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A way of life focussing on the denial of sensual pleasures as a means of fostering spiritual development. Although ascetic disciplines have long been respected in major religious traditions, they have rarely been given a sustained philosophical defense.

Recommended Reading: Gavin Flood, The Ascetic Self: Subjectivity, Memory, and Tradition (Cambridge, 2004); Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealog of Morals (Vintage, 1989).

Also see EB and ISM.


Make a judgment. For many philosophers of the modern period, assent is the mental act of accepting the truth of a statement, whether or not one has adequate evidence for knowing it.


The act of claiming that a proposition is true. In ordinary language, "The door is shut" is an assertion, while "I wonder if the door is shut" and "Please shut the door" are not.

Also see SEP.


A proposition stating that something actually is the case, rather than necessary or merely possible. See problematic / assertoric / apodeictic.

Association (Assoc.)

A rule of replacement of the forms:

	[ p ∨ ( q ∨ r ) ] ≡ [ ( p ∨ q ) ∨ r ]

	[ p • ( q • r ) ] ≡ [ ( p • q ) • r ]

Example: "Harold is over 21, and so are Jane and Kelly." is equivalent to "Harold and Jane are over 21, and so is Kelly."

The associativity of both disjunction and conjunction can be demonstrated by truth-table analysis.

association of ideas

Presumed regularities in the co-existence or succession of particular mental contents. Noted as unreliable by Locke, the process of association became a central feature of human thought in the philosophy of Hume and Mill and in the psychology of Skinner.

Also see EB, ISM, and CE.


A proposition accepted without proof or evidence as the basis for some further conclusion.

Mary Astell (1666-1731)

English philosopher who participated vigorously in published debates on metaphysical, epistemological, and religious issues. Astell criticized Locke and his followers for their failure to provide firm foundations for Christian doctrine. In A Serious Proposal to the Ladies , she tried to establish a college for women and decried the "domestic tyrrany" inherent in traditional marriage.

Recommended Reading: Mary Astell, Astell: Political Writings (Cambridge, 1996); Ruth Perry, The Celebrated Mary Astell: An Early English Feminist (Chicago, 1986); A History of Women Philosophers (vol. 3), ed. by Mary Ellen Waithe (Kluwer, 1991); Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period, ed. by Margaret Atherton (Hackett, 1994).

Also see Bill Uzgalis,SEP, and ELC.

αταραξια [ataraxia]

The Greek term used by Pyrrho and Epicurus for tranquillity, or the freedom from disturbance and pain that characterizes a balanced mind and constitutes its first step toward the achievement of pleasure {Gk. ‘ηδονη [hêdonê]}.

Recommended Reading: James Warren, Epicurus and Democritean Ethics: An Archaeology of Ataraxia (Cambridge, 2002).

Also see PP.


Belief that god does not exist. Unlike the agnostic, who merely criticizes traditional arguments for the existence of a deity, the atheist must offer evidence (such as the problem of evil) that there is no god or propose a strong principle for denying what is not known to be true.

Recommended Reading: Antony Flew, Atheistic Humanism (Prometheus, 1993); Atheism, ed. by S. T. Joshi (Prometheus, 2000); Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Temple, 1992); and J. J. C. Smart and J. J. Haldane, Atheism and Theism (Blackwell, 1996).

Also see SEP, Theodore M. Drange, EB, Fredrick Benz, Emma Goldman, and ISM.


The belief that matter is composed of simple, indivisible, physical particles that are too tiny to be observed by human beings. The atomism of such presocratic philosophers as Leucippus and Democritus partly anticipated the corpuscularianism of the seventeenth century and modern physics.

Recommended Reading: Andrew Pyle, Atomism and Its Critics: From Democritus to Newton (St. Augustine, 1995).

Also see SEP on atomism ancient and modern, EB, and ISM.


A property or feature possessed by a substance. In the philosophical nomenclature employed by Aquinas and Descartes, attributes are commonly regarded as essential to the substances that have them.


German term for Enlightenment, the modern spirit of reliance on reason espoused by such philosophers as Mendelssohn and Kant.

Also see EB and Austria-Forum.

Augustine (354-430)

North African philosopher and theologian who blended the philosophy of Plato with Christianity but insisted nevertheless that faith holds an absolute priority over reason.

