Glossary (of philosophy terms etc.)

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a fortiori

With (even) more reason or greater force. “If this billionaire cannot afford it, then a fortiori poor Bill cannot afford it.”


agency theory

The view that we have free will, that indeterminism is true with respect to our actions such that we can choose among genuine alternatives, and that free will is an act of agent-causation whereby an agent (person, self) causes effects.


analytic statement
An analytic statement is a statement that is true by virtue of what it means such that a self-contradiction is present in the meaning of its denial, e.g. It is not the case that Sam is a married bachelor is an analytic truth because the meaning of its denial (Sam is a married bachelor) contains a self-contradiction (bachelors are by definition unmarried). In contrast, a synthetic statement is a statement that is not analytic, i.e. its denial isn’t self-contradictory. “Abraham Lincoln had a beard” is an example of a synthetic statement.


Anselmian
Of or relating to St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). One of the things Anselm is famous for is his idea that God is the greatest conceivable being. Theists like Anselm believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, thus giving a hint about why one might consider God as the greatest conceivable being. So an Anselmian God is one that is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good, and one that is the greatest conceivable being. Anselm also believed that God is a metaphysically necessary being.


a priori

An a priori proposition is a proposition that one can be justified in believing solely by non-sensory intuition (such as reason), in the philosophical sense of intuition. For example, “2 + 2 = 4” and “All bachelors are unmarried” are a priori truths; one can be justified in believing them by reason alone. Many believe that “There is something morally bad about knowingly torturing innocent sentient life just for fun” is something known via a priori intuition.

Compare a posteriori.


a posteriori

In contrast with an a priori truth, an a posteriori proposition is such that the justification for accepting it necessarily requires (at least in part) sense experience. “Smith has brown hair” and “The earth is older than a thousand years” are examples of a posteriori statements.

Compare a priori.


basic belief

One having a basic belief means she believes it but not on the evidence of other beliefs. How could that work? Some think that one could accept a basic belief on the basis of intuition (understood in the philosophical sense of the term) like sense experience, e.g. a person bases her belief that “Whether my experience is a hallucination or otherwise, I am having the experience of seeing something that appears to be red” on the basis of actually having the experience so described. In this example, one accepts a belief on the evidence of her senses. Another example: we just seem to mentally “see” that two plus two equals four. Even if other beliefs are involved in believing that two plus two equals four (perhaps the belief in the number one is needed to learn about the number two), one doesn’t necessarily believe two plus two equals four on the evidential basis of those beliefs; rather one uses her mathematical intuition to see this mathematical truth.

See also properly basic belief.


brute fact

A fact that has no further explanation for why it is true. Whereas a theist might think the explanation for the universe’s existence is God (God being the external cause of the universe), an atheist might think the universe’s existence is a brute fact, and thus that there is no explanation for the universe’s existence.

See also principle of sufficient reason.


category mistake

A category mistake (or category error) is the mistake of ascribing a property to something it can’t (or at least doesn’t) have because that thing isn’t of the right category. For example, attributing weight to the number six, when the number six isn’t of the right category of things to have weight; the number six has been wrongly categorized. Philosopher Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) gives the following example: a foreign tourist is shown the various buildings of Oxford University but then asks where the university is, because he erroneously categorized the university as a building.


ceteris paribus

If all other relevant factors are held constant, as in “Ceteris paribus, the simplest explanation is the best one” and “Substantially increasing the price of chocolate will, ceteris paribus, result in less chocolate being sold.”


conceivable

the view that free will and determinism are compatible. This view is also known as soft determinism.


conceivable

There are several varieties of what it means to be conceivable. One variety of conceivability says that a proposition is conceivable if and only if its falsehood is not an analytic truth. Another variety of conceivability is that a proposition is conceivable if and only if its truth cannot be ruled out on a priori grounds.


conditional ought

See ought, conditional and unconditional.


