What Philosophical Term or Concept Should Be More Widely Known?


Each year, Edge.org publishes responses to an “annual question.” This year’s question is “What scientific term of concept ought to be more widely known?” There are 206 responses, with a number of philosophers among the respondents.

Here are a few examples, to give you a sense of the variety:

Scientific terms and concepts are not the only ones of which more widespread knowledge would be good. Let’s ask about this for our area of study:

What philosophical term or concept ought to be more widely known?

Let’s be broad-minded about both what counts as a “philosophical term or concept” as well as why it ought to be more widely known. Name the concept and provide a brief explanation aimed at non-philosophers.

I’ll start with a simple one:

Quality of Opinion

People who are disagreeing may tell each other “that’s my opinion” or “that’s your opinion.” These phrases usually function as a conversation enders.

One often says “that’s my opinion” to declare that there’s nothing more one needs to be told about the matter. The phrase doesn’t quite say “I’m right,” but it does say “this isn’t the kind of thing I can be wrong about.” Similarly, we often say “that’s your opinion” in a dismissive manner, to imply that more couldn’t be said in favor of it. It doesn’t quite say, “You’re wrong,” but it does say “this isn’t the kind of thing about which you can be right.” If we can’t be right or wrong about these matters, it may seem pointless to discuss our disagreement over them. Many people think of philosophical positions in this way.

Yet it’s a mistake to treat opinions as “no trespassing” signs for further reasoning and evidence. While some preferences (say, for one flavor over another) may be purely subjective, most opinions aren’t. Opinions can be better or worse. They can be based on ignorance or mistakes about empirical matters, or involve an error in reasoning, or a failure to consider relevant implications or alternatives. Further reasoning and evidence is crucial for figuring out the quality of opinions and which ones are worth holding.

Part of studying philosophy is learning how the declaration of opinions is the start, rather than the end, of a conversation.

apologies to Roy Lichtenstein

 

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Jesús Zamora
4 years ago

SupervenienceReport

Eddy Nahmias
Eddy Nahmias
4 years ago

Physicalism (vs. determinism), inspired by this entry in the Edge series by Jerry Coyne: https://www.edge.org/response-detail/27067
Also: something about different types of possibility and necessityReport

Nathan
Nathan
4 years ago

“Begging the question,” but *not* in the sense of “raises the issue” or “raises the question.”Report

EDT
EDT
Reply to  Nathan
4 years ago

This a thousand times, mostly because the actual fallacy is a common and dangerous one, and because using it to mean “raises the question” is a problem not only for grammar pendants, but because it runs the risk of creating a phrase whose technical meaning is basically opposite to its colloquial meaning which is the last thing English needs (see also “Literally” being used for emphasis/meaning “figuratively”) Report

Joe Saunders
Joe Saunders
4 years ago

Flaccid DesignatorsReport

JT
JT
4 years ago

Reflective equilibrium.Report

Ed
Ed
4 years ago

reductioReport

Daniel
Daniel
4 years ago

Prejudice
While prejudice is not a specifically philosophical term, we ought to explore it philosophically, both with regard to epistemology (perhaps as a type of hasty generalization?), and descriptions of its genesis. Also to explore would be the relationship between prejudgement and the formation of general concepts (one of the most basic acts of the mind). Also included in this would be a history of prejudice in philosophy, including Gadamer’s discussion of the positivity of pre-judgement (Vorurteil) in pre-modern philosophy (as found in his Truth and Method).Report

Matthew Jernberg
Matthew Jernberg
4 years ago

The Knobe Effect.Report

Joseph Heath
Joseph Heath
4 years ago

How about “the linguistic turn”? — in the Dummett/Rorty sense, not the pomo sense of “talking about language a lot,” but rather in terms of thinking that semantic intentionality has explanatory primacy over the intentionality of consciousness.Report

Tom
Tom
4 years ago

Gödel’s incompleteness theoremsReport

Iain
4 years ago

Ontotheology.Report

Christopher
4 years ago

Negative liberty.

Specifically, I have in mind Isaiah Berlin’s idea that freedom from interference, though a negative ideal, is a very valuable life-enhancing sort of negative and that we can lose it if we grasp for the superficially more appealing :”positive liberty” and keep trying to empower ourselves and each other.Report

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
4 years ago

Collective Action Problem: In which the imperative and opportunity to follow self-interests leads to a worse outcome for all individuals in a group than would collective action in which individual self interest is not pursued.Report

Ryan
Ryan
Reply to  Elizabeth
4 years ago

Yup. Relevant to all kinds of policy discussions. I’ve had to bust out collective action problems at a number of family gathers over the holiday season.
Report

Eric
Eric
4 years ago

(1) The distinctions that obtain among holding a true belief, holding a justified belief, holding a false belief, holding an unjustified belief, and having knowledge: many of these notions go together and come apart in a variety of ways.

