James Gray’s Comprehensible Philosophy Dictionary

James Gray’s Comprehensible Philosophy Dictionary October 19, 2013

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.

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