Terminology

One excellent resource is the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethicsedited by Joel Green.  Now we turn to some terminology of our own:

ABORTION. Intentional termination of pregnancy.  Religious and moral arguments against abortion tend to stress the value of the fetus or unborn child as a person, potential person, human being, or sacred form of life.  Some religious denominations and traditions contend that the decision to abort in the early stages of pregnancy should be a matter left to individual conscience and not subject to strict prohibition.

ABSOLUTE, THE. From the Latin absolutus, meaning “the perfect” or “completed” (as opposed to the relative). “The absolute” is often used to refer to God as the ultimate, independent reality from which all reality flows.  Although philosophers and theologians as far back as Nicholas of Cusa have used the term in reference to God (e.g., Nicholas of Cusa argued that God is both the Absolute Maximum and the Absolute Minimum), today the term is primarily associated with idealist philosophers of the 19th century such as Ferrier, Bradley, Bosanquet, and Royce.  The term – in its modern idealist sense – originated in the late 18th century in the writings of Schelling and Hegel and was transmitted to the English through Samuel Coleridge’s The Friend (1809-1810).  Russian philosopher Soloview used the term to refer to reality, which he conceived of as a living organism.  The term has also been embraced by some Eastern philosophers, such as Sri Aurobindo, who considered “the absolute” as an appropriate alternative to the name Brahman.  It is most commonly used in the fields of metaphysics, value theory, and natural philosophy.

ABSOLUTION. From the Latin absolvo, meaning “set free.” Absolution is the forgiveness of sins and the removal of any connected penalties.  It refers primarily to the Christian practice wherein a priest or minister absolves the sins of people in the name of God following their confession, but it may also be used simply to refer to God’s direct forgiveness without any human intermediary.

ABSURD. That which is untenable or beyond the limits of rationality.  When associated with existentialism, the absurd refers to there being a lack of any meaning inherent within the real world or in our actions.  It gained currency in popular culture via Samuel Beckett’s theatre of the absurd and works by Sartre and Camus.  A phrase famously (and erroneously) attributed to Tertullian claimed that faith in an incarnate God was absurd: credo quia absurdum est – “I believe because it is absurd.”  The actual quotation from Tertullian is:credibile est, quia ineptum est – “It is credible because it is silly.” (De carne Christi 5.4).  Tertullian is sometimes taken to thereby valorize irrationality, but his thesis was instead that the truth of Christianity was absurd only in relation to Stoic, non-Christian philosophy.  If Tertullian is correct, the tenability of Christianity is not contingent upon external, philosophical inspection.

ACCESSIBILITY. In analytic philosophy in the 20th century, much attention was given to accessibility relations.  Is our access to the surrounding world immediate and direct or indirect and mediated by sensations?  Bertrand Russell identified two significant modes of accessibility: one may have access to something either by acquaintance (experiential awareness) or description In philosophy of religion, the question is often addressed of whether God or the sacred may be directly experienced or perceived or may only be known descriptively or via metaphorical and analogical descriptions.

ACCIDIE. Also written as acedia. A state that inhibits pleasure and causes one to reject life.  One of the Seven Deadly Sins.  Often translated as sloth, accidie historically refers to a very different concept.  Athanasius called it the “noon day demon” (cf. Psalm 91:6), and Thomas of Aquinas referred to it as the torpor of spirit that prevents one from doing any good works (Summa Theologiae, IIa 35.1). According to Aquinas and other medieval Christians, we are surrounded by abundant reasons for joy.  Thus, accidie is the intentional refusal of joy as opposed to “sloth,” which today would be considered akin to clinical depression.

ACTS AND OMISSIONS DOCTRINE. At the heart of deontological ethics and in contrast to act-consequentialism, the acts and omissions doctrine asserts that an act has a greater moral significance than a failure to act (that is, an omission).  Hence, killing someone would be worse than letting someone die.  Those upholding a form of utilitarianism tend to discount such a distinction.  For utilitarians, it is often the case that failing to rescue someone is the moral equivalent of killing that person.

ACTUALITY AND POTENTIALITY. A dichotomy originally introduced in Aristotle’s Metaphysics concerning topics of substance and matter that was later adopted into theology by thinkers such as St. Thomas of Aquinas. In Thomism, God is described as pure act: as an eternal, immutable, supremely excellent being.  God has no unrealized potentiality.  Other forms of theism that see God as temporal and subject to change allow for divine potentiality.  Some attention is given to potentiality and actuality in the moral debate over abortion.  Some “pro-life” philosophers contend that at early stages of fetal development, there is a potential but not an actual person.

ADIAPHORON. Greek, “indifferent.”  That which is morally indifferent, neither morally required nor prohibited, or, more specifically, that which is not explicitly required for the maintenance of orthodox faith but arguably could be permissible.  During the Reformation, the Adiaphorists were the Protestants who sided with Melanchthon in believing that the Catholic sacraments of confirmation and veneration of saints, although without scriptural warrant, should be allowed for the sake of church unity and would not endanger the believer’s soul. The Adiaphorists were opposed by the Flacianists, stricter Protestants who sided with Matthias Flacius in believing that anything that was not explicitly allowed in the Scriptures was forbidden.

AKRASIA. Greek, “without power.” Akrasia refers to weakness of the will.  One has akrasia when one knows an action is morally required but lacks the will power or resolve to do the act.  People who knowingly do what they sincerely believe to be wrong also haveakrasia insofar as they lack the power to resist wrong-doing.  Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, as well as rationalists like Descartes deniedakrasia, but a natural interpretation of Romans 7:14-25 gives reason to believe St. Paul affirmed akrasia as a very real, personal weakness.

ALTRUISM. From the Latin alter, meaning “the other.” Altruism refers to acting according to the interests of others.  Some philosophers have argued that all motives are, at base, self-interested, even acts of altruism.  Do not people seek to aid others when this gives them personal satisfaction?  One reply is that a person would not receive satisfaction from acting altruistically unless she believed that seeking the good of others was itself good and not merely good because it made her feel satisfied or happy.

AMOR FATI. Latin, “love of fate.” The willing love or acceptance of one’s fate or life.  The expression was used frequently by FriedrichNietzsche to favorably describe the attitude of one who sees all events as part of one’s destiny and affirms them all, including any suffering, as facts integral to one’s identity rather than as objects of deep regret or remorse.  Amor Fati is related to Nietzsche’s myth of the eternal return: one must live one’s life as if one would willingly live that exact same life again.  Christian accounts of redemptionsometime incorporate an affirmation of the past – even with its sin – insofar as such a past provided the occasion for redemption and great good.  But Christian teaching about sin and repentance also promotes the idea that past sins are to be the object of regret and remorse, not affirmation.

APOSTASY. From the Greek apostasia, meaning “a defection.”  Traditionally an apostate is someone who once professed a traditional religious faith but has since renounced it.   The term is pejorative, implying infidelity, betrayal, or a blameworthy faithlessness.  For instance, it would be hyperbolic or misleading to call someone an apostate who was a Christian in her youth, but rejected Christian faith in college in the process of adopting Zen Buddhism.

AMOUR DE SOI. French, meaning “self-love.”  One of two forms of self-love described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Emile (On Education), which he describes as a natural, healthy form of self-love that is independent of how we relate to others.  The other form of self-love, amour-propre, does depend upon comparing oneself to others and the perception of superiority and was considered negative and unnatural by Rousseau.  How we ought to view ourselves either independently or as compared with others has been a large topic of interest in philosophy of religion (for an example, see humility).  Also, Christian theologians have struggled to agree upon what they deem as ordinate as opposed to excessive self-love.  Is it permissible or commendable to love God because, in part, one desires the benefits or prescribed fulfillment that are generated by such love?  Or should one love God regardless of whether any personal benefits are being offered?

ARETĒ. Greek, “excellence, virtue, goodness.”  The qualities that constitute a good human being: wisdom (phronēsis), moderation (sōphrosynē), courage (andreia), justice (dikaiodikaosynē), etc.  Discussion of these virtues was at the core of classical Greek ethics and philosophy. Plato, famously, maintained the unity of the virtues. If one lacks the virtue of wisdom, for example, one cannot be said to have the virtue of courage.  Some modern virtue theorists question this thesis and allow for a fragmentation of virtues. Historically virtue theory addresses such questions as: Can virtue be taught? Is there a difference between moral and intellectual virtues?  For example, are there significant differences between intellectual courage versus courage involving material action such as bravery on a battlefield? Can utilitarianism allow for the good of virtues?  How do religious or secular worldviews inform the theory of virtues?  For example, in religions that involve a Creator, it seems that gratitude for the creation is a virtue, whereas in worldviews with no Creator such gratitude would not be a virtue.

ANTINOMIANISM. From Greek anti + nomos, meaning “against law.” The view that Christians who are saved by grace are no longer subject to law.

APOCATASTASIS. Greek, “to set up again.”  The idea that while those creatures who choose evil will perish, at the end of time the creation itself will be restored.  Origen favored this theology but it was not accepted by the church (the Council of Constantinople in 553 rejected Origen’s thesis).

AGAPĒ. Greek, “love.” An important concept in Christian ethics, agape is usually defined as fraternal or filial love and set in opposition to eros, or sexual love.  Kant called it “practical love.”  The corresponding word in Latin is caritas, which is generally translated as “charity.”  Originally, however, the term referred to the Christian “love-feast,” a meal related to the Eucharist and designed to celebrate and promote Christian solidarity.  Agapeistic love is thought of as unconditional and not dependent upon the passing, contingent qualities of persons.  William Butler Yeats playfully observed the difficult and perhaps divine quality of such love: “Only God, my dear, could love you for yourself alone, And not for your yellow hair.”  One of the more sustained defenses of agape is the two volume work, Eros and Agape by the Swedish Protestant theologian Anders Nygren (published first in Sweden, 1930-1936).

ASCETICAL THEOLOGY. Reflection on purgation (the via purgativa) through a discipline of sensations, desire, and appetites. The Desert Fathers such as St. Anthony set an important example of a holy ascetic life which greatly influenced Augustine and was one of the reasons for his inquiry into the possible truth of Christian teaching.  Ascetical theology was of prime importance in early Christian monasteries, especially the Desert Fathers.

ASCETICISM. The practice of self-discipline often through self-denial or the mastering of desires (fasting involves control over the desire for food, a vigil involves control over the urge to sleep) for a religious end such as repentance, worship, the cultivation of virtue, union or communion with God.  Asceticism is widespread among religious traditions, theistic and nontheistic.  Buddhist ascetic practices are closely linked with the purging of desire and seeing through the illusory nature of ourselves as substantial individual beings.

BEAUTY. Beauty is a central object of interest for Platonists and a recurring theme in Platonic forms of Judaism, Christianity, andIslam.  Beauty has been defined as an inherent objective property (perfect symmetry) or as a relational property (something is beautiful if it should generate pleasure or delight).  In the modern era, some philosophers have promoted non-normative and non-cognitive concepts of beauty, but beauty persists as an on-going theme in normative accounts in which God, justice, human love, and so on, are considered beautiful.  Beauty is also the main focus of contemporary aesthetics.

BENEVOLENCE. From the Latin bene + volens (“well wishing”), benevolence involves action that benefits others and is the contrary of acting in narrow self-interest.  It is central to the ethics of Jonathan Edwards, David Hume, and Henry Sidgwick, among others.

BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS. Leibniz held that as a perfect being God would create only the best possible world.  While lampooned in Voltaire’s Candide and criticized by some who likened the best of all possible worlds to the notion of there being the greatest possible number, some contemporary philosophers defend Leibniz’s position.

