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The characteristic feature of things that arouse pleasure or delight, especially to the senses of a human observer. Thus, "beauty" is the most general term of aesthetic appreciation. Whether judgments about beauty are objective or subjective has been a matter of serious philosophical dispute.

Recommended Reading: James Kirwan, Beauty (Manchester, 1999) and Philosophies of Art and Beauty, ed. by Hugh Bredin and Liberato Santoro-Brienza (Edinburgh, 2000).

Beauvoir, Simone de (1908-1986)
de Beauvoir

French existentialist philosopher and novelist, author of Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex) (1949).

For a discussion of her life and works, see Beauvoir.


Frege's German term for the reference of a concept. See Sinn / Bedeutung.

begging the question (petitio principii)

Circular reasoning. The "informal fallacy" of (explicitly or implicitly) assuming the truth of the conclusion of an argument as one of the premises employed in an effort to demonstrate its truth.

Example: "Since firefighters must be strong men willing to face danger every day, it follows that no woman can be a firefighter."

Although arguments of this sort are formally valid because it is impossible for their conclusions to be false if their premises are true, they fail to provide logical support for their conclusions, which have already been accepted without proof at the outset.

Recommended Reading: Douglas N. Walton, Begging the Question (Greenwood, 1991).

Also see FF and GLF.


German term for idea or concept.


Belief that all mental phenomena can be explained by reference to publicly observable behavior or dispositions to behave. Modern psychology, exemplified by Watson and Skinner, is founded on the methodological principle that only overt human conduct (as opposed to introspection) is available for objective study, including scientific prediction and confirmation. In a more radical metaphysical form, behaviorism may deny the reality of mental entities or processes, all of which are held to be reducible to physical things or events. Logical or linguistic behaviorism, like that of Gilbert Ryle, holds that assertions about mental events can always be analyzed in behavioral terms. Contemporary functionalism is often regarded as a modest form of philosophical behaviorism.

Recommended Reading: John B. Watson, Behaviorism (Transaction, 1998); B. F. Skinner, About Behaviorism (Random House, 1976); Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (Chicago, 2000); and John Staddon, Behaviorism (Focus, 1993).

Also see SEP, IEP, ISM, EB, Wilfrid Sellars, and DPM.

belief {Gk. πιστις [pístis]; Lat. fides}

Affirmation of, or conviction regarding, the truth of a proposition, whether or not one is in possession of evidence adequate to justify a claim that the proposition is known with certainty. For example: I believe that two plus three equals five, I believe that Bill Clinton was President of the United States in 1995, and I believe that I will live another ten years. The first belief is also a case of knowledge; the second is probably knowledge; but the third is (at present) merely belief.

Recommended Reading: Kenneth Malcolm Sayre, Belief and Knowledge: Mapping the Cognitive Landscape (Rowman-Littlefield, 1997); Michael Williams, Groundless Belief (Princeton, 1999); and Jonathan Adler, Belief's Own Ethics (MIT, 2002).

Also see SEP on belief, its formal representation, and the ethics of belief, IEP, EB, and Kent Bach.

Bentham, Jeremy (1748-1832)

English philosopher and political radical. In A Fragment on Government (1776) and An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) Bentham outlined an ethical system based on a purely hedonistic calculation of the utility particular actions with a view to the greatest happiness of all, a view later to be defended in modified form by Mill and others. Bentham supposed that consistent application of this principle in social and political life would resolve many difficulties in human conduct, using proportional but perfectly certain punishment to render unacceptably painful to the prospective criminal any behavior that would otherwise be likely to cause injury to others. Bentham's unusual bequest still remains at University College, London.

Recommended Reading: The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. by John Bowring (Thoemmes, 1997); Ross Harrison, Bentham (Routledge, 1999); Essays on Bentham, ed. by H. L. A. Hart (Oxford, 1983); and Gerald J. Postema, Jeremy Bentham: Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy (Ashgate, 2001).

Also see IEP, Steven Darwall, EB, ELC, John Stuart Mill, and CE.

Berdyaev, Nicolai Alexandrovich (1874-1948)

Ukrainian philosopher who participated in the Revolution but was exiled to France in 1922. Distressed by totalitarian developments in communism, Berdyaev adopted a religious version of existentialism in which the themes of anxiety and authenticity are conveyed through the medium of traditional Christian mythology about sin and redemption. His emphasis on human freedom, however, often raised the suspicions of more orthodox believers. Vselenskost' i konfessionalism (Universality and Confessionalism) (1933) exemplifies the passionate individualism of this self-styled "believing freethinker," which seldom won institutional approval.