For a discussion of his life and works, see Augustine.

Austin, John (1790-1859)

British legal theorist. Although he shared many of the utilitarian goals of his friend Bentham, Austin became the foremost representative of legal positivism. He argued in The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (1832) and the unfinished Lectures on Jurisprudence (1863) that, as a matter of practical fact, the law is nothing more than the command of a legitimate sovereign, enforced by the imposition of effective moral sanctions.

Recommended Reading: Wilfrid E. Rumble, The Thought of John Austin: Jurisprudence, Colonial Reform, and the British Constitution (Athlone, 1985).

Also see SEP and EB.

Austin, J. L. (1911-1960)

English philosopher who developed a unique method of approaching philosophical issues, beginning with a painstakingly detailed analysis of the the subtleties involved in day-to-day uses of ordinary language.

For a discussion of his life and works, see Austin.


Self-conscious appropriation of the conditions of one's own existence and identity. According to Heidegger, such deliberate reflection about the goals and values of life is the only successful response to the experience of Angst without falling into self-deception.

Recommended Reading: Michael E. Zimmerman, Eclipse of the Self: The Development of Heidegger's Concept of Authenticity (Ohio, 1986) and Heidegger, Authenticity, and Modernity: Essays in Honor of Hubert L. Dreyfus (MIT, 2000).

Also see Lawrence J. Hatab.

authority, appeal to (argumentum ad verecundiam)

The informal fallacy of claiming that we ought to accept the truth of a proposition because of some personal feature of the individual who affirms it.

Example: "The former Governor believes that aliens have landed in the Arizona desert, so aliens must have landed in the Arizona desert."

Recommended Reading: Douglas Walton, Appeal to Expert Opinion: Arguments from Authority (Penn. State, 1997).

Also see FF and GLF.

autonomy / heteronomy of the will

Kant's distinction between ways of choosing how to act. Autonomous agents are self-legislating; they act according to the categorical imperative of willing only what is universalizable as moral law. Heteronomous agents derive principles of action from outside themselves, by considering the objects or consequences of their choices or being influenced by the will of others. At a personal level, then, autonomy is the practice of reflecting carefully upon one's choices. In the political context, autonomy is the right of self-determination.

Recommended Reading: Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, tr. by James W. Ellington (Hackett, 1993); Thomas E. Hill, Jr., Autonomy and Self-Respect (Cambridge, 1991); and Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and the Social Self, ed. by Catriona MacKenzie and Natalie Stoljar (Oxford, 2000).

Also see SEP on Moral Autonomy and Personal Autonomy, and Steven Darwall.


Latinized name of the Islamaic philosopher Ibn Rushd.


Latinized name of the Jewish philosopher Ibn Gabirol.


Latinized name of Persian philosopher Ibn Sina.


Branch of philosophy that studies judgments about value, including those of both aesthetics and ethics. Thinking about value at this general level commonly emphasizes the diversity and incommensurability of the many sorts of things which have value for us.

Recommended Reading: Rem B. Edwards, Formal Axiology And Its Critics (Rodopi, 1995) and Forms of Value and Valuation, ed. by John W. Davis and Rem B. Edwards (Univ. Pr. of Am., 1992).

Also see EB.


A proposition formally accepted without demonstration, proof, or evidence as one of the starting-points for the systematic derivation of an organized body of knowledge.

Also see EB.

Ayer, Alfred Jules (1910-1989)

English philosopher. After studying with members of the Vienna circle, Ayer published Language, Truth, and Logic (1936) , an excellent statement of the central views of logical positivism, including the use of verifiability as a criterion of meaning, the rejection of metaphysics and theology as meaningless, and an emotivist ethical theory. His later works include Foundations of Empirical Knowledge (1940), The Problem of Knowledge (1956), Logical Positivism (1966) , and The Central Questions of Philosophy (1972) .

Recommended Reading: The Philosophy of A. J. Ayer, ed. by Lewis Edwin Hahn (Open Court, 1992); Oswald Hanfling, Ayer (Routledge, 1999); and Ben Rogers, A. J. Ayer: A Life (Grove, 2000).

Also see SEP and EB.


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