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This article focuses on the concept of singular, monotheistic God. See deity, gods, or goddesses for details on divine entities in specific religions and mythologies.

God is a term referring to the supreme being, generally believed to be ruler or creator of, and/or immanent within, the universe. The concept of a singular God is characteristic of monotheism, but it is not always possible to draw a sharp distinction between some forms of monotheism and some forms of polytheism (see also henotheism).

Some concepts of God may include anthropomorphic attributes, while others hold it impossible or blasphemous to imagine God in any physical form. Some hold that God is necessarily morally good (see summum bonum). Others feel that God is beyond the understanding of human morality. Negative theology argues that no true statements about attributes of God may be made at all, and some hold God to be beyond the understanding of humanity altogether.

A singular God is necessarily unique (but see Trinity, Dualism). Still, different traditions and understandings of the concept may cause disagreement among believers regarding the God revered by others. Belief in a single God may give rise to concepts of absolute morality, and also to a claim of exclusivity (see Chosen people).

Some espouse an exclusionist view, seeing the God venerated by others with different beliefs as inferior or nonexistent. Others hold an inclusionist view, assuming the God venerated by others to be the same God under a different name. Many people hold personal, sometimes even secular interpretations of God, typically in agreement with a concept of an "Absolute Infinite". Atheists do not believe in the existence of any singular God, gods or goddesses.

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The word God continues Old English/Germanic god (got in Gothic, Gott in modern German). The original meaning and etymology of the Germanic word god have been hotly disputed, though most agree to a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European form *ǵhutóm, which may either mean "invocation", related to Sanskrit hūta, or "libation", related to German Guss (English in-got), Greek khute, Sanskrit huta. The word was used to represent Greek theos, Latin deus in Bible translations, first in the Gothic translation of the New Testament by Ulfilas.


KJV of 1611 (Psalms 21:1,2): Occurrennce "LORD" and "God" (in the heading)
KJV of 1611 (Psalms 21:1,2): Occurrennce "LORD" and "God" (in the heading)

The development of English orthography was dominated by Christian texts. Capitalised "God" was first used to refer to the Judeo-Christian concept, and may now signify any monotheistic conception of God (including the translation of the Arabic Allah.)

In early English bibles, the Tetragrammaton was rendered in capitals: "IEHOUAH" in William Tyndale's version of 1525 and "The LORD" in the King James Version of 1611. The KJV renders Elohim as "God", and Adonay YHWH (and in the New Testament, kurios ho theos) is translated as "Lord God". The use of capitalisation, like for a proper noun, has persisted, to disambiguate the concept of a singular God from pagan deities, or, in the Christian view, false idols, for which lowercase god was continued to be applied, mirroring the use of latin deus. Pronouns referring to God are also often capitalised, and traditionally in the masculine gender, i. e. "He", "His" etc.

Names of God

See main article: Names of God.

The generic term God is used the proper English name used for the deity of monotheistic faiths. Different names for God exist within different religious traditions.

  • Jehovah, Yahweh (based on the Hebrew name YHVH (יהוה) and Elohim are some of the names used for God in the Christian Bible
  • See The name of God in Judaism for Jewish names of God. (Note: when written or typed as a proper noun, some observant Jews will use the form "G-d" so that "the written name of God cannot be desecrated". Some Orthodox Jews consider this inappropriate because English is not the Holy Language.)

History of Monotheism

See also Monotheism.

The religions widely thought of as monotheistic today are of relatively recent origin historically, although Eastern religions (notably religions of China and India) that have concepts of panentheism are difficult to classify along western notions of monotheism vs. polytheism, and sometimes have claims of being very ancient, if not eternal.

Early examples of monotheism include two late rigvedic hymns (10.129,130) to a Panentheistic creator god, and the zoroastrian Ahuramazda. The worship of polytheistic gods, on the other hand, is seen by many to predate monotheism, reaching back as far as the paleolithic. Today, monotheistic religions are dominant (mainly due to the missionary efforts of Christianity and Islam), but polytheism, and to a lesser extent also animism, survive.

In the Ancient Orient, many cities had their own local god, but this henotheistic worship of a single god did not imply denial of the existence of other gods. The Hebrew Ark of the Covenant adapted this practice to a nomadic lifestyle, paving their way for a singular God. The cult of the solar god Aten is often cited as the earliest known example of monotheism, but even if Akhetaten's hymn to Aten praises this god as omnipotent creator, worship of other gods beside him never ceased.

The existence of God

See also arguments for and arguments against the existence of God.

Arguments for God

Arguments for or against the existence of God date back to classical times.

  • Ontological arguments argue God exists by necessity or definition - that God's existence can be determined from consideration of his, her, or its nature alone.
  • Teleological arguments argue that the structure of aspects of the Cosmos, such that the high level of complexity seen in the universe or the apparent fine-tuning of physical constants, require a divine designer.

A more comprehensive list of such arguments can be found in Arguments for the existence of God.

Arguments against God

Alternately, there are a variety of arguments against the existence of God.

  • Some atheistic arguments follow a burden of proof line of reasoning, claiming that by default God does not exist, until empirically proven otherwise.


Fideism maintains that all these attempted proofs and disproofs of God's existence are misguided, as belief in God must depend on faith rather than any rational arguments or proofs. This argument makes the existence of God a spiritual "question" as opposed to an intellectual one. Fideists often quote scripture as support for their claim, such as Hebrews 11:6.


Theology is the study of the religious belief. Theologians attempt to explicate (and in some cases systematize) beliefs; some express their own experience of the divine. Theologians ask questions such as: What is the nature of God? What does it mean for God to be singular? If people believe in God as a duality or trinity, what do these terms signify? Is God transcendent, immanent, or some mix of the two? What is the relationship between God and the universe, and God and mankind?

  • Theism holds that God is both transcendent and immanent; thus, God is simultaneously infinite and in some way present in the affairs of the world. Catholic theology holds that God is infinitely simple and is outside of time. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, although this belief raises questions about God's responsibility for evil and suffering in the world. Some theists ascribe to God a self-conscious or purposeful limiting of omnipotence, omniscience, or benevolence. Open Theism, by contrast, asserts that God has limits. For a discussion of the meaning of "God" in this sense. A few people use the word "monotheism" to refer to the belief in God and use "theism" to refer to any belief in gods, i.e., monotheism or polytheism.
  • Deism holds that God is wholly transcendent: God exists, but does not intervene in the world beyond what was necessary for God to create it. In this view, God is not anthropomorphic, and does not literally answer prayers or cause miracles to occur.
  • Monotheism holds that there is only one God, and/or that the one true God is worshipped in different religions under different names. It is important to note, however, that monotheists of one religion can, and often do, consider the monotheistic god of a different religion to be a false god. For instance, many Christian fundamentalists consider the God of Islam (Allah) to be a false god or demon (although theologians and linguists argue that "Allah" is merely the Arabic word for "God," and not the literal name of a specifically Muslim god). Many Jews consider the messiah of Christianity (Jesus) to be a false god and some monotheists (notably fundamentalist Christians) hold that there is one triune God, and that all gods of other religions are actually demons in disguise (as in 2nd Corinthians 11 (http://wikisource.org/wiki/Bible%2C_English%2C_King_James%2C_2_Corinthians#Chapter_11) verse 14). Eastern religious believers and Liberal Christians are more likely to assume those of other faiths worship the same God as they.
  • Maltheism is a form of theism which holds that God is a cruel, arrogant, abusive, and untruthful being, and is thus unworthy of worship. Maltheists point to what they consider hypocritical inconsistencies in God's behavior and commands as found in the Bible and other religious writings. Maltheists say that it is hypocritical to attribute all that is good to an omnipotent being, while denying that this being should also be held responsible for all that is evil. In this view, the problem of evil really isn't a problem at all: the answer to the question "If God is omnipotent and benevolent, why is there evil in the world?" is an obvious one to them - there is no way an omnipotent benevolent God would allow evil in the world, therefore God is either not omnipotent, not benevolent, or both. They conclude that God is not benevolent. Many Maltheists believe that God is dependent on human worship to live, and that minimizing humanity's offering of worship to him will diminish his power over us. The existence of Maltheism demonstrates that there can be a sharp distinction between believing that God exists and worshipping him. Maltheism and Satanism have obvious corellations.

Most believers allow for the existence of other less powerful immortal beings, but give them other names such as angels, Djinn, demons, and devas.

Conceptions of God

Christian, Jewish and Muslim Conceptions of God

Judaism, Christianity and Islam see God as a being who created the world and rules over the universe. God is usually held to have the properties of holiness (separate from sin and incorruptable), justness (fair, right, and true in all His judgements), sovereignty (unthwartable in His will), omnipotence (all-powerful), omniscience (all-knowing), omnibenevolence (all-loving), and omnipresence (all-present).

Jews, Christians and Muslims often conceive of God as a personal God, with a will and personality. However, many medieval rationalist philosophers of these religions felt that one should not view God as personal, and that such personal descriptions of God are only meant as metaphors. Some within these three faiths still accept these views as valid, although many of the laity today do not have a wide awareness of them.

