Allen and Springsted, Philosophy for Understanding Theology


  • Author(s): Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted
  • Title and subtitle: Philosophy for Understanding Theology
  • Edition: Second
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox
  • Place: Louisville, KY
  • Date: 2007 [First edition: 1985]


  • Kind of Book: Theoretical
  • Subject Matter:
    • Philosophy;
    • Theology;
    • History (of both philosophy and theology)

Problems Attempted to Solve:

  • Theologians often have a lack of basic philosophical knowledge. This prevents their full understanding of many theologians and theological issues/debates.

Summary (What is the book about as a whole?):

This book aims to give a person the philosophy needed to understand Christian theology better, for often the lack of knowledge of some key philosophic term or concept impedes significant understanding of a vital issue. (x)

  • The history of theology has determined which philosophical figures/issues are discussed.
  • This book is not a conventional or comprehensive history of philosophy.

Outline of Source:

  • Introduction: The Foundation of Christian Theology: The World was Created
  • Plato: The World Is the Handiwork of a Mind
  • Plato: This World Is Not Our Home
  • The Platonic Tradition:
    • The Stoics,
    • Plotinus, and
    • Pseudo-Dionysius
  • Aristotle: His Categories and the Mystery of God
  • Aristotle and the Creation of Scholastic Theology
  • Aquinas’ Program and Two Critics:
    • Karl Barth and
    • Process Theology
  • The Beginnings of the Modern World:
    • Nominalism,
    • Humanism,
    • The Scientific Revolution
  • Early Modern Philosophy:
    • rationalism,
    • empiricism,
    • the enlightenment
  • Kant and the limits of knowledge
  • Hegel and the restoration of optimism
  • The search for meaning in contemporary philosophy:
    • Existentialism,
    • Phenomenology,
    • Hermeneutics
  • Postmodernism: Truth, Objectivity and Certainty
  • Postmodernism: Moral Philosophy

Key Terms:

  • a priori / a posteriori:

A contrast first between propositions. A proposition is knowable a priori if it can be known without experience of the specific course of events in the actual world. It may, however, be allowed that some experience is required to acquire the concepts involved in an a priori proposition. Something is knowable only a posteriori if it cannot be known a priori. The distinction gives one of the fundamental problem areas of epistemology. The category of a priori propositions is highly controversial, since it is not clear how pure thought, unaided by experience, can give rise to any knowledge at all, and it has always been a concern of empiricism to deny that it can. The two great areas in which it seems to do so are logic and mathematics, so empiricists have commonly tried to show either that these are not areas of real, substantive knowledge, or that in spite of appearances the knowledge that we have in these areas is actually dependent on experience. The former line tries to show that all a priori propositions are in some seine trivial, or analytic, or matters of notation or conventions of language. The latter approach is particularly associated with Quine, who denies any significant split between propositions traditionally thought of as a priori, and other deeply entrenched beliefs that occur in our overall view of the world.

Another contested category is that of a prior concepts, supposed to be concepts that cannot he ‘derived’ from experience, but which are presupposed in any mode of thought about the world: time, substance, causation, number, and the self are candidates. The need for such concepts, and the nature of the substantive a priori knowledge to which they give rise, is the central concern of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. (The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy [ODP])

  • accident:

In Aristotelian metaphysics an accident is a property of a thing which is no part of the essence of the thing: something it could lose or have added without ceasing to be the same thing or the same substance. The accidents divide into. categories: quantity, action (i.e. place in the causal order, or ability to affect things or be affected by them), quality, space, time, and relation. (ODP)

  • analogy:

A respect in which one thing is similar to another. The analogical extension of terms is the way in which a term covers similar things: people, bottles, and rivers have mouths. Shops, boxes, verdicts, ports, strings of a violin, questions, roads, and books may all be open, but in analogical senses. Analogy butts upon literal meaning, but also upon metaphor, and thus forms a perplexing phenomenon in the philosophy of language (see also rule following). Arguing by analogy is arguing that since things are alike in some ways, they will probably be alike in others. Its famous uses in philosophy include the argument to design and the argument by analogy to the existence of other minds: if you behave like me, and I have such and such mental states when I so behave, then by analogy you probably do so too. But: ‘How can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly?’ (Wittgenstein). In medieval philosophy an important question was whether we can make statements about God only by analogy. See also Cajetan, metaphor, models (science). (ODP)

  • analytic / synthetic:

A contrast originally introduced by Kant between types of proposition. An analytic proposition is one where the concept of the predicate is ‘contained in’ the concept of the subject. ‘All brothers are male’ is an example. A synthetic proposition is one where this is not so, and which is therefore apt for providing substantial information. Kant’s definition is only preliminary, in that not all propositions are of subject predicate form, and the notion of ‘containment’ is left metaphorical. But his goal of defining a class of propositions that are importantly trivial can be pursued in ways drawing on modern logic. Thus we might define a proposition to be analytic if it has the form of a tautology, or valid formula of elementary logic, or can be represented as having that form by substitution of synonyms for synonyms. For example, if we substitute ‘male and sibling’ for ‘brother’, then ‘all brothers are male’ is of the form ‘all things that are F and G are F’, and this is a valid formula of the predicate calculus.

The point of Kant’s division is that we might not be too disturbed, philosophically, if everything that can be known a priori is analytic: analytic truths are so trivial as hardy to count as knowledge at all. But if we can know synthetic propositions a priori the question of how such knowledge is possible becomes urgent. Part of the programme of logical positivism was to show that all a priori propositions are, at bottom, analytic. The entire distinction was queried in one of the most famous papers of modem philosophy, Quine’s ‘Two Dogmas of Empiricism’ (1950), which attacks the idea that we have a reasonable criterion for synonymy, on which the definition depends. (ODP)

  • Aristotle:

(384 322 BC) Along with Plato the most influential philosopher of the western tradition, Aristotle was born at Stagira in Macedonia, the son of Nicomachus, the court physician to the Macedonian king Amyntas II. At the age of 17 he entered Plato’s Academy in Athens, and remained there until Plato’s death. When the Academy under Speusippus turned to mathematical and speculative pursuits, Aristotle accepted the invitation of Hermias to reside at Assos. Upon the death of Hermias (whose niece, Pythias, he married) in 345, Aristotle went to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. To this period belong many of his zoological researches. Between 343/2 and 340 he acted as tutor to the young Alexander the Great, at the invitation of his father Philip of Macedon. In 335 he returned to Athens, and on the outskirts of the city in a grove sacred to Apollo Lyceus he founded a school, the Lyceum (where was the peripatos or covered walk from which his followers, the Peripatetics, took their name). Here he conducted and organized research on many subjects and built the first great library of antiquity. On the death of Pythias he lived with Herpyllis, by whom he had a son, Nicomachus. On the death of Alexander in 325 anti Macedonian feeling in Athens caused Aristotle to retire to Chalcis where he died in 322. He is described as having been bald, thin, with a lisp, and of a sardonic disposition.

