The ancient Greek poet Pindar (c. 522 – 443 BCE) states in one of his works (Pythian iii): “Oh my soul, do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible”. This quest to know and discover all that one can, to exhaust the limits of the possible, is an excellent description of the philosophical mindset, which has led to many scientific and creative advancements as well. Philosophers have looked at the world and sought to know what is really going on, inside and out.
But the formal study of ancient to modern Western (or Eastern) philosophy can be a long and challenging endeavor, with virtual hundreds of philosophers and ideas to mentally catalogue and contextualize. So as an aid to the study of philosophy, I have created a basic chronology of the major thinkers and an extremely brief, general summary of their contributions and ideas.
First one must know though that Philosophy (from Greek, meaning “love of wisdom”) can be thought of as the consideration of three main lines of thought down through human history: (1) Metaphysics – what is the nature of our existence, (2) Epistemology – what is the the nature of knowledge, and (3) Axiology – what is the nature of the values that we hold or aspire to. From Classical Greek mythology all the way to 21st century Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, what we call philosophy has these three rhetorical questions at its base.
Secondly, one must remember that philosophers have also sought to properly understand, define, and use words to their maximum effect in seeking truth (what the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius called “the rectification of names“). Since words and ideas change over time, philosophers seek to understand how a word or idea was defined by Plato, for example, compared how that same word/idea is defined and used now after hundreds/thousands of years of history. So to help you understand words and ideas in philosophy, I have put together the following four chronological posts on Western philosophy.
But first I want to include a glossary of terms that you may run across during the posts that may not be fully defined.
Act Utilitarianism: the measure of the value of an act is the amount by which it increases general utility and happiness.
Aetiology: the assignment of causes, the chain of causes leading up to an event.
Aeviternity: Eternity defined as an infinite past/present/future totality in which events are contained in a matrix, like insects encased in amber.
Alienans: an adjective that functions to leave open the question as to whether or not it actually applies, e.g. alleged criminal, near victory, fake giraffe.
Amore: (noun) the name given to one who prefers a deep, inner silence in which to discover, analyze, or contemplate truth.
Apeiron: (Greek) the infinite, what is formless, the “flux of opposites” which needs peras (a principle of order) to be understood or intelligible.
Apophatic Theology: We can only say what God is not, never what he is.
Argumentum ad ignorantium: the fallacy that a proposition is true because it has not been shown to be false.
Argumentum ad baculum: the fallacy of supporting a conclusion by emphasizing dire consequences of not believing it.
Argumentum ad verecundiam: appealing to an authority out side of its legitimate area; trading on (illegitimate) reverence and respect, e.g. celebrity endorsements.
Aristotelian Catharsis: the purging/purifying (“cleansing”) of emotions such as pity or fear by feeling them in aesthetic situations, e.g. watching a horror movie.
Authoritarian Personality: rigid, conformist: submissive to authority while bullying inferiors. Attracted to regimes of command and submission, and impatient with subtlety of any kind.
Autodidact: someone who has taught themselves; acquired knowledge through their own efforts.
Credo quia absurdum est: “Terullian’s Paradox”, the very impossibility of a proposition becomes a kind of motivation for believing in it: “I believe because it is absurd”. A common criticism of/occurrence in theology.
Critical Theory: (1) Politics: socio-cultural imperfections are defects of rationality to be compared with an ideal or ideals to which the progress of reason should move towards. (2) the criticism, interpretation, and historical analysis of social action as expressed in literature: the role of the critic, translation, communication, and the socio-historical processes that advanced or impeded such action.
Cosmological Argument: all natural things are dependent on something else for their existence, and the totality of all dependent beings must then depend on a non-dependent (necessarily existent) being, which is God.
Epistemophilic: (adjective) deep love and reverence for knowledge.
Fallacy of The Accident: arguing from a general to specific case without considering qualifying factors: “if people shouldn’t park here, they shouldn’t park here to save someone from being robbed”.
(Converse) Fallacy of the Accident: fallacy of taking out a qualifying factor from an argument: “if is OK to kill in a war, then it is OK to kill at all times”.
Fallacy of The Ambiguous Middle: A flawed syllogism due to ambiguity in the middle term, e.g. all men are rakes, all rakes are useful in the garden, therefore all men are useful in the garden.
Fallacy of Many Questions (Law): implying guilt when a person cannot give straight yes/no answer to questions that by their very nature do not permit yes/no as options.
(The) Manifold: the unorganized flux presented to the senses but not actually experienced (Kant) since experience results from the mind structuring the manifold through concepts. The nature of unstructured manifold is unknowable (transcendental).
Meliorism: the idea that the world can be made better by human effort; a position between pessimism and optimism.
Philomath: one who loves learning. In ancient Greece, one who knew much about many subjects.
Polymath: a philomath who is an recognized expert on many subjects, and can use knowledge from many subjects to solve a specific problem in a single subject.
Sapiosexual: a person who finds intelligence the most attractive feature in others; someone attracted to smart people.
Sophophilic: (adjective) to love knowledge for the sake of becoming wise. A deeper level of epistemophilic behaviour/activity.
Accidence: inflections of words or changes in the forms of words to indicate grammatical functions: write, wrote, written, writing, etc.
Acoustic coding: remembering something by storing the sound of its verbal expression, rather than its meaning, e.g. Japanese singers remembering lyrics in a language they do not speak a single word of.
Astrophobia: fear of being influenced by the stars.
Atelophobia: fear of incompleteness or imperfection.
Aulophobia: fear of wind instruments.
Caenophobia: fear of new ideas or novelty.
Chionophobia: fear of snow.
Clang association: an erroneous association made between words or phrases that sound similar rather than their explicit meaning, e.g. claustrophobia/close to photography.
Clitic: a linguistic term or device that functions as a word but is not one on its own, e.g. the “n’t” in doesn’t.
Cyprianophobia: fear of prostitutes.
Declarative knowledge: knowing that something is something (e.g. cats are mammals), as opposed to procedural knowledge: knowing how to do something (e.g. play the saxophone).
Dyscalculia: impairment in the ability to do arithmetic.
Ecclesiophobia: fear of Church and its traditions.
Ecological fallacy: what is statistically true for a group must be true for each individual, i.e. most kids eat strawberry ice cream so Jimmy must eat strawberry ice cream.
Endopsychic: that which is related to or consists of the contents of the mind.
Epistemophobia: fear of knowledge.
Graphophobia: fear of writing.
Kleptolagnia: the state of being sexually aroused by stealing or theft fantasies.
Melophobia: fear of music.
Metrophobia: fear of poetry
Operant Conditioning: conditioning in which the outcome depends upon an animal operating on its environment, e.g. pulling a lever to obtain food.
Pantophobia: fear of everything.
Parthenophobia: fear of virgins.
Philosophobia: fear of philosophers.
Phobophobia: fear of fear.
Procedural knowledge: knowing how to do something (e.g. play the saxophone), as opposed to declarative knowledge: knowing that something is something (e.g. cats are mammals),
Proctophobia: fear of the rectum.
Shuk yang: A culture bound syndrome in male members of ethnic Chinese communities in south and eastern Asia characterized by an sudden, intense fear that the penis is shrinking and retracting into the abdomen, which will result in death. Less common is the female variant in which a fear of nipple or vulva retraction occurs. Sufferers often hold their genitals during the day and sleep with a bamboo genital clamp at night.
Symmetrophobia: fear of symmetry.
Xenoglossophobia: fear of foreign languages.
(The) Zeigarnik Effect: the tendency to recall unfinished or incomplete tasks more easily than completed ones.