In Eastern Christianity, it remains essential that God be personal; hence it speaks of the three persons of the Trinity. It also emphasizes that God has a will, and that God the Son has two wills, divine and human, though these are never in conflict. The personhood of God and of all human people is essential to the concept of theosis or deification.

God as Unity or Trinity

Jews, Muslims, and a small fraction of Christians are unitarian monotheists. The vast majority of Christians have been and still are Trinitarian monotheists.

  • Unitarian monotheists hold that there is only one "person" (so to speak), or one basic substance, in God. Some adherents of this position consider Trinitarianism to be a form of polytheism.
  • Trinitarian monotheists believe in one God that exists as three distinct persons who share the same substance/essence; the Christian version of this is called the Trinity, the Hindu version Trimurti. Trinitarians hold that the three persons have the same purpose, holiness, and sovereignty, and therefore each can be worshiped as God, without violating the idea that there is only one God to which worship belongs.
  • Mormons believe that there are three separate divine personages. One of these personages is a spirit without a body referred to as the Holy Ghost. The other two personages are spirits with perfected or glorified (often called celestial) bodies referred to as Heavenly Father (or less commonly "Elohim") and his son, Jesus Christ. Mormons hold that God is a Holy Man who advanced to his divine status through a repeatable process of progression. They believe that by following their religion's teachings, humans can literally become gods (sometimes phrased as "become like Heavenly Father") at some point after death and resurrection; this is also called Exaltation.
  • Hasidic Jews hold that there are ten Sefirot (emanations) of God. Each of these are more distinct than a characteristic, but less distinct than a separate personage.
  • Dualism is the idea of two, nearly equal divine entities, one being the good God, and the other being an evil god, or Satan. All beings are under the influence of one side, or the other, if they know it or not. Zoroastrianism is an example of Dualism.

The Ultimate

Arguably, Eastern conceptions of The Ultimate (this, too, has many different names) are not conceptions of a personal divinity, though certain Western conceptions of what is at least called "God" (e.g., Spinoza's pantheistic conception and various kinds of mysticism) resemble Eastern conceptions of The Ultimate.

The mathematician Georg Cantor identified God with the mathematical concept of the Absolute Infinite.

Hindu definition of God

In Vaishnavism and Shaivism, Hindus believe that God has six attributes:

  1. jñäna Omniscient
  2. aishvarya Sovereign
  3. shakti Strength
  4. bala Energetic
  5. vëry Immutable
  6. tèjas Resplendent

Additionally, some Hindus believe that God has these six attributes at all times:

  1. Jnana (wisdom)
  2. Vairagya (dispassion)
  3. Yasas (fame)
  4. Aisvarya (divine powers)
  5. Sri (wealth)
  6. Dharma (righteousness)

Kabbalistic definition of God

Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) teaches that God is neither matter nor spirit. Rather God is the creator of both, but is himself neither. But if God is so different than his creation, how can there be any interaction between the Creator and the created? This question prompted Kabbalists to envision two aspects of God, (a) God himself, who in the end is unknowable, and (b) the revealed aspect of God who created the universe, preserves the universe, and interacts with mankind in a personal way. Kabbalists believe that these two aspects are not contradictory but complement one another.

Biblical definition of God

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) characterizes God by these attributes: "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exodus 34:6–7)

The Hebrew Bible contains no systematic theology: No attempt is made to give a philosophical or rigorous definition of God, nor of how God acts in the world. It does not explicitly describe God's nature, exemplified by God's assertion in Exodus that "you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live". It does, however, provide a poetic depiction of God and His relationship with people. According to the biblical historian Yehezkal Kaufmann, the essential innovation of Biblical theology was to posit a God that cares about people, and that cares about whether people care about Him. Most people believe that the Bible should be viewed as humanity's view of God, but theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel described the Biblical God as "anthropopathic", which means that one should read the Bible as God's view of humanity, and not as humanity's view of God.

Similarly, the New Testament contains no systematic theology: no attempt is made to give a philosophical or rigorous definition of God, nor of how God acts in the world. The New Testament does, however, provide an implicit theology as it teaches that God became human while remaining fully God, in the person of Jesus Christ, and that he subsequently sent the Holy Spirit. In this view, God becomes someone that can be seen and touched, and may speak and act in a manner easily perceived by humans, while also remaining transcendent and invisible. This appears to be a radical departure from the concepts of God found in Hebrew Bible. The New Testament's statements regarding the nature of God were eventually developed into the doctrine of the Trinity.

Negative theology

Many medieval philosophers made use of apophatic theology, the idea of approaching a knowledge of God through negative attributes. For example, we should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; all we can safely say is that God is not nonexistent. We should not say that God is wise, but we can say that God is not ignorant. We should not say that God is One, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being.

Aristotelian definition of God

A separate article exists on the Aristotelian view of God. Much of this article discusses Aristotle's book on first philosophy, the Metaphysics, in which Aristotle discusses the meaning of "being as being". In brief, Aristotle holds that "being" primarily refers to the Unmoved Movers, and assigned one of these to each movement in the heavens. Each Unmoved Mover continuously contemplates its own contemplation, and everything that fits the second meaning of "being" by having its source of motion in itself, moves because the knowledge of its Mover causes it to emulate this Mover (or should).

Process philosophy definition of God

Process theology is a school of thought influenced by the metaphysical process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947).

In this view, God is not omnipotent in the classical sense of a coercive being. Reality is not made up of material substances that endure through time, but serially-ordered events, which are experiential in nature. The universe is characterized by process and change carried out by the agents of free will. Self-determination characterizes everything in the universe, not just human beings. God and creatures co-create. God cannot force anything to happen, but rather only influence the exercise of this universal free will by offering possibilities. See the entries on process theology and panentheism.

Modern Views

Some comparatively new belief systems and books portray God as an alien. Many of these theories hold that intelligent aliens from another world have been visiting Earth for many thousands of years, and have influenced the development of our religions. Some of these books posit that prophets or messiahs were sent to the human race in order to teach humanity morality, and to encourage our civilization to grow and develop.

Similar to this theory is the belief or aspiration that humans will create a God entity, emerging from an artificial intelligence. Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction writer, said in an interview that: It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God, but to create him.

Another variant on this hypothesis is that humanity or a segment of humanity will, through self-evolution, create a posthuman God from itself; for some examples, see cosmotheism, transhumanism or even prometheism.

God creates Adam, by Michaelangelo; from the Sistine Chapel.
God creates Adam, by Michaelangelo; from the Sistine Chapel.


  • Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Ballantine Books, 1994
  • Jack Miles, God : A Biography, Knopf, 1995. [1] (http://www.jackmiles.com/default.asp?ID=15)
  • Cliff Pickover, The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience, Palgrave/St Martin's Press, 2001.

See also

External links


Many sets of religious beliefs have a particular spirit, god, demon or angel whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife, such as Heaven or Hell. These creatures are called psychopomps.

They were often associated with horses, ravens, dogs, crows, sparrows, harts (that is, male deer) and dolphins.

Philosophy of religion

Philosophy of religion is the rational study of the meaning and justification of fundamental religious claims, particularly about the nature and existence of God (or gods, or the divine).

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Philosophy of religion as part of metaphysics

Philosophy of religion was classically regarded as part of metaphysics, after Aristotle, amongst whose writings was a piece that later editors identified as The Metaphysics. Aristotle there described first causes as one of the subjects of his investigation. For Aristotle, God was the first cause, the Unmoved Mover. Philosophy of religion as a branch of metaphysics later came to be called natural theology by rationalist philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the twentieth century, philosophers have adopted the term "philosophy of religion" for the subject, and typically it is regarded as a separate field of specialization, though it is also still treated by some, particularly Catholic philosophers, as a part of metaphysics.

It can be argued that to nearly anyone capable of understanding the issues, it should be clear why considerations of the divine have been regarded as metaphysical. God, according to most conceptions of God as divine, would be in an important category: that of beings different from the rest of the universe. That is, God is typically conceived as not having a body, and the "mind" of the divine is not typically regarded as anything very like an ordinary human mind. Metaphysics, and in particular ontology, is concerned with the most basic categories of existence, those types of existence that cannot be explained as any other type of existence. By taking this view, the very notion of God (the gods, the divine) cannot be reduced to human concepts of mind or body; God is, on such a view, a sui generis entity, an entity in a category all of its own.

The questions asked by the philosophy of religion

There are a lot of philosophical questions that can be asked about religious beliefs. But there are two central questions in this field. They are:

  1. What is God, that is, what is the meaning of the word, 'God'?
  2. Do we have any good reason to think that God exists, or to think that God does not exist?

Still, there are other questions studied in the philosophy of religion. What, if anything, would be good reason to believe that a miracle has occurred? What is the relationship between faith and reason? What might it mean for God to exist as a trinity, that is as the "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" of Christian theology?

What is God?

The question "What is God?" is sometimes also phrased as "What is the meaning of the word, God?" Most philosophers expect some sort of definition as an answer to this question, but they are not content simply to describe the way the word is used, they want to know the essence of what it means to be God. Western philosophers typically concern themselves with the God of monotheistic religions (see the nature of God in Western theology), but discussions also concern themselves with other conceptions of the divine.