BHAGAVADGĪTĀ. Sanskrit, gita + Bhagavat, “song of the blessed one.” The Bhagavadgita is the most famous section of the greatHindu epic poem, the Mahabharata, which is highly esteemed among Hindus. At the heart of the poem, the warrior Arjuna is counseled about his duty, the soul, and the divine by his charioteer, Lord Krishna.

BIBLE. From the Greek biblia for “book.” The Jewish Bible, or Tanakh, consists of the Torah (“Teaching”), the Nevi’im (“Prophets”), and the Ketuvim (“Writings”).  The Christian Bible includes the aforementioned books (which it calls the Old Testament) as well as the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles (the New Testament).

BODHISATTVA. A Sanskrit term that, in Buddhism, refers to a being who is on the way to becoming a Buddha.  Various traditions within Buddhism offer different paths toward release from suffering and enlightenment.  The Bodhisattva path is one aimed at the highest form of enlightenment (to be a Buddha) and begins with the formation of a compassionate intention to assist all sentient beings.  Traditionally, a vow was taken in the presence of a Buddha to enter upon the Bodhisattva path.  This path includes basic moral purification, meditative practices, and development of various disciplines until certain non-retrogressive states are reached.  Part of the purpose of the path is to accumulate merit which can then be used to assist all sentient beings.  Bodhisattvas, then, are chiefly characterized by compassion for all sentient beings and wisdom to see into the true nature of all reality.  Bodhisattvas are often seen as compassionate savior figures, particularly in the Mahayana tradition (although they are present in earlier forms of Buddhism as well).  Important examples are Maitreya(the Buddha to come), Avalokitesvara (the Bodhisattva of compassion—in Tibetan Buddhism the Dalai Lama is an incarnation of thisBodhisattva), and Manjusri (the Bodhisattva of wisdom).

CHARITY, PRINCIPLE OF.  One should presume that others are intelligent and well meaning unless there are strong reasons for thinking otherwise. The principle may be used in reference to texts; acting on the principle leads one to interpret a text in the best light, revealing a plausible thesis.

COMMUNITARIANISM. A late 20th century ethical movement that stresses the essential role of the community in moral decision-making.  A communitarian may address a moral dilemma about abortion or physician-assisted suicide in terms of specific community values rather than appeal to a general, abstract theory of human rights.

COMPASSION. Literally “feeling with,” a compassionate person is one who empathizes (or sympathizes) with those believed to be harmed and who is disposed to go to their aid.

CONSCIOUSNESS. Widely acknowledged as difficult to define, the English term consciousness was employed by Ralph Cudworth in the 17th century to designate the state of awareness or experience that persons have when awake, as when persons think, feel, sense, emote, desire, intentionally act, and so on.  In modern philosophy, controversy arises over whether consciousness is a real state distinct from bodily states and processes or whether it is a configuration of nonconscious states and not a genuinely distinct, irreducible property.  The philosophy of consciousness has relevance for a great deal of philosophy of religion: theists argue, for example, that they offer a better account of consciousness than naturalists, while some naturalists seeks to explain consciousness in exhaustively scientific, nonconscious terms and argue that they offer a better account than theists.  Some Buddhist and Hinduphilosophers have developed sophisticated accounts of consciousness to bolster either no-self theories of human nature or for the articulation of the relationship between Brahman and atman.

CONSEQUENTIALISM. Theories that determine the value of an act by its effects: if doing an act will result in greater good than harm, a consequentialist will see doing the act as possessing a greater value than omitting to do the act.  Foremost among consequentialist theories are versions of utilitarianism.  Consequentialism, and utilitarianism in particular, are often viewed as secular ethical theories, but they have different religious advocates.  Jeremy Bentham who is commonly seen as the father of modern utilitarianism, was preceded by theistic utilitarians.  William Paley was a leading theistic consequentialist.  Contrast with DEONTOLOGY.

CONTINENTAL PHILOSOPHY. Philosophy that is influenced by Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, Foucault, Derrida, Irigary, Adorno,Ricoeur, Gadamer, and those philosophers who resemble them.  In the early and middle 20th century “continental philosophy” came to be distinguished by phenomenology (a methodology that stresses the study of appearances or lived experience) as opposed to the perceived aridity and merely apparent rigor of Anglo-American analytic philosophy associated with Bertrand Russell, J. L. Austin, Gilbert Ryle, et al.  Later 20th century philosophy has blurred this distinction with “analytic philosophers” employing phenomenology and some “continental philosophers” forswearing phenomenology for linguistic and structural methodologies.

COVENANT. From the Latin convenire, meaning “to come together.” The covenant is a key element in Judaism which traces its lineage and inheritance to the covenant between Abraham and God. There is also the covenant between Adam and Eve and God, Noah and God, and a renewal of covenantal relations with Judah and Moses. A covenant is sometimes distinguished from a contract.  A covenant tends to define the life of the participants who internalize their role in a covenantal relationship.  Contractual relations can be less definitive of one’s identity and refer to more impersonal agreements.

CREATIO EX NIHILO.  Latin for “creation from nothing.”  Classical Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have affirmed that the creation is created by God and not from some pre-existing material.  This is often referred to as creatio ex nihilo, though the expression can be misleading insofar as it suggests God made the creation from some thing (in which ‘nothing’ is taken to refer to something).  The classical theistic claim about creation may also be expressed in terms of creation from God.

CREATION. In religious traditions, creation refers to all that is created. For monotheists, creation includes everything except God. In classical theism, God’s creation is seen as originative (the cosmos has a beginning) and ongoing insofar as the cosmos exists due to the continuous conserving power of God as Creator.  To describe the natural world as a creation implies that it has one or more creators.  The idea that God created the cosmos also suggests a strict distinction between creator and creation.

CREATIONISM. Popular term for the view that the species on earth were created separately by God rather than diverse species evolvingfrom simpler, common organisms.  A “literal” reading of Genesis 1 appears to support creationism, while Genesis 1 may alternatively be read as affirming the goodness of diverse kinds in a created order compatible with evolution.  This latter view sees creation as good, in part, for its diversification in keeping with the medieval precept bonum est multiplex (good or goodness is multiple or is a multitude).

CREATOR. God is conceived of as the creator of the cosmos in theistic religious traditions. In classical Jewish, Christian, and Islamic theology God creates freely and therefore God is not necessarily a creator, though some classical theologians claim that God is essentially good, it is of the nature of goodness to be self-diffusive, and therefore God’s nature strongly inclines or makes fitting God’s being the creator.

CREDO QUIA ABSURDUM EST.  Latin, “I believe because it is absurd.” A phrase famously (and erroneously) attributed to Tertullian. Tertullian held that the Christian faith is not in harmony with reason as conceived of in non-Christian philosophy. If pagan philosophy deems Christianity absurd, that is no reason to reject it.  In fact, the kind of apparent absurdity of Christianity from a pagan vantage point reveals its credibility for Christianity ultimately makes better sense of the cosmos.  Kierkegaard later incorporates such an absurd dimension of faith in discussing the teleological suspension of the ethical.

DALAI LAMA.  Dalai is Mongolian for “Ocean” and Lama means teacher or guru, so the full title refers to a teacher with a spirituality that is as deep as an ocean.  Tibetan Buddhists believe that the Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of a bodhisattva, of which there have been 14. The original incarnation of the Dalai Lama, Gedun Drupa, was born in 1391.  Tenzin Gyatso, born in 1935, is the 14th Dalai Lama. Each time a Dalai Lama dies, a new one must be found.  Traditionally, the direction in which the Dalai Lama’s head falls when he dies is the direction the monks should search for the next reincarnation.  If the Dalai Lama is cremated, sometimes the direction of the smoke indicates the direction the next reincarnation.  After consulting with the Oracle (a man who is an advisor to the Dalai Lama), the monks begin their search, which can sometimes take up to four years.  The reincarnation, however, is born up to two years after the death of the previous Dalai Lama.  Typically, the search for all of the Dalai Lamas has been in Tibet, but the 14th Dalai Lama has said that it is possible he will be reincarnated outside of Tibet if it is in China’s control. The High Lamas, in charge of finding the Dalai Lama, first go to Lhamo Lhatso Lake to receive a vision of where to begin the search.  When they find the boy they believe is to be the next Dalai Lama, they give him a series of tests including identifying the past Dalai Lama’s artifacts out of a set of identical objects.  If multiple boys equally pass the tests, the High Lamas put the boys’ names in an urn and a name is drawn out in public.  The 14th Dalai Lama says that as a child looking through the Potala Palace, where he was educated in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, he recognized the rooms and the objects in them from his previous life, although he says he has no memory of his previous lives as a whole. When the Dalai Lama is discovered, he almost immediately begins his training.  He is educated in logic, Tibetan art, Tibetan culture, Sanskrit, medicine, Buddhism, poetry, music, drama, astrology, phrasing, and synonyms.  He is allowed to receive gifts from his family and to see them.  The 14th Dalai Lama’s brother was even allowed to go with him to the Palace and study. The 14th Dalai Lama was the fifth of 16 children and was born in a small village.  When he turned 15, he was formally initiated as the Dalai Lama because of the Chinese invasion of Tibet.  In 1959, he fled to India to escape Chinese persecution.  Both the head of state and the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama currently lives in exile in India, traveling the world and teaching loving-kindness and peace.

DAOISM.  A Chinese philosophy articulated by Laozi in the Daodejing and by Zhuang Zhou in the Zhuangzi that seeks harmony by means of passivity and humility.  Dao means “road” or “way” and refers to the processes of life which flow in a back and forth, correlative pattern between yin and yang.  It is used as both a noun and a verb.  Although the dao is ultimately inaccessible to human minds, the “true person” (zhen ren) may seek unity with the dao through effortless action (wu wei), accepting the flow of reality between yin and yang.  One ought not to draw moral (good vs. bad) or aesthetic (beautiful vs. ugly) distinctions, for these human forms of ordering the world interrupt the dao.

DARWINISM. Darwin influenced both biology as well as philosophy as a whole and even economics and politics.  His work has tended to support a secular, naturalistic description and explanation of human life as part of the natural world.  The issues of significance for philosophy of religion that arise as part of the legacy of Darwin’s work include: Is evolutionary biology alone sufficient to account for the emergence of consciousness, moral and aesthetic values, and religion?  Does Darwinian evolutionary biology undermine an ethic ofcompassion and justice?  For example, would a human being have a compelling moral reason to be compassionate or act justly if such an act would undermine his survival and/or the survival of all those in his genetic family?  Can naturalism or theism better explain why there is a world in which evolution takes place?  While evolutionary biology has been interpreted as undermining a theistic argument from design, evolution could not take place without stable laws of chemistry and physics.  An argument from design can therefore take place at a deeper level of explanation: How is one best to account for the cosmos as a whole, replete with evolution?

DEONTOLOGY. Theories that moral duties or requirements and moral prohibitions are binding and not contingent on their consequences, especially in terms of utilitarian calculations.  Cases may arise when doing an immoral act (e.g., framing an innocent person) that might bring about some good or avoid suffering (e.g., preventing a race riot).  A deontologist will not condone the evil act, regardless of the consequences.  Contrast with CONSEQUENTIALISM.

DHARMA.  Sanskrit, “carrying/holding.” A term in Indian religions used to refer to right action.  It is sometimes used as a translation of religion.

DISSENT. An important religious and moral category, whereby a person may claim allegiance to a religious community or tradition and yet protest or not consent to some community or traditional rule or teaching.  For example, one may claim to be a faithful Roman Catholic and yet dissent on church teaching about the celibacy of priests or the impermissibility of female priests.