contingent

A thing is contingent if it could exist and it could have failed to exist. For example, the Earth’s existence is contingent. It exists but it could have failed to exist (indeed, at one point the Earth didn’t exist). Put another way, a thing’s existence is contingent if there is some possible world where it exists and some possible world where it doesn’t exist. Similarly, a contingent truth is something that is true in some possible world and false in some possible world.


consciousness

The state of being characterized by sensation, perception, awareness etc. such that an entity possessing any of these characteristics has consciousness.


deductively invalid

See invalid.


deductively valid

See valid.


deductive argument

An argument that is intended to be deductively valid.


determinism

The belief that effects are determined by prior causes. By initial conditionals determining a result it is meant that the result couldn’t have been otherwise given the initial conditions, and thus that the initial conditions will always yield the same outcome. With respect to human behavior, determinism says we do not have the ability to choose among genuine alternatives, and that given the conditions we now have, only one outcome is possible.


disjunctive syllogism

Disjunctive syllogism is a rule of logic that takes either of the following two forms:

  1. P or Q
  2. not-Q
  3. Therefore, P.
  1. P or Q
  2. not-P
  3. Therefore, Q.

An example:

  1. Sam is a boy or a girl.
  2. Sam is not a girl.
  3. Therefore, Sam is a boy.

Not to be confused with hypothetical syllogism.


error theory

Error theory is a form of moral nihilism (the view that moral properties like moral wrongness do not exist) and is the idea that moral statements like “cruelty is morally bad” do make truth claims but that they are untrue. Error theory comes in two varieties. One is that while moral statements are untrue they are not strictly false. To illustrate, if one believes Smith never beat his wife she might think that the statement “Smith has not stopped beating his wife” isn’t strictly false, although it is untrue. An error theorist could view “torturing infants just for fun is morally wrong” in the same sort of way. Another variety of error theory is that moral statements are in fact false. An error theorist could reason this way: statements of the form “X has the property of moral wrongness” are untrue because there is no such property as moral wrongness, thus it is false that X has that property, thus “X has the property of moral wrongness” is false.


explanandum (pl. explananda)

The thing to be explained, as in “What is the correct explanation of the explanandum?”

Confer explanans.


explanans (pl. explanantia)

Explanation, as in “What is the correct explanans of the data?

Confer explanandum.


explanatory scope

Explanatory scope refers to how many things a theory explains. A theory has more explanatory scope than another if it explains more things.

Compare explanatory power.


explanatory power

Explanatory power refers to an explanation making the explained data probable. A explanation having more explanatory power than another means it makes the data more probable (e.g. given our background knowledge that doesn’t include data D, it’s more likely that we’d see data D on explanation #1 than on explanation #2).

Compare explanatory scope.


false dilemma

A false dilemma is the fallacy of presenting two alternatives as if they exhausted all the options when they don’t. For example, suppose someone asks a married man named Smith “Have you stopped beating your wife?” when it hasn’t been shown Smith ever beat his wife. If Smith’s accuser insists the answer is “Yes” or “No” he implicitly presents the false dilemma, “Smith either beat his wife in the past and has stopped beating her now, or Smith has continued to beat her.” That is a false dilemma because it ignores a third option: Smith never beat his wife.

The false dilemma fallacy is also known as false dichotomy and the either/or fallacy.


free will

The notion that we have control over and are responsible for our actions, to the point where if morality exists, we are morally praiseworthy/blameworthy for our good/bad deeds.


the Good

Also known as the form of the good, the Good is the paragon and model of what goodness is. As an analogy, the fidelity of an audio recording of a symphony is measured against how closely it matches the actual, original performance; the original performance sets the standard for audio fidelity. Similarly, the Good sets the standard of what moral goodness is. Some theists believe that God is the good, where God’s perfectly holy nature sets the standard for what moral goodness is; e.g. God is by nature loving and just, and these attributes become moral virtues for us. Some others believe that the Good is a Platonic object.


hypothetical syllogism

Hypothetical syllogism is a rule of logic that takes the following form:

  1. If P, then Q
  2. If Q, then R
  3. Therefore, if P, then R

A more concrete example of hypothetical syllogism:

  1. If I have at least five balls, then I have more than four balls.
  2. If I have more than four balls, then I have more than three balls.
  3. Therefore, if I have at least five balls, then I have more than three balls.