The works known in his lifetime include dialogues modelled on those of Plato, but these are now lost It is also known that he accumulated an immense collection of natural and historical observations during his headship of the Lyceum, but these too are mainly lost. The extant corpus is nearly all preserved through the edition of Andronicus of Rhodes, made in the 1st century BC. The principal works of philosophical interest are (a) logical works (these form the Organon): Categories, On Interpretation (De Interpretatione), Prior Analytics, Posterior Analytics, Topics, Sophistical Refutations (De SophisticisElenchis); (b) works on physics: Physics, On the Heavens (De Caelo), On Generation and Corruption (De Generatione et Corruptione); (c) psychology and natural history: On the Soul (De Anima), On the Parts of Animals (De Partibus Animalium), On the Movement of Animals (De Motu Animalium), On the Generation of Animals (De Generatione Animalium), and shorter works collected as the Parva Naturalia; (d) ethics: Nicomachean Ethics, Eudemian Ethics, Magna Moralia, Politics, Rhetoric, and the Art of Poetry. Finally, (e) the general investigation of the things that are: the Metaphysics.

The scale of Aristotle’s researches, and their central place in the subsequent history of philosophy, mean that his work defies brief description. His relationship to Plato is complex, with scholars on the whole repudiating the idea of a development away from an originally accepted Platonism, even to the point of detecting a swing towards Plato in the later metaphysics. The traditional contrast is between Plato’s otherworldly, formal, and a priori conception of tree knowledge (noesis), as opposed to Aristotle’s intense concern for the observed detail of natural phenomena, including those of thought, language, and psychology. Thus while Plato is the patron saint of transcendental theories of knowledge and especially of ethics, Aristotle is concerned to protect knowledge of the plural and multifarious world we live in. His ethics, which he regarded as a branch of the natural history of human beings, shows a subtle (some would say, unequalled) appreciation of the complexities of human motivation. Aristotle, like Kant, had a passion for categories, and as well as inventing the study of logical form may be said to have laid down the division of the sciences we habitually use, not to mention the categories that have organized virtually all subsequent philosophical thought (substance/accident, potential/actual, matter/form, and the different categories of causes). His orderly mind showed the same instinct for the mean that is celebrated in his moral philosophy. He avoids all extremes, and typically does justice to each side of the divisions that split philosophers into warring camps. Aristotle was the central figure in Arabic and medieval philosophy. His fundamentally animistic conception of nature as a kind of plant or striving organism, his distinction between celestial phenomena and Sublunary nature, and his conception of perception as a literal sharing of form with that which is perched, all dominated European thought until the upheavals that produced the Galilean world view in the 17th century. His reputation declined somewhat before that period, when the attempts of both warring Protestants and Catholics to appropriate his thinking led to a general revulsion from scholasticism. In the 20th century his reputation has frequently been refurbished, and he remains a pivotal figure in metaphysical and ethical thinking. (ODP)

  • being:

Everything real and nothing unreal belongs to the domain of Being. But there is little useful that can be said about everything that is real, especially from within the philosopher’s study, so it is not apparent that there can be such a subject as Being by itself. Nevertheless the concept has a central place in philosophy from Parmenides to Heidegger. The central question of ‘why is there something and not nothing?’ prompts logical reflection on what it is for a universal to have an instance, and a long history of attempts to explain contingent existence by reference to a necessary ground. In the tradition since Plato this ground becomes a self sufficient, perfect, unchanging, and eternal something, identified with the Good or God, but whose relation with the everyday world remains obscure (see ontological argument, cosmological argument, principle of plenitude). Modern logic gives little comfort to these speculations, and prompts suspicion that the question of why there is something and not nothing is either ill formed or profitless, since any intelligible answer will merely invite the same question. A central mistake in the area is to treat Being as a noun that identifies a particularly deep subject matter. This is parallel to treating Nothing as a name of a particular thing, perhaps an object of dread or fear. The modern logical treatment of these notions by means of quantifiers and variables provides a defence against this error and others. The less abstract part of the study of being concerns the kinds of things whose existence we have to acknowledge: abstract entities, possibilities, numbers, and so on, and disputes over their reality form the subject of ontology. (ODP)

  • causes: material, formal, efficient, final

Four kinds of causation distinguished by Aristotle. If we think of an example of something that is produced by an agent, such as a statue, then the material cause is the substance or material that constitutes the statue; the formal cause is the pattern or blueprint determining the form of the result; the efficient cause is the agency producing the result; and the final cause is that for the sake of which the result is produced, i.e. the end towards which the production is directed. Whilst the notions may be clear enough in such a case, their wider applicability is much more doubtful. There are clearly events (e.g. a lightning flash) that we think of as caused, yet which are not made of material, not made according to a blueprint, not the result of agency (at least where that is intelligent agency), and apparently purposeless. Aristotle’s generally teleological approach to nature almost certainly led him to see the categories as more widely applicable than we do. (ODP)

  • change

The central problems for a philosophy of change are the relationship of change to time, and the relationship of both of them to us. Although change is a fundamental element of the perceived world, a permanent theme in both Eastern and Western philosophies is an other worldliness according to which the restless everyday world of changing things and events must be regarded as unreal in comparison with a more fundamental immutable reality. The first expression of this in the western tradition occurs in Parmenides. The arguments of Zeno of Flea against motion are usually interpreted as partly a defence of Parmenidean monism. The backlash came with Heraclitus, whose vision of the world as eternally in flux nevertheless found something contradictory in the notion: ‘we step and we do not step into the same river, we are and we are not.’ The idea that there is a contradiction in the notion of change is defended in modern times by McTaggart (see a series), who also thought that reality had to be conceived of as essentially static, with apparent change an artefact of a mental perspective. The idea that the changing, decaying world is a reflection of an eternal, incorruptible, and changeless world is central to Christian metaphysics, and finds expression in Kant’s doctrine that time is merely the form of inner sense, imposed by the mind. In absolute idealism, notably that of Bradley, there is the same doctrine that change is contradictory and consequently unreal: the Absolute is changeless. A way of sympathizing a little with this idea is to reflect that any scientific explanation of change will proceed by finding an unchanging law operating, or an unchanging quantity conserved in the change, so that explanation of change always proceeds by finding that which is unchanged. The metaphysical problem of change is to shake off the idea that each moment is created afresh, ex nihilo, and to obtain a conception of events or processes as having a genuinely historical reality, really extended and unfolding in time, as opposed to being composites of discrete temporal atoms. A step towards this end may be to see time itself not as an infinite container within which discrete events are located, but as a kind of logical construction from the flux of events. This relational view of time was advocated by Leibniz and a subject of the debate between him and Newton’s absolutist pupil, Clarke. (ODP)