Indeed, before attempting a definition of a term it is essential to know what sense of the term is to be defined. In this case, this is particularly important because there are a number of widely different senses of the word 'God'. The term is ambiguous: it is used in different ways by different people. So before we try to answer the question "What is God?" by giving a definition, first we have to get clear on which conception of God we are trying to define. Among those people who believe in supernatural beings, some believe there is just one God (monotheism See also monotheistic religion.), while others, in the greatest numbers Hindus, believe in many different gods. (polytheism See also polytheistic religion.) Buddhists generally do not believe in a personal God similar to that of the Abrahamic religions but direct attenion to a more undefined state of being called Nirvana.

Within these two broad categories there is a huge variety of possible beliefs--although there are relatively few popular ways of believing. For example, among the monotheists there have been those who believe that the one God is like a watchmaker who wound up the universe and now does not intervene in the universe at all; this view is deism. By contrast, the view that God continues to be active in the universe is called theism.

There is also another viewpoint that due to so many different concepts of God, that the definition is best left to the individual to evaluate. An example is what the Scientologists have stated in their belief system: Beliefnet (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/80/story_8057_1.html)

With so many different spiritual routes that claim to bring one to a higher understanding of God, in whatever form he is conceived, there are also many more definitions. See below.

Monotheistic definitions

Traditionally philosophers of religion, at least in Europe, were interested in finding out what the word "God" might refer to, in the sense in which it is used by theists. Again, theism, can be defined as the view that exactly one God exists, who is an eternally existent spirit, that exists apart from space and time, which has created the universe out of nothing, and is therefore all-powerful; and usually this being is also thought to be all-knowing and all-loving. Even once the word "God" is defined in this sense, there are still many difficult questions to be asked about what this means. For example, what does it mean for a spirit to create anything? What does "all-powerful" mean?

Polytheistic definitions:

Pantheistic definitions:

Panentheistic definitions:

Rationality of belief

The second question: "Do we have any good reason to think that God exists, or to think that God does not exist?" is equally important in the philosophy of religion. Since Plato and Aristotle, philosophers and theologians have offered arguments and counterarguments for the existence of God.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have developed religious world views based on, or incorporating philosophy. There are separate entries on: Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, and Islamic philosophy

Major philosophers of religion: William Alston -- Thomas Aquinas -- Duns Scotus -- Saint Augustine -- Saint Anselm -- Samuel Clarke -- Immanuel Kant -- Baruch Spinoza -- Soren Kierkegaard -- Maimonides -- Max Weber -- René Descartes -- --Abraham Joshua Heschel -- David Hume -- Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius -- Charles Hartshorne -- John Hick -- J. L. Mackie -- Rudolf Otto -- Alvin Plantinga -- Richard Swinburne -- Peter van Inwagen -- Nicholas Wolterstorff

See also theology, natural theology, Arguments for the existence of God and arguments against the existence of God.

External links

Philo's view of God

Philo obtains his theology in two ways: by means of negation and by positive assertions as to the nature of God.

In his negative statement he tries to define the nature of God in contrast to the world. Here he can take from the Old Testament only certain views of later Jewish theology regarding God's sublimity transcending the world (Isa. lv. 9), and man's inability to behold God (Ex. xxxii. 20 et seq.). But according to the conception that predominates in the Bible God is incessantly active in the world, is filled with zeal, is moved by repentance, and comes to aid His people; He is, therefore, entirely different from the God described by Philo.

Philo does not consider God similar to heaven or the world or man; God exists neither in time nor space; He has no human attributes or emotions. Indeed, God has no attributes whatever (ἁπλοῡς), and in consequence no name (ἅρρητος), and for that reason he can not be perceived by man (ἀκατάληπτος).

God can not change (ἅτρεπτος): He is always the same (ἀἱδιος). He needs no other being (χρήζων ὁυδενòς τò παράπαν), and is self-sufficient (ἑαυτῷ ἱκανός).

God can never perish (ἅφθαρτος). He is the simply existent (ó ὤν, τὺ ὅν), and as such has no relations with any other being (τὸ γὰρ ἢ ὄν ἒστιν ουχὶ τῶν πρός τι).

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In many ways, one can consider this view of God to be different than the God of the Old Testament, but the idea of Plato designated as Θεός, in contrast to matter. Nothing remained, therefore, but to set aside the descriptions of God in the Old Testament by means of allegory.

Philo characterizes as a monstrous impiety the anthropomorphism of the Bible, which, according to the literal meaning, ascribes to God hands and feet, eyes and ears, tongue and windpipe ("De Confusione Linguarum," § 27 [i. 425]). Scripture, he says, adapts itself to human conceptions (ib.); and for pedagogic reasons God is occasionally represented as a man ("Quod Deus Sit Immutabilis," § 11 [i. 281]). The same holds good also as regards God's anthropopathic attributes. God as such is untouched by unreasonable emotions, as appears, e.g., from Ex. ii. 12, where Moses, torn by his emotions, perceives God alone to be calm ("De Allegoriis Legum," iii. 12 [i. 943]). He is free from sorrow, pain, and all such affections. But He is frequently represented as endowed with human emotions; and this serves to explain expressions referring to His repentance.

Similarly God can not exist or change in space. He has no "where" (πού, obtained by changing the accent in Gen. iii. 9: "Adam, where [ποῡ] art thou?"), is not in any place. He is Himself the place; the dwelling-place of God means the same as God Himself, as in the Mishnah = "God is" (comp. Freudenthal, "Hellenistische Studien," p. 73), corresponding to the tenet of Greek philosophy that the existence of all things is summed up in God (comp. Schürer, "Der Begriff des Himmelreichs," in Jahrbuch für Protestantische Theologie, 1876, i. 170).

God as such is motionless, as the Bible indicates by the phrase "God stands" (Deut. v. 31; Ex. xvii. 6). It was difficult to harmonize the doctrine of God's namelessness with the Bible; and Philo was aided here by his imperfect knowledge of Greek. Not noticing that the Septuagint translated the divine name Yhwh by Κύριος, he thought himself justified in referring the two names Θεός and Κύριος to the two supreme divine faculties.

Philo's transcendental conception of the idea of God precluded the Creation as well as any activity of God in the world; it entirely separated God from man; and it deprived ethics of all religious basis. But Philo, who was a pious Jew, could not accept the un-Jewish, pagan conception of the world and the irreligious attitude which would have been the logical result of his own system; and so he accepted the Stoic doctrine of the immanence of God, which led him to statements opposed to those he had previously made. While he at first had placed God entirely outside of the world, he now regarded Him as the only actual being therein. God is the only real citizen of the world; all other beings are merely sojourners therein ("De Cherubim," § 34 [i. 661]). While God as a transcendent being could not operate at all in the world, He is now considered as doing everything and as the only cause of all things ("De Allegoriis Legum," iii. 3 [i. 88]). He creates not only once, but forever (ib. i. 13 [i. 44]). He is identical with the Stoic "efficient cause." He is impelled to activity chiefly by His goodness, which is the basis of the Creation. God as creator is called Θεός (from τίθημι; comp. "De Confusione Linguarum," § 27 [i. 425]). This designation also characterizes Him in conformity with His goodness, because all good gifts are derived from God, but not evil ones. Hence God must call upon other powers to aid Him in the creation of man, as He can have nothing to do with matter, which constitutes the physical nature of man: with evil He can have no connection; He can not even punish it. God stands in a special relation to man. The human soul is God's most characteristic work. It is a reflex of God, a part of the divine reason, just as in the system of the Stoics the human soul is an emanation of the World-Soul. The life of the soul is nourished and supported by God, Philo using for his illustrations the figures of the light and the fountain and the Biblical passages referring to these.

Doctrine of the Divine Attributes

Although, as shown above, Philo repeatedly endeavored to find the Divine Being active and acting in the world, in agreement with Stoicism, yet his Platonic repugnance to matter predominated, and consequently whenever he posited that the divine could not have any contact with evil, he defined evil as matter, with the result that he placed God outside of the world. Hence he was obliged to separate from the Divine Being the activity displayed in the world and to transfer it to the divine powers, which accordingly were sometimes inherent in God and at other times exterior to God.

This doctrine, as worked out by Philo, was composed of very different elements, including Greek philosophy, Biblical conceptions, pagan and late Jewish views. The Greek elements were borrowed partly from Platonic philosophy, in so far as the divine powers were conceived as types or patterns of actual things ("archetypal ideas"), and partly from Stoic philosophy, in so far as those powers were regarded as the efficient causes that not only represent the types of things, but also produce and maintain them. They fill the whole world, and in them are contained all being and all individual things ("De Confusione Linguarum," § 34 [i. 431]). Philo endeavored to harmonize this conception with the Bible by designating these powers as angels ("De Gigantibus," § 2 [i. 263]; "De Somniis," i. 22 [i. 641 et seq.]), whereby he destroyed an essential characteristic of the Biblical view. He further made use of the pagan conception of demons (ib.). And finally he was influenced by the late Jewish doctrine of the throne-chariot, in connection with which he in a way detaches one of God's fundamental powers, a point which will be discussed further on. In the Haggadah this fundamental power divides into two contrasts, which modify each other.

