accidental attribute that cannot be used to include or exclude a person from membership in the class Homo sapiens. 4. the characteristic of a thing that can be removed or abstracted away without altering the essential and necessary defining characteristics of the thing. Example: Hearing is an important but accidental attribute to humanness. 5. a quality that is not self-sufficient but needs a persistent something or ground (a substance, an existent, matter) in order to exist. Examples: the spatial dimension of extension; a relation; order; position.

Compare with entries under attribute, quality, predicate, property.

accidentalism 1. the theory that some or all events do not have to happen as they do. 2. the theory that all events are caused, but (a) some cannot be predicted, and (b) some are inherently unpredictable. Compare with casualism, tychism. Occasionally used incorrectly as a synonym for indeterminism. Opposite to necessitarianism.

Achilles and the tortoise argument see zeno's paradoxes.

act/action (from Latin, actum, a thing done, from agere, drive, do) 1. that operation, function, or activity which has been done or is being done. Examples: counting, jumping, thinking, willing, bribing. 2. the exertion of energy resulting in a deed, performance, behavior, or event. Examples: slapping someone, hiding, painting, making a face. 3. the effect produced in something. Example: blinding a person. 4. a physical, bodily change or motion preceded by a personal act of will. 5. A physical act or action is an operation or activity that results in some other physical change. Example: "The action of the moon upon the oceans causes tidal waves."

See voluntary action.

act, pure see pure act.

activism (from Latin, actum, a thing done) 1. the belief that action, as opposed to intellectual theorizing, is the way to truth and constructive social change. 2. in metaphysics, the theory that activity (process, change, action) is the essential and necessary feature of reality.

acts, speech see speech acts.

actuality 1. the domain of factual events. 2. existence, reality. 3. any state of existence that can be brought about by another state of existence. 4. the having become something of a definite sort. Opposite to potency. 5. the achievement of the full potentiality of a thing. See actualization. Compare with energia.

actualization 1. the process of manifesting in reality the potential that is inherent in a thing. 2. the state of completed realization in time of all the latent potential that is inherent in the nature of a thing. 3. that which has achieved an (embodied) form. Actualization in this sense is in contrast with potential/potentiality, that which has the possibility of achieving its (embodied) form. Example: a completed oak tree in contrast with the entelecheia of the acorn. 4. in metaphysics and theology, the Absolute or God is thought to be completed, perfect, pure actualizations--pure actuality--since both manifest themselves completely, perfectly, and eternally in pure form, thus containing no potential that has to be realized.

See entries under entelechy.

ad hominem argument see fallacy, types of informal (3).

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