Philosophical Terms and Concepts

Philosphers tend to use terms in more precise ways than they are used in casual conversation. This is an attempt to define or discuss the use of terms in philosophical discussions.

Abduction: The process of arriving at an explanatory hypothesis. Often characterized by the phrase "inference to the best explanation" based on the data available.

Affirm the consequent: a formal fallacy of taking a true conditional statement (e.g., "If the lamp were broken, then the room would be dark,") and invalidly inferring its converse ("The room is dark, so the lamp is broken,") even though the converse may not be true. Wiki.


  • Ethos - the audience's perception of the character and credibility of the rhetor.
  • Pathos - the feeling, emotion and passion that is woven into or generated by persuasive discourse.
  • Logos - argumentative content

Category error: Error in which things of one kind are presented as if they belonged to another. One classic example is Hume's "is to ought" dilemma.

Begging the question: "To beg a question means to assume the conclusion of an argument-a type of circular reasoning. This is an informal fallacy, in which an arguer includes the conclusion to be proven within a premise of the argument, often in an indirect way such that its presence within the premise is hidden or at least not easily apparent." from Wiki. Another quote from that article "The fallacy of petitio principii, or "begging the question" is committed when someone attempts to prove a proposition based on a premise that itself requires proof." Another way of putting it is that one "begs the question" when he makes a proposition and then gives as a reason for it the very same proposition stated in a different way.

Deduction: The process of showing that a conclusion necessarily follows from a set of premises or hypotheses. A deductive argument is valid if the conclusion does follow necessarily from the premises, i.e., if the conclusion must be true provided that the premises are true.

Induction: Drawing a conclusion based on premises or evidence that suggest the conclusion but do not ensure it. Embodied in the phrase "educated guess".

Epistemology: The branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge.The subdiscipline of philosophy concerned with the basis of knowledge and questions about 'how we know what we know'.

Evidentialism: To be rational, a belief must be supported by sufficient evidence. The problem is that the supporting evidence itself requires evidence, so that this becomes and unending series.

Evidentialist objection: "Belief in God is not supported by sufficient evidence and therefore is not rational."

Infinite regress: Responding to each articulation of a cause with "But what caused that?" Lennox statement on pg 186 of God's Undertaker: "Logically, chains of cause and effect either go back eternally in an infinite regression, or there is a point where we stop at an ultimate reality."

Logical Positivism: See also Scientific Determinism. This idea - that the only meaningful (and non-tautological) statements are those capable of being verified by sense experience - is actually a venerable philosophical theory known as 'logical positivism'. It claims that what cannot be verified by science has no reality, and implies that in studying the material universe science actually encompasses all legitimate knowledge. Logical positivism was the philosophical flavor of the day in the 1920s and 1930s and was popularized by A. J. Ayer in his book Language, truth and logic (1936). But Alfred Ayer himself, writing fifty years later, declared: 'Logical positivism died a long time ago. I don't think much of Language, truth and logic is true .. it is full of mistakes' . In spite of this, many philosophers recognize in the 'new atheism' of writers like Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Stenger and Wolpert a reincarnation of this discredited school of thought - and do so with grave concern."

Magisterium: Teaching authority.

Metaphysics: the discipline of philosophy that addresses the fundamental nature of reality.

  • Ontology: A sub-disipline of metaphysics. From the Greek meaning the study of that which is. The philosophical study of the nature of being, existence of reality, and basic categories of being and their relations.

Noetic effects of sin: The noetic effects of sin are the ways that sin negatively affects and undermines the human mind and intellect. Moroney argues that sin's noetic effects are most prominent in our knowledge of God (our "sense of divinity") and less prominent in other domains.

"The Fall brought about the perversion of human faculties, but it did not destroy those faculties. Human reasoning abilities are affected but not eliminated. This can be seen in the fact that the writers of Scripture often appeal to the minds of unbelievers by citing evidence on behalf of their claims, using logical inferences in building their case and speaking in the language and thought forms of those outside the faith." (J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian worldview, ch. 1) Source Theopedia

Ontology: From the Greek meaning the study of that which is. The philosophical study of the nature of being, existence of reality, and basic categories of being and their relations.

Paleontology: The study of fossils.

Presuppositionalism: a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews.

Reductionism: Breaking something into its constituent parts and explaining the parts.

  • Methodological reductionism: splitting a problem into separate parts or aspects, reducing it to simpler components that are individually easier to investigate.
  • Epistemological reductionism: view that higher level phenomena can be explained by processes at a lower level. "Bottom up" explanations. Discussion p53ff of Lennox, "God's Undertaker".
  • Ontological reductionism: a form of reductionism which dismisses higher level phenomena as "nothing but", "solely" or "simply" some collection of lower phenomena. Lennox on pf55 of God's Undertaker invokes statements by Dawkins and Crick to characterize this kind of reductionism.

Scientific determinism: See also Logical Positivism and Scientific determinism: since every event in nature has a cause or causes that account for its occurrence, and since human beings exist in nature, human acts and choices are as determined as anything else in the world.

Solipsism: the idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist. The term comes from Latin solus (alone) and ipse (self). Solipsism is an epistemological or ontological position that knowledge of anything outside one's own specific mind is unjustified. The external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist.

Sophistry: The use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intent to deceive. Wiki "In Ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching arete - excellence, or virtue - predominantly to young statesmen and nobility. The practice of charging money for education (and providing wisdom only to those who can pay) led to the condemnations made by Plato (through Socrates in his dialogues). Plato regarded their profession itself as being 'specious' or 'deceptive', hence the modern meaning of the term."

Syllogism: 1 : a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion (as in "every virtue is laudable; kindness is a virtue; therefore kindness is laudable") 2 : a subtle, specious, or crafty argument. 3 : deductive reasoning. An instance of a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is drawn (whether validly or not) from two given or assumed propositions (premises), each of which shares a term with the conclusion, and shares a common or middle term not present in the conclusion (e.g., all dogs are animals; all animals have four legs; therefore all dogs have four legs ). A false syllogism is one in which the conclusion is invalid because it is hidden somewhere in the premises.

Tautology:A statement that seems to impart new information but actually repeats what is already known. For example: 'This cat was extraordinarily feline', meaning 'this cat was unusually cat-like'.

Teleology: A philosophical account that holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are also inherent in the rest of nature.

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