In the same way Philo contrasts the two divine attributes of goodness and power (ἄγαθότης and ἀρχή, δίναμις χαριστική and συγκολαστική). They are also expressed in the names of God; but Philo's explanation is confusing. "Yhwh" really designates God as the kind and mercifull one, while "Elohim" designates him as the just one. Philo, however, interpreted "Elohim" (LXX. Θεός) as designating the "cosmic power"; and as he considered the Creation the most important proof of divine goodness, he found the idea of goodness especially in Θεός ("De Migratione Abrahami," § 32 [i. 464]). On the parallel activity of the two powers and the symbols used therefor in Scripture, as well as on their emanation from God and their further development into new powers, their relation to God and the world, their part in the Creation, their tasks toward man, etc., see Siegfried, "Philo," pp. 214-218. Philo's exposition here is not entirely clear, as he sometimes conceives the powers to be independent hypostases and sometimes regards them as immanent attributes of the Divine Being.

The Logos

Philo considers these divine powers in their totality also, treating them as a single independent being, which he designates "Logos." This name, which he borrowed from Greek philosophy, was first used by Heraclitus and then adopted by the Stoics. Philo's conception of the Logos is influenced by both of these schools. From Heraclitus he borrowed the conception of the "dividing Logos" (λόγος τομεύς), which calls the various objects into existence by the combination of contrasts ("Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit," § 43 [i. 503]), and from Stoicism, the characterization of the Logos as the active and vivifying power. But Philo borrowed also Platonic elements in designating the Logos as the "idea of ideas" and the "archetypal idea" ("De Migratione Abrahami," § 18 [i. 452]; "De Specialibus Legibus," § 36 [ii. 333]).

There are, in addition, Biblical elements: there are Biblical passages in which the word of Yhwh is regarded as a power acting independently and existing by itself, as Isa. lv. 11 (comp. Matt. x. 13; Prov. xxx. 4); these ideas were further developed by later Judaism in the doctrines of the Divine Word creating the world, the divine throne-chariot and its cherub, the divine splendor and its shekinah, and the name of God as well as the names of the angels; and Philo borrowed from all these in elaborating his doctrine of the Logos. He calls the Logos the "archangel of many names," "taxiarch" (corps-commander), the "name of God," also the "heavenly Adam" (comp. "De Confusione Linguarum," § 11 [i. 411]), the "man, the word of the eternal God."

The Logos is also designated as "high priest," in reference to the exalted position which the high priest occupied after the Exile as the real center of the Jewish state. The Logos, like the high priest, is the expiator of sins, and the mediator and advocate for men: ἱκέτης ("Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit," § 42 [i. 501], and παράκλητος ("De Vita Mosis," iii. 14 [ii. 155]).

From Alexandrian theology Philo borrowed the idea of wisdom as the mediator; he thereby somewhat confused his doctrine of the Logos, regarding wisdom as the higher principle from which the Logos proceeds, and again coordinating it with the latter.

Relation of the Logos to God

Philo, in connecting his doctrine of the Logos with Scripture, first of all bases on Gen. i. 27 the relation of the Logos to God. He translates this passage as follows: "He made man after the image of God," concluding therefrom that in image of God existed. This image of God is the type for all other things (the "Archetypal Idea" of Plato), a seal impressed upon things. The Logos is a kind of shadow cast by God, having the outlines but not the blinding light of the Divine Being.


The relation of the Logos to the divine powers, especially to the two fundamental powers, must now be examined. And here is found a twofold series of exegetic expositions. According to one, the Logos stands higher than the two powers; according to the other, it is in a way the product of the two powers; similarly it occasionally appears as the chief and leader of the innumerable powers proceeding from the primal powers, and again as the aggregate or product of them.

In its relation to the world the Logos appears as the Universal substance on which all things depend; and from this point of view the manna (as γενικώτατόν τι) becomes a symbol for it. The Logos, however, is not only the archetype of things, but also the power that produces them, appearing as such especially under the name of the Logos τομεύς ("the divider"). It separates the individual beings of nature from one another according to their characteristics; but, on the other hand, it constitutes the bond connecting the individual creatures, uniting their spiritual and physical attributes. It may be said to have invested itself with the whole world as an indestructible garment. It appears as the director and shepherd of the things in the world in so far as they are in motion.

The Logos has a special relation to man. It is the type; man is the copy. The similarity is found in the mind (νοῡς) of man. For the shaping of his nous, man (earthly man) has the Logos (the "heavenly man") for a pattern. The latter officiates here also as "the divider" (τομεύς), separating and uniting. The Logos as "interpreter" announces God's designs to man, acting in this respect as prophet and priest. As the latter, he softens punishments by making the merciful power stronger than the punitive. The Logos has a special mystic influence upon the human soul, illuminating it and nourishing it with a higher spiritual food, like the manna, of which the smallest piece has the same vitality as the whole.

See also: Philo


(20 BCE - 40 CE) was an Alexandrian Jewish philosopher born in Alexandria, Egypt. The few biographical details concerning him are found in his own works (especially in "Legatio ad Caium," and in Josephus ("Ant." xviii. 8, § 1; comp. ib. xix. 5, § 1; xx. 5, § 2).

The only event that can be determined chronologically is his participation in the embassy which the Alexandrian Jews sent to the emperor Caligula at Rome for the purpose of asking protection against the attacks of the Alexandrian Greeks. This occurred in the year 40 CE.

Philo included in his philosophy both Greek wisdom and Judaism, which he sought to fuse and harmonize by means of the art of allegory that he had learned from the Stoics. His work was not accepted by contemporary Judaism. "The sophists of literalness," as he calls them (De Somniis, i. 16-17), "opened their eyes superciliously" when he explained to them the marvels of his exegesis. Philo was enthusiastically received by the early Christians, some of whom saw in him a Christian.

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Influence of Hellenism

Philo quotes the epic poets with frequency, or alludes to passages in their works. He has a wide acquaintance with the works of the Greek philosophers. He holds that the highest perception of truth is possible only after a study of the encyclopedic sciences. Hence his system throughout shows the influence of Greek philosophy. The dualistic contrast between God and the world, between the finite and the infinite, appears also in Neo-Pythagorism. The influence of Stoicism is unmistakable in the doctrine of God as the only efficient cause, in that of divine reason immanent in the world, in that of the powers emanating from God and suffusing the world. In the doctrine of the Logos various elements of Greek philosophy are united.

As Heinze shows ("Die Lehre vom Logos in der Griechischen Philosophie," 1872, pp. 204ff), this doctrine touches upon the Platonic doctrine of ideas as well as the Stoic doctrine of the γενικώτατόν τι and the Neo-Pythagorean doctrine of the type that served at the creation of the world; and in the shaping of the λόγος τομεύς it touches upon the Heraclitean doctrine of strife as the moving principle. Philo's doctrine of dead, inert, non-existent matter harmonizes in its essentials with the Platonic and Stoic doctrine.

His account of the Creation is almost identical with that of Plato; he follows the latter's "Timaeus" closely in his exposition of the world as having no beginning and no end. Like Plato, he places the creative activity as well as the act of creation outside of time, on the Platonic ground that time begins only with the world. The influence of Pythagorism appears in number-symbolism, to which Philo frequently refers.

The Aristotelian contrast between δύναμις and ἐντελέχεια ("Metaphysics," iii. 73) is found in Philo, "De Allegoriis Legum," i 64 (on Aristotle see Freudenthal in "Monatsschrift," 1875, p.233). In his psychology he adopts either the Stoic division of the soul into eight faculties, or the Platonic trichotomy of reason, courage, and desire, or the Aristotelian triad of the vegetative, emotive, and rational souls.

The doctrine of the body as the source of all evil corresponds entirely with the Neo-Pythagorean doctrine: the soul he conceives as a divine emanation, similar to Plato's νοῦς (see Siegfried, Philo, pp. 139ff). His ethics and allegories are based on Stoic ethics and allegories.

Philo made his philosophy the means of defending and justifying Jewish religious truths. These truths he regarded as fixed and determinate; and philosophy was used as an aid to truth, and as a means of arriving at it. With this end in view Philo chose from the philosophical tenets of the Greeks, refusing those that did not harmonize with the Jewish religion, as, e.g., the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity and indestructibility of the world.

Knowledge of Hebrew

While Philo read the Hebrew Bible chiefly in the Greek translation, not deeming it necessary to use the Hebrew text, he nevertheless understood Hebrew, as his numerous etymologies of Hebrew names indicate. These etymologies are not in agreement with modern Hebrew philology, but are along the lines of the etymologic midrash to Genesis and of the earlier rabbinic literature. His knowledge of Jewish law was not profound. In the Aggadah, however, he was very much at home, not only in that of the Bible, but especially in that of the earlier Palestinian and the Hellenistic Midrash.