DIVINE COMMAND THEORY. The belief that moral truths can be analyzed in terms of God’s approval or disapproval.  Strong versions hold that moral truths consist of what God commands, whereas moderate versions claim that moral truths can be analyzed in terms of God’s approval or disapproval.  On this view, X is morally wrong entails God disapproves of X.  Some object to the strong version on the grounds that an atheist can have a clear comprehension of moral truths while denying the existence of God.  This alone does not seem decisive, for one can have a clear comprehension of some things and properties (from water to the concept of truth) without knowing or while even denying their underlying structure. Divine command theories face the worry that God’s commands may be free and unconstrained.  If God approved of rape or murder or the sacrifice of a child (see Genesis 22:1-19, the narrative of Abraham and Isaac), would such acts be morally required? Some reply by modifying their account to make explicit God’s essential goodness.  In this framework, God would not command murder, et. al.  Some theists claim that God’s commands have normative force due to God’s role as Creator.  If God creates and conserves a good cosmos, do not creatures in some sense belong to God and owe some allegiance to the Creator?  On this view, God’s commands have normative force due to divine ownership.

DOGMA. From the Greek, dogma, “that which seems to one, opinion or belief” (which in turn comes from the Greek verb, dokeo, “to think, to suppose, to imagine”). An authoritative belief or doctrine.  While technically the term is synonymous with doctrine, it is often used negatively to refer to a rigid belief that is held without any evidence.

DOUBLE EFFECTS, PRINCIPLE OF. A principle of medieval theology that is still used to warrant acts that have ill as well as good effects.  An act like giving a large dose of morphine to a patient may be permissible if it is intended to control or eliminate pain even if it has the foreseen consequence of suppressing the patient’s breathing and thus causing her death.  Stringent conditions in biomedical ethics would have to be met for this to be unproblematic: the patient must be terminally ill, the use of morphine is in accord with the consent of the patient, and so on. Formally, the principle condones action with ill effects under four conditions:  (1) The action from which ill is caused must be either good itself or neutral.  (2) The agent’s intention must be to do good.  (3) The good and evil or ill is causally immediate so that the evil is not a means for the good.  (4) There must be grave, good reasons for permitting the evil or ill.  The principle is designed to block a straightforward utilitarianism calculation in which the end justifies the means, but it is difficult to rule out some utilitarian use of the principle, especially in light of the fourth condition. A controversial use of the principle would allow a Roman Catholic physician to terminate a pregnancy but only indirectly and if it was an essential, necessary consequence of saving the mother’s life.  Under such conditions, the intent must be to save the mother and not to perform an abortion, viz. A strict Roman Catholic cannot save the mother by means of the abortion, but thus allows (without requiring) action that may terminate pregnancy under highly stringent (and increasingly rare) conditions.

DOUBT. The belief in the improbability of a proposition or the lack of belief about the certainty of a proposition.  One doubts a propositionto the extent that one either believes the proposition is false or implausible.  Doubt may be compatible with belief so long as the belief is not completely implausible.  Given that when a person believes X to be true, it appears to the person that X is true, it seems impossible for a person to believe X if there is incontrovertible evidence known to the person that X is false (for X would then appear not to be true). Even so, evidence and belief can function on multiple levels.  A belief that X may endure despite there being both evidence known for and against its truth.

DUALISM. This is most abused term in the English language.  It can mean almost anything, but it is typically used by many as a denigrating term.  A dualist is someone who defends a disastrous and preposterous bifurcation of the soul and body, treating the body as a kind of vehicle for the soul. Actually, the term “dualism” was introduced to describe Zoroastrianism, which is very much neglected and deserves closer study in the west.  (Zoroaster is one of the few figures, or the only figure, from the East to appear in the famous painting of the School of Athens). A better name for the idea that persons are more than material objects is pluralism.

DUTY. From the Latin debere for “to owe.” In moral theory, duties and obligations (the terms are not used synonymously) are sometimes contrasted with virtues and vices. Obligations involve states of character and emotions (passions, the disposition to pleasure or sorrow), whereas duties are sometimes thought to have normative authority no matter what one’s emotions or character.

EGOISM. Psychological egoism is the view that persons by nature always act ultimately upon some perceived self-interest.  Ethical egoism is the view that one ought to act out of self-interests if one fully understands a situation.  Such an ethical type was popularized in the 20th century by Ayn Rand in her essays and novels.  Some philosophers deny that egoism should be recognized as an ethical theory, as ethics involves impartial, disinterested inquiry.  A reply to this charge is that egoism can (at least in principle) be defended on the grounds of impartial reflection.  In the worn-out but useful phrase, “A rose that beautifies itself, beautifies the whole garden.”  One of the most prominent and forceful critics of psychological and ethical egoism was Bishop Joseph Butler in the 18th century.  Also, Dostoevsky criticized the popular secular egoism of Western Europe according to which, if one pursues one’s own best interests, the best interests of society will also be pursued (notably his work, Notes from the Underground). 

EIGHTFOLD PATH. The ideal way of living according to the Buddhist faith that leads to enlightenment: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

ENLIGHTENMENT.  An intellectual, cultural, and philosophical movement in the 18th century, which emphasized human reason and freedom from tradition, especially religious tradition.  Kant offered as a motto of the Enlightenment: “Dare to know” (Latin: sapere aude).  Contemporary philosophers are not united in assessing the achievement of the Enlightenment.  Thinkers during the Enlightenment seemed to advance the case for human rights (see humanism), but thinkers such as Hume and Kant also appear to be guilty of racism, Locke (paradoxically given his other convictions) seemed to allow slavery, and the Enlightenment’s concept of reason has been critiqued as culture-specific and not (as Kant and others hoped) universal.  Enlightenment can also refer to the Buddhist concept of liberation or nirvana, an escape from the cycle of death and rebirth (samsara).

EPISTEMOLOGY.  From the Greek epistēmē, meaning “knowledge.”  Epistemology is the study of or theories about knowledge.  One may also use the term “epistemic” as an adjective to refer to that which pertains to knowledge; e.g., do we have epistemic access to the will of God?  In epistemology one also studies theories of evidence, justification, and warrant.  What are the possible modes or ways of knowing the world, ourselves, morality and the divine?  Questions that bear specifically on the justification of religious beliefs are addressed in religious epistemology. Some philosophers identify epistemology as the distinguishing mark of modern philosophy, beginning with Descartes.  It is very difficult to do epistemology, however, without also doing metaphysics (which concerns theories and accounts of what exists).  A question such as “Can we trust our sensory experience?” presupposes that there is such a thing as sensory experience, trust, and (most obviously) ourselves.  Modern philosophy may rightly be seen as privileging epistemology, but not is such a way that completely overshadows metaphysics.

EQUIPROBABILISM. The thesis that if a precept (a prohibition of some liberty) is equally probable as the probability that liberty is permissible, an agent may act in liberty.  Imagine there is some reason for an agent on moral or religious grounds to be celibate as part of his vocation, but he also has some reason to pursue a licit sexual relationship.  Equiprobabilism would allow liberty in this case.  It is grounded on the assumption that “possession is the better claim” (melior est conditio possidentis).  Given that persons possess liberty, there is a presumption that exercising liberty is permissible unless overridden by good reasons.

EUDAIMONIA.  Greek for “happiness, well-being, or success.” A central claim of Aristotle and those influenced by him is that human flourishing (eudaimonia) is a fundamental good.  Eudaimonian ethics are often a part of natural law, a theory that goodness consists in the fulfillment of nature.  On this view, there is such a thing as human nature and a set of goods and excellences that comprise a fulfilled human being.

EVANGELISM.  The proclaiming of the Gospel (euangelion). The term ‘evangelist’ is used three times in the NT (Acts 21.8; Eph 4.11; 2 Tim 4.5), alongside other designations of ministry or gift. The Apostles are also said to have ‘evangelized’. Today the term ‘evangelism’ is used particularly to refer to methods of proselytization performed by Evangelicals, which can include rallies with key speakers, beach missions, dissemination of tracts, and the development of styles of worship (using contemporary media and music, for example) that seem continuous with other aspects of people’s lives.

EVIDENCE. In most theories of knowledge historically, evidence is a normative concept of reason that can justify, entitle, or warrant a belief. Some naturalists have proposed nonnormative accounts, according to which evidence is that which supports reliable beliefs for human beings whose cognition has developed through evolution.

EVIDENTIALISM.  The view that beliefs are not justified unless supported by evidence.  This position is thought to have reached its zenith point in Descartes, Locke, Hume, and W. K. Clifford.  Clifford (1845-1879) held that it is asin to ever hold a belief without sufficient evidence.  Unfortunately, he never defined what constitutes sufficient evidence.

EXISTENTIALISM. A philosophical and literary movement that emerged in Europe (most notably in France) following WWII.  19th century writers such as Soren Kierkegaard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Fredrich Nietzsche foreshadow many of the themes that existentialists later picked up on and further developed.  The existentialist movement itself encompassed a vast array of thinkers, both theistic (e.g., Gabriel Marcel) and atheistic (e.g., John Paul Sartre). Some consider existentialism to be more of a general “mood” than a systematic school of thought, making it a difficult term to pin down.  In general, existentialism was highly critical of essentialism and the search for an abstract, universal “human nature,” focusing instead on the plight of the concrete individual in his or her quest for authenticity, that is, responsibility (as opposed to anonymity) for one’s actions and values.  Existentialists typically ascribed a radical freedom to individuals, and they often wrote of angst or anxiety in the face of death and meaninglessness, questioning why they had been “thrown” into existence.  Many considered “nothingness” to be a basic category. Key existentialists include Lequier, Berdyaev, Buber, Rilke, Camus, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Unamuno, Ortega, Heidegger, Jaspers, Bultmann, Marcel, Tillich, Sartre, and Kafka.

FAITH.  May refer either to what is believed (religious teaching or creeds) or the act of believing itself.  The latter has a subjective dimension, whereas the first is often thought to be objective in the sense that its truth or falsehood does not rest on the believer’s subjective state.  Philosophers and theologians have advanced competing models of faith.  Fideists claim that religious faith does not require external evidential justification.  Some hold that faith is evidentially justified (Richard Swinburne is a paradigm example).  Norman Malcolm distinguished between faith in (as in “faith in God”) versus faith that (as in “faith that God exists”), claiming that one can have the first without the second.  Roger Trigg has countered that it makes no sense to have faith in God unless one believes (hopes or assumes) God exists.  Some theologians describe “faith” as gift, conferred through God’s mercy.

FALLIBILISM.  The thesis that human beliefs are capable of error, in opposition to the idea that some beliefs or texts are incapable of error or infallible.  Some philosophers historically and today have held that some human beliefs are infallible (the self exists, there are sensations), but many philosophers today are content to argue that such convictions about the self and so on are justified but not established as infallible knowledge.  If a belief is infallibly known, it is incorrigible (not subject to correction), but it is possible (logically) for a belief to be incorrigible without being infallible.

FALSIFIABILITY.  Karl Popper proposed that an essential condition of meaningful scientific statements was their liability to falsifiability.  On Popper’s view, Freudian psychoanalysis was suspect because it seemed incapable of being shown to be false.  In the 1950s and 1960s Anglophone philosophers questioned whether religious beliefs were falsifiable.  Paradoxically, a prominent nontheistic philosopher Moritz Schlick claimed that the existence of anafterlife is not falsifiable (the living will never know if the dead survive in some other realm) but it is verifiable if true.

FATE / FATALISM. One’s fate is one’s destiny, and fatalism is the view that one’s fate is fixed or predetermined and that any acts to alter the inevitable future are done in vain.