Recommended Reading: Nicolai Berdyaev, The Bourgeois Mind and Other Essays (Ayer, 1934); Nicolai Berdyaev, Origin of Russian Communism (Michigan, 1960); Nicolai Berdyaev, The Russian Idea (Lindisfarne, 1992); and Howard A. Slaatte, Personality, Spirit, and Ethics: The Ethics of Nicholas Berdyaev (Peter Lang, 1997).

Also see EB.

Bergmann, Gustav (1906-1987)

Austrian-American philosopher who employed the construction of an ideal language as a method for resolving ontological questions.

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

Bergson, Henri (1859-1941)

French philosopher. Rejecting sterile mechanistic accounts of the natural world, including those of Darwin and Spencer, Bergson developed an account that emphasized the subjective experience of time as the ground for human freedom in Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness) (1889), Matière et mémoire (Matter and Memory) (1896), and The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics (1934). In L'Évolution créatrice (Creative Evolution) (1907) Bergson argued that thought, creativity, motion, and evolution are all products of a creative impulse {Fr. élan vital} that emerges in opposition to material entropy. Bergson won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1927.

Recommended Reading: Leszek Kolakowski, Bergson (St. Augustine, 2000); Keith Ansell-Pearson, Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: Bergson and the Time of Life (Routledge, 2002); F. C. T. Moore, Bergson: Thinking Backwards (Cambridge, 1996); and John Mullarkey, Bergson and Philosophy (Notre Dame, 2000).

Also see SEP, EB, and ELC.

Berkeley, George (1685-1753)

British philosopher and bishop who used empiricist principles to defend an immaterialist philosophy.

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

Berlin, Isaiah (1909-1997)

Latvian-British historian, diplomat, and political philosopher. In Four Essays on Liberty (1969), Berlin drew an important distinction between the positive freedom to govern one's own actions and the negative freedom from external interference in so acting. Societies that differ in their conceptions of liberty, Berlin argued, are likely to exhibit profoundly different social structures. The values embodied in different cultures, then, are commonly incompatible with each other. Karl Marx: His Life and Environment (1939) and Historical Inevitability (1954) criticize the philosophy of Marx, with special treatment of his view of the necessity of history.

Recommended Reading: Isaiah Berlin, The Crooked Timber of Humanity, ed. by Henry Hardy (Princeton, 1998); The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays, ed. by Roger Hausheer and Noel Annan (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2000); John Gray, Isaiah Berlin (Princeton, 1997); and The Legacy of Isaiah Berlin, ed. by Mark Lilla, Ronald Dworkin, and Robert Silvers (NY Review, 2001).

Also see SEP, Edward James, and EB.

best of all possible worlds

The qualitative character of reality, according to the Stoics, who supposed that all is as it should be. In a similar vein, Leibniz argued that an omnipotent and benevolent god would create nothing less, though Voltaire found the claim absurdly naive. In a venerable witticism, the optimist says brightly, "This is the best of all possible worlds," whereupon the pessimist sighs, "I'm afraid you're right."

Recommended Reading: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and the Monadology, tr. by R. Montgomery (Prometheus, 1992) and Voltaire, Candide (Bantam, 1984).

Also see EB.


German term for consciousness.


The conjunction of two conditionals, the antecedent of each of which is the consequent of the other; that is, any statement of the form: "P if and only if Q." Although they may have other uses, all biconditionals involve at least the logical structure of material equivalence.

bivalence, principle of

Supposition that every proposition must be either true or false. The status of this supposition is controversial, especially with respect to future propositions about human action. Thus, for example, if "I will vacuum the carpet tomorrow." were regarded as already true (or false) today, it would seem that I cannot freely choose whether or not to clean. Note the difference between bivalence and excluded middle.

Recommended Reading: Ermanno Bencivenga, Logic, Bivalence and Denotation (Ridgeview, 1991).

Blanshard, Brand (1892-1987)

American philosopher and long-time professor at Yale University. In The Nature of Thought (1939), Blanshard defended absolute idealism and argued that causal necessity is a genuine feature of the natural world. According to Blanshard's Reason and Analysis (Open Court, 1962), the philosophical methods of Anglo-American philosophers during the twentieth century were fundamentally misguided. He also rejected the prevalent non-cognitivism of twentieth-century ethicists by defending a thoroughly naturalistic moral theory in Reason and Goodness (1962).

Recommended Reading: Brand Blanshard, On Philosophical Style and Philosophy of Brand Blanshard, ed. by Paul Arthur Schilpp (Open Court, 1980).


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