I will take Fatalism vs Compatibilism as an example. I hold that the only difference between them is the definition of free will. Namely, I prefer the Compatibilistic definition, that free will is acting according to one's motivations (essentially), and therefore I am a Compatibilistic person. I also believe though that fatalism is not necessarily false, and that it simply uses a different definition for free will (a sentient being having undetermined future behaviour.) I just think the Compatibilistic definition is preferable to the fatalist one. The only issues that remain are scientific and/or theological ones (does quantum mechanics discount fatalism entirely?/does God's omniscience allow free will to exist in accordance with a fatalists definition of free will?) Other examples would include defining precisely good and evil before doing ethnics and defining existence before talking about whether something exists,

What is it called to approach philosophical issues like this, reducing them to a preference of definitions, and maybe with some scientific and/or religious loose ends. More over, is there a name for what it is called if one believes that all philosophical issues can be solved in this manner?

Note: An emphasis is put on how trivial a philosophical issue can be made with precise definitions.

Note: This is contrasted the using solely a bunch of philosophical thought experiments and using vague philosophical language. It is also contrasted too using vague philosophical definitions.

  • Since language is the medium of philosophy, all philosophy is based on words and their meaning. You can pretend whatever you like, but there are no other options. I.e., there is not a name for philosophy "which is based on defining words" in relation to something else because all philosophy is based on defining words. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 23:12
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    Put another way: You've explained what you mean by "this approach", but you do not contrast it with some other approach. So a counter question: What kind of philosopher believes there are issues that cannot be "reduced to defining words"?. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 23:14
  • +goldilocks It seems though that in a lot of discussions of philosophy words just go undefined. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 23:14
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    I would say this is a first step towards analytic philosophy.
    – PavelC
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 23:23
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    If you've got an answer to the question, it goes in an answer. Please take extended discussion to chat
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Oct 25, 2014 at 0:03

3 Answers 3


The philosopher who most famously argued that the majority of philosophical problems reduce to confusion over definitions is Wittgenstein. The philosophic movement most closely associated with Wittgenstein is analytic philosophy, although being an analytic philosopher does not entail that one agrees with that premise.

There's not necessarily a term in general usage specifically referring to endorsement of that point of view (although I have heard the coinage syntheism used for the particular application of that principle to the subject of religion).


If your question is to mean "what sort of philosopher believes definitions are important?"

Then my answer would be any good philosopher believes that (good here being about skill -- not morality).

But your question is "What kind of philosopher believes many philosophical issues can be reduced to defining words?"

I take this to mean that if we get our definitions straight, then the problems and disagreements disappear.

On this definition, I might say a dogmatic philosopher.

But your examples seem confused as to what the domain of science is versus philosophy or theology. The question of what a scientific discovery means -- like QM and Heisenberg uncertainty, that seems to be clearly philosophical question rather than purely scientific one. Science can show what is happening in the physical world. The interpretative challenge is philosophy.

If there's a group that thought everything could be solved just by getting the meaning of our sentences right, then that would have been early 20th century analytic philosophy through to the logical positivists and early philosophy of language. I take what they sought to be somewhat similar to what you're wanting in terms of approach.

On the other hand, I think many contemporary analytic philosophers and philosophers of language don't think that project works... so I would not call it simply "analytic philosophy."


You asked the question: "What kind of philosopher believes many philosophical issues can be reduced to defining words?" I like this question. Also, one respondent asked: "What sort of philosopher believes definitions are important?" I also like his question as part of his response. The answer, of course, without seeming trite, is--"a defining philosopher." I remember reading on 'defining philosophy' in F.A. Schaeffer's book on epistemology, He is There and He is not Silent (1972). Schaeffer dubs Wittgenstein a "...defining philosopher." This particular twist in philosophy is related to 'language philosophy', to 'structuralism', and to 'logical positivism' or extreme rationalism (radical empiricism). Today, all of this is simply referred to as "analytic philosophy," as one respondent shared. Schaeffer has many good remarks regarding 'logical positivism', including comments in his book--The God Who Is There (1968)--on the logical positivist speaker who attempted to conduct a seminar at La Abri (Switzerland) by beginning his talk, "When this data gets to you." Of course, Schaeffer had to temporarily stop the seminar and point out: "In the philosophy of logical positivism there is no such thing as 'data'." Or, "What is 'data' in 'defining philosophy'?" Or, "What 'data' is reliable?" Or, "Whose data is this?" The seminar, of course, moved from a temporary stop to a heated end, as the participants could not agree on a 'definition' for the single word 'data'. You see, some philosophical treatments are wholly without a 'numerator'. These treatments are 'exclusively' related to the self-contained 'denominator' (left brain), with no recognition of that which is 'above'. This was my point in my question regarding neurophysiology (see on). However, as another respondent questioned: "What kind of philosopher believes there are issues that cannot be 'reduced to defining words'"? I would suggest, but not at all flippantly, "...a metaphysician." Hegel always struck me as this type of philosopher... "...Oh so upper story, he is." That is to say, Hegel is almost 'religious' in his "cyphering". Compared to other thinkers, Hegel is sometimes all numerator (right brain) and no denominator. Most "exclusively" spiritual responses are much the same.

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