  • conceptualism:

The theory of universals that sees them as shadows of our grasp of concepts. Conceptualism lies midway between out and out nominalism, holding that nothing is common to objects except our applying the same words to them, and any realism which sees universals as existing independently of us and our abilities. (ODP)

  • cosmological argument:

An influential argument (or family of arguments) for the existence of God. Its premises are that all natural things are dependent for their existence on something else; the totality of dependent beings must then itself depend upon a non dependent, or necessarily existent, being, which is God. Like the argument to design, the cosmological argument was attacked by Hume and Kant. Its main problem is that it requires us to make sense of the notion of necessary existence. For if the answer to the question of why anything exists is that some other thing of a similar kind exists, the question merely arises again. So the ‘God’ that ends the question must exist necessarily; it must not be an entity of which the same kinds of question can be raised. The other problem with the argument is that it unfortunately affords no reason for attributing concern and care to the deity, nor for connecting the necessarily existent being it derives with human values and aspirations. (ODP)

  • design, argument from or to:

The argument that the world (meaning the entire universe) sufficiently resembles a machine or a work of art or architecture, for it to be reasonable for us to posit a designer whose intellect is responsible for its order and complexity. The argument is avowedly an argument by analogy, claiming that since the universe and (say) a clock resemble each other in some respects, they probably resemble each other in the further respect of being the product of design. The argument was used by the Stoics, and had immense appeal in the 18th century, but it was overwhelmingly attacked by Hume in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and by Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason. The argument clearly invites a vicious regress, since the universe plus a designer seems an even more wonderful example of organization, and ought to lead us to postulate a designer of designers. If it is felt natural that a designer can ‘just exist’ (see perseity) then it has to be asked why the cosmos cannot also ‘just exist’. The argument to design also runs into moral trouble; since the nature of the deity is evidenced by his or her creation, we should not attribute more concern for goodness or justice to him or her than we find in the normal running of things (see also evil, problem of). The theory of evolution by natural selection has further undermined the effect of one of the main examples of design in nature that was often adduced, namely the adaptation of the organs and faculties of animals to their environments. (ODP)

  • dialectic:

(Gk., dialektik>A0235>, the art of conversation or debate) Most fundamentally, the process of reasoning to obtain truth and knowledge on any topic. According to the different views of this process, different conceptions of dialectic emerge. Thus in the Socratic method dialectic is the process of eliciting the truth by means of questions aimed at opening out what is already implicitly known, or at exposing the contradictions and muddles of an opponent’s position. In the middle dialogues of Plato, however, it becomes the total process of enlightenment, whereby the philosopher is educated so as to achieve knowledge of the supreme good, the form of the Good. For Aristotle, dialectic is any rational inference based on probable premises. In Kant, dialectic is the ‘logic of illusion’, or the misuse of logic to deliver the appearance of solid belief. It is one of the jobs of true philosophy to reveal the places where reason transgresses its proper boundaries, producing the illusions of transcendental metaphysics (see antinomy, paralogism). In Hegel, dialectic refers to the necessary process that makes up progress in both thought and the world (which are identified in Hegel’s idealism, although the idea that processes in the world unfold in a way that mirrors the processes of reason is as old as Heraclitus). The process is one of overcoming the contradiction between thesis and antithesis, by means of synthesis; the synthesis in turn becomes contradicted, and the process repeats itself until final perfection is reached. See also dialectical materialism. (ODP)

  • epistemology:

(Gk., epistenie, knowledge) The theory of knowledge. Its central questions include the origin of knowledge; the place of experience in generating knowledge, and the place of reason in doing so; the relationship between knowledge and certainty, and between knowledge and the impossibility of error; the possibility of universal scepticism; and the changing forms of knowledge that arise from new conceptualizations of the world. All of these issues link with other central concerns of philosophy, such as the nature of truth and the nature of experience and meaning. It is possible to see epistemology as dominated by two rival metaphors. One is that of a building or pyramid, built on foundations. In this conception it is the job of the philosopher to describe especially secure foundations, and to identify secure modes of construction, so that the resulting edifice can be shown to be sound. This metaphor favours some idea of the ‘given’ as a basis of knowledge, and of a rationally defensible theory of confirmation and inference as a method of construction (see also foundationalism, protocol statements). The other metaphor is that of a boat or fuselage, that has no foundations but owes its strength to the stability given by its interlocking pans. This rejects the idea of a basis in the ‘given’, favours ideas of coherence and holism, but finds it harder to ward off scepticism.

The problem of defining knowledge in terms of tree belief plus some favoured relation between the believer and the facts began with Plato’s view in the Theaetetus that knowledge is true belief plus a logos. For difficulties see Gettier example. For further issues see confirmation theory, empiricism, feminism, naturalized epistemology, protocol statements, rationalism, relativism, reliabilism. (ODP)

  • forms:

The theory of forms is probably the most characteristic, and most contested of the doctrines of Plato. In the background lie the Pythagorean conception of form as the key to physical nature, but also the sceptical doctrine associated with Cratylus (said by Aristotle to have been one of the teachers of Plato) that in the heaving confusion of the perceptible world nothing is fixed, so thought can gain no foothold and nothing can be said. In escaping from this impasse Plato attempts to present a way in which the forms of things are intelligible but abstract shared features. Ordinary things gain their natures by either ‘imitating’ forms (which then become thought of as transcendent and somehow independent of the sensible world) or ‘participating’ in them (in which case they are immanent, present in things, and perhaps less mysterious). The train of thought is illustrated with both geometrical and ethical examples. The plate that the potter makes is not itself perfectly round, but perfect roundness is an ideal It may not be found in the world, but it is something to which things approximate, and it plays a role in rendering intelligible the world in which they do so. Similarly actual human institutions may only approximate to the ideal of justice, but the ideal or form provides an intelligible dimension of description and criticism. Of course, to apply it means having the special knowledge of the geometer, in the case of roundness, or of the thinker who has attained knowledge of what justice consists in, in the case of ethics. Knowledge of the forms thus becomes itself an ideal towards which philosophers strive (see line, image of the). It is this line of thought that ends up with Plato echoing the Eleatic distinction between the real world, in this case the world of the forms, accessible only to the intellect, and the deceptive world of unstable perception and mere doxa or belief. The world of forms is itself unchanging, as change implies development towards the realization of form. But whereas Parmenides thinks of the real, eternal world as a kind of physical world, in Plato it becomes entirely non physical.

