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μεσος [mesos]

Greek term for middle or mean. The Pythagoreans regarded a balance between extremes as part of the harmonious life proper for human conduct. Aristotle argued more specifically that virtue in human life invariably emerges as the mean between vicious extremes.

Recommended Reading: F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967); Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, tr. by W. D. Ross, J. L. Ackrill, and J. O. Urmson (Oxford, 1998); Sarah Broadie, Ethics With Aristotle (Oxford, 1995); and Aristotle, Virtue and the Mean, ed. by Richard Bosley, Roger A. Shiner, and Janet D. Sisson (Academic Pr. & Pub., 1995).

Also see PP.


Branch of philosophical ethics concerned with the meaning of moral propositions and the grounds upon which moral judgments are to be justified. Meta-ethical theories typically offer an account of moral language and its uses together with an explanation of the logical relations between assertions of fact and value.

Recommended Reading: Robin Attfield, Value, Obligation, And Meta-ethics (Rodopi, 1995); David O. Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (Cambridge, 1989); Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Harvard, 1986); T. Tannsjo, The Relevance of Metaethics to Ethics (Coronet, 1976); and Andrew Minase, A Book of Metaethics (iUniverse, 2000).

Also see SEP, EB, and M. Y. Chew.


Stories employed to legitimate the mechanisms of social control. Thus, for example, when parents tell their children, "We only want to help you avoid our mistakes," they are constructing a metanarrative that justifies the imposition of rules of conduct they are unwilling to follow themselves. Lyotard supposed that the deliberate subversion of prominent metanarratives is a significant tool of postmodernism.

Recommended Reading: Jean-Francois Lyotard, Postmodern Fables, tr. by Georges Van Den Abbeele (Minnesota, 1999) and Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, tr. by Brian Massumi (Minnesota, 1985).


Branch of philosophy that tries to determine the proper aims, methods, and conditions for the discipline of philosophy itself.

Recommended Reading: Jerry H. Gill, Metaphilosophy: An Introduction (U. Press of Am., 1986); Nicholas Rescher, Philosophical Reasoning: A Study in the Methodology of Philosophizing (Blackwell, 2001); and Kai Nielsen, On Transforming Philosophy: A Metaphilosophical Inquiry (Westview, 1996).


Branch of philosophy concerned with providing a comprehensive account of the most general features of reality as a whole; the study of being as such. Questions about the existence and nature of minds, bodies, god, space, time, causality, unity, identity, and the world are all metaphysical issues. From Plato onwards, many philosophers have tried to determine what kinds of things (and how many of each) exist. But Kant argued that this task is impossible; he proposed instead that we consider the general structure of our thought about the world. Strawson calls the former activity revisionary, and the latter descriptive, metaphysics.

Recommended Reading: A Companion to Metaphysics, ed. by Jaegwon Kim and Ernest Sosa (Blackwell Pub, 1996); Metaphysics: The Big Questions, ed. by Peter Van Inwagen and Dean W. Zimmerman (Blackwell, 1998); Metaphysics: An Anthology, ed. by Jaegwon Kim and Ernest Sosa (Blackwell, 1999); and D. M. Armstrong, A World of States of Affairs (Cambridge, 1997).

Also see SEP, Ethics Updates, EB, and CE.


Literally, a "little world." {Gk. μικρος [mikros] + κοσμος [kosmos]} In the philosophy of the Stoics, many neoplatonists, and Leibniz, individual human beings are taken to reflect the structure of the universe as a whole.

Also see EB and PP.

middle term

The term that occurs in both premises (but not in the conclusion) of a categorical syllogism.

Midgley, Mary (1919- )

English philosopher, author of Heart & Mind: The Varieties of Moral Experience (1981), Women's Choices: Philosophical Problems Facing Feminism (1983), and Wickedness: A Philosophical Essay (1984). In Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature (1978), Animals and Why They Matter (1983), and The Ethical Primate: Humans, Freedom, and Morality (1994), Midgley uses ethological studies of animal behavior to develop principles for morality that explicitly extend its concerns to include the welfare of non-human species.

Recommended Reading: Mary Midgley, Wisdom, Information and Wonder: What is Knowledge For? (Routledge, 1991); Mary Midgley, Can't We Make Moral Judgements? (St. Martin's, 1993); Mary Midgley, Utopias, Dolphins and Computers: Problems of Philosophical Plumbing (Routledge, 2000); and Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry (Routledge, 2001).


Presocratic philosophers at Miletus—including Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes—who speculated about the fundamental principle {Gk. αρχη [archê]} that unifies the composition of the world.

Recommended Reading: Jonathan Barnes, The Presocratic Philosophers (Routledge, 1982) and Richard D. McKirahan, Philosophy Before Socrates: An Introduction With Text and Commentary (Hackett, 1994).

Also see John Burnet and CE.

Mill, James (1773-1836)
James Mill

Scottish philosopher and economist. As a friend of Jeremy Bentham and the father of John Stuart Mill, James Mill exerted an important influence on the development of utilitarianism by arguing that since each individual acts in self-interest, any collection of people must therefore act in the interest of the whole. In An Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1829) Mill defended a strictly associationist psychology. He also wrote The Elements of Political Economy (1844).