FIDEISM.  From the Latin, literally means “Faith-ism.”  A radical form of fideism holds that evidence is of no relevance to the nature and integrity of faith.  Less radical forms of fideism allow for some justificatory reasons through religious experience, for example, but resist rationalist or empiricist methodologies and what some call evidentialism (the thesis that for a belief to be licit it must be supported by available evidence).

FINE TUNING ARGUMENT. The fine-tuning argument is a version of the teleological argument for the existence of God based on the so-called fine-tuning of the cosmos for life.  “Cosmic fine-tuning” refers to the widely accepted claim that the laws and certain fundamental numbers (i.e., constants) of physics, along with the initial conditions of the universe, must have been set with enormous precision in order for life to exist, particularly embodied conscious beings of our level of intelligence.  For example, it is commonly claimed by physicists that if the cosmological constant – a fundamental number that influences the rate at which the universe is expanding – were not within one part in 10120 (i.e., 1 followed by 120 zeroes) of what physicists consider its natural range of values, the universe would have expanded too rapidly for stars to have formed, hence practically eliminating the possibility of life evolving. There are three basic responses to this fine-tuning. First, some appeal to some sort of transcendent cause – such as God – to explain the existence of a life-permitting universe.  Second, advocates of the so-called multiverse hypothesis claim that there are an enormous number of regions of space-time, with a wide variety of different constants, initial conditions, or even laws, and hence it is likely that at least one region would have just the right combination for life. Finally, some say that the existence of a life-permitting universe was just an extraordinarily lucky accident and that there is no further explanation for our existence. Although many advocates of the fine-tuning argument claim that God is the best explanation for the existence of a life-permitting universe, they need not make this claim.  For example, John Leslie speculates that the transcendent cause is some Platonic principle of “ethical requiredness,” whereas Robin Collins prefers to think of the fine-tuning argument as only providing confirmation for theism, not as claiming that theism offers the best explanation of our universe.

FIRST CAUSE ARGUMENT.  A version of the cosmological argument, according to which the cosmos had a first cause either in time (in which case the cosmos has a beginning) or in the order of being.  In the latter case, the cosmos may have had no beginning but its nature and being is possible only because of the reality and activity of a first cause.  Arguments for a first cause deny there can be an actual infinity of explanations or causes.

FIVE WAYS, THE. The customary term for Aquinas’ five arguments for the existence of God.  These conclude that there is (1) a first mover, (2) a first efficient cause, (3) a necessary being, (4) a maximally perfect being, and (5) a designer.

FOREKNOWLEDGE. Ability to know the future.  Given an omniscient God (in a strong, unrestricted sense of omniscience), foreknowledge must be one of the divine attributes.  Foreknowledge does raise paradoxes, however.  If God knows you will freely read this entry in 2011, could you have done otherwise?  Most monotheists hold that God is eternal and that God only foreknows what you will do from our point of view, whereas to God all times are present to God’s eternal presence.  Some moderns (often called open theists) deny divine foreknowledge and understand omniscience as covering all that is possible for God (or any being) to know.  They thereby restrict omniscience to not including all future acts.

FORGIVENESS. The traditional definition of forgiveness is that it involves a person forswearing (or moderating) resentment directed at a presumed wrong-doer.  The forgiver is one who has been either directly or indirectly wronged; it would make no sense for someone to forgive a person unless that person is believed to have wronged the forgiver.  Questions arise about the relationship of forgiveness and mercy, whether forgiveness can be wrong, and the extent to which forgiveness must be relational.  Is forgiveness conditional on the wrong-doer confessing and reforming?

FREE WILL. The most stringent form of free will is called libertarianism and holds that a subject freely does X when she does X but could have done otherwise, even given all prior and contemporaneous events and the prevailing laws of nature.  Less stringent forms of free will held by thinkers such as Locke and Hume hold that freedom involves simply a subject acting upon given desires (whose origin is not of concern).  The latter is compatible withdeterminism—insofar as the desires an individual wills to fulfill may be completely determined—this view is sometimes called compatibilism.

FREE WILL DEFENSE. A term popularized by Alvin Plantinga for arguing that atheism is not entailed by the existence of a good, omnipotent God and the existence of evil.  Plantinga argued that it is possible that an all good, all powerful God may allow evil due to the free action of creatures.  He presented this argument as a defense, rather than a theodicy.  The latter involves arguing that it is reasonable to believe theism is true notwithstanding world evil, whereas a defense argues that it is not unreasonable to accept theism and world evil.  The Free Will Defense has an important role in the logical form of the problem of evil.

FRIENDSHIP.  An important concept going back to Plato and Aristotle.  Friendship has been largely conceived of as a reflexive, reciprocal relationship (love or affection between friends is to be mutual), and one that is particular rather than general.  That is, it is customarily believed that both parties in a friendship deserve or merit preferential treatment by each other.  The particularity of friendship vexed medieval monastic tradition as it was thought of as incompatible with Christ’s command to love all persons.  Aelred of Rievaulx (c. 1110-1167) launched a successful defense of preferential friendships in Spiritual Friendships. Important questions in a philosophy of friendship include: Can a good person be friends with someone wicked?  Can one be friends with someone who possesses far greater power?  If a friendship ends in enmity, was it ever a bona fide friendship?  Does friendship consist in or give rise to moral duties?  Can a friendship be considered analogous to a work of art?  Is friendship a basic good or something that is good for other reasons, e.g., it leads to happiness?  Can one be friends with God?

GOLDEN RULE. “Do onto others as you would have others do onto you.”  This ethical command occurs in numerous religious traditions, although usually in the negative form; e.g., Confucius said “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”

GOOD, THE.  Most commonly used in a broad, Platonic context to refer to goodness in general or the form or property by which good things are good.  Platonists have traditionally held that the goodness of particular things and acts are good in virtue of the property the Good.

GRACE. An unmerited favor.  In theology, grace has been conceived in formal, penal terms (through grace God forgives sins), and as linked to gifts such as God’s creation and redemption.  Creation itself has been construed as a matter of common grace and God’s calling of souls to salvation as special grace.  Infused grace occurs when God instills in the soul the gift of faith or virtue.

GUILT. One is guilty of a wrong-doing if one is morally responsible for the act and therefore worthy of blame. The state of being guilty (Guilt) differs from the state of feeling guilt (Shame). Some religious rites of confession, remorse, repentance, forgiveness, and personal renewal are believed to involve absolution, the removal of guilt.

HONOR. Honor is controversial–vital to some, abhorrent to many, alien to others.  It inspires lives of integrity and courage, but also acts of violence and oppression, and some think it has become “obsolescent” (Peter Berger). Some philosophers (e.g. Marilyn Adams), impressed with the anthropological study of so-called “honor cultures,” find deep roots for thinking of honor in the Abrahamic sacred texts.  But mostly philosophers ignore the concept. This neglect is unfortunate, especially if based on conflating different concepts all labeled “honor” (honor as reputation, recognition, status, achievement, trust, commitment, and the like); even when distinguished, however, these concepts are peripheral to normative work today.  Rather, the central concept of honor should be personal honor, a Janus-concept facing both inward (an individual’s responsibility, rooted in character, for maintaining her own honor) and outward (membership in an honor group, commitment to its publicly-shared code, and special trust in members of the group).  Personal honor varies (in both membership and code) from group to group, so that some instances may be noble, others despicable.  Such honor is relative and hence not the same as morality, though in some instances honor is at least consistent with morality.  Arguably personal honor is nearly ubiquitous in human societies, and not least in our own–in the military, of course, but also in sports, professions, the family, politics, and elsewhere.  In religion, the concept is useful not only for describing religious communities and their members’ normative commitments to one another and to the object of their ultimate concerns, but perhaps also in theocentric thinking about God’s relations to humanity.  In short, although it currently lies fallow, personal honor is a fertile field for philosophical and theological cultivation.

HUMANISM. A term that today is often thought to imply secularism, but was originally used more broadly to refer to those who gave a central focus and value to human life.  Erasmus and Thomas More (now St. Thomas More, since his canonization in 1935) were humanists but hardly secular (except in the older, general sense in that they were not monks).

HUMILITY.  Humility is a virtue with a checkered history.  We find reference to it in both the Christian and Jewish traditions as a state of character in which one compares oneself against God and finds oneself lacking.  Such proper recognition of human limits through appeal to the distinction between the finite and the infinite, the human and the divine, is at the heart of religious self-understanding, and versions of the virtue thus understood can be found in writings from Augustine to Aquinas, and from Bernard of Clairvaux to Ignatius Loyola.

Yet such comparisons of oneself to God can lead also to apparently unseemly states of character, as for example, when Ignatius Loyola asserts that, to be humble, one must recognize oneself as “foul”, or as “wounds” or “ulcers” who are worthy of nothing.  Furthermore, problems can arise about how to understand one’s worth vis à vis other persons on the basis of this comparison with the divine.  On the one hand, comparison of oneself to the divine seems to be the great equalizing force in human relations:  if I am less worthy than a divine being, then so too are all other humans.  We are all thus in the same boat, worth-wise.  Yet the history of humility shows, on the other hand, that a comparison of oneself with the divine becomes associated with comparing oneself unfavorably against other persons.  So, Bernard of Clairvaux asserts that the humble person considers himself inferior to other persons as well as to God and St. Benedict says similarly in his Rule that the humble person should consider himself lower and of less worth than other people, comparing oneself even to a worm.

Because of such problems that arise when trying to make sense of a virtue centered on appreciating one’s own limits, humility has thus also been vigorously rejected.  David Hume, most famously, accuses it of being a “monkish” virtue that has no utility and that should, therefore, be excised from the catalogue of virtues.  Images of false humility, such as Uriah Heep in David Copperfield, only encourage us to this Humean abandonment of humility as a virtue.

Nonetheless, there have also been recent efforts to re-conceptualize this virtue in a way that avoids the excesses of earlier versions of it.  Recent, secular accounts of it suggest that humility is simply the virtue of proper self-understanding, a state in which I accurately understand both my capacities and my limits.  Such awareness is, furthermore, achieved for some not so much by a human/divine comparison, but by honest comparison of oneself with other persons.  Some of these theorists, keen to avoid the problematic Christian history of the virtue, even seek instead to associate this proper self-understanding more with Aristotelian magnanimity:  a proper self-understanding of someone who genuinely has flaws would encourage something more akin to traditional accounts of humility; but the proper self-understanding of someone who really had no flaws and was in fact a perfectly moral person would look more like Aristotle’s magnanimous man who knows his worth and knows how to treat himself and other persons in light of that fact.

Other moral theorists, following Kant’s suggestion that self-other comparison is more a source of the worst evils in the world than any of its virtues, have sought a Kantian-style comparison of self with the demands of morality as the route to acquiring humility.  None of us could be without flaws in comparison with the strict demands of morality, so the thought that some of us would emerge from our self-analysis with magnanimity is misguided. Instead, honest assessment of self leads to a humiliation or constraint of oneself on the one hand (because one recognizes that one always falls short of the demands of morality) and, on the other, an abiding respect for oneself (because one recognizes oneself as the source of moral reasons and demands in the first place).  Such a secular account of humility, while abandoning the traditional human/divine comparison, retains the traditional belief in the equally limited status of all humans.

ILLATIVE. A term from the work of John Henry Newman to refer to an innate awareness we may have of values and the sacred.

IMPURITY.  Concepts of impurity have a role in many religions that demarcate the sacred or the holy from that which is profane or worldly. So, in traditional Judaism, adultery was seen as making the adulterer impure, a state that either called for a capital punishment or for rigorous rites and acts of cleansing. Impurities may stem not just from immoral acts, but from the failure to properly observe rituals. Historically, the concept of impurity is akin to the concept of a pollutant, a toxin that despoils something good or intended to be pure.

