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Vico, Giambattista (1668-1744)

Italian philosopher. In Principi di una scienza nuova d'intorno alla comune natura delle nazioni (Principles of a New Science of the Common Nature of Nations) (1725) Vico argued that study of the cycles exhibited in human history rests on a foundation and methodology (distinct from that pursued by the natural sciences) under which the genius of each age must be understood in its own terms alone. This position was a significant influence on the work of Hegel, Marx, and Croce.

Recommended Reading: Vico: The First New Science, ed. and tr. by Leon Pompa (Cambridge, 2002); Benedetto Croce, The Philosophy of Giambattista Vico, tr. by Alan Sica (Transaction, 2001); Vico, ed. by Robert Mayer and J.P. Flint (Ayer, 1979); Leon Pompa, Vico: A Study of the 'New Science' (Cambridge, 1990); Mark Lilla, G. B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern (Harvard, 1994); and Isaiah Berlin, Three Critics of the Enlightenment (Princeton, 2000).

Also see SEP, Steven Kreis, EB, Joseph P. Vincenzo, Nancy du Bois, and ELC.

Vienna Circle

A group of philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists in Austria during the 1920s and early 1930s who founded logical positivism with their joint publication of Wissenschaftliche Weltauffassung—der Wiener Kreis (A Scientific World-view—The Vienna Circle) in 1929. Members of the Circle included Carnap, Feigl, Gödel, Hahn, Neurath, Schlick, and Waismann. Schlick died in 1936, and the others all left for England or the United States by 1938.

Recommended Reading: Friedrich Stadler, The Vienna Circle (Springer Verlag, 2000); Edmund Runggaldier, Carnap's Early Conventionalism: An Inquiry into the Historical Background of the Vienna Circle (Rodopi, 1984); Ramon Cirera, Carnap and the Vienna Circle: Empiricism and Logical Syntax (Rodopi, 1994); and Rediscovering the Forgotten Vienna Circle: Austrian Studies on Otto Neurath and the Vienna Circle, ed. by Thomas E. Uebel (Kluwer, 1991).

Also see SEP, IEP, EB, and Austria-Forum.

virtue {Gk. αρετη [aretê]; Lat. virtus}

Excellence, skill, or art. In classical thought, virtues are admirable human characteristics or dispositions that distinguish good people from bad. Socrates sought a singular virtue for human life, while Plato identified four central virtues present in the ideal state or person. Aristotle held that every moral virtue is the mean between vicious extremes.

Modern deontologists and utilitarians tend to suppose that individual virtues are morally worthwhile only when they encourage the performance of duty or contribute to the general welfare.

Recommended Reading: Virtue and Vice, ed. by Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller, and George Sher (Cambridge, 1998); Nancy Sherman, Making a Necessity of Virtue: Aristotle and Kant on Virtue (Cambridge, 1997); Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, 1997); John Casey, Pagan Virtue: An Essay in Ethics (Oxford, 1992); Jonathan Jacobs, Choosing Character: Responsibility for Virtue and Vice (Cornell, 2001); and Michael A. Weinstein, Finite Perfection: Reflections on Virtue (Massachusetts, 1985).

Also see and CE.

virtue ethics

Normative theory that all moral value is derived from the character of moral agents. Aristotle and many medieval Christians assumed that the acquisition of virtue is the proper goal of human conduct, though they differed significantly in their valuation of particular virtues. Rejecting the impersonality of moral judgments in the ethical theories of Kant and Mill, contemporary virtue ethicists emphasize the achievement of a meaningful life.

Recommended Reading: Nichomachean Ethics, tr. by Terence Irwin (Hackett, 1985); Virtue Ethics, ed. by Roger Crisp and Michael Slote (Oxford, 1997); Virtue Ethics: A Critical Reader, ed. by Daniel Statman (Georgetown, 1997); Michael Slote, Morals from Motives (Oxford, 2001); John M. Doris, Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior (Cambridge, 2002); Rosalind Hursthouse, On Virtue Ethics (Oxford, 2000); and Christine McKinnon, Character, Virtue Theories, and the Vices (Broadview, 1999).

Also see SEP, IEP, EB, and Moira M. Walsh.


Exercise of the faculty of willing. The supposition that an act of volition is a necessary precondition for any voluntary action notoriously leads to an infinite regress in explaining the voluntary nature of the volition itself.