(2) The notion that even if you are ultimately wrong about something, it doesn’t follow that you should not have believed it, and the related notion that even if you are ultimately right about something, it doesn’t follow that you should have believed it (this should come out once (1) is understood, but it deserves a mention of its own)

(3) the distinction between conceptual questions and empirical questions (how to identify and approach each of them)

(4) the distinction between relevant and irrelevant disanalogies (this will especially help non-philosophers think more clearly about thought experiments, which come up in a variety of contexts in everyday life – if you’ve ever tried to discuss a thought experiment with a clever but not philosophically inclined friend, you’ll identify with this one immediately)

(5) that not every insult is an instance of an ad hominem fallacy; that not every appeal to authority is fallacious; that determining the burden of proof is not as easy as asking and answering, ‘who *initially* made ‘the positive claim?” (since e.g. we can assume a burden of our own by asking a question of whomever made the initial ‘positive claim’ that takes for granted something not yet accepted by all participants in the dialogue); Report

Alan White
Alan White
4 years ago

Asymmetrical luck–Neil Levy’s Hard Luck is the governing principle here (read it!)–the view that while luck swallows nearly everything for everyone, luck is a much larger factor for the socio-economic disadvantaged than for those luckily born into relatively wealthy circumstances, and luck is thus largely not good for most all things equal. I wrote about this last year in my own autobiographical and as-it-turned-out luckily contrastive instance: one small but courageously defiant act of my mother luckily gave me a good life.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Confirmation bias! I know it was mentioned by the scientists, but it is so very important. Beyond that, the fallacies of reasoning, like ad hominem and straw man, should be known to all.Report

mhl
mhl
4 years ago

I am very pleased to learn that there is a person on this list of 206 named Elizabeth Wrigley-Field.Report

Len Wilkinson
Len Wilkinson
4 years ago

Existentialism – as a contemporary philosophical way of being in the world. Report

Thomas Hodgson
Thomas Hodgson
4 years ago

Freedom as human agency, articulated into three parts : autonomy (cf. Kant); liberty (cf. Hobbes); capability (cf. Nussbaum). First encountered in J. Griffin “On Human Rights”.Report

Emmanuel Tredou
Emmanuel Tredou
4 years ago

ConstructivismReport

Tom Hurka
Tom Hurka
4 years ago

The difference between the claim that someone acted wrongly and the claim that they’re to blame for what they did.Report

SG
SG
4 years ago

Scientific antirealismReport

PeterJ
PeterJ
4 years ago

Nonduality.

No attempt to understand ‘Eastern’ philosophical thinking can succeed without some grasp of the meaning of this term, and I believe that the world cannot be understood either. It refers to the same phenomenon that de Cusa does with his phrase ‘coincidence of contradictories’. As history shows, without this concept the world of division and change cannot be reduced. I feel that it is something of a scandal that this word is not well understood in the profession.

Regrettably I do not know how to define it briefly and meaningfully.

Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
4 years ago

Conversational Implicature

When people speak, they usually convey something that goes beyond the literal meaning of their words. For instance, if I walk into a classroom after an exam and announce “Not all of you failed,” my students will take me to be telling them that quite a few of them did fail–even though what I said would literally be true if none of the students had failed at all. If nobody at all failed, why wouldn’t I have said that?

For another example, I am a passenger in your car and the fuel light goes on. I say “There is a gas station around the corner.” You may reasonably take me to be communicating that the gas station around the corner is open. If the gas station is closed, what I said would be literally true; but it would also be completely unhelpful. In general, we assume that people are being helpful when they talk to us.

When we convey something that goes beyond what we have literally said, this additional thing that we have conveyed is called a conversational implicature. Conversational implicatures happen because, in general, we follow some rules in our conversation, such as “Only say things that are relevant and helpful” and “Give as much information as you helpfully can.” Listeners can figure out some of what speakers mean by assuming that the speakers are following these rules.

This also means that speakers can deceive us without literally lying, by saying something that is literally true while implicating something false. When judging someone’s testimony, it is important to consider the context of what they were conveying and not merely the literal truth of their words. Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

Matt – I feel you make an important point. Many philosophical problems may arise from unsaid words and conversational implicatures, because that’s where the assumptions are hidden. . . Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
4 years ago

Testimonial Injustice

When deciding whether to believe what other people say, we must judge how credible we find the speaker to be. This sometimes requires looking for marks and features of credibility–whether the speaker is an acknowledged expert on the topic, whether the speaker has been reliable in the past, etc.

But sometimes things that hearers take to be marks and features of credibility are not actually features that make the speaker’s testimony more likely to be correct. In particular, hearers often are more likely to believe speakers who speak with an educated accent, who speak with a sonorous voice, and so on; which are features that are more likely to be a sign of being a well-off man than a sign of actual accuracy. We often even are more likely to believe speakers simply because they are white and male, and less likely to believe women and people of color.

This means that women and people of color will find it more difficult to get people to believe what they say, leading to testimonial injustice in which people lack social privilege cannot have their concerns heard and believed, simply because of their lack of social privilege. So the testimony of women about sexual assault and harassment, and the testimony of African Americans about police mistreatment, is less likely to be believed not because it is less likely to be accurate but simply because our society judges the testimony of women and African Americans to be less trustworthy as such.