INCOMMENSURABILITY. Two values are incommensurate if they cannot be compared in importance or significance on a single scale or framework.  For example, what is more important: friendship or art?

INFALLIBILITY.  Incapable of being in error.  Some conservative Christians believe the Bible is infallible.

INSPIRATION.  In philosophy of religion, inspiration is most often associated with the concept of revelation.  Traditional Christians, for example, believe that the scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

INTEGRITY.  Today the concept of integrity is sometimes seen as mere self-consistency; thus, a consistently wicked person (a rigorous Nazi) may be thought of as possessing integrity.  The older concept of integrity (derived from the Latin integritās for “wholeness”) involved a person being faithful to authentic, good ideals.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN. The intelligent design movement, which has flourished in North America since the 1990s, aims to present a paradigm for the origin and development of life on earth that will provide an alternative to, and can eventually replace, the prevailing Darwinian theory of evolution.  Intelligent design proponents claim to objectively and reliably identify features of biological life that cannot be explained on the basis of randomness plus the uniform operation of impersonal natural laws.  These features, it is inferred, must be the product of intelligent design.

Intelligent design theory as such does not take a position concerning the identity and characteristics of the designer, so the theory is claimed to be non-religious and suitable for inclusion in public school curricula.  At the same time, however, it is clear that much of the motivation for the theory is to provide a religion-friendly replacement for Darwinism, which is perceived as favoring naturalism and atheism.

While the theory has found favor with conservative religious groups and with a small minority of scientists, most scientists (including many that are religious believers) reject it on the grounds that (1) The claims concerning the failure of Darwinism are unfounded or at best premature; (2) The movement presents no constructive scientific alternative; its scientific efforts are almost entirely devoted to criticizing Darwinism; (3) Intelligent design is really a thinly disguised version of creationism, a view that has repeatedly been characterized by the courts as inherently religious and unsuitable for public education.

INTENTION. In Christian moral theory, intention is held to have important moral significance, even if not acted upon.  Good intentions may also excuse otherwise bad acts.

INTUITION. From the Latin “to look at.” Some philosophers claim to know certain truths, especially in ethics, by intuition rather than through discursive reasoning.

IRONY. From the Greek eironeia, meaning “dissembling.”  Irony is broken into three main types: verbal, dramatic, and situational. Verbal irony occurs when an individual conveys an idea by intentionally conveying the opposite. Sarcasm is an example of this type of irony.

Dramatic irony refers to narrative forms of media. When a consumer of the media is aware of information that characters in the narrative are unaware of, dramatic irony occurs. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the audience knows Polonius is hiding in Gertrude’s bedchamber, but Hamlet thinks it is Claudius.

When one’s actions lead to the opposite of one’s intention, situational irony occurs. In Oedipus Rex, it is ironic that Oedipus’ attempt to not fulfill the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother led directly to Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother.

One of the earliest, and most famous, examples of irony in philosophy comes from Socrates. In fact, Socratic irony is still employed today. In conversation with others, Socrates would feign ignorance, asking lots of questions. This tactic ironically led to the person who disagreed with him reaching Socrates’ intended conclusion seemingly of his own accord.

Soren Kierkegaard employed irony to better articulate his arguments. Kierkegaard wrote many of his works using pseudonyms. Interestingly though, he did not always completely agree with what his pseudonyms said. He would articulate their view points, but Kierkegaard’s deeper lessons actually came from the ironies that rose when those viewpoints were followed to their logical conclusions.

More recently, irony has been used to describe perceptions of reality by philosophers such as Richard Rorty. From an ironic view point anything can be made to look good or bad through redescription. Billy says it is good that it is sunny out because he is tired of bad weather, but Suzy says that it is bad because she is distracted from her homework. It is philosophically ironic that both Billy and Suzy are right depending on how one describes the situation. Some ironists reject the idea of any ultimate truths.

JIHAD. An Arabic word that translates most literally as “to strive” or “to struggle.” In the context of Islamic thought, jihad refers to striving in the pursuit of divine good which can take a number of different forms, including but not limited to violent warfare.  The Islamic tradition of jurisprudence, which overlaps with Islamic philosophy, contains lively and intricate reflection on questions about what constitutes just cause, competent authority, what is permitted and forbidden in the prosecution of war, the place of extreme emergencies, and other topics familiar to Western ethical discussions of war.  While in jurisprudence jihad has referred primarily to struggle in the form of warfare, in the larger horizon of Islamic thought its reference has always been more broad, including activities such as the struggle to purify one’s heart, strive after knowledge, and pursue justice through political means in addition to warfare.

KARMA.  Sanskrit for “action.”  A belief in Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Indian religions in which morally good or evil actions come back to the actor; a good action comes back to the actor in benefits and an evil action comes back to the actor in punishments.  In Hinduism there are three types of karma: acts in a previous life manifest in this life, acts in this life manifest in this life, and acts in this life manifest in a future life.  A good action reaps good karma while evil action reaps bad karma.  For example, if I donate a lot of my money to charities, in the next life I may become a queen, but if I cheat on an exam, I may be fired from a job later in this life.  A popular expression summarizing karma is “what goes around comes around.” The religions that have a divine figure believe that that figure deals out the karma while non-theistic religions believe that karma is simply cause and effect not needing any sort of judge.

LOGICAL POSITIVISM. An empiricist movement according to which a proposition is meaningful if and only if it concerns the relation of ideas (definitions) or if the truth or falsehood of the proposition is evident (in principle) empirically.  This principle was used by A. J. Ayer and others to argue that religious language was not meaningful.  There was great controversy in the middle and late 20th century about whether the principle is itself meaningful and about the role of empirical evidence.  It appears, for example, that there are statements about the future that are meaningful but could (in principle) never, if true, be verified.  For example, “There will never be a planet with unicorns and hobbits.”

LOVE. In Greek, one can identify eros as one form of love which involves desire.  This may or may not be sensuous or erotic.  Another form of love was called phileo, which can designate friendship love or the love of a virtue likewisdom.  Agape love was considered a love that was divine or unconditional, not dependent upon the particular characteristics of the beloved. Today the term “love” has a wide variety of meanings and it is sometimes used in a way that is morally neutral, e.g., just because someone loves it does not entail that the love is virtuous or good, for a person may be said to love cruelty.  Be that as it may, Platonic philosophical tradition from Plato to the Florentine academy and the Cambridge Platonists in which love is understood to be the key to the fulfillment of the soul as the soul seeks to love the good, the true, and the beautiful. Questions in the philosophy of love include: Does love have to rest on reasons?  What is the relationship between impartial charity and the preferential love of a person?  Is loving a person a matter of loving the properties of the person (her wit, intelligence, elegance, and so on) or of loving the person who has these properties but might lose them?  Can you love another person too much?

MEANING. Questions about the meaning of a place, action or event often involve questions about the cause or consequences of the thing in question or its significance and value. Questions of meaning may therefore be quite broad in philosophy of religion, and include the broadest of all questions: What is the meaning of life? A Buddhist answer to this question will differ from a Christian answer. Questions about the meaning of texts raise theoretical questions about the significance of the original intention of the author(s), the surrounding, historical conditions, and the current conditions in which the text is encountered. The practice (art) of interpreting texts is called hermeneutics (from the Greek hermenia for “interpretation” or “explanation”). Theories of meaning that stress the intended meaning by the author or speaker are called internal theories, while theories that stress established public usage are called external theories.

MEDIATION.  In philosophy of religion, mediation is of concern in the context of religious experience, prayer, Christology, and redemption.  In religious experience, philosophers debate whether the experience of God (or the sacred) can be direct or whether it must be mediated by sensory or some other cognitive state.  In prayer, some believe that one can pray to a saint or angel to intercede on one’s behalf.  In Christology, Jesus is traditionally understood to be the mediator between God the Father and the world.  In matters of redemption, historically there have been controversies over whether the church needs to function as a mediator between the soul and God and over whether Mary is a proper mediator in a soul’s journey to redemption.

MEDITATION.  A contemplative state of mind that has a different but sometimes closely related role in different religions.  So, in theistic religions, there is a common practice of persons contemplating scripture or icons or a holy teaching in the course of the practitioner opening her mind to the presence of God.  In Buddhism, meditation often takes a different course in which the goal of meditation may be to see through the diaphanous, spurious nature of ego-driven desire and to see the unreality of the ostensible substantial self.

METAPHOR. From the Greek metaphora, meaning “to transfer or transform.” Metaphors are typically derived from nonmetaphorical literal language that is transferred to a new context based on a presumed analogy.  In “Your dictionary is a breath of fresh air,” “fresh air” is a metaphorical attribution.  Some distinguish between live and dead metaphors.  A dead metaphor, sometimes called a cliché, is a usage that is so common that it fails in terms of vividness, surprise, or the making of a novel connection.  For example, “When you left me, you broke my heart.”

METAPHYSICS. Theories of what exists.  Some use the term to designate entities that are posited beyond empirical observation, but such usage is not standard.  Metaphysics is difficult to escape.  Even to claim, “I doubt the reliability of metaphysics” makes a claim about what exists (the self and doubt, for starters).

METHOD / METHODLOGY. There are a variety of methods employed in philosophy of religion such as phenomenology and analytical philosophy with its premium on conceptual analysis.  Some philosophers make an important distinction between a presupposition in methodology and the truth of that presupposition.  For example, someone may embrace methodological naturalism (assume that all explanations are in terms off natural, non-theistic or non-supernatural causes) and yet not accept the truth of naturalism.  Historical studies of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles that embrace methodological naturalism typically seek to either explain away or not affirm acts of God or miracles.  A nontheistic historian is more likely to treat prophecies about the future (as in Luke 21:20) as cases of vaticinium ex eventu (cases of when the writer is predicting an event that has already occurred) than if the historian is a theist who believes that there may be authentic God-inspired knowledge of the future.

MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE. The concept of middle knowledge was introduced to account for divine foreknowledge and future free action.  Middle knowledge consists of knowing what free agents would decide given certain states of affairs which may or may not obtain.  An instance of middle knowledge would consist in God knowing what you would do if you were offered a bribe of a certain amount under certain circumstances.  By God knowing those circumstances, God knows what you will freely do.  To posit middle knowledge of God involves holding that God knows not only all truths about what for us is the past, present, and future, but God knows all that would have occurred or might have occurred under different conditions.  Some philosophers opposing middle knowledge are called open theists.  They maintain, instead, that God’s omniscience covers all that can be known by God who exists in the present, and that future free contingent acts cannot be known until they occur.

MYSTICISM.  From the Greek mystes, meaning “one initiated into the mysteries.” Broadly speaking, a domain of experience of and reflection on the sacred that involves affective and cognitive states that are not empirical, or are not only empirical.  While the term is sometimes used disparagingly, it has a stable usage as a legitimate, even rigorous study of religiously significant states of consciousness as demonstrated by, for example, Evelyn Underhill’sclassic study Mysticism (1911).

NATURAL LAW. The theory that the nature of a being such as a human or a horse has a good or value.  According to natural law, the goodness of human life consists of the fulfilling of the capacities and powers that befit a complete human being.  Such powers may include the powers to think, sense, feel, love, act, and so on in ways that enhance human well being.

NATURAL RELIGION.  The religion that develops without revelation, special divine acts, or social manipulation.  The idea of a natural religion was paramount in the Enlightenment, especially among deists.

NATURAL THEOLOGY.  Reflection and argument on the natural world to learn about God’s nature and will.  Natural theology differs from revealed theology, which reflects on God and the world on the grounds of what is believed to be divine revelation, e.g., the Bible or the Qur’an.

