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Mead, George Herbert (1863-1931)

American philosopher who applied the principles of pragmatism to the development of the modern discipline of sociology. In The Social Self (1913), Mead developed a notion of self-consciousness grounded in social interaction that would be more fully explained in Mind, Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist (1934).

Recommended Reading: George Herbert Mead, Essays on Social Psychology, ed. by Mary Jo Deegan (Transaction, 2001); Philosophy, Social Theory, and the Thought of George Herbert Mead, ed. by Mitchell Aboulafia (SUNY, 1991); Hans Joas, G.H. Mead: A Contemporary Re-Examination of His Thought, tr. by Raymond Meyer (MIT, 1997); and Gary A. Cook, George Herbert Mead: The Making of a Social Pragmatist (Illinois, 1993).

Also see SEP, IEP, EB, and ELC.

mean {Gk. μεσος [mesos]}

The middle way between too much and too little of something. Aristotle held that virtue is always a mean between vicious extremes of excess and deficiency.

Recommended Reading: Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, tr. by W. D. Ross, J. L. Ackrill, and J. O. Urmson (Oxford, 1998); Aristotle, Virtue and the Mean, ed. by Richard Bosley, Roger A. Shiner, and Janet D. Sisson (Academic Pr. & Pub., 1995); James S. Hans, The Golden Mean (SUNY, 1994); Sarah Broadie, Ethics With Aristotle (Oxford, 1995); and Amelie Rorty, Essays on Aristotle's Ethics (California, 1981).

Also see Steven Darwall and Damian Konkoly.


The customary significance attached to the use of a word, phrase, or sentence, including both its literal sense and its emotive associations; what is elucidated in a definition. Philosophical theories of meaning endeavor to explain the conditions under which an expression comes to have internal significance and external reference.

Recommended Reading: A. W. Moore, Meaning and Reference (Oxford, 1993); Paul Grice, Studies in the Way of Words (Harvard, 1991); The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism, ed. by I. A. Richards and C. K. Ogden (Harvest, 1989); Hartry Field, Truth and the Absence of Fact (Oxford, 2001); Christopher Gauker, Words Without Meaning (MIT Press, 2002); Truth and Meaning: Essays in Semantics, ed. by Gareth Evans and John McDowell (Oxford, 2000); and Gilles Fauconnier, Eve Sweetser, and George Lakoff, Mental Spaces: Aspects of Meaning Construction in Natural Language (Cambridge, 1994).

Also see SEP, EB, and Eric Lormand.


Belief that science can explain all natural phenomena in terms of the causal interactions among material particles, without any reference to intelligent agency or purpose. As employed by Descartes and Hobbes, mechanism offered an alternative to the scholastic reliance on explanatory appeals to final causes.

Recommended Reading: Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Machine Man and Other Writings, ed. by Ann Thomson (Cambridge, 1996); Margaret Dauler Wilson, Ideas and Mechanism (Princeton, 1999); Drew V. McDermott, Mind and Mechanism (MIT, 2001); and Roger J. Faber, Clockwork Garden: On the Mechanistic Reduction of Living Things (Massachusetts, 1986).

Also see ISM and EB.

μεγαλοψυχι&alpha [megalopsychia]

Greek term for magnanimity or greatness of soul, one of the greatest of the moral virtues in the ethics of Aristotle.

Also see PP.

Meinong, Alexius, Ritter von Handschuchsheim (1853-1928)

Austrian philosopher. In Untersuchungen zur Gegenstandtheorie und Psychologie (On the Theory of Objects and Psychology) (1904), Über Annahmen (On Assumptions) (1907), and Über Möglichkeit und Wahrscheinlichkeit (On Possibility and Probability) (1915), Meinong drew a strict distinction between the content of a mental act and its object. Protesting what he called the "prejudice in favor of the actual" by traditional ontology, Meinong posited many levels of reality, including not only existence but also being, subsistence, and "being-so." In Meinong's fully developed theory of objects, it is possible not only to think about the golden mountain—even though it does not exist and may even be impossible—but also to know of it that it most certainly is made of gold.

Recommended Reading: Reinhardt Grossmann, Meinong (Routledge, 1999); Roderick M. Chisholm, Brentano And Meinong Studies (Rodopi, 1982); Rudolf Haller, Meinong Und Die Gegenstandstheorie (Rodopi, 1996); Kenneth J. Perszyk, Nonexistent Objects: Meinong and Contemporary Philosophy (Kluwer, 1993); and Marie-Luise Schubert Kalsi, Meinong's Theory of Knowledge (Martinus Nijhoff, 1987).

Also see SEP, Metaphysics Research Lab, ELC, EB, and Austria-Forum.

