Philosophy Word of the Day – Religious Experience


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“First, religious experience is to be distinguished from religious feelings, in the same way that experience in general is to be distinguished from feelings in general. A feeling of elation, for example, even if it occurs in a religious context, does not count in itself as a religious experience, even if the subject later comes to think that the feeling was caused by some objective reality of religious significance. An analogy with sense experience is helpful here. If a subject feels a general feeling of happiness, not on account of anything in particular, and later comes to believe the feeling was caused by the presence of a particular person, that fact does not transform the feeling of happiness into a perception of the person. Just as a mental event, to be a perception of an object, must in some sense seem to be an experience of that object, a religiously oriented mental event, to be a religious experience, must in some way seem to be an experience of a religiously significant reality.

“So, although religious feelings may be involved in many, or even most, religious experiences, they are not the same thing. Discussions of religious experience in terms of feelings, like Schleiermacher’s (1998) “feeling of absolute dependence,” or Otto’s (1923) feeling of the numinous, were important early contributions to theorizing about religious experience, but some have since then argued (see Gellman 2001 and Alston 1991, for example) that religious affective states are not all there is to religious experience. To account for the experiences qua experiences, we must go beyond subjective feelings.” (continue article)

— Mark Webb in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Plato on the Soul

“The human soul is considered by Plato to be an immaterial agent, superior in nature to the body and somewhat hindered by the body in the performance of the higher, psychic functions of human life. The tripartite division of the soul becomes an essential teaching of Platonic psychology from the Republic onward. The rational part is highest and is pictured as the ruler of the psychological organism in the well-regulated man.

“Next in importance is the “spirited” element of the soul, which is the source of action and the seat of the virtue of courage. The lowest part is the concupiscent or acquisitive element, which may be brought under control by the virtue of temperance The latter two are often combined and called irrational in contrast to the highest part.

“Sensation is an active function of the soul, by which the soul “feels” the objects of sense through the instrumentality of the body. Particularly in the young, sensation is a necessary prelude to the knowledge of Ideas, but the mature and developed soul must learn to rise above sense perception and must strive for a more direct intuition of intelligible essences.

“That the soul exists before the body (related to the Pythagorean and, possibly, Orphic doctrine of transmigration) and knows the world of Ideas immediately in this anterior condition, is the foundation of the Platonic theory of reminiscence (Meno, Phaedo, Republic, Phaedrus). Thus the soul is born with true knowledge in it, but the soul, due to the encrustation of bodily cares and interests, cannot easily recall the truths innately, and we might say now, subconsciously present in it.

“Sometimes sense perceptions aid the soul in the process of reminiscence, and again, as in the famous demonstration of the Pythagorean theorem by the slave boy of the Meno, the questions and suggestions of a teacher provide the necessary stimuli for recollection. The personal immortality of the soul is very clearly taught by Plato in the tale of Er (Repub. X) and, with various attempts at logical demonstration, in the Phaedo. Empirical and physiological psychology is not stressed in Platonism, but there is an approach to it in the descriptions of sense organs and their media in the Timaeus 42 ff.”

— Vernon J. Bourke, “Platonism,” in Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. by Dagobert D. Runes


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Philosophy Word of the Day – Turing Test

Alan Turing

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“A test devised by Alan Turing in the 1950s intended to determine machine intelligence.  This test was invented by Alan M. Turing (1912-1954) and first described in his 1950 article. The basic setup of the test includes two people and the machine to be tested. One person is an interrogator, and the other person and the machine are respondents. The interrogator and respondents are all in different rooms and thus physically separated. The interrogator can only ask questions via a keyboard (e.g. a teletype or computer terminal). Both respondents attempt to convince the interrogator that they are the human respondent. Turing suggested that the test should be run for five minutes or so, but the precise length is somewhat irrelevant. This, then, is an imitation game for the machine.

“The machine is said to pass the test if the interrogator can not tell the difference between the respondents, or guesses at chance at the identity of the respondents. The machine fails the test if the interrogator can tell the difference. Turing thought that any machine which passes the test should be considered intelligent, or more precisely, should be considered to ‘think’.

“In other words, Turing proposed the test as a sufficient criterion for machine intelligence. He felt it was not a necessary condition because of the possibility that intelligent creatures could not correctly participate (for some physical reason) in the game. However, as Block (1995) points out it is possible to satisfy the Turing test with an unintelligent, physically possible machine. This means that the test does not seem to be a sufficient criterion either. If the test is neither necessary nor sufficient, perhaps it can be considered a ‘mark’ of intelligence, rather than criterial for intelligence.”

Turing, A.M. (1950). Computing machinery and intelligence. Mind, 59, 433-560.

Block, N. (1995). Mind as the software of the brain. In D. Osherson, L. Gleitman, S. Kosslyn, E. Smith and S. Sternberg (eds). Invitation to Cognitive Science, MIT Press. [online version]

— Chris Eliasmith at Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Entropy


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“Entropy is a thermodynamic quantity whose value depends on the physical state or condition of a system. It is useful in physics as a means of expressing the Second Law of Thermodynamics. That is, while the law may be stated in terms of it being impossible to extract heat from a reservoir and convert it totally to usable work, in terms of entropy the law states that any changes occurring in a system that is thermally isolated from its surroundings are such that its entropy never decreases.

