Philosophical Concepts From A to Z

Installment #1: Introduction, & "Continental philosophy"Introduction All human thinking proceeds by means of concepts. Concepts, in turn, are essentially general mental representations that can describe anything under the sun,

Latest Post Responsion is a Correspondence, an 'Entsprechen' by George Steiner public

Installment #1: Introduction, & "Continental philosophy"


All human thinking proceeds by means of concepts.

Concepts, in turn, are essentially general mental representations that can describe anything under the sun, provided that it’s not gibberish or nonsense, including actual or possible objects, other people, oneself, non-human animals and other organisms, super-human beings, processes, qualities, relations, properties of all sorts, and states-of-affairs of all sorts, including impossible ones—even including logical contradictions and paradoxes: roughly speaking, you name it, and then some concept can describe it.

And you can also form concepts of things that don’t have names yet.

What follows is a compendium of terms standing for specifically philosophical concepts.

More specifically, it’s an alphabetized, open-ended list of terms from A to Z, standing for basic or otherwise important philosophical concepts, accompanied by their definitions, and often also by what I call elaborations of them: deeper explications of them, formulations of distinctions between them, unpackings of relations between them, and so-on.

Hence, it’s an annotated, encyclopedic philosophical dictionary or philosophical lexicon.
To be sure, its construction is an endless work-in-progress, forever open to critical examination, revision, and updating.

But above all, heeding what Charles Sanders Peirce called “the ethics of terminology,”[1] the purpose of such a philosophical dictionary or lexicon is to provide a set of basic, clearly and distinctly defined, and well-articulated concepts for direct, hands-on use in philosophical dialogue, philosophical discussion, philosophical inquiry or research, and individual or collective philosophical thinking more generally—so in effect, it’s also a philosophical lingua franca, a common language for philosophy.

Before we get to the entries themselves, here are four caveats.

First, all of these definitions, explications, and distinctions are, to some extent, controversial, precisely because they imply a certain philosophical point of view, or set of presuppositions, that not all philosophers share.

Second, entries marked with an asterisk* indicate a particularly controversial definition, and also include a brief description of the controversy, in italics.

Third, some entries also include a philosopher’s name in parentheses, if that definition is closely historically associated with a formulation that was original to that philosopher.

Fourth and finally, because the list of entries is open-ended, the individual entries won’t be presented in alphabetical order, although they will be archived in alphabetical order for easy reference.

And to get us started, here’s a provocative entry.

Continental philosophy*: the social-institutional Other for post-classical Analytic philosophy, i.e., Analytic philosophy from 1950 to the present.

Controversy: see the entry on “Analytic philosophy.”


The term “Continental philosophy” is a catch-all quasi-geographical term, coming into common usage around 1980, for every kind of philosophy that’s excluded or rejected (and often ridiculed) by the post-classical Analytic tradition, typically associated with, for example: Immanuel Kant’s, Kantian, or neo-Kantian philosophy; G.W.F. Hegel’s, Hegelian, or neo-Hegelian philosophy; Karl Marx’s, Marxist, or neo-Marxist (aka New Left) philosophy, for example, Frankfurt School critical theory; existentialism, especially including the work of Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone de Beauvoir; phenomenology, especially including the work of Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl, Alexius Meinong, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty; American pragmatism, especially including the work of C.S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey; Henri Bergson’s or A.N. Whitehead’s process philosophy; and above all, post-structuralist philosophy, post-modernist philosophy, or posthumanist philosophy.

Correspondingly, there is no single philosophical doctrine or methodology that is shared by all so-called “Continentals.”

Prior to World War II, classical Analytic philosophy was in more-or-less equal intellectual competition with phenomenology (both Husserlian transcendental phenomenology and Heideggerian existential phenomenology), and to some extent, American pragmatism, together with what remained of the German neo-Kantian and British neo-Hegelian traditions.

The first use of the term “Continental Philosophy” seems to have been in 1945, in Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, where he talks about “two schools of philosophy, which may be broadly distinguished as the Continental and the British respectively.”[2]

But as I mentioned above, the term didn’t come into general use in its recent and contemporary sense until roughly 1980, as Andreas Keller points out:

An Ngram of the term “Continental Philosophy” shows that it took off around 1980[3] shortly after the smash-hit appearances of Richard Rorty’s two highly controversial books, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature in 1979, and Consequences of Pragmatism in 1982. It seems that before that time, many instances of the term were meant just in a geographic sense, not implying a contrast with “Analytic philosophy.” This hints at an invention, or at least popularization, of the term in its current meaning around 1980. Perhaps there was not merely a temporal succession, but also some sort of causal connection, between the publication of Rorty’s books and the later Anglo-American entrenchment of the term.[4]

In any case, by 1950, post-classical Analytic philosophy, driven by (i) the triumph of the Allied powers in the second World War, (ii) Cold War sociopolitics, and (iii) scientism, had achieved social-institutional control and indeed ideological hegemony over the leading Anglo-American professional academic departments of philosophy, a domination it has enjoyed ever since.[5]

  1. See, e.g., S. Haack, “The Meaning of Pragmatism: The Ethics of Terminology and the Language of Philosophy,” Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 28 (2009): 9-29. ↩︎

  2. B. Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945), p. 643. ↩︎

  3. Google, available online at URL = philosophy%3B%2Cc0. ↩︎

  4. A. Keller, “On the Use of the Term ‘Continental Philosophy,” Against Professional Philosophy (13 April 2018), available online at URL = ↩︎

  5. See R. Hanna, The Fate of Analysis: Analytic Philosophy From Frege to The Ash-Heap of History, and Toward a Radical Kantian Philosophy of The Future (New York: Mad Duck Coalition, forthcoming in 2021). ↩︎

Robert A. Hanna, PhD - planksip
I’m an independent philosopher, a resolute generalist, & a radical Kantian.
Robert A. Hanna, PhD

Published 6 days ago