Richard Dawkins

A self-replicating unit of cultural meaning, as understood by biologist Richard Dawkins. Transmitted socially among individuals of different generations, memes evolve through processes of mutation and natural selection. Thus, for example, the jingles sung by children while skipping rope, the conventional standards for fashionable dress, and the notions comprising the "common-sense" view of the world are all passed on through time, gradually modifying without any deliberate guidance.

Recommended Reading: Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford, 1990); Richard Brodie, Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme (DeVorss, 1995); Susan Blackmore and Richard Dawkins, The Meme Machine (Oxford, 2000); and Aaron Lynch, Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society (Basic, 1999).

Also see Dan Dennett.


The capacity to recall past experience or information in the present. The reliability of memory as a source of knowledge and the extent of its contribution to personal identity are matters of philosophical dispute.

Recommended Reading: Edward S. Casey, Remembering: A Phenomenological Study (Indiana, 2000); Charles E. Scott, The Time of Memory (SUNY, 1999); Edward S. Casey, Spirit and Soul: Essays in Philosophical Psychology (Spring, 1991); and Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul (Princeton, 1998).

Also see DPM, SEP, and Michael Huemer.

Mendel, Gregor (1822-1884)

Austrian botanist whose observation of successive generations of garden peas, published in Experiments in Plant Hybridization (1865), suggested principles of heredity which helped give rise to the modern science of genetics.

Recommended Reading: William Bateson, Mendel's Principles of Heredity (Genetics Heritage, 1996); Robin Marantz Henig, The Monk in the Garden: The Lost and Found Genius of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics (Mariner, 2001); and Edward Edelson, Gregor Mendel and the Roots of Genetics (Oxford, 1999).

Also see WSB, EB, and Austria-Forum.

Mendelssohn, Moses (1729-1786)

German Jewish philosopher. Mendelssohn's arguments for the existence of god in Morgenstunden (Morning Hours) (1785) and defense of human immortality in his commentary on Plato's Phädon (Phaedo) (1767) were greatly influential on his friends Lessing and Kant. Relying upon natural law theory to argue for religious toleration in Jeruaslem (1783), Mendelssohn expressed high hopes for political progress, but his intellectual life was often disturbed by growing German discrimination against Jews. His grandson, the composer Felix Mendelssohn, was raised as a Christian.

Recommended Reading: Moses Mendelssohn, Philosophical Writings, tr. by Daniel O. Dahlstrom (Cambridge, 1997); Allan Arkush, Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment (SUNY, 1994); Walter Hermann, Moses Mendelssohn, Critic and Philosopher (Ayer, 1973); and David Jan Sorkin, Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment (California, 1996).

Also see SEP, Aharon Shear-Yashuv, and EB.


Latin term for mind.

Also see PP.


Reference to an expression considered merely as a unit of language; see use / mention.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1908-1961)

French philosopher. Applying the methods of Husserl's phenomenology to the relation of mind and body in La Phénoménalogie de la perception (The Phenomenology of Perception) (1945) and Le visible et l'invisible (The Visible and the Invisible) (1964), Merleau-Ponty rejected dualism and diagnosed a pervasive ambiguity in the character of human life. Attributing all consciousness to pre-reflective sensual awareness of the corporeal, Merleau-Ponty tried to overcome the traditional dichotomy between objective and subjective elements of human experience.

Recommended Reading: Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Structure of Behavior (Duquesne, 1983); The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting, ed. by Galen A. Johnson and Michael B. Smith (Northwestern, 1994); Gary Brent Madison, The Phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty: A Search for the Limits of Consciousness (Ohio, 1981); Merleau-Ponty: Interiority and Exteriority, Psychic Life and the World, ed. by Dorothea Olkowski and James Morley (SUNY, 1999); and M. C. Dillon, Merleau-Ponty's Ontology (Northwestern, 1997).

Also see C.S. Wyatt, SEP, EB, Andy Blunden, ELC, and Marjorie O'Laughlin.

Mersenne, Marin (1588-1648)

French priest. Through his own voluminous correspondence, Mersenne kept several early modern philosophers in touch with each other's development. He translated into French the philosophical works of Galileo, Herbert of Cherbury, and Hobbes; he gathered the objections to which his friend Descartes replied in the original edition of the Meditations; and he composed his own reply to the threats of skepticism and atheism in La Vérité des sciences contre les sceptiques ou pyrrhoniens (The Truth of Science against the Skeptics or Pyrrhonians) (1625).

Recommended Reading: Peter Dear, Mersenne and the Learning of the Schools (Cornell, 1995) and Grotius to Gassendi, ed. by Vere Chappell (Garland, 1998).

Also see Luke Welsh, ELC, EB, David Wilkins, and MMT.


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Last modified 29 December 2011.
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