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de re

"Of the thing," not "of what is said" See de dicto / de re.

Derrida, Jacques(1930-2004)

French philosopher and leader of the deconstructionist movement. From the work of Husserl and Heidegger, Derrida derives the view that meaning emerges only provisionally, from an endless process of re-interpretation based on the interaction between reader and text. In La Voix et le phénoméne (Speech and Phenomena) (1967), L'écriture et la différance (Writing and Difference) (1967), De la Grammatologie (Of Grammatology) (1967), and La Dissémination (Dissemination) (1972), Derrida argues that all dichotomies between subject and object or appearance and reality are ultimately untenable.

Recommended Reading: A Derrida Reader, ed. by Peggy Kamuf (Columbia, 1991); Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation With Jacques Derrida, ed. by John D. Caputo (Fordham, 1997); Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida, ed. by John Sallis (Chicago, 1989); Geoffrey Bennington, Interrupting Derrida (Routledge, 2000); Marian Hobson, Jacques Derrida: Opening Lines (Routledge, 2001); Todd May, Reconsidering Difference: Nancy, Derrida, Levinas, and Deleuze (Penn. State, 1997); Herman Rapaport, Later Derrida: Reading the Recent Work (Routledge, 2003); Christopher Johnson, Derrida (Routledge, 1999); and Feminist Interpretations of Jacques Derrida, ed. by Nancy J. Holland (Penn. State, 1997).

Also see SEP, EB, Robert S. Gall, and ELC.

Descartes, René (1596-1650)

French philosopher. Descartes's efforts to achieve certainty in the face of skepticism mark the origins of modern epistemology.

For a discussion of his life and works, see Descartes.

descriptive ethics

Branch of ethics that non-judgmentally examines the moral tenets of a particular society or tradition, analyzing the logical relations among them and observing the extent of their application in practice.

Recommended Reading: May M. Edel and Abraham Edel, Anthropology & Ethics: The Quest for Moral Understanding (Transaction, 2000); Hunter Lewis, A Question of Values: Six Ways We Make the Personal Choices That Shape Our Lives (Axios, 2000); and The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, ed. by William J. Bennett (Touchstone, 1996).

Also see EB and ISM.

design, argument from

Belief that the operation of the universe evidences its providential origin. See teleological argument.

determinable / determinate

Relative terms for general predicates and particular instances that are not (like the species of a common genus) distinguishible by differentiae. Thus, for example, "red," "yellow," "orange," and "maroon" are all determinates of the determinable "color."

Also see SEP.


Belief that, since each momentary state of the world entails all of its future states, it must be possible (in principle) to offer a causal explanation for everything that happens. When applied to human behavior, determinism is sometimes supposed to be incompatible with the freedom required for moral responsibility. The most extreme variety of determinism in this context is fatalism.

Recommended Reading: Ted Honderich, Mind and Brain: A Theory of Determinism (Clarendon, 1990) and Consequences of Determinism (Clarendon, 1990); and Daniel C. Dennett, Elbow Room (MIT, 1984).

Also see Norman Swartz, SEP, EB, ISM, and David L. Thompson.

Dewey, John (1859-1952)

American philosopher and educator. During his long career, Dewey applied the principles of pragmatism not only to abstract philosophical issues but also to practical concerns, including the promotion of teaching as a profession.

For a discussion of his life and works, see Dewey.

d'Holbach, Paul-Henri-Dietrich (1723-1789)

French philosopher. Even among fellow Encyclopedists, d'Holbach was noted for his vigorous materialism and the virulence of his atheistic attacks on revealed religion and deism in Le Christianisme dévoilé (Christianity Unmasked) (1761) and Système de la nature (The System of Nature) (1770).

Also see SEP and EB.

dialectic {Gk. διαλεκτικη [dialektikê]}

Process of thinking by means of dialogue, discussion, debate, or argument. In ancient Greece, the term was used literally. Parmenides and the other Eleatics used such methods to defend paradoxical claims about the natural world. Dialectic is questioning and conversation for Socrates, but Plato regarded it as a systematic method for studying the Forms of suprasensible reality. Although he frequently employed dialectical methods in his own writing, Aristotle maintained that it is inferior to the careful logical reasoning that aims at theoretical knowledge {Gk. επιστημη [epistêmê]}.

German philosophers of the modern era applied the term "dialectic" only to more narrowly-defined patterns of thinking. Thus, Kant's "Transcendental Dialectic" is an attempt to show the general futility of abstract metaphysical speculation, but dialectic is, for Hegel, the fundamental process of development—in both thought and reality—from thesis to antithesis to synthesis.