Compare modus ponens; see also material conditional.


incompatibilism

The view that free will and determinism are not compatible.


indeterminism

Indeterminism says determinism is false and implies that identical initial conditions could result in different outcomes. With respect to human behavior, indeterminism says that we can choose among genuine alternatives, such that given the conditions we now have, multiple options are possible for us to choose between.


inductive argument

An inductive argument is where a series of statements called premises support a conclusion but the structure of the argument isn’t such that true premises would guarantee the truth of the conclusion. To illustrate, the following is an example of an argument where true premises would guarantee the conclusion (this one uses a famous rule of logic called modus ponens):

  1. If P, then Q
  2. P
  3. Therefore, Q.

Here’s an example of an inductive argument, one in which premises are intended to support but not guarantee the conclusion:

  1. The fingerprints of suspect X were on the murder weapon.
  2. Suspect X has a motive for the murder.
  3. Suspect X has no alibi and was at least within the general area of where the murder took place.
  4. Therefore, probably, suspect X is guilty.

It’s still possible suspect X is innocent, but the evidence strongly implicates him. An argument where true premises would make the conclusion highly probable is called an inductively strong argument, and an argument where true premises would weakly support the conclusion is called (as you may have guessed) an inductively weak argument.

Just as deductive reasoning has rules of logic, there are also rules of inductive inference, some of which involve mathematical laws of probability.


intuition

In philosophy, intuition refers to what the consciousness immediately apprehends and what is directly present one’s consciousness. Examples of intuition include sensory experiences and various intuitive perceptions like a person mentally “seeing” that 2 + 1 = 3. Other examples include the intuition that the external world is real and the moral intuition that there is something morally wrong with torturing innocent sentient life (as infants) just for fun.


invalid

In logic, an argument being invalid or deductively invalid means it is not valid.


law of parsimony

A principle that says all other relevant factors held constant, the simplest explanation is the best one.

Compare Ockham’s razor.


lexical definition

A lexical definition is the “dictionary” definition of a term. Lexical definitions are in contrast to stipulative definitions.


libertarianism

In philosophy, libertarianism is the view that we have free will and that indeterminism is true with respect to our actions such that we can choose among genuine alternatives. An example of libertarianism is agency theory. Another variety of libertarianism holds that our decisions are simply random, uncaused events (as opposed to agency theory which holds that our decisions are not uncaused; rather it is we who cause effects and initiate our own causal chains).


logical impossibility

Something is logically impossible if and only if it is self-contradictory by virtue of what it means, e.g. a married bachelor (bachelors are by definition not married, hence “married bachelor” is self-contradictory due to of the meanings involved).

Compare logical possibility.


logical possibility

Something is logically possible if and only if it is not self-contradictory by virtue of what it means. So a married bachelor is not logically possible (due to the definitions of “married” and “bachelor,” the term “married bachelor” is self-contradictory) whereas perpetual motion machines and the nonexistence of gravity are logically possible.

Compare logical impossibility.


material conditional

A material conditional takes the form of “If P, then Q” and is equivalent to “It is not the case that P is true and Q is false.” Thus, whether the material conditional is true is determined entirely by the truth of P and Q as follows, where the truth table below exhausts all possible true/false combinations of P and Q. Note the second line of the truth table where P being true and Q being false makes “If P, then Q” false:

PQIf P, then Q
TTT
TFF
FTT
FFT

Notice that P being true and Q being false is the only time the material conditional is false; otherwise the material conditional is true. For example, “If 2 + 2 = 5, then life forms exist” is a true material conditional because “2 + 2 = 5” is false and “life forms exist” is true, thus fitting the third line of the truth table where P is false and Q is true.