“This behavior corresponds to the fact that entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system. On average all of nature proceeds to a greater state of disorder. Examples of irreversible progression to disorder are pervasive in the world and in everyday experience. Bread crumbs will never gather back into the loaf. Helium atoms that escape from a balloon never return. A drop of ink placed in a glass of water will uniformly color the entire glass and never assemble into its original shape.

“. . . This progressive tendency of nature toward disorder has been considered by many scholars as one of the primal natural processes that serve as a gauge for the irreversible nature of time. Accordingly, a considerable number have identified the relentless increase of entropy with what they term the thermodynamic arrow of time. In addition, the degradation associated with the increase of entropy has been discussed by some scholars of science and religion as a meaningful metaphor for evil.”

“Entropy” in Encyclopedia of Science and Religion

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain

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“(1882-1973).  The best-known neo-Thomist of the twentieth century.  Having become dissatisfied with secularism and scientism, at the age of 24 Maritain converted to Roman Catholicism and spent the following sixty or so years elaborating a comprehensive philosophical system based on the writings of Thomas Aquinas and his scholastic followers, most especially John of St Thomas (1589-1644).

“His major contributions are to epistemology (The Degrees of Knowledge (1932)), social philosophy (The Person and the Common Good (1947)), and aesthetics (Art and Scholasticism (1920)).  Maritain is a staunch realist in metaphysics and epistemology; he advocates ontological pluralism, claiming that there are various non-reducible levels of existence, e.g., the physical, the biological, the psychological, the social, and the spiritual; and similarly he insists upon the diversity of our ways of knowing reality, emphasizing the role of rational and creative intuition and thereby linking metaphysics and aesthetics.”

— John Haldane in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 522.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Edmund Husserl

The photograph of German philosopher Edmund Hu...

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“Although not the first to coin the term, it is uncontroversial to suggest that the German philosopher, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), is the ‘father’ of the philosophical movement known as phenomenology.  Phenomenology can be roughly described as the sustained attempt to describe experiences (and the ‘things themselves’) without metaphysical and theoretical speculations.

“Husserl suggested that only by suspending or bracketing away the ‘natural attitude’ could philosophy becomes its own distinctive and rigorous science, and he insisted that phenomenology is a science of consciousness rather than of empirical things. Indeed, in Husserl’s hands phenomenology began as a critique of both psychologism and naturalism.  Naturalism is the thesis that everything belongs to the world of nature and can be studied by the methods appropriate to studying that world (that is, the methods of the hard sciences). Husserl argued that the study of consciousness must actually be very different from the study of nature. . . . “ (continue article)

— Marianne Sawicki at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Oxford Philosophy


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“A label frequently used for a kind of analytical philosophy with a distinctively linguistic orientation, which from the mid-twentieth century set the tone for much academic philosophy internationally.  Among its leading exponents were Gilbert Ryle, P. F. Strawson, J. L. Austin and H. P. Grice.

“It is entirely different from and has only the name in common with the so-called Oxford Movement in the nineteenth century, and with the Oxford Group of the 1930s, led by Frank Buchman and later renamed Moral Re-Armament.”

The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, 446.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Absurd


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“That which is untenable or beyond the limits of rationality. When associated with existentialism, the absurd refers to there being a lack of any meaning inherent within the real world or in our actions. It gained currency in popular culture via Samuel Beckett’s theatre of the absurd and works by Sartre and Camus. A phrase famously (and erroneously) attributed to Tertullian claimed that faith in an incarnate God was absurd: credo quia absurdum est—’I believe because it is absurd.’

“The actual quotation from Tertullian is: credibile est, quia ineptuin est—’It is credible because it is silly.’ (De carne Christi 5.4). Tertullian is sometimes taken to thereby valorize irrationality, but his thesis was instead that the truth of Christianity was absurd only in relation to Stoic, non-Christian philosophy. If Tertullian is correct, the tenability of Christianity is not contingent upon external, philosophical inspection.”

A Dictionary of Philosophy of Religion, Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty, eds., 4.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Fallibilism

Karl Popper in 1990.

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“Fallibilism is the view that human knowledge lacks a secure and an infallible foundation. Fallibilism is associated in particular with American scientist and philosopher Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914) and Austrian-born philosopher Karl Popper (1902–1994). In its most comprehensive form the fallibilist maintains that people cannot know anything with certainty. In its more restricted forms uncertainty is attributed to a particular domain of beliefs, such as empirical or religious beliefs. What separates fallibilists from others is the confidence each gives to epistemological success in general or within a particular domain. Participants within the science/religion discussion quite frequently affirm fallibilism. Its merit seems to be that it opens up possibilities for a dialogue on more even terms than foundationalism does.”

Mikael Stenmark in Encyclopedia of Science and Religion

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Abstract Entities


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“Metaphysical objects that are not actualized somewhere in space and time, that is, non-particulars such as numbers, properties, relations, propositions, and classes.  They stand in contrast to spatio-temporal physical objects.

“Whether these entities actually exist—whether we should ascribe reality to them—is a question of persistent dispute in philosophy.  Empiricists and nominalists try to conceive of abstract entities as having merely a linguistic basis.  However, if mathematics embodies general truths about the world and has abstract entities as its subject matter, abstract entities would be objects of reference and hence real existents.  This is the claim of Platonism and is also a position admitted by Quine’s criterion of ontological commitment.  The discussion of abstract entities is related to problems of being, to the problem of universals, also to the theory of meaning.”

The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy (Wiley, 2009), 4.

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