Recommended Reading: F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967); Francisco J. Gonzalez, Dialectic and Dialogue: Plato's Practice of Philosophical Inquiry (Northwestern, 1998); Hans-Georg Gadamer, Dialogue and Dialectic: Eight Hermeneutical Studies on Plato, tr. by P. Christopher Smith (Yale, 1983); Howard P. Kainz, Paradox, Dialectic, and System: A Contemporary Reconstruction of the Hegelian Problematic (Penn. State, 1988); Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hegel's Dialectic, tr. by P. Christopher Smith (Yale, 1982); and Richard Norman and Sean Sayers, Hegel, Marx and Dialectic: A Debate (Humanities, 1980).

Also see David Fortunoff, SEP, EB, CE, and PP.

dialectical materialism

Philosophical doctrine expounded by Engels and Marx. By emphasizing the independent reality of matter and the primary value of the natural world, they rejected the idealism of Hegel. But they fully accepted his notion of dialectic as an inexorable process of development in thought, nature, and history.

Recommended Reading: Peter Singer, Marx: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000) and New Investigations of Marx's Method, ed. by Fred Moseley and Martha Campbell (Prometheus, 1997).

Also see EB and ISM.

διανοια [diánoia]

Greek term used by Plato to signify understanding or intellectual activity as a discursive process, in contrast with the immediate apprehension characteristic of νοησις [nóêsis]. In the taxonomy of Aristotle, διανοια includes both the theoretical επιστημη [epistêmê] and the more practical τεχνη [technê].

Recommended Reading: F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967).

Also see PP.

Diderot, Denis (1713-1784)

French philosopher who edited the Encyclopédie. Diderot promoted Locke's thought in France through his Pensées sur l'interprétation de la nature (1746) and Lettre sur le aveugles (Essay on Blindness) (1749). In his later years, Diderot wrote essays and plays expressing favored Enlightenment themes, including atheism and social contract theory.

Recommended Reading: Denis Diderot, Selected Philosophical Writings (Greenwood, 1987); Denis Diderot, Rameau's Nephew, and Other Works, tr. by Jacques Barzun and Ralph H. Bowen (Hackett, 2001); Denis Diderot, Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature and Other Philosophical Works (Clinamen, 2000); and Diderot's Early Philosophical Works (Open Court, 1970).

Also see IEP, EB, and ELC.

Difference, Method of

One of Mill's Methods for discovering causal relationships. If an antecedent circumstance is present only on those occasions when a phenomenon occurs, it may be inferred to be the cause of that phenomenon.

Example: "Levi and Jarod lived in the same house and were both exposed to the same children at daycare, but only Levi, who also plays T-ball, caught the measles. So Levi probably caught the measles from one of his teammates."

Recommended Reading: John Stuart Mill, System of Logic (Classworks, 1986).

δικη [díkê]

Greek term for legal compensation or justice; the corresponding human virtue of being just is δικαιωσυνη [dikaiôsunê]. According to Plato, justice in this sense is best exemplified by harmonious relations in the ideal state. Aristotle, on the other hand, focussed primarily upon the equitable distribution of goods in a properly-run city.

Recommended Reading: F. E. Peters, Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (NYU, 1967); Eric Alfred Havelock, The Greek Concept of Justice: From Its Shadow in Homer to Its Substance in Plato (Harvard, 1978); and Richard D. Parry, Plato's Craft of Justice (SUNY, 1996).

Also see SEP and PP.


A difficult choice between equally undesirable alternatives. In a disadvantageous rhetorical position, one is said to be impaled on the horns of a dilemma, but logicians employ Constructive Dilemma as a rule of inference.

Recommended Reading: Howard Kahane and Nancy Cavender, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric (Wadsworth, 1997) and Douglas N. Walton, Informal Logic: A Handbook for Critical Argumentation (Cambridge, 1989).

Also see SEP on moral dilemmas and the prisoner dilemma, EB, and IEP.

Dilthey, Wilhelm (1833-1911)

German philosopher who derived from the thought of Kant a conception of philosophical study as one of the social sciences in Einleitung in die Geisteswissenshaften (Introduction to the Human Sciences) (1883). Metaphysical speculation in particular, Dilthey held in Die Typen der Weltanschauung (1912), is an expression of the world-view of one's culture rather than a timeless expression of perfect rationality.

Recommended Reading: Wilhelm Dilthey, ed. by Frithjof Rodi and Rudolf A. Makkreel (Princeton, 1996); Rudolf A. Makkreel, Dilthey (Princeton, 1992); and Richard E. Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer (Northwestern, 1969).

Also see SEP, EB, and ELC.


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Last modified 24 December 2011.
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