A material conditional may seem like a weak claim (in the sense that it doesn’t claim very much); after all, when “If P, then Q” is a material conditional, P and Q don’t have to be related to each other at all for the material conditional to be true. But a material conditional is good enough for e.g. modus ponens, since in a true “If P, then Q” material conditional, when P is true, then Q is true as well (recall that a true material conditional would prohibit Q from being false when P is true, as the second line of the truth table confirms).


materialism

See physicalism.


metaphysical impossibility

A proposition is metaphysically impossible if it cannot be and could not have been true; it is not true in any possible world. For example, “2 + 2 = 5” is metaphysically impossible. A thing’s existence is metaphysically impossible if it cannot and could not have existed, e.g. a married bachelor is metaphysically impossible; it does not exist in any possible world.

See also metaphysical possibility.


metaphysical necessity

A truth is metaphysically necessary if its truth can’t be and couldn’t have been otherwise; it is true in all possible worlds. For example, “2 + 2 = 4” is a metaphysically necessary truth. A being’s existence is metaphysically necessary if it cannot fail to exist; the being exists in all possible worlds. Many theists believe that God’s existence is metaphysically necessary.


metaphysical possibility

A proposition is metaphysically possible if it is not metaphysically impossible.


modus ponens

In logic, modus ponens is the following rule of inference:

  1. If P, then Q
  2. P
  3. Therefore, Q

A more concrete example of modus ponens:

  1. If it is raining, then my car is wet.
  2. It is raining.
  3. Therefore, my car is wet.

Compare modus tollens; see also material conditional.


modus tollens

In logic, modus tollens is the following rule of inference:

  1. If P, then Q
  2. not-Q
  3. Therefore, not-P

Where “not-Q” means “Q is false” and “not-P” means “P is false.” A more concrete example of modus tollens:

  1. If it is raining, then my car is wet.
  2. My car is not wet.
  3. Therefore, it is not raining.

Compare modus ponens; see also material conditional.


the moral argument

The moral argument is a family of arguments that uses morality (often objective morality) as evidence for God’s existence. An example of such an argument:

  1. If God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist.
  2. Objective morality does exist.
  3. Therefore God exists.

Of course, the theist would then have to give some reason for believing premises 1 and 2.


moral duty

See moral obligation.


moral nihilism

In philosophy, moral nihilism says that there are no such things as moral rightness/wrongness/goodness/badness. So on moral nihilism, nothing is morally wrong, not even torturing infants just for fun.

Related entries: error theory (a form of moral nihilism), morality, and moral objectivism.


moral objectivism

In philosophy, moral objectivism is the idea that there are moral truths and that moral truths (such as whether it is morally wrong to torture infants just for fun) hold independently of human belief/opinion/perception of them.

See also morality and moral nihilism.


moral obligation (moral duty)

Moral duty or moral obligation is a type of unconditional ought. Moral obligations have to do with what is morally right and morally wrong. An action is morally wrong for subject S only if S ought not to do it. The property of moral wrongness is universalizable in that applies equally to all relevantly similar situations, and the property is supremely authoritative, overriding any other “ought” (e.g. legal rules). If we think of “moral rightness” as the property of following some moral obligation, we get the same thing as “moral wrongness” but in the opposite direction. An action is morally right for S only if S ought to do it etc.

See also moral value.


moral ontology

In philosophy, moral ontology is the discipline that asks questions like “what are the foundations of morality?” and “do moral properties exist solely as part of the natural world?” Moral ontology studies how morality exists and what sort of reality it constitutes. The phrase “moral ontology” can also denote a proposed foundation of morality, as in “This worldview’s moral ontology is that what is morally wrong is one and the same property as that which God forbids.” A phrase like “ontological explanation for morality” refers to moral ontology in this sense also.


moral value

Moral value has to do with moral worth (as of actions, things, and people). Justice and kindness are moral values (some believe they are moral values in all possible worlds, e.g. there is no possible world where justice is not a moral value), and human beings have moral value. Moral value also has to do with what is morally good and bad. Justice and kindness are morally good, whereas cruelty is a moral vice (and is therefore the opposite of being morally valuable). An action can be morally good without being morally obligatory. Donating all that I have to the point of poverty to some worthy cause is a morally good action, but it doesn’t seem to be morally obligatory. Indeed, philosophers even have a fancy name for actions that go above and beyond the call of moral duty: supererogatory. Similarly, it is possible for a morally bad action to be morally right, for it might be that one has only morally bad options to choose from (e.g. when any choice will lead to the death of innocent people), in which case the morally right action might be to choose the least bad option.

