What is the term for the philosophical stance that a given concept which people seem to imbue with meaning actually has no meaning, especially if this means it makes no sense to speak of believing in or disbelieving in said concept?

For instance, people who believe that the term "God" has no definable referent, and thus theism and atheism are both meaningless.

  • Some overlap with pragmaticism: A special and limited form of pragmatism, in which the pragmatism is restricted to the determining of the meaning of concepts (particularly of philosophic concepts) by consideration of the experimental differences in the conduct of life which would conceivably result from the affirmation or denial of the meaning in question.
    – Drux
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 10:38

2 Answers 2


If you think that concept is useful, but theories about it are seriously mistaken because there is something simpler to say instead, then you are a deflationist about that concept.

If you think the whole concept is a mistake, i.e. there's nothing like it at all, etc, then you are an eliminativist about that concept.

  • Can you add a sample sentence that uses deflationist in a philosophic discourse pls?
    – Drux
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 12:29
  • 1
    Consider the concept of truth. Correspondence theorists of truth say that a sentence is true if and only if it corresponds to reality. Coherence theorists say a sentence is true if and only if it coheres with other sentences we take to be true. A deflationist about truth, on the other hand, says that there isn't any nature or definition of truth. "Snow is white" is true just in case snow is white. Truth just turns out to be removing the quotation marks. To say that something is true is just to underline you are really asserting that thing, not merely entertaining or questioning it.
    – user5172
    Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 12:41

For "skepticism about whether a concept is meaningful", agnosticism seems a good fit :-

"Agnosticism is the view that the truth values of certain claims ... are unknown or unknowable."

On the other hand, if one "believes that the term "God" has no definable referent" then it could be atheism :-

"Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities."

However, this is a philosophical nonsense because you would have to have an established concept of deity in order to assert that it does not exist. If the assertion is that the concept of deity is without standard or meaningful definition then you could qualify the position as "conceptual atheism" : the position that there is no workable definition of deity. Likewise, if the issue (as stated in the title) is "skepticism* about whether a concept is meaningful", then this could be "conceptual agnosticism".

* Skepticism, as in "refraining from making truth claims".

In matters of specific definition, it is worth noting that the Catholic encyclopedia is somewhat flexible about the existential definition of the essence of God, allowing for different philosophical world views :-

"It does not, however, appear to be a matter of great moment, as Soto remarks, whether one holds or rejects the doctrine of a real distinction between essence and existence, so long as the difference between God and His creatures is safe-guarded, in that existence is admitted to be of the essence of God and not of the essence of creatures."

So perhaps to be too literal in seeking a standard and precise definition is to be misled by language. For instance there is ambiguity in the definition of "universe", where people go on to speak of multiverse. Other concepts similarly depend on various conceptual world views or (universe views).

  • 4
    Actually, for the specific case of gods, ignosticism is the correct term for rejection of the premise that the question is meaningful. Agnosticism presumes that the question is meaningful, and takes the stance that it is unsolved. Commented Mar 13, 2014 at 23:42
  • Very interesting. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism Commented Mar 14, 2014 at 0:07
  • @NieldeBeaudrap: Ignosticism sounds very close to what I'm looking for; but I haven't been able to find a term that subsumes it while talking about propositions other than the existence of God. Would eliminativism be such a term? -- or, if you know of a better term, don't hesitate to post an answer. Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 2:46

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