NATURALISM. Strict naturalism holds that all of reality can be described and explained in the natural sciences.  Strict naturalists tend either to reduce or eliminate consciousness and other mental states, or provide bridge laws on the level of psychology that are derived from and based on a materialistic base.  Broader forms of naturalism may allow for states and facts beyond physics and chemistry, but there is a general stress on the sufficiency of science (including the social sciences) and the non-existence of God, the soul, and an afterlife.

NATURALISTIC FALLACY. The so-called fallacy of reasoning from matters of fact (e.g., people desire happiness) to a value (e.g., people ought to desire happiness).  Those advocating the recognition of such reasoning as fallacious uphold a strict distinction between facts and values.  Opponents counter that values (the goodness of human life) should be regarded as a fact and no less factual than standard facts such as the fact that this is a dictionary, 2 + 2 = 4, and water is H2O.

NATURE. From the Latin natura. (The Greek word, physis, gives us terms such as physical.) Something has a nature if it has value as a kind of being or thing (e.g., human nature).  Sometimes “nature” is used to refer to all that is not God.  Such usage is in tension with some theists who claim that God has a nature, e.g., the divine nature is maximally excellent.  “Nature” has been also been defined as “everything,” but such a broad characterization seems to rob the term of philosophical significance.

NECESSITY, THE NECESSARY. X is necessary if it is possible and not X is impossible.  Theists often regard God’s existence as necessary or non-contingent, while some diverge and claim that God’s existence is, rather, uncaused or without beginning or end and yet not necessary.  Necessity is sometimes conditional: given that you exist, it necessarily follows that at least one thing exists.  But from the latter it does not follow that you necessarily exist.

NEO-PLATONISM.  Modern term for the stage of Platonic Philosophy from the third to the sixth century CE. The founding figure is Plotinus (205-270). His is a meditation on Plato’s Parmenides: in Plotinus’ imaginative reading of the dialogue reality is defined as levels of unity. However the ultimate unity is not a pantheistic totality but a transcendent and immaterial cause of all beings. All of metaphysics culminates in a philosophical theology of the One, and practical philosophy is concerned with the immaterial soul’s return to this transcendent Source. Iamblichus (250-330) is the great watershed figure in Neo-platonism: he replaces philosophical theory with magical practices or theurgy. After Iamblichus, the return to the One is a ritual and liturgical rather than a purely contemplative exercise. Proclus (412-85) is the last major Neoplatonic philosopher in late Antiquity. Neo-platonism has a strong religious dimension and it became a source of opposition to Christianity, especially under Emperor Julian (the Apostate, 331-363). However, it exerted a vast and lasting influence upon medieval Christian, Muslim and Jewish theology.  The term can also be used for the dominant philosophy of the Italian Renaissance under Ficino, and for speculative developments in European Romanticism from Hegel to Emerson.

NIRVANAFrom the Pali nibbāna, meaning “to blow out” or “extinguish.”  According to Buddhism, nirvana, or Enlightenment, is the ultimate goal for which we ought to strive.  It is the only way to overcome the suffering (dukkha) of life and end the cycle of death and re-birth (samsara).  To attain nirvana, one must shed the illusion of selfhood and “blow out” all greed, hatred, and delusion.  Nirvana is similar to the Hindu concept of moksha.

NONMALEFICENCE. The precept that one should do no harm.  Some philosophers (e.g., Karl Popper, W.D. Ross, and John Rawls) hold that the duty of nonmaleficence is more stringent than the duty to do good.  The precept is pivotal to the Hippocratic Oath: First of all, do no harm (Primum non nocere).

OCKHAM’S RAZOR. From the original Latin phrase Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, meaning “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”  Ockham writes, “Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri per pauciora,” which is Latin for “It is pointless to do with more [things] what can be done with fewer.”  Ockham’s razor has been used widely by both naturalists and theists to defend their own positions while indirectly opposing others by claiming to have the simplest theory about a given subject such as ontology.

OMNIPOTENCE. A being is omnipotent if it is all-powerful. Philosophical attention to the divine attribute of omnipotence has involved such questions as: Is an omnipotent being restrained by logic or coherence?  For example, can an omnipotent being make a square circle? Could a being be so powerful that it creates itself?  Is there a conflict between the divine attributes of omnipotence and essential goodness?  A plausible analysis of essential goodness involves the property of being only able to do good and not evil.  But if an omnipotent being can do anything, shouldn’t an omnipotent being be able to do evil?  If so, it seems that there cannot be an essentially good, omnipotent being.  There are different replies historically to this argument.  Some argue that an essentially good being may have the ability to do evil, but simply never does evil.  Others argue that the ability to do evil is not itself a worthy, positive ability but a defect and unworthy of God.

OMNIPRESENCE. A being is omnipresent if there is no place where it is not.  Theists traditionally believe that God is ubiquitous or omnipresent but allow there to be a sense in which God may be absent when, for example, people do evil in defiance of God’s will and nature.  In such events, God is still present insofar as God continues to be the omnipotent, omniscient Creator and sustainer of the cosmos, but God’s reality is being deliberately ignored or shut out by evil agents.

OMNISCIENCE. A being is omniscient if it either knows all truths or knows all truth that it is possible to know.

ONTOLOGY. From the Greek ontos (being) + logia (study of). The study of being or an account of what exists.  One engages in ontology in the course of inquiring into what exists, and the result of this inquiry (when successful) is called an ontology.

OPEN QUESTION ARGUMENT. An argument designed to test identity claims.  If goodness is the very same thing as pleasure, then the question “Is pleasure good?” is not open.  An analogy: the question “Is H2O water?” is not open to those who know atomic theory.

PARADIGM. An ideal, governing case that serves to categorize similar cases.  If, for example, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism are paradigm cases of religions, one can use them to assess whether other traditions count as religions.

PERFECTIONISM.  Philosophers and theologians who believe that human beings should aspire and strive for perfection.  A perfectionist need not believe that human beings can actually attain perfection, but they should still seek it.  Most perfectionists are not utilitarians and they believe that perfection involves more than the cultivation of pleasure or happiness.

PERSONALISM. A movement which gives a central role to persons in the philosophy of God, ethics, and theology. Borden Parker Bowne is considered a founding member.  Other prominent personalists include Edgar Sheffield Brightman and Peter Bertocci at Boston University.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was influenced by his personalist professors at Boston University.

PERSONS, PERSONAL IDENTITY. A philosophy of persons and personal identity is central to a philosophy of the Trinity, human birth and death, and the standing of nonhuman animals.  The concept of being a person is fraught with moral consequences.  If personhood is not identical with being human, this opens the door to recognizing nonhuman animal and transcendent beings as persons, but it also opens the door to questioning whether all human beings are persons.  An example of the concept of being a person not essentially linked to human would be: a subject who can think, reason, desire, and act with a memory by which the subject may understand itself existing overtime.

PERSPECTIVALISM. The view that truth and falsehood are features of perspectives or points of view. Nietzsche defended a form of perspectivalism.  One challenge facing the theory is that it seems that the truth of perspectivalism cannot be a matter of perspectives, because from the perspective of many philosophers perspectivalism is false.

PHILOSOPHIA PERENNIS.  From the Latin, meaning “the perennial philosophy.” The idea that philosophy as a discipline has an enduring set of themes such as: the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; or the problem of knowledge,being, and governance; or Being and Becoming; or God and nature.

PLATONISM. Plato and Platonism are often caricatured in popular and sometimes scholarly literature.  Here is a popular view of Plato:

Plato denigrated the body as a prison and thought of life as a disease that we should escape.  The highest form of like is disembodiment.  Women may serve as rulers, but they are inferior to men.  Tyrannical, aristocratic, anti-democratic government is the best form of government which can be propped up by lies.  Killing the weak is fine.

It is possible to support this position with passages from what we have as Plato’s work.  But this position is open to challenge on many fronts, and may miss the dynamic, self-critical, and multi-layered nature of Plato’s work.

First, yes, early Platonic dialogues do see the body as a prison.  And on that point there is some reason to think that, if we live long enough, we too might think of the body as a prison.  But one can see great praise for bodily life in the Symposium, and in subsequent followers of Plato on some matters (Augustine in the City of God). Those critics who seize this or that passage in Plato’s work seem to treat him as a doctrinaire thinker, failing to appreciate how Plato’s dialogues portray a rich mind at work, thinking and re-thinking positions.  Although there is not space to defend the position here, Republic may be read on textual grounds as a kind of elaborate thought experiment in which Plato or the author is implicitly pro-democratic, some of the proposals being satirical in nature.  In this sense, Republic is best read the way Moore’s Utopia should be read: it is a holiday book, not a serious outline of an ideal society.  Plato also had a much higher view of women than his contemporaries did (including Aristotle). At the end of the day, one should consider Plato’s legacy as promoting the true, the good, and the beautiful.

PLURALISM. The term is sometimes used descriptively to designate the presence of variety (e.g., the USA is a pluralistic society) and sometimes normatively (e.g., salvation or enlightenment may be found in multiple religions).

POSSIBILITY. Metaphysically, X is possible if it is not impossible.  If X is possible it may be either contingent or necessary, but not both.  Epistemic possibility is different and refers to what seems to be the case.  Somethingmetaphysically impossible (time-travel) may seem epistemically possible.

POSSIBLE WORLDS. A maximum possible state of affairs.  In philosophical discussions of whether ours is the best possible world, the debate is over whether there could not be an alternative, maximum possible state of affairs. Our world is both possible and actual, but (arguably) there are other possible worlds that may have been actualized.

PNEUMA. Greek word meaning “spirit,” akin to Hebrew ruach and Latin spiritus, all of which also mean “breath.”  In ancient philosophy, pneuma refers to the breath that animates a living body, and so not just the physical breath but also the soul.  Anaximenes and the Pythagoreans identify this with that which unites not just the body but the whole cosmos.  In Aristotle, pneuma sometimes refers to warm air or to heat, and other times it refers to a substance that provides a link between the material body and the psyche. The Stoics took pneuma to be a combination of elemental air and fire.  In all of these ancient philosophers, there is some analogy between the pneuma circulating in the human body and the divine circulating in and animating the cosmos. The word is sometimes used in the New Testament and subsequent Christian theology to mean “soul.”  It is also used in Gnostic writings to distinguish those who had most liberated themselves from the material world by means of esoteric knowledge (the pneumatics) from those who were most in the grip of the material world (the hylics or somatics).

PRAGMATISM.  American philosophical movement beginning in the mid-19th century. Although a diverse philosophical tradition, pragmatists generally hold that beliefs get their meaning through their effects on action, that all thinking is problem solving, and that scientific inquiry provides the model for all knowledge. These views lead pragmatists to see beliefs as tools to be maintained as long as they are conducive to successful action. Any belief that holds no consequence for action is a meaningless belief.  Pragmatists universally deny any representational theory of the mind, any strict dualism between mind and body or thought and action, and the intelligibility of speculating about what transcends experience.  Pragmatists are often dismissive of religion. John Dewey thought it expressed the unreflective spirit of a people at a historical moment and William James took seriously the way certain forms of mystical experiences can shape actions, while denying that mystical experiences themselves provide evidence of a divine being. Josiah Royce, James’ colleague at Harvard and a correspondent with Charles Sanders Peirce, argued that pragmatist fallibilism only makes sense if it is supplemented with the belief in an Absolute Knower. He recasts this Absolute in his later works as an Infinite Community of Interpretation, towards which, he claims, Christianity uniquely aspires.  Charles Sanders Peirce, who coined the name “Pragmatism,” was hostile to creeds and to theologians in general, but he also held that evidential atheism and anti-religious sentiment were both abuses of science and impediments to human growth.  Classical Pragmatism is most closely connected to the writings of Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), William James (1842-1910), Josiah Royce (1855-1916), John Dewey (1859-1952),and  George Herbert Mead (1863-1931).  Later Pragmatists of note include Robert Brandom (1950 – ), Donald Davidson (1917-2003), Susan Haack (1945 – ), Jürgen Habermas (1929 – ), Joseph Margolis (1924 – ), Richard Rorty (1931-2007), and Cornel West (1953 – ).