The writings of Philo show resemblances to Plato, Aristotle, as well as from Attic orators and historians, and poetic phrases and allusions to the poets. Philo's works offer an anthology of Greek phraseology of the most different periods.

Philo bases his doctrines on the Hebrew Bible, which he considers as the source and standard not only of religious truth but in general of all truth. Its pronouncements are for him divine pronouncements. They are the words of the ἱερὸς λόγος ϑειος ὀρϑὸς λόγος λόγος ("De Agricultura Noë," § 12 [i. 308]; "De Somniis," i. 681, ii. 25) uttered sometimes directly and sometimes through the mouth of a prophet, especially through Moses, whom Philo considers the real medium of revelation, while the other writers of the Old Testament appear as friends or pupils of Moses.

Although he distinguishes between the words uttered by God, as the Decalogue, and the edicts of Moses, as the special laws ("De Specialibus Legibus," §§ 2 et seq. [ii. 300 et seq.]; "De Præmiis et Pœnis," § 1 [ii. 408]), he does not carry out this distinction, since he believes in general that everything in the Torah is of divine origin, even the letters and accents ("De Mutatione Nominum," § 8 [i. 587]).

The extent of his idea of the Biblical canon can not be exactly determined. Philo does not quote Ezekiel, Daniel, Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, or Esther. Philo regards the Bible as the source not only of religious revelation, but also of philosophic truth; for, according to him, the Greek philosophers also have borrowed from the Bible: Heraclitus, according to "Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit," § 43 [i. 503]; Zeno, according to "Quod Omnis Probus Liber," § 8 [ii. 454].

Stoic Influence

Greek allegory had preceded Philo in this field. As the Stoic allegorists sought in Homer the basis for their philosophic teachings, so the Jewish allegorists, and especially Philo, went to the Old Testament. Following the methods of Stoic allegory, they interpreted the Bible philosophically (on Philo's Predecessors in the domain of the allegoristic Midrash among the Palestinian and Alexandrian Jews, see Siegfried, l.c. pp. 16-37).

Attitude Toward Literal Meaning

Philo bases his hermeneutics on the assumption of a twofold meaning in the Bible, the literal and the allegorical. He distinguishes the ῥητὴ καὶ φανερὰ ἀπόδοςις ("De Abrahamo," § 36 [ii. 29 et seq.]), "ad litteram" in contrast to "allegorice" ("Quæstiones in Genesin," ii. 21).

The two interpretations, however, are not of equal importance: the literal sense is adapted to human needs; but the allegorical sense is the real one, which only the initiated comprehend. Hence Philo addresses himself to the μύςται ("initiated") among his audience, by whom he expects to be really comprehended ("De Cherubim," § 14 [i. 47]; "De Somniis," i. 33 [i. 649]).

A special method is requisite for determining the real meaning of the words of Scripture ("Canons of Allegory," "De Victimas Offerentibus," § 5 [ii. 255]); "Laws of Allegory," "De Abrahamo," § 15 [ii. 11]); the correct application of this method determines the correct allegory, and is therefore called "the wise architect" ("De Somniis," ii. 2 [i. 660]).

As a result of some of these rules of interpretation the literal sense of certain passages of the Bible must be excluded altogether; e.g., passages in which according to a literal interpretation something unworthy is said of God; or in which statements are made that are unworthy of the Bible, senseless, contradictory, or inadmissible; or in which allegorical expressions are used for the avowed purpose of drawing the reader's attention to the fact that the literal sense is to be disregarded.

He has special rules that direct the reader to recognize the passages which demand an allegorical interpretation, and which help the initiated to find the correct and intended meaning. These passages are such as contain: (1) the doubling of a phrase; (2) an apparently superfluous expression in the text; (3) the repetition of statements previously made; (4) a change of phraseology—all these phenomena point to something special that the reader must consider. (5) An entirely different meaning may also be found by a different combination of the words, disregarding the ordinarily accepted division of the sentence in question into phrases and clauses. (6) The synonyms must be carefully studied; e.g., why λαὸς is used in one passage and γένος in another, etc. (7) A play upon words must be utilized for finding a deeper meaning; e.g., sheep (πρόβατον) stand for progress in knowledge, since they derive their name from the fact of their progressing (προβαίνειν), etc. (8) A definite allegorical sense may be gathered from certain particles, adverbs, prepositions, etc.; and in certain cases it can be gathered even from (9) the parts of a word; e.g., from διά in διάλευκος. (10) Every word must be explained in all its meanings, in order that different interpretations may be found. (11) The skillful interpreter may make slight changes in a word, following the rabbinical rule, "Read not this way, but that way." Philo, therefore, changed accents, breathings, etc., in Greek words. (12) Any peculiarity in a phrase justifies the assumption that some special meaning is intended: e.g., where μία ("one") is used instead of πρώτη ("first"; Gen. i. 5), etc. Details regarding the form of words are very important: (13) the number of the word, if it shows any peculiarity in the singular or the plural: the tense of the verb, etc.; (14) the gender of the noun; (15) the presence or omission of the article; (16) the artificial interpretation of a single expression; (17) the position of the verses of a passage; (18) peculiar verse-combinations; (19) noteworthy omissions; (20) striking statements; (21) numeral symbolism. Philo found much material for this symbolism in the Hebrew Bible, and he developed it more thoroughly according to the methods of the Pythagoreans and Stoics. He could follow in many points the tradition handed down by his allegorizing predecessors ("De Vita Contemplativa," § 8 [ii. 481]).


Philo analyzed the usage of numbers of the Bible, and believed that certain numbers symbolized different ideas.

  • Philo regards number one as God's number, and the basis for all numbers ("De Allegoriis Legum," ii. 12 [i. 66]).
  • Philo regards number two as the number of schism, of that which has been created, of death ("De Opificio Mundi, § 9 [i. 7]; "De Allegoriis Legum," i. 2 [i. 44]; "De Somaniis," ii. 10 [i. 688]).
  • Three is the number of the body ("De Allegoriis Legum," i. 2 [i. 44]) or of the Divine Being in connection with His fundamental powers ("De Sacrificiis Abelis et Caini," § 15 [i. 173]).
  • Four is potentially what the number ten actually is, the perfect number ("De Opificio Mundi," §§ 15, 16 [i. 10, 11], etc.); but in an evil sense four is the number of the passions, πάθη ("De Congressu Quærendæ Eruditionis Gratia." § 17 [i. 532]).
  • Five is the number of the senses and of sensibility ("De Opificio Mundi," § 20 [i. 14], etc.).
  • Six, the product of the masculine and feminine numbers 3 × 2 and in its parts equal to 3+3, is the symbol of the movement of organic beings ("De Allegoriis Legum," i. 2 [i. 44]).
  • Seven has the most various and marvelous attributes ("De Opiticio Mundi," §§ 30-43 [i. 21 et seq.]).
  • Eight, the number of the cube, has many of the attributes determined by the Pythagoreans ("Quæstiones in Genesin," iii. 49 [i. 223, Aucher]).
  • Nine is the number of strife, according to Gen. xiv. ("De Congressu Qu. Eruditionis Gratia," § 17 [i. 532]).
  • Ten is the number of perfection ("De Plantatione Noë," § 29 [i. 347]).

Philo determines also the values of the numbers 50, 70, and 100, 12, and 120.


Philo's conception of the matter out of which the world was created is similar to that of Plato and the Stoics. According to him, God does not create the world-stuff, but finds it ready at hand. God can not create it, as in its nature it resists all contact with the divine. Sometimes, following the Stoics, he designates God as "the efficient cause,"and matter as "the affected cause." He seems to have found this conception in the Bible (Gen. i. 2) in the image of the spirit of God hovering over the waters ("De Opificio Mundi," § 2 [i. 12]).

Philo, again like Plato and the Stoics, conceives of matter as having no attributes or form; this, however, does not harmonize with the assumption of four elements. Philo conceives of matter as evil, on the ground that no praise is meted out to it in Genesis ("Quis Rerum Divinarum Heres Sit," § 32 [i. 495]). As a result, he can not posit an actual Creation, but only a formation of the world, as Plato holds. God appears as demiurge and cosmoplast.

Philo frequently compares God to an architect or gardener, who formed the present world (the κόσμος ἀισϑητός) according to a pattern, the ideal world (κόσμος νοητός). Philo takes the details of his story of the Creation entirely from Gen. i. A specially important position is assigned here to the Logos, which executes the several acts of the Creation, as God can not come into contact with matter, actually creating only the soul of the good.


Philo regards the physical nature of man as something defective and as an obstacle to his development that can never be fully surmounted, but still as something indispensable in view of the nature of his being. With the body the necessity for food arises, as Philo explains in various allegories. The body, however, is also of advantage to the spirit, since the spirit arrives at its knowledge of the world by means of the five senses. But higher and more important is the spiritual nature of man. This nature has a twofold tendency: one toward the sensual and earthly, which Philo calls sensibility (αἴσϑησις), and one toward the spiritual, which he calls reason (νοῦς).