See also moral obligation.


morality

A rigorous definition of morality (even if such a thing could even be done by contemporary philosophers) is beyond the scope of this mere glossary, but we can sketch at least part what morality is. See the entries on moral obligation and moral value.


naturalism

The belief that the supernatural does not exist


objective morality

See moral objectivism.


Ockham’s razor (Occam’s razor)

Ockham’s razor (also spelled as Occam’s razor) says that explanatory entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. The name comes from 14th century philosopher William of Ockham, who also stated his principle in several Latin ways, such as pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate (plurality should not be posited without necessity). To illustrate, if one explanation uses five explanatory entities and another explanation uses only one, then all other things being equal we should prefer the explanation with only one explanatory entity. Another formulation of Ockham’s razor says that all other things being equal, the simplest explanation is the best one.

Compare law of parsimony.


ontology

The sub-discipline of philosophy and branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being (as of what sorts of things exist); a worldview or theory about what sorts of things have being, as in “His ontology does not include the existence of souls.”


ought, conditional and unconditional

A conditional ought takes the form of something sufficiently like “If you want to do X, you ought to do Y” and says what conditions help accomplish a particular goal without saying whether one should aim for the goal in the first place, e.g. “If you want to poison your teacher to death, you should use a sufficiently strong toxin.” An unconditional ought says what ought to be simpliciter and is the sort of ought found in “You should not poison teachers to death” and “the worst possible misery and suffering for everyone for all eternity is a state of affairs that ought not to be,” and is thus goal-independent in a way that a conditional ought is not.

When applied to a person’s actions, an unconditional ought refers to a genuine obligation for that person (e.g. “you should not torture infants just for fun”) rather than merely stating what actions help bring about some descriptive state of affairs (like a dead teacher or having more money). An unconditional ought is not to be confused with an “ought” that doesn’t rely on any circumstances whatsoever; e.g. one could believe the unconditional ought with respect to not killing applies in some circumstances but that this obligation does not exist in certain other situations (some self-defense cases perhaps).


per impossibile

as is impossible

  • “If per impossibile my cat could fly, it would catch birds.”
  • “If per impossibile there were a largest prime number, then the following statements would be true.”

physicalism

The view that only the physical world exists, and thus that there are no nonphysical minds, souls, or deities.


Platonism

The view that abstract objects (like numbers) have genuine existence and that they exist as nonphysical entities independently of the mind.


possible world

A possible world is a complete description of the way reality is or could have been like. One can imagine possible worlds as a series of concentric spheres with the actual world at its center. The “closer” possible worlds more closely resemble the actual world than the more “distant” possible worlds. In philosophy writings, you might find some philosophers speak of “nearby” possible worlds as their way of referring to possible worlds that are greatly similar or (in some sense) appropriately similar to the actual world.

More formally and somewhat more accurately, a possible world can be considered to be a massive conjunction of propositions (e.g. Earth is a planet and water contains hydrogen and United States is a nation...) such that (1) it is possible for all those propositions to be true; (2) for any proposition p, either “p is true” or “p is not true” is among that massive conjunction. In this sense, a possible world is a complete description of the way the world is or could have been like.

A claim is necessarily true if it is true in all possible worlds, and claim is contingently true if it is true in some possible worlds but false in others. A thing existing is possible if that thing exists in at least one possible world.


principle of charity

The principle of charity is the principle of understanding a view (e.g. someone’s position) in its most reasonable and persuasive form before evaluating it. For example, suppose a person’s position is ambiguous and it is either “there is a tendency for things to go from order to disorder” or “all things invariably go from order to disorder.” Then the charitable interpretation would be the “there is a tendency for things to go from order to disorder” claim, since that has stronger grounds for belief. One of the benefits of employing the principle of charity is that it helps avoid the straw man fallacy.