PREDESTINATION.  The belief that the salvation or damnation of all persons is determined by God; a person may be predetermined to be saved prior to the time when the person actually attains salvation.  Supralapsarianism is the view that this predestination was elected by God before the fall, while infralapsarianism is the view that the divine decree occurred after the fall.  Single predestination is the thesis that God only predetermines souls for salvation, but does not decree who are reprobate or damned. Predestination is sometimes advanced as not just a thesis about ultimate salvation, but about every detail in the created order.  On this view, providence is determined by God. Some Christian philosophers have argued that predestination is compatible with freedom of the will of the creature.  By their lights, God’s predestination is linked to God’s foreknowledge.  By foreknowing what a creature will freely do, God’s determination of the soul’s end is made in virtue of what God knows the creature will freely do.

PRESENTISM. The view that only the present exists.  Theistic presentists hold that God is temporal, existing in the present moment and is not timelessly eternal.

PRIVATE LANGUAGE ARGUMENT. The meaning of language must be publicly confirmable and (in principle) its rules evident.  Attributed to Wittgenstein, this argument has been used against Cartesianism and skepticism.  D. Z. Phillips has used the argument that there can be no incorporeal divine being or consciousness.  Some philosophers have used skepticism to counter the private language argument.  Arguably, a case could arise when, for example, one could not confirm or know with certainty whether a person’s use of color terms is exactly the same as someone else’s.  Could an ostensibly unique case arise in which a person’s use of the term “red” is precisely akin to all Anglophone subjects and yet she sees what most people call “blue”?  This is called the problem of the inverted spectrum.

RADICAL ORTHODOXY. A movement involving high Anglican and Roman Catholic thinkers who contend that the form of secular reason that we today have inherited from the Enlightenment inevitably leads to a denial of values ornihilism.  Radical orthodoxy seeks a concept of theological reason that is not held hostage to secular values or reasoning.  Prominent advocates of radical orthodoxy include John Millbank and Graham Ward.

RATIONALITY / REASONABLE. Some philosophers treat the word ‘rationality’ as an instrumental form of thinking, such that it is rational to do X if it is the case that the agent desires to do Y and X is the most efficient means to bring about Y.  The term ‘reasonable’ is sometimes used by way of contrast to name the ability to assess the worthiness of the desires themselves.  If you desire to go to Rome, it may be rational to go there by such and such means, but one may then ask the question of whether desiring to go to Rome is the most reasonable goal to have given all other alternatives.

REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM.  From the Latin, meaning “reduction to absurdity.” Arguments that a given position is unacceptable because it leads to cases that are evidently preposterous i.e. implying a contradiction. Someone who is led to the position that he believes he has no belief may be in a reduction to absurdity.

RELATIVISM.  The general system of thinking that there is no objective, impartial, or universal standard by which something can be judged.  A conceptual relativist is a nonrealist who holds that truth and falsehood are matters of frameworks.  This is closely related to perspectivalism.  For a conceptual relativist, the thesis that water is H2O may be true but relative to the conceptual framework of atomic theory.  Different frames of reference may produce convergent accounts; for example, a religious conceptual framework may see water differently than a secular one.  Moral relativism is opposed to moral realism and holds that moral truths depend upon the community or individuals involved.  Thus, in a community that finds slavery natural and permissible, slavery is (relative to that community) natural and permissible.  Critics argue that moral relativism is unable to account for what seems like the fact that communities can be wrong; for example, even if all persons (enslaved and free) in a community thought that the human bondage of slavery was just, it does not follow that slavery is just.

REPENTANCE. More than regret, repentance involves remorse for a past-wrong doing and the resolution not to do the wrong again. Theologians disagree about whether confession and repentance are necessary conditions for forgiveness.

REVELATION. In theology and philosophy of religion, revelation refers to a disclosure of God either through events (ostensible acts of God) or through language (which is special in that it differs from whatever general revelation of God that is available through reflection on the cosmos).  Paradigmatic cases of revelation are in the form of auditions (heard speech or sounds as when one appears to hear music “in one’s mind” when there are no musicians or recordings being played) or mediated language through a prophet, oracle, or some other human agent.  The Qur’an is traditionally understood to be God’s very words, dictated to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel.

RITUAL / RITES. Religious rites include prayers involving praise (worship or adoration), petition and confession, vows, commissions such as ordination, rites of passage such as baptism, confirmation, marriage ceremonies, funeral rites and burials, communion or the Eucharist (also called mass, the Lord’s supper, communion), feasts, fasts, alms giving, vigils, lamentations, blessings, thanksgiving, grace before meals, contemplative or meditative prayer. By way of a general definition of religious rites, religious rites are repeatable symbolic action involving the sacred.

SACRIFICE. From the Latin sacra facere or “making holy.” One can distinguish between the ritual of offering, usually an animal, and symbolic or figurative uses of the word. The first sense is interesting to philosophers in terms of anthropology or philosophical theology. The extended figurative meaning is significant for questions of ethics: for example, the problem of altruism, or politics (e.g. theories of warfare or punishment). Greek Philosophy started with a critique of bloody sacrifice in the Pre-Socratic period, though by late Antiquity we find philosophers like Iamblichus (245-325) attempting to defend it. In Indian philosophy we find in theUpanishads the attempt to spiritualize and interiorize the Vedic rituals. In Judaism, the loss of the First Temple and then the destruction of the Second Temple meant that sacrifice was effectively ended, and in Islam it plays a minor role. It is through Christianity in particular that the language of sacrifice was retained for its theories of atonement, and eucharistic controversies kept the problem of sacrifice prominent in the West until the Enlightenment. In the Enlightenment, sacrifice was seen essentially as an aspect of the dark and violent side of Christianity. Various significant thinkers from Joseph de Maistre to Rene Girard have proposed theories of the human condition in which sacrifice is central, often with strong theological consequences. It can be argued that the idea of sacrifice plays an important role in a range of major thinkers from Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche.

SECULAR.  Today the term is used frequently as ‘nonreligious,’ but originally it simply meant ‘worldly’ and was used in contrast with living the monastic life.  So, a priest who was active in the world was described as a secular priest.

SELF-DECEPTION. An important topic for Sartre’s existentialism as well as what some call the methodology of suspicion in which questions are asked about a person’s or institution’s real, underlying motives.  Nietzsche raised the question of whether the profession by Christians of a self-giving love for others was as it seems or, rather, stemmed from resentment.  One of the paradoxes of self-deception is that it appears that a person cannot fully and self-consciously believe a contradiction.  When one person, A, deceives another, B, then A gets B to believe something that A believes is false.  This may be an unproblematic case of one person lying to another.  But when you lie to yourself (and A is B), it seems that a subject has to simultaneously believe something she believes is false (e.g., Christians love the good because it is good) while realizing all along that she believes the contrary is true (e.g., Christians love what they call “good” not because it is good, but because in their weakness this allows them to control the powerful).  To avoid this problem, accounts of self-deception often involve a division between the conscious and the unconscious or they hold that self-deception occurs over time so that it is not carried out in a single moment of simultaneous deceiving and deception.

SEVEN DEADLY SINS.  The Seven Deadly Sins are the capital vices in Christianity. They are listed in increasing increments of evil: (1) Lust (luxuria), excessive thoughts and desires of a sexual nature; (2) Gluttony (gula), the over-indulgence in something, especially food, to the point of waste; (3) Greed (avaritia), acquisition of excessive wealth; (4) Sloth (acedia), spiritual or physical apathy by discontent, leading to failure to appreciate and act; (5) Wrath (ira), uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger; (6) Envy (invidia), an insatiable coveting of the goods of others, and the wish to deprive them of their goods; (7) Pride (superbia), an undue idea of ones own greatness and ability, interfering with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. Pride is considered the sin from which other sins arise.  This list of the seven was established by Gregory the Great.  The Seven Deadly Sins were promoted through Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which each wicked soul was punished for his sin accordingly by contrapasso (symbolic, poetic justice).

SHAME. A feeling or emotion of embarrassment, dishonor, or a sense of regrettable failure. Shame need not be due to a moral failure one is personally responsible for. So, while one may feel guilt as well as shame, a person can feel shame without feeling guilt. For example, a person may feel shame about being small of stature, but not feel guilty over his or her size.

SINCERITY. Sincerity is closely associated with truth-telling.  One fundamental sense of sincerity focuses on congruence between motivations and other internal states with external speech and action.  The connection with truth is that one’s speech or action is a true reflection of motivations or other internal states.  Sincerity is not identical with truth in a wider sense (one can be sincerely mistaken).  Another sense of sincerity has to do with congruence among or between internal states.  This sense emphasizes that one is not internally conflicted with contradictory mental states which are allowed to exist as they are.  In both of these senses of sincerity, related terms such as authenticity, purity, and openness carry something of the meaning of sincerity.  To be insincere is to speak or act with a lack of openness because the world of inner states is hidden from the conversation partner or the external observer.  An inauthentic person similarly exhibits a kind of deceitfulness, either toward others (internal states are deliberately hidden and incongruent external states are exhibited), or within oneself by permitting self-deception (an inconsistency among internal states which is masked either deliberately or unconsciously).  Sincerity is considered a virtue but in much contemporary usage it is a fairly “thin” or “flat” virtue without much robust content.  One could fail in terms of many more important virtues but still be accorded the virtue of sincerity (with the implication that in most other ways the person fails and is misguided).  But not just any congruence between inner and outer states can be called sincere.  Thus, it would be odd to speak of someone as “sincerely cruel.”  This suggests an additional factor of some type of purity which is a grounding for sincerity or to which sincerity as a virtue is tethered.  This condition of purity (in some relevant sense) seems to be invoked when, instead of individual actions, a person is characterized as sincere.  Sincerity has waxed and waned as an aesthetic virtue in Western literature.  In the 18thcentury it began to be prized as an aesthetic quality so that poetry, for example, was judged to be better if it possessed sincerity in the sense that it matched inner states of the poet, or arose from appropriate authentic inner states.  Later, due in part to the notoriously difficult business of ascertaining authorial intention, sincerity became much less important aesthetically.

SKEPTICISM.  There is a sense in which no philosophy, let alone philosophy of religion, is possible without some skepticism.  When Augustine professed to believe in the God of Christianity he was, in essence, being skeptical about the gods of Imperial Rome.  As Augustine and Descartes noted, there are degrees of skepticism. Modest forms of skepticism make sense in certain contexts, but it is more problematic when skepticism is projecteduniversally.  For example, if someone who claims to be a skeptic charges that no person knows anything, it appears that the ‘skeptic’ is not really skeptical, but is making a radical claim that reaches almost breath taking proportions.  Can one know that no one has ever known anything?  To answer this in the negative would seem to require a Herculean task of examining every possible knower.  And then if the person did claim to know no one knows anything, the person would seem to refute her own position for (if she is right) then she knows something (and thus she is wrong).

SOLIPSISM. Someone is a solipsist if she thinks only she exists.  Old joke: There once was a person who adapted solipsism and was curious why more people aren’t solipsists.  While the “joke” is based on a confusion, there is a kind of moral solipsism that can be shared by more than one person.  A solipsist in morality acts only on the assumption that she exists as a person; others function only to use for private reason.