Sensibility has its seat in the body, and lives in the senses, as Philo elaborates in varying allegoric imagery. Connected with this corporeality of the sensibility are its limitations; but, like the body itself, it is a necessity of nature, the channel of all sense-perception. Sensibility, however, is still more in need of being guided by reason. Reason is that part of the spirit which looks toward heavenly things. It is the highest, the real divine gift that has been infused into man from without ("De Opiticio Mundi," i. 15; "De Eo Quod Deterius Potiori Insidiatur," i. 206); it is the masculine nature of the soul. The νοῦς is originally at rest; and when it begins to move it produces the several phenomena of mind (ἔνϑυμήματα). The principal powers of the νοῦς are judgment, memory, and language.

More important in Philo's system is the doctrine of the moral development of man. Of this he distinguishes two conditions: (1) that before time was, and (2) that since the beginning of time. In the pretemporal condition the soul was without body, free from earthly matter. without sex, in the condition of the generic (γενικός) man, morally perfect, i.e., without flaws, but still striving after a higher purity. On entering upon time the soul loses its purity and is confined in a body. The nous becomes earthly, but it retains a tendency toward something higher.

Philo is not entirely certain whether the body in itself or merely in its preponderance over the spirit is evil. But the body in any case is a source of danger, as it easily drags the spirit into the bonds of sensibility. Here, also, Philo is undecided whether sensibility is in itself evil, or whether it may merely lead into temptation, and must itself be regarded as a mean (μέσον). Sensibility in any case is the source of the passions and desires. The passions attack the sensibility in order to destroy the whole soul. On their number and their symbols in Scripture see Siegfried, l.c. pp. 245 et seq. The "desire" is either the lustful enjoyment of sensual things, dwelling as such in the abdominal cavity (κοιλία), or it is the craving for this enjoyment, dwelling in the breast. It connects the nous and the sensibility, this being a psychologic necessity, but an evil from an ethical point of view.

According to Philo, man passes through several steps in his ethical development. At first the several elements of the human being are in a state of latency, presenting a kind of moral neutrality which Philo designates by the terms "naked" or "medial." The nous is nude, or stands midway so long as it has not decided either for sin or for virtue. In this period of moral indecision God endeavors to prepare the earthly nous for virtue, presenting to him in the "earthly wisdom and virtue" an image of heavenly wisdom. But man (nous) quickly leaves this state of neutrality. As soon as he meets the woman (sensibility) he is filled with desire, and passion ensnares him in the bonds of sensibility. Here the moral duties of man arise; and according to his attitude there are two opposite tendencies in humanity.


The soul is first aroused by the stimuli of sensual pleasures; it begins to turn toward them, and then becomes more and more involved. It becomes devoted to the body, and begins to lead an intolerable life (βίος ἄβίωτος). It is inflamed and excited by irrational impulses. Its condition is restless and painful. The sensibility endures, according to Gen. iii. 16, great pain. A continual inner void produces a lasting desire which is never satisfied. All the higher aspirations after God and virtue are stilled. The end is complete moral turpitude, the annihilation of all sense of duty, the corruption of the entire soul: not a particle of the soul that might heal the rest remains whole.

The worst consequence of this moral death is, according to Philo, absolute ignorance and the loss of the power of judgment. Sensual things are placed above spiritual; and wealth is regarded as the highest good. Too great a value especially is placed upon the human nous; and things are wrongly judged. Man in his folly even opposes God, and thinks to scale heaven and subjugate the entire earth. In the field of politics, for example, he attempts to rise from the position of leader of the people to that of ruler (Philo cites Joseph as a type of this kind). Sensual man generally employs his intellectual powers for sophistry, perverting words and destroying truth.

The biblical patriarch Abraham is seen by Philo as the symbol of man leaving sensuality to turn to reason ("De Migratione Abrahami." § 4 [i. 439]). Philo holds that there are three methods whereby one can rise toward the divine: through teaching, through practise(ἄσκησις), and through natural goodness (ὁσιότης).

Views on Virtue

Philo holds that good moral endowment takes precedence of teaching and practise. Virtue here is not the result of hard labor, but is the excellent fruit maturing of itself. The biblical character Noah represents the preliminary stage. Noah is praised, while no really good deeds are reported of him, whence it may be concluded that the Bible refers to his good disposition. But as Noah is praised only in comparison with his contemporaries, it follows that he is not yet a perfect man.

Philo holds that there are several types in the Bible representing the perfect stage. It appears in its purest form in the biblical patriarch Isaac. Isaac is perfect from the beginning: perfection is a part of his nature (φύσις); and he can never lose it (αὑτήκοος καὶ αὑτομάϑης). With such persons, therefore, the soul is in a state of rest and joy.

Philo's doctrine of virtue is Stoic, although he is undecided whether complete dispassionateness (άπάϑεια; "De Allegoriis Legum." iii. 45 [i. 513]) or moderation (μετριοπαϑεῑν; "De Abrahamo," § 44 [ii. 137]) designates the really virtuous condition. Philo identifies virtue in itself and in general with divine wisdom. Hence he uses the symbols interchangeably for both; and as he also frequently identifies the Logos with divine wisdom, the allegoric designations here too are easily interchanged.

The Garden of Eden is "the wisdom of God" and also "the Logos of God" and "virtue." The fundamental virtue is goodness; and from it proceed four cardinal virtues—prudence, courage, self-control, and justice (φρόνησις, ἀνδρία, σωφροσύνη, δικαιοσύνη) — as the four rivers proceed from the river of Eden.

An essential difference between Philo and the Stoics is found in the fact that Philo seeks in religion the basis for all ethics. Religion helps man to attain to virtue, which he can not reach of himself, as the Stoics hold. God must implant virtue in man ("De Allegoriis Legum," i. 53 [i. 73]). Hence the goal of the ethical endeavor is a religious one: the ecstatic contemplation of God and the disembodiment of souls after death.

See also: Philosophy, Philo's Works, Philo's view of God


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Belief is assent to a proposition.

Belief in the psychological sense, is a representational mental state that takes the form of a propositional attitude. In the religious sense, "belief" refers to a part of a wider spiritual or moral foundation, generally called faith.

Belief is considered propositional in that it is an assertion, claim or expectation about reality that is presumed to be either true or false (even if this cannot be practically determined, such as a belief in the existence of a particular deity).

Historically, philosophical attempts to analyze the nature of belief have been couched in terms of judgement. Both David Hume and Immanuel Kant are both particularly well known for their analyses using this framework.

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Belief, knowledge and epistemology

Knowledge is often defined as justified true belief, in that the belief must be considered to correspond to reality and must be derived from valid evidence and arguments. However, this definition has been challenged by the Gettier problem which suggests that justified true belief does not provide a complete picture of knowledge.

To believe something can be interpreted as assigning a probability of more than 50% that something is true. The rule of the thumb from a school of epistemology that says that certainty should be as big as the corresponding evidence is called evidentialism.

Belief as a psychological theory

Mainstream psychology and related disciplines have traditionally treated belief as if it were the simplest form of mental representation and therefore one of the building blocks of conscious thought. Philosophers have tended to be more rigorous in their analysis and much of the work examining the viability of the belief concept stems from philosophical analysis.

The concept belief presumes a subject (the believer) and an object of belief (the proposition) so like other propositional attitudes, belief implies the existence of mental states and intentionality, both of which are hotly debated topics in the philosophy of mind and whose foundations and relation to brain states are still controversial.

Beliefs are sometimes divided into core beliefs (those which you may be actively thinking about) and dispositional beliefs (those which you may ascribe to but have never previously thought about). For example, if asked 'do you believe tigers wear pink pyjamas ?' a person might answer that they do not, despite the fact they may never have thought about this situation before.

The idea that a belief is a mental state is much more contentious. While some philosophers have argued that beliefs are represented in the mind as sentence-like constructs others have gone as far as arguing that there is no consistent or coherent mental representation that underlies our common use of the belief concept and is therefore obsolete and should be rejected.

This has important implications for understanding the neuropsychology and neuroscience of belief. If the concept of belief is incoherent or ultimately indefensible then any attempt to find the underlying neural processes which support it will fail. If the concept of belief does turn out to be useful then this goal should (in principle) be achievable.