Recommended Reading: Collected Works of James Mill (Routledge, 1992); James Mill: Political Writings, ed. by Terence Ball (Cambridge, 1992); Alexander Bain, James Mill: A Biography; and Bruce Mazlish, James and John Stuart Mill: Father and Son in the Nineteenth Century (Transaction, 1988).

Also see SEP and EB.

Mill, John Stuart (1806-1873)

English philosopher who maintained the extreme empiricist view that all knowledge is a posteriori, defended a sophisticated version of utilitarianism as a moral theory, and argued for a greatly enlarged sense of political liberty.

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

Mill's Methods

Patterns of inductive inference elaborated by John Stuart Mill for the purpose of understanding the grounds upon which it is appropriate to make judgments about causal relationships. The five methods include:

Recommended Reading: John Stuart Mill, System of Logic (Classworks, 1986).

Also see Soshichi Uchii.

μιμησις [mimêsis]

Greek term for imitation or representation. Hence, for Plato, μιμησις is one of the ways in which sensible particulars copy the eternal forms; thus he criticized the arts as doubly removed from ultimate reality. Although Aristotle rejected the theory of forms, he agreed with Plato that aesthetic experience is fundamentally mimetic.

Recommended Reading: F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967); Theories of Mimesis, ed. by Arne Melberg, Donald Melcalf, and Nicos A. Nicola (Cambridge, 1995); Laurence R. Goldman, Child's Play: Myth, Mimesis and Make-Believe (Berg, 1998); and Andrew Benjamin, Art, Mimesis and the Avant-Garde: Aspects of a Philosophy of Difference (Routledge, 1991).

Also see EB and PP.

mind {Gk. νους [nous]; Lat. mens}

That which thinks, reasons, perceives, wills, and feels. Philosophy of mind is concerned with explaining the characteristic features of mental events, the proper analysis of conscious experience, the relation between mind and body, and the moral status of persons.

For comprehensive treatment of technical terms employed in contemporary discussion of these and related issues, see Chris Eliasmith's Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind and David J. Chalmers's Mind Papers.

Recommended Reading: A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, ed. by Samuel Guttenplan (Blackwell, 1996); Robert Wilkinson, Minds and Bodies (Routledge, 2000); Jaegwon Kim, Philosophy of Mind (Westview, 1996); Fred Dretske, Naturalizing the Mind (Bradford, 1997); The Mind, ed. by Daniel N. Robinson (Oxford, 1999); Thomas Nagel, Other Minds: Critical Essays 1969-1994 (Oxford, 1999); Stephen P. Stich, Deconstructing the Mind (Oxford, 1998); and Michael Tye, Ten Problems of Consciousness: A Representational Theory of the Phenomenal Mind (Bradford, 1996).

Also see SEP on computational theories, the modularity of mind, mind and identity, other minds, mental causation, mental content, narrow mental content, and nonconceptual mental content, EB, and CE.

mind-body problem

The difficulty of explaining how the mental activities of human beings relate to their living physical organisms. Historically, the most commonly accepted solutions have included mind-body dualism (Descartes), reductive materialism (Hobbes) or idealism (Berkeley), and the double aspect theory (Spinoza).

Although many contemporary philosophers accept some form of identity theory, they often rely on behavioral or functional methods of analyzing mental events and upon the achievements of neuroscience.

Recommended Reading: History of the Mind-Body Problem, ed. by Tim Crane and Sarah Patterson (Routldge, 2001); Materialism and the Mind-Body Problem, ed. by David M. Rosenthal (Hackett, 2000); Jaegwon Kim, Mind in a Physical World: An Essay on the Mind-Body Problem and Mental Causation (Bradford, 2000); John Perry, Knowledge, Possibility, and Consciousness (MIT, 2001); Joseph Almog, What Am I? Descartes and the Mind-Body Problem (Oxford, 2002); Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind (MIT, 1988); and Sergio Moravia, The Enigma of the Mind: The Mind-Body Problem in Contemporary Thought (Cambridge, 1995).

Also see Robert Wozniak, SEP, EB, and DPM.

minor premise

In a categorical syllogism, the premise whose terms are the syllogism's minor term and middle term.

minor term

The subject term of the conclusion of a categorical syllogism.

Minsky, Marvin (1927- )

American mathematician and cognitive scientist. A leader in research of semantic information processing and artificial intelligence, Minsky proposes in The Society of Mind (1985) a detailed explanation of human thought, memory, and feeling in terms of the interaction of multiple internal agents, none of which are themselves conscious.

Also see DPM, Minsky, and EB.

misericordiam, argumentum ad

Literally, an appeal to "distress of the heart;" see appeal to pity.

Recommended Reading: Douglas N. Walton, Appeal to Pity: Argumentum Ad Misericordiam (SUNY, 1997).


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Last modified 29 December 2011.
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