James Gray’s Comprehensible Philosophy Dictionary

James Gray, of the highly recommendable ethics and introductory philosophy blog Ethical Realism, is a friend of Camels With Hammers who once wrote a guest post here called “Philosophy Can Debunk Myths About Atheism”. James has recently revised his “comprehensible philosophy dictionary”, which you should bookmark as a resource and periodically read through in order to learn more technical terminology.

James explains the resource he’s put together as follows:

Philosophers have developed jargon to help communicate their ideas and develop new concepts. This dictionary is an attempt to define all of the most important philosophy terms in a way that could be understood without requiring the reader to have an extensive philosophical education. Examples are often discussed to help make the meaning of terms clear.

This dictionary was partially motivated by the fact that I believe many philosophy dictionaries to be too difficult to understand (perhaps because they require an extensive philosophical education). I have also found philosophical encyclopedia entries often difficult to understand. I recommend using philosophical encyclopedias and I would like to think these definitions could help people better understand what is being said in them. Even so, we don’t always want to read a huge encyclopedia entry to know what a philosophical term means, and this dictionary is meant to be useful as quick reference.

Although the terminology is often meant to be comprehensible in isolation, sometimes a term can be best understood in the context of other terms. They are related. For example, understanding “formal logic” can help us better understand “logical connectives.”

This list includes critical thinking concepts, and many of those should be understood by everyone to improve rational thought. Many of these concepts are important distinctions made by philosophers to help us attain nuanced thoughts. For example, David Hume introduced us to the concept of “matters of fact” and “relations of ideas.” It will often be said that a term can be contrasted with another when doing so can help us make certain distinctions.

Note that multiple definitions are often given for a term. In that case the definitions are separated by numbers and we should keep in mind that we should try not to confuse the various definitions the terms can have. For example, philosophers use the word ‘argument’ to refer to an explicit reasoning process, but non-philosophers often use the word to refer to hostile disagreement. (See “ambiguity” and “equivocation” for more information). Quite often one definition that will be given is based on ordinary language (common usage) in addition to any definitions used by philosophers.

Also keep in mind that these definitions are sensitive to the disagreement that philosophers have and is not meant to resolve any controversial disagreements. These definitions aren’t meant to tell you which concepts actually apply to reality, or which philosophical theories are true. Even so, there are some exceptions, such as when logicians have proven that a certain type of deductive argument is invalid.

The dictionary is here.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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