The transcendental element in Plato’s thought is most visible in the Symposium, the Phaedo, and the Republic. The problem of interpretation is however confused by the question of whether Socrates’ voice is also that of Plato (again, according to Aristotle, Metaphysics M, xiii. 1078 b, Socrates did not make universals separate, but others, i.e. Plato, did). In the later dialogue Parmenides, Plato squarely confronts the problems of thinking of forms either as transcending particular things (see third man argument), or as partaken of by particular things, and therefore divisible. What is needed is an accommodation between the idea that universals are present in particulars, and the idea that they are merely imitated by them. See also conceptualism, nominalism, universals. (ODP)

  • foundationalism; postfoundationalism:

The view in epistemology that knowledge must be regarded as a structure raised upon secure, certain foundations. These are found in some combination of experience and reason, with different schools (empiricism, rationalism) emphasizing the role of one over that of the other. Foundationalism was associated with the ancient Stoics, and in the modem era with Descartes, who discovered his foundations in the ‘clear and distinct’ ideas of reason. Its main opponent is coherentism, or the view that a body of propositions may be known without foundation in certainty, but by their interlocking Strength, rather as a crossword puzzle may be known to have been solved correctly even if each answer, taken individually, admits of uncertainty. See also coherence theory of truth, Neurath’s boat, protocol statements. (ODP)

  • free will; freedom:
  • Geist; spirit or mind:
  • genus and species:

  • Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770 1831):

German philosopher. Born at Stuttgart, Hegel studied at Tübingen, where his contemporaries included Schelling and the poet Hölderlin. After holding positions as a tutor he went to Jena in 1801 as a Privatdozent in philosophy, qualified by his thesis De Orbitis Planetarium(‘On the Orbits of the Planets’; the false view that Hegel thought that he could prove a priori that there are seven planets arises from misunderstanding the last chapter of this work). While in Jena he collaborated with Schelling in editing the Kritisches Journal der Philosophic, to which he contributed many articles, and wrote his first major work the Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807, trs. as The Phenomenology of Mind, 1910; also as The Phenomenology of Spirit, 1977). Promoted to a chair in 1805, he then was forced to leave Jena because of the Napoleonic war, became editor of a newspaper, and from 1807 spent eight years as director of the Gymnasium in Nürnberg. While there he published the two volumes of the Wissenschaft der Logik (1812 16, trs. as The Logic of Hegel, 1874). In 1816 he became professor of philosophy at Heidelberg, where he produced the Enzyklopädie der Philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (‘Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline’). Two years later he succeeded Fichte as professor in Berlin and entered into his most famous and influential period. His Natutrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse and Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (trs. as The Philosophy of Right, 1896) appeared in 1821, and many lecture notes by pupils were subsequently collected. The standard edition of Hegel’s works (Stuttgart, 1927 30) runs to twenty volumes. Heed attracted great numbers of foreign students to Berlin, and had an unparalleled influence on German philosophy in the 19th century. He was also the central philosophical influence on Marx and Engels, and on English philosophy in the absolute idealist phase, and although his reputation in the Anglo American world has suffered periods of eclipse, he continues to be a focal point for many thinkers.

The cornerstone of Hegel’s system, or world view, is the notion of freedom, conceived not as simple licence to fulfil preferences but as the rare condition of living serf consciously and in a fully rationally organized community or state (this is not, as is charged for example by Popper, a defence of the totalitarian state or the doctrine that ‘aright is right’, since Hegel requires a rational state to meet very stringent conditions, including the consent of the rational conscience of its members). Surprisingly, history can be seen as progress towards freedom: here Hegel follows the spirit of his own age (seeRomanticism), voicing a confidence in progress and purpose in the otherwise jumbled kaleidoscope of history, but incidentally providing a dangerously intoxicating model for all social and political movements that pride themselves that they are on the side of the future, For Heed such a progress is required by a proper theory of knowledge. Hegel admires scepticism as a movement that respects the freedom of reason, but starting from the Kantian response to scepticism he charts in the Phenomenology the development of all possible forms of consciousness, to the point where awareness becomes possible not of mere phenomena, but of reality as it is in itself, identified both with knowledge of the Absolute and with the moment when ‘mind finally knows itself. Although this desirable outcome is left rather vague, the Phenomenology contains brilliant analyses of the fragile nature Of serf consciousness, and in particular the way it depends upon recognition by others. Thus the emergence of the singular ‘mind’ as opposed to the normal plurality of many minds is justified by the social nature of self consciousness. Hegel’s understanding that to have value in my own eyes I must achieve value in the eyes of others was arguably the foundation for subsequent social philosophy (see alienation, master/slave morality). Apart from his social and political philosophy, one of the most important of Hegel’s legacies has been his conception of logic (see dialectic, dialectical materialism). Hegel’s own attitude to logic is complicated by the equation between history on the one hand and thought or spirit on the other, meaning that disharmony or ‘contradiction’ in the world is an instance of contradiction in thought. Hegel’s own attitude to the idea that actual events might embody contradictions, and thus in Some sense make contradictions true, has been the topic of much debate. (ODP)

  • hylomorphism:

The doctrine that every thing is a combination of matter (materia prima) and form. The doctrine was asserted by Aquinas, who possibly erroneously believed it to be Aristotelian, and was developed in increasingly subtle and confident ways in late scholasticism. It served as a convenient target for proponents of the 17th century revolution in natural science, such as Boyle and Locke. (ODP)

  • hypostasis:

(Gk., standing under) The underlying subject or substance that supports attributes; matter without form. This is a concept subject to repeated fatal criticism, and repeated resurrection. (ODP)

  • ideas (in modern philosophy)

  • idealism:

Any doctrine holding that reality is fundamentally mental in nature. The boundaries of such a doctrine are not firmly drawn: for example, the traditional Christian view that God is a sustaining cause, possessing greater reality than his creation, might just be classified as a form of idealism. Leibniz’s doctrine that the simple substances out of which all else is made are themselves perceiving and appetitive beings (monads), and that space and time are relations among these things, is another early version. Major forms of idealism include subjective idealism, or the position better called immaterialism and associated with Berkeley, according to which to exist is to be perceived, transcendental idealism, and absolute idealism. Idealism is opposed to the naturalistic belief that mind is itself to be exhaustively understood as a product of natural processes. The most common modem manifestation of idealism is the view called linguistic idealism, that we ‘create’ the world we inhabit by employing mind dependent linguistic and social categories. The difficulty is to give a literal form to this view that does not conflict with the obvious fact that we do not create worlds, but find ourselves in one. (ODP)

  • innate ideas
  • logical positivism:

Also known as logical empiricism and scientific empiricism; the ideas and attitude towards philosophy associated with the Vienna circle. This group was founded by Schlick in 1924, and in effect ended with his death in 1936 and the dispersal of Austrian intellectuals at that time. Its members included G. Bergman, Carnap, H. Feigl (1902 88), Neurath, and Waismann.Wittgenstein was not a full member of the circle, although closely in touch with its work, maintaining regular meetings with it from 1927 to 1929, and thereafter remaining in contact with Schlick and Waismann. The central interest of the Vienna circle was the unity of science and the correct delineation of scientific method. The idea was that this would act as a final solvent of the disputes of metaphysicians. The task of constructive philosophy became that of analysing the structure of scientific theory and language. The movement can be seen as a development of older empiricist and sensationalist doctrines in the light first of a better understanding of the methodology of empirical science, and secondly of the dramatically increased power of formal logic to permit the definition of abstractions and to describe the structures of permissible inferences. The combination is to some extent foreshadowed in Russell, whose logic and whose concept of a logical construction played a significant role in the doctrines of the movement. The most characteristic doctrine of logical positivism was the verification principle, or denial of literal or cognitive meaning to any statement that is not verifiable: ‘the meaning of a statement is its method of verification.’ The movement gained publicity in the English speaking world when Ayer published Language, Truth, and Logic in 1936, and maintained some impetus, especially in the philosophy of science, after Carnap and Feigl emigrated to the United States. From 1930 onwards it took over the journal Erkenntnis as the journal of unified science.Logical positivism retreated under a combination of pressures. First, it shared the traditional problems of radical empiricism, of satisfactorily describing the basis of knowledge in experience (see protocol statements). Secondly, it depended on there being one logic for science, or in other words a confirmation theory with a unique authority, yet no such structure, and certainly no basis for its authority, ever forthcame. These two problems bedevilled accurate formulation of the verification principle, and gradually persuaded philosophers of science that a more holistic and less formal relationship existed between theoretical sentences and the observations supporting them. When this relationship was allowed to be indirect, the despised theses of metaphysics began to look capable of climbing back into respectability. Finally, although logical positivism allowed that science contains statements thought of as logically necessary, its own account of the status of these claims (conventionalism) proved widely unacceptable, and the status of its claims about the basis of meaning in sensation appeared correspondingly doubtful. However, its influence persists in the widespread mistrust of statements for which there are no criteria or assertibility conditions: Wittgenstein’s slogan that meaning is use has frequently been adopted as a rather less forthright invitation to work within the constraints of the principle of verification. (ODP)

  • matter:

That which occupies space, possessing size and shape, mass, movability, and solidity (which may be the same as impenetrability). Its nature was historically one of the great subjects of philosophy, now largely pursued through the philosophy of physics. Plato and Aristotle passed on a classification of matter into four kinds (earth, air, water, and fire) but also the view (not necessarily held by Aristotle himself) that any such division reflected a different form taken by one prime, undifferentiated matter or hyle (see materia prima). In Aristotle there is also a fifth kind of matter (quintessence) found in the celestial world, whose possessors were thereby exempt from change. This physics was replaced from the 17th century onwards by the classical conception first of corpuscles (seecorpuscularianism) and then of modern atoms. In modem physics, the tidy picture of inert massy atoms on the one hand, and forces between them on the other, has entirely given way. The quantum mechanical description of fundamental particles blurs the distinction between matter and its energy, and between particles and the forces that describe their interaction. Philosophically, however, quantum mechanics leaves considerable unease of its own. (ODP)

  • metaphysics:

Originally a title for those books of Aristotle that came after the Physics, the term is now applied to any enquiry that raises questions about reality that lie beyond or behind those capable of being tackled by the methods of science. Naturally, an immediately contested issue is whether there are any such questions, or whether any text of metaphysics should, in Hume’s words, be ‘committed to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion’ (Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Bk. xii, Pt. 3). The traditional examples will include questions of mind and body, substance and accident, events, causation, and the categories of things that exist (see ontology). The permanent complaint about metaphysics is that in so far as there are real questions in these areas, ordinary scientific method forms the only possible approach to them. Hostility to metaphysics was one of the banners of logical positivism, and survives in a different way in the scientific naturalism of writers such as Quine. Metaphysics, then, tends to become concerned more with the presuppositions of scientific thought, or of thought in general, although here, too, any suggestion that there is one timeless way in which thought has to be conducted meets sharp opposition. A useful distinction is drawn by Strawson, between descriptive metaphysics, which contents itself with describing the basic framework of concepts with which thought is (perhaps at a time) conducted, as opposed to revisionary metaphysics, which aims for a criticism and revision of some hapless way of thought. Although the possibility of revisionary metaphysics may be doubted, it continues to the present time: eliminativism in the philosophy of mind and postmodernist disenchantment with objectivity and truth are conspicuous examples. (ODP)

  • middle platonism:

The last head of the Academy of Athens was Philo of Larissa, who substantially continued the sceptical tradition of Archelisaus and Carneades. Around 88 BC the Academy was disbanded, as philosophers left Athens and fled to Rome before the advance of Mithridates. At this time Antiochus of Ascalon made a celebrated break with the doctrines of Philo (recorded in Cicero’s dialogue, Lucullus), instigating a return to the ‘Old Academy’, or in other words to reliance on a positive science of philosophy, a system owing its inspiration to Plato. Antiochus himself was extremely close to Stoicism. New elements, such as an emphasis on the transcendence and immaterial nature of God, an interest in Pythagorean mystical numerology, and the attempt to work out a divine hierarchy of reality, were introduced by Publius Nigidius Figulus (98 45 BC) and Eudorus of Alexandria (fl. c. 25 BC). These continued with the reconciliation of pagan and Jewish writings by Philo Judaeus. The times were characterized by a conservative tone, leading philosophers to look to the past and to attempt to prove the essential unity of different philosophical schools, and by a flowering of many forms of occultism and mysticism. Prominent Middle Platonists include Plutarch, and the overall orientation is shared by many minor figures, of whom the last, Ammonius Sacchus, was the teacher of Plotinus, with whom a fully fledged new synthesis, or departure, Neoplatonism, is born. (ODP)

  • mind-body problem:

For many people understanding the place of mind in nature is the greatest philosophical problem. Mind is often thought to be the last domain that stubbornly resists scientific understanding, and philosophers differ over whether they find that a cause for celebration or scandal. The mind body problem in the modern era was given its definitive shape by Descartes, although the dualism that he espoused is far more widespread and far older, occurring in some form wherever there is a religious or philosophical tradition whereby the soul may have an existence apart from the body. While most modern philosophies of mind would reject the imaginings that lead us to think that this makes sense, there is no consensus over the best way to integrate our understanding of people as bearers of physical properties on the one hand and as subjects of mental lives on the other. See also consciousness, epiphenomenalism, functionalism, perception, occasionalism, physicalism. (ODP)

  • monism
  • natural religion
  • natural theology:

Doctrines concerning God that are attainable by natural processes of reasoning, as opposed to those that require the assistance of revelation. Atheists and agnostics deny that there are such doctrines, as do Protestant theologians who emphasize the limitations of fallen human faculties, stressing instead the special need for divine grace. See also deism. (ODP)