Philosopher Lynne Rudder Baker has outlined four main contemporary approaches to belief in her book Saving Belief:

  • Our common-sense understanding of belief is correct - Sometimes called the ‘mental sentence theory’, in this conception, beliefs exist as coherent entities and the way we talk about them in everyday life is a valid basis for scientific endeavour. Jerry Fodor is one of the principle defenders of this point of view.
  • Our common-sense understanding of belief may not be entirely correct, but it is close enough to make some useful predictions - This view argues that we will eventually reject the idea of belief as we have use it now, but that there may be a correlation between what we take to be a belief when someone says 'I believe that snow is white' and however a future theory of psychology will explain this behaviour. Most notably philosopher Stephen Stich has argued for this particular understanding of belief.
  • Our common-sense understanding of belief is entirely wrong and will be completely superseded by a radically different theory will have no use for the concept of belief as we know it - Known as eliminativism, this view, most notably proposed by Paul and Patricia Churchland), argues that the concept of belief is like obsolete theories of times past such as the four humours theory of medicine, or the phlogiston theory of combustion. In these cases science hasn’t provided us with a more detailed account of these theories, but completely rejected them as valid scientific concepts to be replaced by entirely different accounts. The Churchlands argue that our common-sense concept of belief is similar, in that as we discover more about neuroscience and the brain, the inevitable conclusion will be to reject the belief hypothesis in its entirety.
  • Our common-sense understanding of belief is entirely wrong, however treating people, animals and even computers as if they had beliefs, is often a successful strategy - The major proponents of this view, Daniel Dennett and Lynne Rudder Baker, are both eliminativists in that they believe that beliefs are not a scientifically valid concept, but they don’t go as far as rejecting the concept of belief as a predictive device. Baker gives the example of playing a computer at chess. While few people would agree that the computer held beliefs, treating the computer as if it did (e.g. that the computer believes that taking the opposition’s queen will give it a considerable advantage) is likely to be a successful and predictive strategy. In this understanding of belief, named by Dennett the intentional stance, belief based explanations of mind and behaviour are at a different level of explanation and are not reducible to those based on fundamental neuroscience although both may be explanatory at their own level.

Is belief voluntary?

Most philosophers hold the view that belief formation is to some extent spontaneous and involuntary. Some people think that one can choose to investigate and research a matter but that one can not choose to believe. On the other hand, most people have the impression that in some cases people don't believe things because they don't want to believe, especially about a matter in which they are emotionally involved.

Delusional beliefs

Delusions are defined as beliefs in psychiatric diagnostic criteria (for example in the DSM). Psychiatrist and historian German Berrios has challenged the view that delusions are genuine beliefs and instead labels them as "empty speech acts", where affected persons are motivated to express false or bizarre belief statements due to an underlying psychological disturbance. However, the majority of mental health professionals and researchers treat delusions as if they were genuine beliefs.

See also


The supernatural refers to conscious magical, religious or unknown forces that cannot ordinarily be perceived except through their effects. This word is often used interchangeably with preternatural or paranormal. Unlike natural forces, these putative supernatural forces can not be shown to exist by the scientific method. Supernatural claims assert phenomena beyond the realm of current scientific understanding, which are often in direct conflict with current scientific theory.

A concept of the supernatural is generally identified with religion, or more primitive forms of belief. although there is much debate as to whether a conception of the supernatural is necessary for religion (see The nature of God in Western theology and Anthropology of religion).

The supernatural is also a topic in various genres of fiction, such as fantasy and horror. Some examples of supernatural phenomena are miracles, ghosts; psychic abilities like psychokinesis and telepathy are better classified as paranormal than supernatural.

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Views on the supernatural

The supernatural as distinct from nature

In this, the most common view, the term 'supernatural' is contrasted with the term 'natural,' which presumes that some events occur according to natural laws, and others do not, because they are caused by forces external to nature. In essence, the world is seen as operating according to natural law "normally," until a force external to nature (such as God) interferes.

The supernatural as sovereign over nature

Other individuals, particularly in Eastern Christianity, deny any distinction between Natural and Supernatural. According to this view, because God is sovereign, all events are directly caused by Him. The only meaningful distinction that remains is events which God causes to happen regularly, and events which God causes to happen rarely.

The supernatural as manifested through nature

Another view, held by men such as Einstein, asserts that God makes himself known through the beauty and order of nature, but is not a personal God concerned with human moral activity, and does not violate the laws of nature which He created.

The supernatural as a higher nature

Other individuals assert that events that appear to us to be supernatural occured according to natural laws which we do not yet understand. In contrast to supernaturalists, they assert that all things operate according to a law of nature. In contrast to atheists, they assert that God, Miracles, or other Supernatural Phenomena are real, verifiable, and part of the laws of nature that we do not yet understand.

The supernatural as a human coping mechanism

Other individuals, particularly among the skeptical academic community, believe that all events have natural and only natural causes. The believe that human beings ascribe supernatural attributes to purely natural events in an attempt to cope with fear and ignorance.

The supernatural as magic

Since the belief in magic is very old and held a great power over the minds and imagination of earlier generations long before the concept of experimental science, some historians of conjuring and magic think the supernatural is a surviving form of magic. In the human quest for understanding and survival, magic may be seen as a complement to science. Both science and magic stem from the human imagination and contemplation: but whereas science requires time, resources, boundless curiosity, and flexibility, magic provides an immediate solution, more appealing to the unscientific mind, and requiring little, or no resources. (See Lynn Thorndike's classic study,The History of Magic and Experimental Science, Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1- Harlan Tarbell, forward and epilogue to Greater Magic- John Northern Hilliard, The Discoverie of Witchcraft- Reginald Scot and the vanishing works of Henry Ridgely Evans, The Old and New Magic, The Spirit World Unmasked, and Hours with Ghosts or 19th Century Witchcraft.)

Arguments in favor of supernaturality

Following are some common arguments in support of belief in Supernatural Phenomena.

  • Many believers note that the universe, complex and mysterious as it is, cannot be explained by naturalistic explanations alone, and that many phenomena remain unexplained. They further note that it is equally reasonable to presume that a Person or Persons controls the unexplained as to presume that no Person does, because neither explanation is verifiable or falsifiable until all phenomena have been explained. Believers note that it is unlikely that all phenomena will be explained anytime soon. Believers conclude that, for the moment anyway, theistic and atheistic interpretations of unexplained phenomena are on equal intellectual and philosophical footing.
  • Believers argue further that just as science has evolved from early, feeble attempts to explain natural events (such as spontaneous generation and the doctrine of humors) into a much more credible modern science, religion has evolved from early feeble attempts to explain supernatural events (such as animism) into the much more credible modern religions. Therefore, just as the simplistic and erroneous scientific explanations of early humans should not discredit modern science, the simplistic and erroneous religious understandings of early humans should not discredit modern religion.
  • Believers note that many of history's greatest scientists, including Gallileo, Copernicus, Newton, Mendel, and Einstein, all firmly believed in a Person behind the universe.
  • Believers note that the vast majority of humanity, of all races, religions, and ages, believe and have always believed in supernatural phenomena of one form or another.
  • Believers conclude that while some people have invented religions to help them cope with frightening and unexplainable phenomena, others have come to believe in supernatural phenomena through intellectually honest means, having been persuaded by reason, evidence, and experience that the universe cannot be explained by naturalistic explanations alone, but is best understood by acknowledging the Supernatural.
  • Believers also note that while some people have denied the existence of supernatural phenomena through intellectually honest means, having been persuaded by reason, evidence, and experience that the supernatural does not exist, others have denied the supernatural out of a deep fear that supernatural forces might actually exist and have a real and tangible impact on our lives, and a fear that the universe might be more complex than their theories allow.
  • By its own definition, science is incapable of examining or testing for the existence of the supernatural. Science concerns itself with what can be measured and seen through observation. Thus, believers in supernatural phenomenon hold that scientific methods would not detect them; therefore the lack of evidence does not matter. Scientists counter that if this is so, then believers in supernaturalism themselves would be incapable of witnessing any supernatural phenomenon, as human senses themselves operate within the laws of physics, and can only sense events occurring in the natural, physical world.
  • Applying Occam's Razor is useful when looking for an explanation of specific events, but the likelihood of a natural or supernatural cause is determined largely by whether a person believes in the supernatural in the first place. Using this argument against the existence of the supernatural is circular. Theological claims generally do not claim or attempt to be scientifically provable.
  • Some of modern biblical scholarship is based on the assumption that the supernatural does not exist, or that God is far less involved in the world than commonly supposed (deism). Many theists believe that this biases the results, and is of itself equivalent to a religious position.

However, Jews do not accept the claims made in the Christian New Testament; similarly, Christians do not accept the supernatural claims made by the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, and so on. John Drane writes:

Not unrelated to this is a more general philosophical scepticism towards any document whether ancient or modern, that appears to give credence to the possibility of the occurrence of unique, or apparently miraculous happenings. Academic biblical study still generally operates within a mechanistic world-view, according to which the universe is understood as a closed system, operating according to rigidly structured 'laws of nature' which are entirely predictable and never deviate. By definition, therefore, the unpredictable cannot happen, and on this view it is inevitable that the gospels should be seen as something other than history, for they do contain accounts of a number of unique happenings which appear to violate the 'laws of nature' as set out by Newtonian science. Physics, of course, no longer operates on that paradigm, and the work of more recent theorists has led to the emergence of a far more flexible understanding of what might be possible within the physical universe.
  • Proponents of supernaturalism claim that their belief system is more flexible, which allows them more diversity in terms of epistemology (ways of understanding knowledge.) For example, scientists accept the findings that the Earth and universe are many billions of years old. Among members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities, however, there is a wider range of beliefs. Many have a literal interpretation of Genesis, and they believe that the earth and universe are only 6000 years old; other Christians accept the results of science which show the earth and universe as many billions of years old in terms of age.
  • Many religious people claim that these phenomena, being essentially "unnatural," are not appropriate for scientific study (see also William James, The Variety of Religious Experience).
  • John Drane writes that science is perpetuating "intellectual arrogance" when it does not accept the possibility of supernatural events and miracles: "To say that unique events can never happen, or that the supernatural does not exist, when most people of most ethnic groups at most points in history have claimed otherwise, is merely to perpetuate the intellectual arrogance of previous generations of Western thinkers, and far from providing an answer to the questions raised by history it merely begs larger and more important questions about the nature of Western intellectual culture." In response, most scienists and historians regard such arguments as fundamentalist religious apologetics.

