Intriguing Doctrines And Terms

Even at its shining best, philosophy tends too often to be cruelly maligned as a worthless endeavor, as impractical cogitation -- the career and avocation of drifters and dreamers and idlers, of those unfit (naturally) for the rigors of daily professional life. "Life is to be lived, not examined," the average lug says, ever sure of the rectitude of his bald assertion. "The thoughts of dead men! How pointless!" 

How much more futile to grown-up consciousness, then, must the fascination for odd terms and oddball theories be. Who but a young, inquisitive, idealistic student could derive enjoyment from the discovery of words such as hylozoism and anthropopathism? Who but someone with "too much time on his hands" or "too young to know what really matters"? A young man or woman can't get a good job knowing what Pascal's wager is, or having some understanding of Nietzsche's eternal recurrence of the same. Better that such curiosity be killed off sooner rather than later, and that a maturing person come to embrace the beatitude of "marketable skills" and reduce the summum bonum to a simple equation: career + family = happiness.

Better, that is, for them and their splenetic kind: I was endowed with too many disagreeable and dissenting DNA molecules, and I labor under the assumption -- no doubt naive -- that someone visiting our site this week will find any or all of the terms quite intriguing.(The following, I might add, is a tribute to a recent college graduate whom I've never met, but with whom I'm deeply impressed nevertheless: someone named Justin Shubow, who spent his spare time in college collecting lists of arcane words and published them on the web as "The Verbalist: aka, Confessions of a Logophile."  See also his homepage:

Here is a but an infinitesimal sampling of odd philosophical terms and doctrines, followed by a few references.

agathism -- the doctrine that all things tend towards ultimate good, as distinguished from optimism, which holds that all things are now for the best. adj., agathistic. [From the Greek agathos, good.] Perhaps the most famous optimist in all literature: Dr. Pangloss, a character in Voltaire's satire Candide.

ama et fac quod vis (Latin, "love and do what you will") -- the admonition St. Augustine gives in the Confessions; an instance of a moral injunction in the face of a dilemma.

anthropopathism -- attribution of human feelings to things not human, such as inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena.

centric -- a suffix meaning "centered" or "situated at the center or around something": androcentric (centered around maleness and male experience, as opposed to female experience); egocentric (the self as the front and center of all experience and concerns); ethnocentric (centered around one's own group; believing in the superiority of one's group); idiocentric (centered arouns one's own whims or peferences).

entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem (Latin, "entities should not be needlessly multipled") -- the basis for Ockham's Razor, or principle of parsimony, in which arguments with the fewest hypotheses are to be preferred. William of Ockham (c.1285 - 1349) sought to sever philosophy from theology and speculative cosmology and draw it into the orbit of empirical science. Metaphysics, he felt, is a waste of time. The status of ideas, forms, essences, and ideals is inconclusive at best, and only individual, concrete things can be said to exist.

eudaemonism -- an ethical doctrine which says the aim of moral action is to produce happiness; the opposing doctrine would be deontology, which sees duty as the chief criterion of moral action (the view of Immanuel Kant). Greek proponents of this forerunner of utilitarianism: Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicureans.

homousius -- to be of the same substance, consubstantial, as for instance Jesus the person was said to be "one" with "God".

metempsychosis (also known as palingenesis) -- the doctrine of reincarnation as endorsed by sundry thinkers and schools (e.g., Hinduism and Buddhism; Greek thinkers such as Empedocles and Plato; later thinkers such as Plotinus, and later still, Schopenhauer). Plato believed that the human soul has a pre-life, an independent existence, and that its incarnational journey is a kind of imprisonment (see his "Timaeus"). If the dichotomy between soul and body is accepted, and the career of a soul is to wander from one body to the next, in what way exactly can a person be said to have an identity? Would not the separate ego, the center of one person's consciousness, be a fiction then? Wouldn't the totality of you as person be the Soul in one particular costume, and the totality of me as Soul in altogether different costume -- Soul in each of us effectively making us "one"?

panentheism -- a doctrine associated with the work of Charles Hartshorne and Teilhard de Chardin which holds that the entire universe is in God (as, say, fish are "in" the ocean), but that God's nature is greater than the one creation. According to this view, human beings have enough existential elbow room to make free decisions, to define themselves, even though their being is grounded in the source of God. This doctrine might be contrasted to pantheism, which says that all known existents of the universe are manifestations of God, that God cannot be conceived as other than the world. The difference between these two views: in panentheism, God both contains everything in the world and also transcends it; in pantheism, no such transcending capabilities are admitted. Pantheism might be described as extreme immanence.

panpsychism -- the theory that everything in the universe -- not just human beings and animals, but also plants and inanimate objects -- have an inner, emotional, psychological nature. This sounds perfectly absurd to us moderns, but in fact any number of eminent minds throughout history have accepted either parts of the theory or the whole of it. Examples here are G.T. Fechner (considered the modern founder), Josiah Royce (key text: The World and the Individual), Hermann Lotze, and Giordano Bruno. A related doctrine is hylozoism, which contends that all objects in the known universe are alive, that all matter is inherently active and mobile rather than -- as Plato would have it -- passive and inert.


Further Exploration:

William of Ockham.


Symbiotic Panentheism.


(Tim Ruggiero, March 10, 2002)

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