  • nature
  • necessary vs. contingent truths

A necessary truth is one that could not have been otherwise. It would have been true under all circumstances. A contingent truth is one that is true, but could have been false. A necessary truth is one that must be true; a contingent truth is one that is true as it happens, or as things are, but that did not have to be true. In Leibniz’s phrase, a necessary truth is true in all possible worlds. If these are all the worlds that accord with the principles of logic, however different they may be otherwise, then the truth is a logically necessary truth. If they cover all the worlds whose metaphysics is possible, then the proposition is metaphysically necessary. If a proposition is only true in all the worlds that are physically possible, then the proposition is true of physical necessity.A permanent philosophical urge is to diagnose contingency as disguised necessity (Leibniz, Spinoza), although especially in the 20th century there have been equally powerful movements, especially associated with Quine, denying that there are substantive necessary truths, instead regarding necessity as disguised contingency. See also analytic/synthetic, a priori/a posteriori, Quine. (ODP)

  • neoplatonism:

The fusion of Plato’s philosophy with religious, Pythagorean, and other classical doctrines, originated by Plotinus in his Enneads. Plotinus conceived of the universe as an emanation or effulguration of the One, the omnipresent, transcendental Good derived from Plato’s Parmenides. The One gives rise to the realm of nous (ideas, intelligence), and that in turn to soul, or souls, some of which sink into bodies (others remain celestial). For further detail, see Plotinus. Porphyry added Aristotelian elements. The school of Athens developed Neoplatonism in theological, but anti Christian, directions, most notably in the work of Proclus in the 5th century. In Alexandria, however, a blending of Neoplatonic and Christian elements took place, at its most developed in the work of Boethius. Neoplatonism had a profound influence on medieval and Renaissance philosophy (see, for example, Dante), whilst elements from Plotinus are also present in the tradition of the cabbala. However, eventually the God of the Neoplatonists is too remote from the world to serve satisfactorily as the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. He or it is like a pool that is the source of a river, but is separated from its lower reaches by all the intervening waterfalls; it is not accessible to prayer nor remotely cognizant of nor concerned with events further down. One of the principal problems of early scholastic philosophy was to define and defend a concept of a God that, while entirely self sufficient, was not entirely self absorbed. See also mover, unmoved. (ODP)

  • nominalism:

(Lat., belonging to a name) The view that things denominated by the same term share nothing except that fact: what all chairs have in common is that they are called ‘chairs’. The doctrine is usually associated with the thought that everything that exists is a particular individual, and therefore there are no such things as universals. Our common classifications are merely the flatus vocis or breath of the voice. Nominalism was suggested by Boethius, and is one of the most important elements in the philosophy of Ockham. It is not, however, easy to state the doctrine in a stable way, since if chairs can share the feature of being called ‘chairs’, then they ought to be able to share other features as well; the issue ought to be not how many cases of shared features there are, but what it is to share a feature, and whether language plays some fundamental role in creating the phenomenon. Nominalism is an extreme version of the permanently attractive idea that the common features of things are some kind of creation of human responses and ideas. See also conceptualism. (ODP)

  • one and the many:
  • ontological argument:

The celebrated argument for the existence of God first propounded by Anselm in his Proslogion, ch. 2. The argument is notable as being purely a priori, and is usually interpreted as an attempt to prove the existence of God without using any contingent premise. Anselm follows Boethius by defining God as ‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’ (id quo maius cogitare nequit). God then exists in the understanding, since we understand this concept. But if He only existed in the understanding, something greater could be conceived, for a being that exists in reality is greater than one that exists only in the understanding. But then we can conceive of something greater than that than which nothing greater can be conceived, which is contradictory. Hence, God cannot exist only in the understanding, but exists in reality. In Anselm’s own time the argument was criticized by a monk called Gaunilo, who urged that the same pattern of reasoning would prove the existence of a perfect island (for a perfect island existing only in the imagination is obviously not as good as one that really exists). The argument was not accepted by Aquinas, but was resurrected by Descartes, who made plain the requirement that existence be thought of as part of the definition or essence of a supremely perfect being. This, in turn, opened the way to criticism by Hume and especially Kant, that existence is not a property or predicate on all fours with others, that can be added or subtracted from definitions at will. This criticism has been generally sustained by modern logic (see quantifier, variable).

The argument has been treated by modern theologians such as Barth, following Hegel, not so much as a proof with which to confront the unconverted, but as an exploration of the deep meaning of religious belief. Collingwood regards the argument as proving not that because our idea of God is that of id quo maius cogitare nequit, therefore God exists, but proving that because this is our idea of God, we stand committed to belief in its existence: its existence is a metaphysical posit, or absolute presupposition of certain forms of thought.

In the 20th century, modal versions of the ontological argument have been propounded by the American philosophers Charles Hartshorne, Normal Malcolm, and Alvin Plantinga. One version is as follows. Let us define something as unsurpassably great if it exists and is perfect in every possible world. Now let us allow that it is at least possible that an unsurpassably great being exists. This means that there is a possible world in which such a being exists. But if it exists in one world, it exists in all (for the fact that such a being exists in one world entails that it exists and is perfect in every world). So it exists necessarily. The correct response to this argument is to disallow the apparently reasonable concession that it is possible that such a being exist. This concession is much more dangerous than it looks, since in the modal logic involved, from possibly necessarily p, we can derive necessarily p. (ODP)

  • ontology:

Derived from the Greek word for being, but a 17th century coinage for the branch of metaphysics that concerns itself with what exists. Apart from the ontological argument itself there have existed many a priori arguments that the world must contain things of one kind or another: simple things, unextended things, eternal substances, necessary beings, and so on. Such arguments often depend upon some version of the principle of sufficient reason. Kant is the greatest opponent of the view that unaided reason can tell us in detail what kinds of thing must exist, and therefore do exist. In the 20th century, Heidegger is often thought of primarily as an ontologist. Quine’s principle of ontological commitment is that to be is to be the value of a bound variable, a principle not telling us what things exist, but how to determine what things a theory claims to exist. These are the things the variables range over in a properly regimented formal presentation of the theory. Philosophers characteristically charge each other with reifying things improperly, and in the history of philosophy every kind of thing will at one time or another have been thought to be the fictitious result of an ontological mistake. (ODP)

  • perception:
  • phenomenalism:

The philosophy of perception that elaborates the idea that, in the words of J. S. Mill, ‘objects are the permanent possibilities of sensation’. To inhabit a world of independent, external objects is, on this view, to be the subject of actual and possible orderly experiences. Espoused by Russell, the view issued in a programme of translating talk about physical objects and their locations into talk about possible experiences (see logical construction). The attempt is widely supposed to have failed, and the priority the approach gives to experience has been much criticized. It is more common in contemporary philosophy to see experience as itself a construct from the actual way of the world, rather than the other way round. (ODP)

  • phenomenology:

A term that emerged in the 18th century, in the writings of Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728 77) and Kant, to denote the description of consciousness and experience in abstraction from consideration of its intentional content (see intentionality). In Hegel, phenomenology is instead the historical enquiry into the evolution of self consciousness, developing from elementary sense experience to fully rational, free, thought processes capable of yielding knowledge. The term in the 20th century is associated with the work and school of Husserl. Following Brentano, Husserl realized that intentionality was the distinctive mark of consciousness, and saw in it a concept capable of overcoming traditional mind body dualism. The study of consciousness, therefore, maintains two sides: a conscious experience can be regarded as an element in a stream of consciousness, but also as a representative of one aspect or ‘profile’ of an object. In spite of Husserl’s rejection of dualism, his belief that there is a subject matter remaining after epoche or bracketing of the content of experience, associates him with the priority accorded to elementary experiences in the parallel doctrine of phenomenalism, and phenomenology has partly suffered from the eclipse of that approach to problems of experience and reality. However, later phenomenologists such as Merleau Ponty do full justice to the world involving nature of experience. (ODP)

  • phronesis:

(Gk., intelligence, prudence) Practical wisdom, or knowledge of the proper ends of life, distinguished by Aristotle from theoretical knowledge and mere means—end reasoning, or craft, and itself a necessary and sufficient condition of virtue. (ODP)

  • Plato:

(c. 429 347 BC) Plato was born in Athens of an aristocratic family. He recounts in the Seventh Letter, which, if genuine, is part of his autobiography, that the spectacle of the politics of his day brought him to the conclusion that only philosophers could be fit to rule. After the death of Socrates in 399, he travelled extensively. During this period he made his first trip to Sicily, with whose internal politics he became much entangled; sceptics about the authenticity of the Seventh Letter suppose it to be a forgery designed to support the opposition party of Dion against the tyrant Dionysius II. He visited Sicily at least three times in all and may have been richly subsidized by Dionysius. On return from Sicily he began formal teaching at what became the Academy. Details of Plato’s life are surprisingly sparse, partly because of the Athenian convention against naming contemporaries in literary works; Aristotle, for example, although a student at the Academy for some twenty years, gives us no information about Plato’s life. As a result the dating of his works has to be established on internal evidence, and is subject to scholarly dispute.

Plato’s fame rests on his Dialogues which are all preserved. They are usually divided into three periods, early, middle, and late. Early dialogues include Hippias Minor, Laches, Charmides, Ion, Protagoras, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Gorgias, Meno, Cratylus, and the doubtful Hippias Major, Lysis, Menexenus, and Euthydemus; middle dialogues include Phaedo, Philebus, Symposium, Republic, Theaetetus; and to the late period belong Critias, Parmenides, Phaedrus, Sophist, Statesman, Timaeus, and Laws. The early dialogues establish the figure of Socrates, portrayed as endlessly questioning, ruthlessly shattering the false claims to knowledge of his contemporaries. The aim of the elenctic method (see elenchus) is allegedly to clear the ground for establishing a just appreciation of virtue, but more is done negatively than positively. When Socrates asks ‘What is x?’ (virtue, justice, friendship, etc.), he is shown as brushing aside mere examples of x in favour of pursuit of the essence or form of x, or that which makes things x. In the middle dialogues, concern switches to the philosophical underpinnings of this notion of a form, possibly in response to pressure on Plato to justify the dialectical method as more than a sceptical game. The middle dialogues are not in dialogue form, and do not exhibit the Socratic method. The change may have been connected with Plato’s belief that the young should not be exposed to such drastic solvents (the teaching method of the Academy prohibited students younger than thirty years old from such exercises).

It is the middle dialogues that defend the doctrines commonly thought of as Platonism, and the positive doctrines are certainly uncompromising. A pivotal concept is that of the forms. These are independent, real, divine, invisible, and changeless; they share features of the things of which they are the form, but also cause them (so they are not simply common properties, or universals). Unique amongst them is the form of the Good, the quasi divine goal of mystical apprehension that could be achieved, if at all, only at the end of the philosophical pilgrimage. Apprehension of the forms is knowledge ( noesis) whereas belief about the changing everyday world is at best opinion (doxa). Knowledge is recollection of the acquaintance we had with the forms before our immortal souls became imprisoned in our bodies (see anamnesis, beauty). The Republic develops the celebrated comparison between justice and order in the soul, and that in the state; the famous myth of the cave introduces the doctrine that only those who apprehend the form of the good are fit to rule.

The Parmenides and Theaetetus are late middle or early late dialogues, and the former contains sufficiently devastating criticism of the doctrine of forms to throw Plato’s later views into doubt. The latter is a brilliant investigation of the concept of knowledge that ushers in the classical and still widely accepted account of knowledge as true belief plus a logos, or certification by reason. In the late works, especially the last and longest dialogue, the Laws, Plato returns to the character of the ideal republic in a more sober manner, with civic piety and religion taking much of the burden of education away from philosophy. The Timaeus is especially interesting as a scientific treatise, whose cosmology echoed on in the Neoplatonism of the Christian era. Plato is generally regarded as the inventor of philosophical argument as we know it, and many would claim that the depth and range of his thought have never been surpassed.(ODP)

  • platonism:

The view taken especially from the middle dialogues of Plato that abstract objects, such as those of mathematics, or concepts such as the concept of number or justice, are real, independent, timeless, and objective entities. Numbers stand to mathematical enquiry rather as countries do to geographical enquiry, and concepts stand in a similar relation to enquiries such as philosophy or law that delve into their nature. See also forms. (ODP)

  • post-structuralism:

The variety of post modernism defined by its reaction against structuralism in France, and associated with writers such as Derrida, Foucault, and Kristeva. Whilst deriving from Saussure the view that words mean what they do through their relations with each other rather than through their relationship to an extra linguistic reality, post structuralism adds an interest in their origins in relationships of power, or in the unconscious. However, it does not share the structuralist view that the unconscious, or the forms of society, will themselves obey structural laws, waiting to be discovered. Rather, it echoes Nietzsche’s hostility to the reduction of human phenomena to lawlike generalizations, associating such views with the philosophical underpinnings of determinist systems such as Marxism, and instead celebrating the formless, or the subjective and spontaneous. Leaning heavily on the psycho analytic dissolution of the self, it provides one manifestation of the sceptical stance of postmodernism, in particular by refusing any concepts of objectivity, reality, and truth. (ODP)

  • potency
  • predicate
  • process theology
  • quidditative
  • rationes seminales see seminal logoi
  • relativism
  • skepticism
  • soul
  • stoics
  • structuralism:

A general intellectual movement whose headquarters have been in France, and whose heyday was in the 1960s. The common feature of structuralist positions is the belief that phenomena of human life are not intelligible except through their interrelations. These relations constitute a structure, and behind local variations in the surface phenomena there are constant laws of abstract structure. Thus superficially diverse sets of myth, or works of art, or practices of marriage, might be revealed as sharing the same pattern. Structuralism owes its origin to the work of Saussure in linguistics, and one form of the doctrine holds that all sign systems are linguistic in nature. One of the early successes of structuralist investigation in linguistics was the discovery that phonetic units (phonemes) gain their identity through a network of relationships (opposition, difference) between sounds rather than through the brute physical nature of a given sound. Structuralism in linguistics embraced not only phonetics but semantics, and describes the approach of the Prague school, and the dominant American school of linguistics (E. Sapir, L. Bloomfield) for the first half of the 20th century. Although Chomsky’s approach to linguistics is in this broad sense structuralist, his opposition to the Bloomfield school lay in their concentration on surface structure at the expense of deep structure (see generative grammar).

