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Big words with little meanings?

Updated: Aug 8, 2021

After writing the "Naked backlash" blog I was left with a sense of "unfinished business" that I still can't put my finger on. I posted the blog on a Saturday morning and then spent the afternoon at a series of lectures given by academics at the "Thought foundation" up in the north east of England. The more and more I considered the arguments around identity, power & individualist or socialist world views, the more I began to question how much my own world view and my descriptions of it have been shaped by the very things I am attempting to describe. It's like trying to view a painting whilst sitting as the model for the artist creating it, and simultaneously trying to talk to the artist who only speaks a foreign language, and then realising as you do so that actually, you're the artist and you're looking in a mirror, trying to paint the picture of the artist who is painting you.

It's left me uneasy this morning. Many people before me have attempted to describe facets of the human experience, and some have even managed to do so quite well. So, when one is a little lost it's usually wise to retrace once steps. And so we get to the subject of this blog, the "meaning of words". So written below is some information on a variety of terms I've been hearing, using and writing about. I hope the descriptions are useful, since I note them here not just for myself, but also other students who may be interested in their own research, to create a quick referenced memoir to further understanding for all.

Ontology (Ontological)

Concerned with the nature of being, and the relationships between categories and concepts in a subject area or domain. For example an argument for and against the existence of God is going to be ontological. For any philosophy, having an ontological position is a given, since one must have a position about the nature of being.


Relating to or involving the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arise. So one might perhaps categorise St Thomas Aquinas Natural law as teleological, since it suggests a purpose to natural phenomena. Darwin's theory of evolution might be viewed as a "teleological explanation" of the manner by which species evolve.


Relating to, or coming from the study of knowledge. how to we know what we know? and what is knowledge? In particular looking at the distinctions between justified belief and opinion, reasoning and "knowledge that" or "knowledge how"


The idea of all events, including those of human interaction and origin, being products of a "first cause" that is external to the idea of "free will" In other word a very "physicalist" view that we, and the world around us, are the sum of our parts and nothing more than that.


That all things including people have a set of characteristics that make them what they are, and that are there prior to existence, for example, a view of categories of people, such as women and men, or heterosexuals and homosexuals, or members of ethnic groups, as having intrinsically different and characteristic natures or dispositions. Or that all children should be taught along traditional lines the ideas and methods that are regarded as essential to the prevalent culture. Therefore an essentialist view would be one that both "tells us what things are" and "what we should do about it".


A philosophical theory or approach which emphasises the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will. An oposing position to that of determinism and one that overlaps a little with essentialism.


A term used to describe the most commonly held views, beliefs, behaviours or concepts of people , phenomena and objects.

Cis and trans prefix

I first came across this terminology in chemistry, when dealing with isomers of a compound that had identical composition and a differing structure. The terms arise from latin (as ever) and simply put, they mean "across from" (trans) and "on this side of" (cis) When applied to gender as is the most obvious case in my work they are convenient terms that we can use to avoid confusion as to which particular group of people we might be referring to in any given discussion.

Note here that not every person will accept the personal label of cis or trans gender, since the differing views of the concept do lend to a mutatis mutandis position in some people. (see below)

Mutatis mutandis

An expression used to transfer one set of reasoned principles to the reverse or a similar argument. For example someone who doesn't believe trans gender is a genuine phenomena may be therefore be inclined to suggest the cis gender also doesn't exist by virtue of the same logic. Or that if homosexuality is just not an ethical issue, then they may also suggest that the institute of marriage should not be limited to between "a man and a woman"

Trans phobic

Having a dislike or pre judgemental view of the trans gender concept. I would argue that this is different from a "cis- normative" view that results from unknowingness, (see below) since the cis normative person in question cannot be actively pre judgmental of concepts and ideas unknown to them, and once they become aware may change their thinking.