SOUL. Often used interchangeably with self or selfhood, “soul” is often used informally to refer to someone’s integrity (“he lost his soul by getting an academic post through selective, sycophantish praise of the appointment committee) or technically as a nonphysical locus of personal identity (“when he dies, his soul will be with the Lord”).  Aristotle used the term we translate as “soul” in a more general sense to refer to the form or principle of life of an organism.  On this view, plants have souls.

SUBJECT / SUBJECTIVITY. ‘Subject’ usually refers to persons and ‘subjectivity’ usually refers to the emotions, feelings and psychological states of persons. Sometimes a judgment may be said to be subjective when it reflects the personal preferences of a subject and not a matter of impartial reflection.

SUICIDE. Literally means self-killing.  For some philosophers, suicide is a form of self-murder; the mere fact that the killer and the one killed are the same person does not excuse murder.  Christian ethics traditionally forbids suicide as part of the general prohibition against homicide as well on the grounds that suicide abrogates divine providence and the prerogatives of God, viz. the time of your death is not up to you.  In the face of evidence that some kill themselves in states of insanity or chronic depression that robs them of the power of free agency, some Christians recognize exculpatory conditions that disassociate suicide and murder.  Controversy has emerged when persons may undertake an act that will end their lives in an honorable fashion, as (for example) when morphine is administered to a person terminally ill and this will in turn hasten (or cause) death.  Jewish ethics allows that some acts are permissible involving self-sacrifice that are akin to suicide, in a just cause.

SUMMUM BONUM. Latin, “the highest good.” The term has been used to refer to that which is of the greatest value.  This greatest value may be a single thing (e.g. pleasure) or it may be complex (e.g. a combination of practical, aesthetic, cognitive, sensory activities and states).

SUSPICION.  Like skepticism, suspicion involves withholding assent to propositions.  However, whereas skepticism is directed towards truth, facts, or evidence offered in support of truth, suspicion is directed toward the people offering the evidence, or towards their motives for offering them.  Suspicion is thus a matter of hermeneutics, or of the art of interpretation. Suspicion is a useful took for critiquing religion, because it allows the critic to set aside evidential claims and to focus instead on an examination of the reasons why people have religious belief in the first place. Examples can be found in Feuerbach’s argument that God is a projection of human self-consciousness or in Marx’s idea that religion is ultimately a political ideology.  Similarly, Nietzsche and Freud offer accounts of religion based in the psychology of resentment or desire.  More recently, Daniel Dennett has argued that religion is the result of an evolutionary process.  In each case, religion’s truth-claims may be dismissed once it is seen why these claims are proffered. Others have suggested that the hermeneutics of suspicion is beneficial to both philosophical theology and to the practice of religion.  Merold Westphal and Bruce Benson, for example, have argued that suspicion helps expose self-deception and idolatry, especially the idolizing of ideologies.

SYMBOL.  The word “symbol” is derived from two Greek words meaning “bringing together,” suggesting the bringing together of two otherwise unrelated things so that one comes to signify the other. In theology, sacraments are sometimes taken as symbols of the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation.  In philosophy, the most important figure for understanding symbols is Charles Peirce.  Peirce’s semiotics distinguishes between three classes of signs: icons, indices, and symbols.  An icon signifies by being somehow like the thing signified, as a picture of the sun might be an icon for the sun itself.  An index signifies not by similarity but dynamically, as pointing with one’s finger at the sun is an index of the direction in which it lies, or as a sundial indicates the time of day. A symbol signifies by being a general rule, as for instance words regularly signify the things they name; so the words “sun,” “soleil,” “sol,” and “helios,” all symbolize the star nearest our planet.  Symbols may thus have an arbitrary relation to the thing signified, and do not need to be like or dynamically related to it.

SYNCRETISM.  The combination of various beliefs and practices to form new ones.  The term is usually applied to religions, but it may also be applied to philosophies.  The Caribbean religion of Santería, for example, combines elements of Roman Catholicism and of Yoruba religious practice.  Similarly, Augustine’s thought displays syncretism in its combining of Christian theology, Ciceronian rhetorical theory, and Neo-Platonist metaphysics.

THEODICY.  From the Greek theos “god” + dikē “judgment” or “right.” A theodicy is an account of why an all good, all powerful, all loving God allows (or does not prevent) what appears to be the evil of or in creation.

TOLERATION.  The enduring of that which is deemed wrong or disagreeable.  Toleration is distinct from respect.  A person may tolerate what he or she respects and deems socially important or a person may tolerate what she does not respect.  An example of the former might be a society which tolerates (does not prosecute) pacifists on the grounds that it is good for persons to follow their conscience even if that conflicts with the majority decisions of the society.  An example of the second may be “soft pornography” which a society may not respect, but it judges that to prohibit such pornography would create great damage, e.g. giving rise to an even more intolerable underground movement is sex trafficking. Alternatively, someone may respect what they do not tolerate.  Someone might admire the determination and love that a Jehovah Witness displays for her children, but not tolerate the children being immune to medical treatment such as blood transfusions when necessary to save a child’s life.

TRANSFER OF MERIT. Merit is that which accrues to one as a result of performing morally good actions.  At times this is construed as a reward or standing.  Merit can accrue both in the case of obligatory actions and in non-obligatory (supererogatory) actions.  The notion of merit appears in a wide range of traditions.  In the Buddhist tradition, merit is associated with the karmic benefits of morally good actions; however, merit can also be attained by various ritual actions beyond the scope of normal morality.  Bodhisattvas as they develop create virtually infinite storehouses of merit which they intend to use compassionately to assist sentient beings.  The transfer of merit under the strict interpretation of the law of karma would seem to be impossible since karmic doctrine is that karmic effects must be worked out in each individual’s causal stream.  However, Buddhist practice developed a variety of methods of transfer of merit.  The merit from a ritual action or good deed could intentionally be directed toward the benefit of some other being (e.g., an ancestor, a hungry ghost, a family member).  Fields of merit—where the merit is sown, so to speak—are also significant in Buddhism.  Thus, meritorious deeds to help the religious community (samgha) create more merit than similar deeds done outside of that context.  The transfer of merit itself is a meritorious action, so there is no net loss of one’s own accrued merit when one intentionally directs the fruits of an action to another.  Spells and incantations (dharani) in some traditions are recited to invoke the transfer of merit from the merit storehouses of buddhas, etc. when one is in distress.  In the Christian tradition, the concept of merit is associated with rewards received from God due to God’s promises; in addition, meritorious action is usually held to be possible due to the assistance of God’s grace.  Merit (in the sense of good works) was part of the controversy which led to the split between Catholics and Protestants.  In the Roman Catholic Church, transfer of merit is possible through prayer requesting aid from Christ, Mary, and the saints, due to the surplus merit they possess.

TRUTH & FALSEHOOD.  According to realism, truth and falsehood are propositional values.  Propositions like 2 + 2 = 4 or “There are planets,” are true when the state of affairs they refer to obtain.  Arguable, the first proposition has always and will always obtain, whereas the second obtains now but did not obtain 14.5 billion years ago at what is believed to be the Big Bang.  The propositions “There are unicorns” and “Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo” are false because the relevant states of affairs do not obtain.  This form of realism is Platonic and allows that the existence of truth and falsehood does not depend on the existence of minds or language.  A correspondence account, according to which truth and falsehood are a function of sentences that either correspond or do not correspond with reality, faces the problem of holding that there are no truths if there are no sentences.  A coherent, epistemic theory of truth is that a sentence or proposition is true if it coheres with an ideal body of justified sentences or propositions.  A further version of the latter is that a true proposition is one that would be warranted to an ideal inquirer or community of inquiry.  These accounts have the burden of explaining or analyzing an account of inquiry without using the concept of truth, that is, if you are going to explain the concept of truth in terms of inquiry, you fall into circularity if you then explain the concept of inquiry in terms of truth. Truth and falsehood may also be recognized in expanded frameworks in which philosophers debate authenticity (e.g., authentic as opposed to spurious or misleading experiences) (e.g., a true friend).

UNIVERSALS. Types or kinds of things such as human beings or animals.  Universals are properties which may be multiply instantiated.  Presumably, you and the authors of this entry exemplify the universal human being or property of being human.  Christian philosophers have differed about whether Christ died for each human being as individuals or for a universal.

VEDAS. (Sanskrit, “knowledge” or “sacred love”) The Vedas are the earliest Hindu sacred texts and date back to the Vedic period (c. 1500-700 BCE).  Combined, they contain over 10,000 verses in total.  Along with the Brahmanas, they are considered shruti, which means “that which is heard,” i.e. revelation, as opposed to other sacred texts, which are smriti (“that which is remembered”).  They were originally transmitted orally using elaborate memorization techniques, and there is no scholarly consensus as to when they were first written down.  The emergence of curses around the fifth century CE for those who use the written Vedas suggests that there must have been written copies of at least parts of the Vedas by that time. They were codified by at least the eighth century BCE (although whether in written or oral form is debated), so that, remarkably, no textual variants exist today.  The Vedas are made up of four main collections: the Rig-Veda (book of hymns and prayers), the Yajur-Veda (book of sacrificial procedures), the Sama-Veda (book of chants to accompany sacrifices), and the Athar-Veda (book of magic and philosophical lore and musings). The Vedas are considered timeless and made up of wisdom that neither God nor humans created.

VERIFICATION PRINCIPLE. In the mid-20th century, philosophers in the Vienna Circle proposed that if a proposition is meaningful it has to be about either formal, conceptual relations (e.g., a square has four right angles) or it had to be verifiable in principle empirically. This principle was used to expose as meaningless propositions in metaphysics (such as the Absolute is timeless), ethics (lying is morally wrong), and religion (there is an incorporeal God transcending space and time) as they (ostensibly) did not yield empirically verifiable claims.  Critics of the verification principle argued that the principle is itself meaningless for the principle is not itself about formal, conceptual relations, nor does it in principle yield empirically verifiable results.  It also seemed to some critics that the principle would rule out important domains of science (e.g., cosmological theories about the big bang which might be built on some evidence but fall short of verification) and common sense (e.g., can a third person verify the mental states of another person?).

VICES.  Corrosive, bad states of character leading to eventual self-destruction or blameworthy injury to others.  In moral theory, ‘vices’ refer to the motivations and dispositions of agents that give rise to immoral or wrong action.  A vain person, for example, is likely to act selfishly and treat others unjustly if that advances her fame.

VIRTUES.  Excellence traits of character that motivate or dispose an agent to good acts.  Someone with courage is likely to act bravely when the occasion warrants.

WILL. In philosophy of religion, focus on the will is often in relation to questions of freedom (viz. Do human beings have free will?), value (Is it good that we are creatures with wills of our own?), and the philosophy of God (If God wills that persons do X, is X
morally required)? 

WISDOM. Wisdom (or sophia) was considered both a practical and theoretical virtue in ancient Greek philosophy. “Philosophy” literally means “the love of wisdom” and was considered by Greco-Roman moralists in ancient philosophy to be an enterprise which took practical life and values seriously. There is also a body of literature called Wisdom literature, a popular genre in ancient Near Eastern cultures. Wisdom (Hebrew: chochmah) is practical and empirical in its focus, addressing everyday issues of life, often from a secular standpoint that seeks to understand the principles of order in the world and organize human life accordingly. It is considered international is scope and thus applicable to all. In the Hebrew Bible, books such as Proverbs, Job, and Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) are categorized as wisdom literature. In Jewish-Christian dialogue, wisdom literature is often given prominence, for there is some similarity between the Hebrew Wisdom literature in which wisdom is characterized as a person (in Proverbs, wisdom cries out to the people) and Christian tradition in which the person Jesus Christ is seen as the embodiment of wisdom.