Definitions from analytic philosophy


Disclaimer: appearance on this list does not indicate that a definition is defensible.



P coerces Q if and only if:

(1)  P aims to keep Q from choosing to perform action A;

(2)  P communicates a claim to Q;

(3)  P’s claim indicates that if Q performs A, then P will bring about some consequence that would make Q’s A-ing less desirable to Q than Q’s not A-ing.

(4)  P’s claim is credible to Q.

(5)  Q does not do A.

(6)  Part of Q’s reason for not doing A is to lessen the likelihood that P will bring about the consequence announced in (3).

This is a simplified version of Robert Nozick’s 1969 definition taken from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on coercion.


Action Explanations

Person X A-ed because he wanted Ø if and only if:

(1)  X wanted  Ø;

(2)  X believed (judged, saw) that A-ing was a way for him to achieve Ø under those circumstances;

(3)  there was no action believed by X to be a way for him to bring about Ø, under those circumstances, which X judged to be as preferable to him as, or more preferable to him than, A-ing;

(4)  X had no other want (or set of them) which, under the circumstances, overrode his want  Ø;

(5)  X knew how to A.

(6)  X was able to A.

Paul Churchland, 1970, “The Logical Character of Action Explanations,” The Philosophical Review 79, p.221.


Killing and Letting Die

x killed y if x caused y's death by performing movements which affect y's body such that y dies as a result of these movement.


x let y die if:

(a)  there are conditions affecting y, such that if they are not altered, y will die.

(b)  x has reason to believe that the performance of certain movements will alter conditions affecting y, such that y will not die.

(c)  x is in a position to perform such movements.

(d)  x fails to perform these movements.

Daniel Dinello, 1971, “On Killing and Letting Die,” Analysis 31, p.85.


A widow

x is a widow = (a) x is a woman

                    & (b) x was once married to some man

                    & (c) that man died while married to x

                    & (d) x has not since remarried.

Simon Blackburn, 1972, Searle on Descriptions, Mind LXXXI (323), p. 410.


Descriptive theory of names

These are the commitments of the descriptive theory of names, according to Kripke:

1.    To every name or designating expression ‘X’, there corresponds a cluster of properties, namely the family of those properties φ such that A believes ‘φX’.

2.    One of the properties, or some conjointly, are believed by A to pick out some individual uniquely.

3.    If most, or a weighted most, of the φ’s are satisfied by one unique object y, then y is the referent of ‘X’.

4.    If the vote does not yield a unique object, then ‘X’ does not refer.

5.    The statement ‘If X exists, then X has most of the φ’s’ is known a priori by the speaker.

6.    The statement ‘If X exists, then X has most of the φ’s’ is a necessary truth.

C. For any successful theory, the account must not be circular. The properties which are used in the vote must not themselves use the notion of reference in a way that is impossible to eliminate.

Saul Kripke, 1972, “Naming and Necessity,” in D. Davidson and G. Harman (eds.), Semantics of natural language, Dordrecht: D. Reidel.


Doxastic incontinence

P’ is held incontinently by S iff:

(i)            S takes P and P’ to be epistemically incompatible;

(ii)          S holds R and R’ and takes these to be all that is relevant to the epistemic warrant of P and P’ respectively;

(iii)         S takes R epistemically to outweigh R’ and hence P to be more warranted than P’ given R and R’;

(iv)         S holds P’ (and does not hold P).

This definition comes from John Heil, 1985, Doxastic Incontinence, Mind 93, p. 65.



A bribe is a payment of money (or something of value) to another person in exchange for his giving one special consideration that is incompatible with the duties of his office, position, or role.

Thomas Carson, 1985, Bribery, Extortion, and “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 14 (1), p. 71.


Literary Works

A work w is a work of literature if and only if w is produced in a linguistic medium and

1.    w is a novel, short story, tale, drama, or poem; and the writer of w intended that it possess aesthetic, cognitive or interpretation-centered value, and the work is written with sufficient technical skill for it to be possible to take that intention seriously; or

2.    w possesses aesthetic, cognitive, or interpretation-centered value to significant degree; or

3.    w falls under a predecessor concept to our concept of literature and was written while the predecessor concept held away; or

4.    w belongs to the work of a great writer.