(Apologies to Miranda Fricker, Lorraine Code, and others who work in this field if I haven’t done a good job with my brief explanation.)Report

David Smith
4 years ago

ValidityReport

Greg Valentine
Greg Valentine
4 years ago

This one from Kant..”we should never act in such a way that we treat humanity, whether in ourselves or in others, as a means only but always as an end in itself.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if children were taught this maxim in school and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t use and abuse others for our own ends. This is I believe a most fundamental principle which needs to be out there in the wider non-philosophical world. Only last night on the news I saw a story about a guy who was making thousands selling letters which had been written from Princess Diana to his Grandfather who was an ex-Buckingham Palace steward to Willam & Harry, very personal letters of endearment . The six notes were part of a collection described as “the private letters between a trusted butler and the royal family”. In his interview the Grandson selling the letters in auction said that he was selling them for the benefit of the Royal Family so that the world could see how wonderful Princess Diana was. and quote ““We have decided to sell some of the items he had purely because there’s too much of it to keep.” My point is that in this particular example was he selling them to make money & possibly upsetting the children & family of Princess Diana by making these letters public?. He may have had a genuine intention to make sure that the royal family had a better public opinion but here is the question: why didsell these letters. Was it possibly to make £15,000 or could he have just simply given the letters back to Prince William & Prince Harry without any financial gain. He was simply using the royal family as a means to his own ends.Report

@EdGibney
4 years ago

Evolutionary Philosophy – more a school of thought about what ought to be, rather than a mere explanation of what is. Choosing our future by analysing our shared past.Report

Adam Hodgkin
Adam Hodgkin
4 years ago

JL Austin’s locutionary/illocutionary/perlocutionary distinctions are useful in relation to digital discourse. For example, Twitter imposes very rigid limits on the form of a Twitter locution (max 140 characters but much else in the grammar of Twitter limits the form of locution) and the Twitter social structure allows prominent users (think Trump) to generate and exercise a deal of illocutionary force (often hectoring and exaggerated) in their tweets — perhaps encouraged by Twitter’s bias towards immediacy and brevity; finally the perlocutionary effects of digital communications can be seen in the way that Trump’s tweets are now being followed very closely by organisations that may (or may not) be their target. On the basis that “he may not have said anything about us yet (individual car companies) but perhaps we will soon (South Korea).” Note that all our digital systems strive mightily to harvest perlocutionary data from the interactions of their users. Report

Matthew H
Matthew H
4 years ago

Moral Luck

I definitely don’t want to step on Alan White’s post about asymmetrical luck, which would be a huge step towards making the world a more just place, but I was thinking more broadly about luck in terms of moral blame and praise. I think society would greatly benefit by considering how factors external to some action change our moral intuitions about blameworthiness and praiseworthiness of the actor involved. I feel like this would encourage people to be more restrained in asserting moral blame or praise in situations that do not qualify for that extra blame or praise. Despite my inability to present it concisely in a short blog comment, my thoughts are that a more careful examination of blame and praise of agents will help keep a consistent in our practices concerning morally praiseworthy (or blameworthy) persons. For example, cases where in supererogatory acts, while while worth of praise, were entirely or mostly dictated by the situation. Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
4 years ago

Living vs. dead options in belief. This is from William James. in short, when we’re trying to figure out what to believe (or to persuade others what to believe), only certain beliefs are psychologically plausible as beliefs, and these can vary from person to person. As a trivial example, believing that you are a potato is a dead option; no amount of argument or evidence will result in you believing that you are a potato. Somewhat less trivial, believing in the Greek Gods is a dead option for a modern Western individual, but believing in one of the judeo-christian religions is likely a live option. Political ideologues will have living and dead options, and if you are trying to persuade them, you focus on the living ones (which are generally just minor modifications to their worldviews). Likewise, we all have our own political and social biases, so we’re likely closed off to large swathes of possible belief. A bit of self-exploration can help uncover which options are living and dead, why they are so, and if it’s a good/bad thing that they are so. Report

Paul
Paul
4 years ago

David Stove’s “the Gem” certainly ought be better know.

Stove discovered that a common form of idealist or anti-realist arguments rest on drawing a contingent metaphysical (or epistemological) conclusion from a tautological premise. He claimed this form of argument was employed by Berkeley as we well as featuring in several modern relativisms of note. He confidently named this fallacious line of reasoning the “Worst Argument in the World”. His initial brief paper as well as subsequent articles on the subject by Musgrave and Franklin are excellent reads to all students of philosophy.

http://gerryonolan.com/public_html/stove/image/stoveworstargt.pdf
http://www.phil-fak.uni-duesseldorf.de/fileadmin/Redaktion/Institute/Philosophie/Theoretische_Philosophie/Fahrbach/Metaphysik_der_Gegenwart/Musgrave%20Idealism%20and%20Antirealism.pdf
http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/worst.pdfReport