As a math learner, when I want to read important philosophical theories like Descartes, Kant, etc. I face a big problem that bothers me. Why does no one define things and concepts precisely then explain their idea? Without such definitions, I don't know what they are talking about. For example, Kant talks about "body", "mind", "experiment", "science" etc. How you can talk about such stuff without defining it precisely? What is the "experiment"? or "body"?

Are all philosophers' definitions of such concepts the same? Shouldn't all claims be proven? So why do some philosophers say "I believe that"? If you know any book that defines such things, please introduce it.

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    – J D
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 14:56
  • It's notoriously hard in seemingly concrete and easier philosophy theories compared with abstract math theories to extract universally agreed definitions for even some key philosophical ideas such as perception. For most of us it's clearly different from conception, but for Berkeley's famous empiric immaterialism theory perception means everything else except spiritual substance which produce and receive perceivable ideas only. But by no means it's impossible, bear in mind even in math the seemingly simple metric space definition took almost 40-60 years to have universal acceptance... Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 22:50

1 Answer 1


Short Answer

There are dictionaries in philosophy, but philosophy is somewhat involved in creating definitions, so there is nothing that serves as an authoritative dictionary for precisely defining philosophical terms, sorry. There are a range of resources that will help you to understand the original texts of philosophers, however. I'll start a list below.

Long Answer

What if I were to tell you there is no such thing as a perfectly adequate universal precising definition, and even if there were, you could get no one to agree on what they would be in the particular case?

In mathematics, the use of precising definitions in the axiomatic construction of mathematical theories is rather widespread because of the nature of mathematical propositions which are often characterized as synthetic a priori statements. The nature of mathematical propositions are so universal in their appeal to intuitions, that it leads some math philosophers to surmise that there is a reality accessible in some way to our mind where these ideas exist as objects, a view known as Platonism.

But it may be the truth that words created by philosophers are actually physical constructions of language. If that's the case, then to learn their meanings, you have to understand the context they are used in. And that context is not just linguistic context, but also context within their theory, and according to many European thinkers, context in the biographical, political, and historical contexts in which the words were produced, an idea in philosophical circles known as historicity. This perspective is particularly true of philosophy that isn't about numbers or objective phenomena such as biomolecules, but rather of ideas such as 'love', 'freedom', and 'meaning'.

What I'm saying is that there is not a handbook, something akin to the Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, that is a rather definitive guide. However, there are guides, anthologies, biographies, and encyclopedias that help you get perspective written by professional philosophers to provide that context to make things easier for you. If you're interested in Immanuel Kant, for instance, there are many Kant scholars who will explain Kant to you. So:

These are the sorts of references that will help you out. Lastly, it should be noted that in using language, it helps somewhat to know language. That might start with a good grammar of English, but also extend all of the way to a reading of the philosophy of language. Language has always been intertwined with philosophy, and both the ordinary language philosophers and other philosophers after the linguistic turn have advanced much philosophical theory regarding the relationship between language and philosophy, so at a minimum, it bears worth mentioning that a modicum linguistic knowledge might be beneficial in sorting out the deep mysteries of the universe and mere deepities.

  • Thanks for links inside the answer. It is common here or you linked them because of you know I am a beginner?
    – C.F.G
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 15:37
  • @C.F.G Well, neither really. I use links more heavily than most contributors here because I review my definitions as I make claims, and to encourage others to find contradictions in my claims. I do believe, however, that when dealing with anyone who is unfamiliar with the ideas, it gives leads that might make my response more useful.
    – J D
    Commented Dec 24, 2021 at 17:42

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