Robert Stecker, Revue Internationale de Philosophie 50 (1996).


Joint Commitment

For any agents a1,…an, a1,…an are jointly committed to φ when and only when it is common knowledge amongst a1,…an that each of a1,…an has expressed his readiness to enter a joint commitment to with the others among a1,…an.

Thomas H. Smith, 2007, Review of A Theory of Political Obligation: Membership, Commitment, and the Bonds of Society by Margaret Gilbert, Mind 116, p. 1126.



A commits suicide if and only if A intends that he or she kill himself or herself (under the description ‘I kill myself’) by an act x, and this intention is fully satisfied.

Daniel Hill, 2011 “What is it to commit suicide?” Ratio 24, p. 192.


In tension

“…when I say that these elements of Daly's view are 'in tension,' I mean that there is sufficient prima facie conflict such that someone averring both views ought to recognize that they constitute a surprising conjunction and remark on how, contrary to appearance, they may be consistent and mutually well-motivated. I suspect this is approximately what most philosophers mean when they say that various claims are ‘in tension’ with one another.”

Jonathan Ichikawa, 2011, Review of Introduction to Philosophical Methods by Chris Daly. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.



Definitions have been proposed by various authors. Here are four taken from a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article – there are many more:

(L1) To lie =df to make a believed-false statement to another person with the intention that the other person believe that statement to be true.

(L2) To lie =df to make a statement that p, where p is believed to be false, to another person, with the intention that the other person believe that p is believed to be true. (Williams 2002, 74, 96–97)

(L3) To lie =df to make a believed-false statement (to another person), either with the intention that that statement be believed to be true (by the other person), or with the intention that it be believed (by the other person) that that statement is believed to be true (by the person making the statement), or with both intentions. (Mahon 2008, 227–228)

(L4) To lie =df to make a believed-false statement, to another person or in the believed hearing of another person, with the intention that some other person—the person addressed or the other person in the believed hearing—believe some believed-false statement to be true. (Newey 1997, 100)

James Edwin Mahon, 2016, “The Definition of Lying and Deception,” In E. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition).



Definitions have been proposed by various authors. Here are three taken from a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article – there are more:

(D1) To deceive =df to intentionally cause to have a false belief that is known or believed to be false.

(D2) A person x deceives another person y if and only if x intentionally causes y to believe p, where p is false and x does not believe that p is true. (Carson 2010, 48).

(D3) To deceive =df to intentionally cause another person to have or continue to have a false belief that is known or truly believed to be false by bringing about evidence on the basis of which the person has or continues to have the false belief. (Mahon 2007, 189–190)

James Edwin Mahon, 2016, “The Definition of Lying and Deception,” In E. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition).



A empathizes with B if and only if three conditions are met:

(1)  A is consciously aware that B is ψ.

(2)  A is consciously aware of what being ψ feels like.

(3)  On the basis of (1) and (2), A is consciously aware of how B feels.

Joel Smith, 2017, “What is empathy for?” Synthese 194, p. 713.

(The absence of a moral component troubles me!)



Norm-Specific Criticizability

An agent is prima facie legitimately criticizable relative to a specific norm N for Φ-ing iff Φ-ing violates N.


Norm-Specific Blamelessness

An agent is blameless relative to a specific norm N for Φ-ing iff

(1)   Φ-ing is permissible by N or

(2)   Φ-ing violates N but the agent Φs

(2.a) in order to comply with the requirements of a (nonoverridden) overriding norm or

(2.b) because this is blamelessly out of her control or

(2.c) because the agent is blamelessly ignorant that Φ-ing violates N.

Christoph Kelp and Mona Simion, 2017, “Criticism and Blame in Action and Assertion,” The Journal of Philosophy 114, p. 79.


Causation and moral responsibility

If A is morally responsible for e then e is either an act or omission of A’s or is a causal consequence of an act or omission for which A is morally responsible. (Necessary condition only.)

Ann Whittle, 2018, “Responsibility in Context,” Erkenntnis 83, p. 166.