Recommended Reading: Peter Van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will (Clarendon, 1983); Thomas Pink, The Psychology of Freedom (Cambridge, 1996); Experimental Slips and Human Error: Exploring the Architecture of Volition, ed. by Bernard J. Baars (Plenum, 1992); and Richard Freadman, Threads of Life: Autobiography and the Will (Chicago, 2001).

Also see EB.

volonté générale

Rousseau's French term for the general will that properly guides the decisions of a civil society, rather than the sum of their individual self-interests, the volonté de tous.

Voltaire (François Marie Arouet) (1694-1778)

French philosopher. Like the other Encyclopedists, Voltaire greatly admired the philosophy of John Locke, and he defended his own version of sensationalism in the Dictionnaire Philosophique (Philosophical Dictionary) (1764) and Lettres Philosophiques (Letters Concerning the English Nation) (1734). As a freethinker and deist, Voltaire opposed institutional religion generally. In Poème sur la Désastre de Lisbonne (On the Lisbon Disaster) (1756) and Candide, ou l'optimisme (Candide) (1759), Voltaire's acknowledgement of the presence of evil grounded a bitter rejection of Leibniz's conviction that god has created the best of all possible worlds.

Recommended Reading: Voltaire, Oeuvres Completes (French & European, 1999); The Portable Voltaire, ed. by Ben Ray Redman (Viking, 1977); Francois Voltaire, Treatise on Tolerance: And Other Writings, tr. by Brian Masters and Simon Harvey (Cambridge, 2000); Voltaire: Political Writings, ed. by David Williams (Cambridge, 1994); and John Gray, Voltaire (Routledge, 1999).

Also see SEP, IEP, EB, Maria das Graças S. Nascimento, and ELC.


Belief that the nature of reality, the principles of morality, or the structure of society derives from the determinations of human or (especially) divine will.

Also see IEP, SEP, EB, Steven Darwall, CE, and ISM.

voluntary / involuntary

In moral philosophy since Aristotle, the distinction between actions that are freely performed in accordance with determination of the will of a moral agent and those which are produced by force or ignorance.

Recommended Reading: Nichomachean Ethics, tr. by Terence Irwin (Hackett, 1985) and T. D. J. Chappell, Aristotle and Augustine on Freedom: Two Theories of Freedom, Voluntary Action and Akrasia (Palgrave, 1995).

Also see CE.

von Neumann, John (1903-1957)
Von Newmann

Hungarian-American mathematician whose work included study of mathematical logic, set theory, and game theory. The complex calculations required for work on weapons systems led to the invention of modern computing machinery, and von Neumann was the first to devise a functional set of program instructions for an electronic computer. Any device that sequentially reads and performs a stored program, providing for input and output, through a central processing unit, is commonly called a "von Neumann machine."

Recommended Reading: John Von Neumann, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Princeton, 1996); John Von Neumann, The Computer and the Brain, ed. by Paul M. Churchland and Patricia Smith Churchland (Yale, 2000); Oskar Morgenstern and John Von Neumann, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (Princeton, 1980); Norman MacRae, John Von Neumann: The Scientific Genius Who Pioneered the Modern Computer, Game Theory, Nuclear Deterrence, and Much More (Am. Math. Soc., 2000); William Poundstone, Prisoner's Dilemma: John Von Neumann, Game Theory and the Puzzle of the Bomb (Anchor, 1993); and William Aspray, John von Neumann and the Origins of Modern Computing (MIT, 1990).

Also see DPM, MMT, EB, and WSB.

voting paradox

A systematic difficulty with the attempt to make consistent social choices by majority rule. Suppose that among three options, equal portions of the population rank them 1-2-3, 2-3-1, and 3-1-2. Then, even though the relative preferences seem rational and evenly divided, in head-to-head competitions, two-thirds of the voters favor 1 over 2, and two-thirds 2 over 3, yet two-thirds favor 3 over 1. Although several Enlightenment thinkers had pointed out similar difficulties in the foundations of social contract theory, twentieth-century economist Kenneth Arrow demonstrated formally that the collective preferences of groups cannot always be determined from the individual preferences of their members.

Recommended Reading: Kenneth J. Arrow, Social Choice and Individual Values (Yale, 1970); Michael A. E. Dummett, Voting Procedures (Clarendon, 1985); and James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent (Michigan, 1962).


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