In another sense, the principle of charity is used in a broader context of interpretation (as when meeting an native and seeking to understand her language) in maximizing the reasonableness of the person’s utterances. For example, if you and a native are trying to learn each other’s language and the native points to a rabbit and says “gavagai” (GAWV-uh-Gye), the principle of charity prefers you interpret “gavagai” as “rabbit” over “a fairy disguised as an animal.”


principle of sufficient reason

The principle of sufficient reason (PSR) is a principle saying that everything (of a certain class) has an reason/explanation. The PSR has a number of different forms, but one version of the PSR says that anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause. A common view among theist philosophers is that God exists necessarily (he could not fail to exist anymore than “torturing infants just for fun” could fail to be morally wrong), and that the explanation for God’s existence is the necessity of his own nature. Another common view among such theists is that the explanation for the universe’s existence is God, where God is the external cause of the universe.

Another form of the PSR says that every fact has an explanation/reason for why it is true, whereas the “everything that exists has an explanation for its existence” version of the PSR leaves open the possibility of brute facts.


properly basic belief

A belief being properly basic means (1) it is a basic belief; (2) one is justified in believing the basic belief. Note that this leaves open the idea for other beliefs to justify the basic belief in a non-evidential way (whether that idea would actually work is another matter).


qua

In the capacity of (a); as (a). For example, if one thinks science cannot appeal to the supernatural, one might say, “The scientist Smith cannot appeal to the supernatural qua scientist, but qua rational human being he could appeal to supernatural explanations if the evidence justified it,” which means something like, “The scientist Smith cannot appeal to the supernatural in the capacity of a scientist, but as a rational human being he could appeal to supernatural explanations if the evidence justified it.”


red herring fallacy

The red herring fallacy, also known as ignoratio elenchi is the fallacy of supposing a point demonstrated (or refuted) by demonstrating (or refuting) an irrelevant claim. For example, suppose a theist argues that one cannot be good without God, and an atheist in his rebuttal against the theist’s claim argues that atheists are often good and moral people. That atheist would be committing the red herring fallacy because the issue at hand was not whether people can be good without belief in God, but whether people can be good without God. The atheist attacked an irrelevant claim and would have been better off arguing that the existence of human goodness doesn’t rely on God’s existence. Similarly, if an atheist argued that we don’t need God to be good, a theist rebutting this point by claiming the devoutly religious donate more to charity than the non-religious would also be committing the red herring fallacy. As illustrated in these two examples, some red herring fallacies work by arguing for a similar but nonetheless different point from the actual topic, thereby engendering a greater chance of hoodwinking the audience.


simpliciter

The word simpliciter means “without further qualification” as in “There are only red and blue balls, with ten blue balls and four red balls, so the total number of balls simpliciter [regardless of color] is fourteen.”


soul

The nonphysical essence of oneself. Some philosophers believe the soul is the basis for consciousness (as opposed to the mere arrangement of mindless bits of matter being sufficient for consciousness to be produced).


special pleading

Special pleading occurs when there’s an unjustified exception to some general rule. So structurally the fallacy looks like this:

  1. Rule: A’s are generally B’s
  2. x is an A
  3. But x is not a B (when this exception is unjustified, e.g. x is allegedly not a B because of some irrelevant characteristic that x has).

An example of special pleading: “Scientific theories generally need sufficient evidence for scientists to rationally accept them, but my theory is an exception because I like it so much.” The fact that the speaker likes their theory so much is an irrelevant characteristic of the speaker’s theory, and so the speaker is guilty of special pleading because the exception is unjustified.

