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Hedonism

I. Definition Hedonism is the philosophy of pleasure. It means doing whatever brings you the greatest amount of pleasure, regardless of any other effects. At first glance, hedonism seems pretty simple; just do whatever you like! Eat whatever you want, treat people rudely, lie around in bed all day! But things are not so simple. Philosophers speak of the paradox of hedonism, which refers to the way... »

Buddhism

I. Definition Buddhism is a religious and philosophical tradition founded in India sometime around 500 BC. Over the centuries, Buddhism has grown and evolved into a highly diverse tradition with many different sects who emphasize different aspects of the Buddha’s teachings. It has also merged with other traditions of Asia, including Taoism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and even Islam. Buddhist philosop... »

Democracy

I. Definition “Democracy” is Greek for “people’s rule.” It refers to a set of political ideas that became popular worldwide during the last century, but that for most of human history have been considered dangerous, short-sighted, and potentially insane. Because democracy is so popular in our era, the word is used by a wide range of different political systems: like “freedom” or “justice,” it has ... »

Ontology

I. Definition Ontology is the study of being. It focuses on several related questions: What things exist? (stars yes, unicorns no, numbers . . . yes?) What categories do they belong to? (are numbers physical properties or just ideas?) Is there such a thing as objective reality? What does the verb “to be” mean? Some of these questions may seem painfully abstract and not very useful, but they are an... »

Constructivism

I. Definition “Constructivism” has several unrelated meanings, all based on the idea that something is being “constructed.” Example In sociology and anthropology, constructivism is the view that social reality is constructed by human beings — structures such as race, class, and nationality are all social constructions rather than objective realities. Sometimes, philosophers use the word “construct... »

Empiricism

I. Definition Empiricism is the philosophy of knowledge by observation. It holds that the best way to gain knowledge is to see, hear, touch, or otherwise sense things directly. In stronger versions, it holds that this is the only kind of knowledge that really counts. Empiricism has been extremely important to the history of science, as various thinkers over the centuries have proposed that all kno... »

Rationalism

I. Definition Rationalism is the philosophy that knowledge comes from logic and a certain kind of intuition—when we immediately know something to be true without deduction, such as “I am conscious.” Rationalists hold that the best way to arrive at certain knowledge is using the mind’s rational abilities. The opposite of rationalism is empiricism, or the view that knowledge comes from observing the... »

Plutocracy

I. Definition Plutocracy means ‘rule by the wealthy.’ It’s when a small group consisting of the wealthiest people in a society rule by virtue of their wealth. Plutocracy is a self-reinforcing system. That is, once a group of wealthy people are in charge, they can use their wealth and political power to change the rules (laws and systems) to make sure that they only get more wealth and power, never... »

Existentialism

I. Definition Existentialism is a European philosophy that started in the mid-1800s and hit its stride in the years around World War II. It has two parts: Life has no inherent meaning. Nothing we do matters in an absolute sense. There is no God, no objective morality, and no cosmic “purpose” in life. That’s OK. Or even better than okay, because it means that life can have the meaning that we give ... »

Pluralism

I. Definition Pluralism is a belief in difference – a philosophy supporting diversity, religious tolerance, and multiculturalism. Pluralism has always been controversial, as nearly all societies experience a tension between diversity and homogeneity, which can both give benefits and create problems for a society. Most of the time, when people talk about pluralism they’re talking about religious pl... »