The idea that since most people in the world grow up to understand themselves as aligned with the gender that they were assumed to be upon birth, then human culture (western versions of it at least) have developed around this lived experience being the "normal"

Critical realism

Realism is the attitude or practice of accepting a situation "as it is" and being prepared to deal with it accordingly. Of course one then has to ask, "how do we know what a situation is?" hence the critical bit. As stated below this approach combines philosophies of scientific view with social science. Critical realism is a philosophical approach associated with Roy Bhaskar (1944–2014), and combines a general philosophy of science (transcendental realism) with a philosophy of social science (critical naturalism) to describe an interface between the natural and social worlds. Theres a link to a nice seminar here and some notes in video by Professor Bhaskar


A philosophical concept of being independent from "subjectivity" caused by perception, emotions, or imagination. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject. Scientific objectivity would refer to the ability to judge with impartiality or external influence. However one has to note that ALL observations made by humans are necessarily "perceived" and all conclusions reached are constructed in the mind by application of prior knowledge. Plus, sentient subjects create the truth conditions so is anything ever 100% objective?


The outcome of how me make sense about the world and decide upon our actions within it. An observed phenomena, for example, would lead to our having knowledge of it, as would an experience, or a learning a skill. It is the product of "reasoning" and a process of discovery..


A term that denotes reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from theoretical deduction rather than from observation or experience.


Relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge which proceeds from observations or experiences to the deduction of probable causes. Conclusion that may be reached, having been based on reasoning from known facts or past events rather than by making assumptions or predictions.

Ethical Relativism

In ethics this is the belief that nothing is objectively right or wrong and that the definition of right or wrong depends on the prevailing view of a particular individual, culture, or historical period.


This a tricky one, and incidentally where I spend much of my working life. In psychology identity is composed of qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person, and or a group. It is described as a mental image of ones self. Kinda like the scene in the matrix where morpheus explains to Neo that how he looks is the "mental projection of your digital self" We might argue that some of these component parts of identity are fixed, "determined" by biological factors, yet those biological factors are simply descriptions of what we currently know of our biological "reality" and thus statements of them are epistemological in nature not Ontological. (They are statements on our knowledge of a process rather than a full description of a process) Add into this the human capacity to learn (i.e. reason our way to new knowledge or views of the world) and one can see that "belief" is malleable, information ever changing and therefore we are obliged to consistently and unceasingly work on the creation of our identity in any given moment.

Indeed "identity work" is something that social philosophers are researching at time of writing.


Many see the self as synonymous with identity, and self identity is a buzz word these days, but our sense of self stems from some of our social identity. (consider the student always told she is stupid, who then goes on to believe she cannot pass exams.. or the strong guy who always fails at football trials and therefore believes they are weak) The self, like identity, amorphous, ever -changing, a live document of ideas, thoughts, beliefs and blueprints that we each draw from daily to construct our own "mental projection of our digital self" One might say the self exists within the identity, and that neither can function without the other.


A term used to explain a phenomena or object, person or place. for example, "blue" "pale," tall, or short, happy or sad.


The idea of collectively describing things, people, or phenomena via similar or diss similar attributes. A way of explaining multiple occurrences and examining correlation and or causality.

Social Construct

We all learn from others, some we call teachers, others we call friends, family, lovers, enemies, or "everyone else" sometimes we learn directly, and sometimes we learn via media outlets, or reading a book by a long dead author. All of this is the process of constructing our views of the world, by means of social interactions. That is the very essence of social constructivism. since we exist and interact, we learn interdependently as well as individually.


The bit of our physical selfs that is made up of cells and what is understood as biological, material, hair skins eyes etc. Also used refer to process that are biologically derived, and classified, such a bio chemical reactions, or biological diversity.

Man is that a BIG list! I'll probably drop more into this little glossary of terms as I go, updating the list of terms, their uses and some nice handy links to other places on the web that might be of interest to fellow students of the human condition.

for now,I just say bye and catch ya on the flip side.

got any thoughts or think I missed something out? email me

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