When accusing someone of special pleading, one should clearly identify the general rule (and thus A and B), the exception (and thus x), and explain why the exception is unjustified (e.g. the irrelevant characteristic, if applicable).


stipulative definition

A stipulative definition assigns a meaning to a particular word or phrase to be used in a given context (as a philosophy paper). For example, in a philosophy paper one might give a stipulative definition of “fully justified” by saying, “I will say that a belief is fully justified to denote the belief being justified to the point where one can rationally say one knows it to be true.” Stipulative definitions are often used for conveniently assigning a label to some concept and won’t necessarily match the lexical (“dictionary”) definition. Because of their “this is what I’ll mean when I use the term here” nature, stipulative definitions aren’t “correct” or “incorrect” like lexical definitions (unless the speaker for some crazy reason falsely claims what he or she means by the term).


straw man fallacy

The straw man fallacy occurs when an objection attacks a distorted version of one’s position. Structurally it looks like this:

  1. Someone S puts forth claim C.
  2. An objector portrays S has having some different claim D when S did not claim D but rather C.
  3. The objector attacks D.
  4. The objector concludes that S’s claim is false/stupid/unjustified/etc.

To illustrate the straw man fallacy, suppose Henry claims, “There is a tendency for things to go from order to disorder,” and John replies, “Henry’s claim that all things invariably go from order to disorder is false, as illustrated by the fact of snowflake formation; thus Henry’s claim is wrong.” John’s rebuttal to Henry commits the straw man fallacy because Henry did not claim that all things invariably go from order to disorder. Instead Henry claimed that there is a tendency for things to go from order to disorder.

When accusing someone of making a straw man fallacy, one should clearly identify the original claim (C) and the distorted position (D).


supererogatory

Going above and beyond the call of moral duty. Donating all that I have to the point of poverty to some worthy cause is a morally good action, but it doesn’t seem to be morally obligatory, and if so it would thus be an example of something supererogatory.


supervene

A supervening on B means that A is determined by B such that there cannot be a difference in A without a difference in B. For example, some philosophers believe that mental states supervene on brain sates (and thus that brain states determine mental states), such that there cannot be a difference in mental states without a difference in brain states.

Given that A-properties supervene on B-properties, A-properties are called the supervening properties and B-properties are called the subvening properties. The B-properties component of the supervenience relation is also called subvenient properties or base properties.

Caveat: supervenience by itself doesn’t say why the supervening properties supervene on the subvening properties. For example, it could be that they’re actually the same property (similar to how “the morning star” and “the evening star” actually refer to the same entity: Venus), or it could be that one property causes the other to exist, or they could be two properties linked by physical necessity but neither property causes the other to exist.


synthetic statement

A synthetic statement is a statement that is not analytic, i.e. its denial isn’t self-contradictory. “Abraham Lincoln had a beard” is an example of a synthetic statement.


taxicab fallacy

The taxicab fallacy is the fallacy of making an arbitrary exception to some wide-ranging principle. The person making the fallacy uses a principle like a taxicab to travel just about anywhere in his thinking, then dismisses it arbitrarily for something because e.g. it is inconvenient for his worldview. For example, suppose an atheist believes that the principle “something can’t come into being from nothing” holds true of everything within the universe but, to avoid believing in a creator of the universe, says the universe popped into being from nothing and gives no reason for the universe being an exception to the principle. That atheist would be making the taxicab fallacy, dismissing the principle arbitrarily upon reaching the destination of “there is no creator of the universe.” On the other side of the coin, if a theist believed “everything that exists has a cause” then arbitrarily exempted God, that theist would be making the taxicab fallacy.


unconditional ought

See ought, conditional and unconditional.


uniformity of nature

The idea that nature operates uniformly, in some relevant sense, in the past and in the future throughout various locations; e.g. the physical laws of last year on earth will apply next week on Pluto. Much of science relies (especially astrophysics) relies on the axiom that nature operates uniformly.


valid

In logic, an argument being valid or deductively valid means that an argument’s conclusion follows logically and necessarily from its premises by the rules of logic (examples of rules of logic include modus ponens and modus tollens). Equivalently, an argument being valid means it’s logically impossible for it to have all true premises and a false conclusion.


warrant

In philosophy, warrant is that quality (or quantity) such that enough of it added to true belief yields knowledge; so in some cases the warrant for a belief might be some type of justification or evidence for that belief.