In anthropology, the leading structuralist was Lévi Strauss, whose Les Structures élé mentaires de la parenté (1949) seeks to show how a wide variety of kinship and institutional arrangements can be referred back to basic structures of communication, thought of as fundamental patterns of the working of the mind, and from which the surface variety is generated. Other structuralist approaches to their respective subjects are found in the psychoanalytic theories of Lacan and the Marxism of Althusser. See also poststructuralism. (ODP)

  • substance:

(Lat., sub, under, stare, stand: that which stands under) Many concerns and disputes cluster around the ideas associated with this term. The substance of a thing may be: (i) its essence, or that which makes it what it is. This will ensure that the substance of a thing is that which remains through change in its properties. In Aristotle (Metaphysics Z, vii) this essence becomes more than just the matter, but a unity of matter and form. (ii) That which can exist by itself, or does not need a subject for existence, in the way that properties need objects; hence (iii) that which bears properties. A substance is then the subject of predication, that about which things are said as opposed to the things said about it. Substance in the last two senses stands opposed to modifications such as quantity, quality, relations, etc. It is hard to keep this set of ideas distinct from the doubtful notion of a substratum, something distinct from any of its properties, and hence incapable of characterization. The notion of substance tends to disappear in empiricist thought in favour of the sensible qualities of things, with the notion of that in which they inhere giving way to an empirical notion of their regular concurrence. But this in turn is problematic, since it only makes sense to talk of the concurrence of instances of qualities, not of qualities themselves. So the problem of what it is for a quality to be instanced remains.

Metaphysics inspired by modern science tends to reject the concept of substance in favour of concepts such as that of a field or a process, each of which may seem to pro vide a better example of a fundamental physical category. (ODP)

  • syllogism
  • teleological argument (see design, argument to or from)
  • terminist
  • time

  • transcendental:

A topic or question is transcendental if its resolution is not purely a matter of logic or mathematics, and also lies beyond the scope both of sense experience and of the proper use of theory answerable to sense experience. Transcendental questions include religious questions, but may also in dude those raised by metaphysical problems, such as scepticism and physicalism. Philosophical attitudes to such questions range from fascination to outright denial of their existence (see logical positivism). (ODP)

  • transcendental analytic:

In Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the section that deals with the principles of the understanding, and that attempts to prove the application of the categories to phenomena. (ODP)

  • transcendental argument:

In Kant, one that proves a conclusion by showing that unless it were true, experience itself would be impossible. (ODP)

  • transcendental idealism:

Term used by Kant to characterize one element of his philosophy. Kant attempts to combine empirical realism, preserving the ordinary independence and reality of objects of the world, with transcendental idealism, which allows that in some sense the objects have their ordinary properties (their causal powers, and their spatial and temporal position) only because our minds are so structured that these are the categories we impose upon the manifold of experience. (ODP)

  • universals:

A universal is a property or relation that can be instanced, or instantiated, by a number of different particular things: each yellow thing provides an instance of the property of yellowness, and each square thing the property of being square. The things covered by a universal are thus similar in some respect. The general questions asked about universals include: are they discovered or invented? How are we to think of something that has itself no spatial position, yet is instanced at many places and times? What is the relation of instantiation? Can sharing the same property be analysed in terms of resemblance? How does the mind perceive the general property as well as the particular instance of it? Approaches to universals include Platonism, or the position that universals exist independently of things (ante rem); the Aristotelian belief that universals exist in things (in re) but not independently of them; conceptualism, or the view that they are reflections of the propensity of the mind to group things together (post rein, or abstracted from things); nominalism, or the view that the universal is the breath of the voice (flatus vocis), i.e. that to share a universal is simply to be describable by the same word; and finally a general suspicion that the whole issue is the result of a misleading reification, trapping us into thinking of two categories of thing (the particular and the universals it instances) instead of just particulars. However, a theory of universals is vital in many areas: for example, one’s attitude to knowledge and science will depend upon whether natural kinds are thought of as invented or discovered, and the problem of induction is made even less tractable if the similarities we project are thought of as having only a conventional or nominalistic status. The problem of universals was a major topic of controversy in medieval philosophy: see Boethius, Ockham, Porphyry. See also forms. (ODP)

  • verification principle:

The principle central to logical positivism, according to which the meaning of a statement is its method of verification. Sentences apparently expressing propositions that admit of no verification (such as those of metaphysics and theology) are in consequence meaningless, or at least fail to put forward theses with cognitive meaning, capable of truth or falsity. The principle requires confidence that we know what a verification consists in, and tended to coexist with a fairly simple conception of each thought as answerable to individual experiences. To avoid undue simplification the principle moved from requiring a strong or conclusive verification as the condition of meaning, to admitting indirect and inconclusive methods of verification. However, more complex and holistic conceptions of language and its relation to the world suggest a more flexible set of possible relations, with sentences that are individually not verifiable nevertheless having a use in an overall network of beliefs or theory that itself answers to experience. (ODP)

Key Propositions/Arguments (What is being said in detail, and how?):

  • The overall argument of the book is rather simple (“here’s the philosophy you need to know in order to better understand theology”).
  • However, due to the nature of the book, there are plenty of summaries of various philosophers’ and theologians’ arguments.


Is the book true, in whole or part?:

  • Yes.

Problems Solved:

  • Gives an adequate amount of philosophical information/background in order to better understand key theological issues.

Problems Not Solved:

  • None. Allen and Springsted solve the problem they set for themselves.

Author is uninformed:

  • Unable to critique

Author is misinformed:

  • Unable to critique

Author is illogical:

  • Unable to critique

Author is incomplete:

  • Yes, but this book doesn’t attempt to give a comprehensive overview of either philosophy or theology.

What of it? (Why) is it important to know these things?:

  • This book illustrates the importance of philosophical literacy as a systematic/historical theologian.
  • Even if one takes a rather “Barthian” stance on the relationship between theology and philosophy, in order to correctly understand the history of theology, some knowledge of the history of philosophy is required!

Suggested Further Reading

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