Arguments against supernaturality

The following arguments are frequently cited against belief in supernatural events:

  • Much of what we call science today was once believed to be supernatural. The control of electricity, the manufacture of steel, radio waves, all were once thought to be beyond the bounds of nature, and therefore supernatural, by conventional scientists. As such, what is believed to be supernatural today may be completely explained tomorrow.
  • Many claimed supernatural events can be studied by the scientific method; however, once the physical laws by which an event occurs become known, the event is no longer classified as 'supernatural'.
  • Supernatural events cannot or are unlikely to occur. Some, if not all, theological claims made by religions are unsupportable by scientific means. Sir Karl Popper's influential Conjectures and Refutations argues that the strength of a hypothesis depends on how many ways it could be proven false. Hypotheses inherently incapable of falsification can only be compared on the basis of general principles such as Occam's Razor. Fundamental supernatural hypotheses are difficult to define, let alone test.
  • Simplest, most indispensable axioms. Any scientific hypothesis worthy of the title "theory" is supported by a complex web of observations and tests that might have falsified it but did not. The supernatural hypothesis provides no such basis for belief.
  • Those who do not accept dogmatic authority find no reason for accepting the belief that the Bible (or any other religious scripture or institution) is infallible, or historically accurate and flawless. The absence of independent evidence confirming some of the biblical narratives has caused many scholars to question the accuracy or even the historicity of these accounts (see The Bible and history). In this view, all works of scripture are seen as works written by human beings, that developed in a given historical and social context over a long period of time. Biblical writers, and later readers, attributed natural events to the will of God.
  • Where science is able to address issues in dispute, to correct errors of fact, or to call into question claims of authority grounded in history, it has at times been able to soften antagonisms based on competing supernatural claims. This is because in issues of observable fact the truth of opposing claims can, at least in principle, be objectively tested, eliminating the temptation toward violence to resolve a difference of views and silence dissent.
  • Truth as suggested by naturalistic science may arguably provide greater freedom of opinion beyond those issues that can be decided by science, but science itself does not claim to be able to resolve disputes of authority, or of rights or standards of morality, unless these are issues of testable fact. Otherwise, (for example) the politics and morality of a scientist are as subjective or as reliant upon assumptions about the supernatural as those of anyone else -- and of course, individuals may decide to remain either passively agnostic about every issue that cannot be tested or actively hostile to claims of authority that cannot be scientifically justified.
  • Naturalistic science may arguably provide promise of greater agreement of thought and culture than supernaturalism has. Science is far more widely accepted than any particular form of supernaturalism: men and women of all races, cultures, and religions practice science or use the technology inspired by it, but they do not all accept naturalism as a philosophy.
  • There have been many attempts to verify claims of supernatural phenomena scientifically. All are generally considered failures, although proponents often claimed to show startling and unusual results. Most scientists claim that the experiments are best classified as pseudoscience, that they have been experimentally flawed, statistically invalid, and/or not repeatable. Many critics of such experiments state that believers fool themselves into seeing results due to magical thinking.
  • Many events once accepted as supernatural are now understood as manifestations of a natural, explainable nature that were misinterpreted.

Naturalization vs. supernaturalization

Some people believe that supernatural events occur, while others do not. In the process of debate, both sides attempt to discredit the other. People that believe in supernatural events accuse those who do not of naturalizing genuinely supernatural events; people that do not believe in supernatural events accuse who do of supernaturalizing genuinely natural events.


The neologism naturalize, meaning, "to make natural", is sometimes used to describe the perceived process of denying any supernatural significance to events which another presumes to be natural. This perceived process may also be referred to as reductionism or deconstructionism. It rests on the believer's presumption that supernatural events can and do occur; thus, their description as "natural" by the skeptic is seen as a result of a process of deliberate or unconscious denial of any supernatural significance, thus, "naturalization".


The neologism supernaturalize, meaning "to make supernatural", is sometimes used to describe the perceived process of ascribing supernatural causes to events which another presumes to be supernatural. This perceived process may also be referred to as mythification or spiritualization. It rests on the presumption of the skeptic that supernatural events cannot or are unlikely to occur; thus, their description by the believer as supernatural is seen as the result of a process of deliberate or unconscious mysticism, thus, "supernaturalization".

The subjective nature of the issue

An individual's interpretation of events depends upon his conscious or unconscious biases toward the nature of the universe. Thus, due to differing presumptions, a believer and a skeptic may come to completely different conclusions based on identical evidence.

Alleged instances of supernaturalization

Until there was any proper understanding of the causative factors in disease and the actual disease processes themselves, there was a tendency to see sickness as a result of divine visitations and punishment for wrongdoing. (Oxford Companion to the Bible (1992), entry for "Medicine and the Bible")

Believers respond to the many instances of supernaturalization by arguing that the fact that supernaturalization often occurs does not refute the existence of the supernatural any more than the fact that scientists often make errors refutes the existence of the natural universe.

The supernatural in monotheistic religions

The article on The supernatural in monotheistic religions concerns itself with the junction between monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the supernatural.

Eclecticism in art

Eclecticism is a kind of mixed style in the fine arts, in which features are borrowed from various sources and styles. Significantly, Eclecticism hardly ever constituted a specific style in art: it is characterized by the fact that it was not a particular style. In general, the term describes the combination in a single work of a variety of influences - mainly of elements from different historical styles in architecture, painting, and the graphic and decorative arts. In music the term used may be either eclecticism or Crossover music.

The term eclectic was first used by Johann Joachim Winckelmann to characterize the art of the Carracci, who incorporated in their paintings elements from the Renaissance and classical traditions. Indeed, Agostino, Annibale and Lodovico Carracci had tried to combine in their art Michelangelo's line, Titian's color, Correggio's chiaroscuro, and Raphael's symmetry and grace.

In the 18th century, Sir Joshua Reynolds, head of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, was one of the most influential advocates of eclecticism. In the sixth of his famous academical Discourses (1774), he wrote that the painter may use the work of the ancients as a "magazine of common property, always open to the public, whence every man has a right to take what materials he pleases." In nineteenth-century England, John Ruskin also pleaded for eclecticism.

Eclecticism was an important concept in Western architecture during the mid- and late 19th century, and it reappeared in a new guise in the latter part of the 20th century.

External links

  • Eclecticism (http://www.artnet.com/library/02/0248/T024845.ASP)


Verdaccio is a style of underpainting, which uses green-grey colours to establish values for later layers of paint. The technique is renowned for being particularly effective when painting flesh tones. As such, it was popular amongst Renaissance artists, and Leonardo da Vinci used verdaccio underpainting in his masterpiece, the Mona Lisa.


Aesthetics (or esthetics) is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty. The word aesthetics was first used by German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, who helped to establish the study of aesthetics as a separate philosophical field of study. The field has now branched into the realm of the scientific, however, with the advent of neuroesthetics, pioneered by Dr. Semir Zeki.

The word aesthetic can be used as a noun meaning "that which appeals to the senses." Someone's aesthetic has a lot to do with their artistic judgement. For example, an individual who wears flowered clothing, drives a flowered car, and paints their home with flowers has a particular aesthetic.

Some of the meaning of aesthetic as an adjective can be illuminated by comparing it to anaesthetic, which is by construction an antonym of aesthetic. If something is anaesthetic, it tends to dull the senses or cause sleepiness. In contrast, aesthetic may be thought of as anything that tends to enliven or invigorate or wake one up.

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The philosophy of aesthetics

This study of aesthetics is well-developed in theology, e.g. "water, greenery, and a beautiful face" were identified by Muhammad, founder and Prophet of Islam, as the key things that any person could differentiate from the background.

It is particularly important to the study of the individual's moral core, which is formed by epigenetics and example (http://wiktionary.org/wiki/Example)s through his or her lifetime, but has a common human foundation explored in cognitive science, anthropology and primatology.

Since actions or behavior can be said to have beauty beyond sensory appeal, aesthetics and ethics often overlap to the degree that this impression is embodied in a moral code or ethical code. Schopenhauer's aesthetics is one developed variation on this theme; Schopenhauer contrasted the contemplation of beauty against the evil world of the Will.

The theory of surrealist automatism is extra-aesthetic in that it is supposed to be practiced without (conscious) moral or aesthetic self-censorship.

The writer Ayn Rand assumed a hierarchical nature of philosophy that builds in complexity & dependence from metaphysics through epistemology, ethics & politics to aesthetics ("Philosophy, Who Needs It?", 1974).

Aesthetic arguments usually proceed from one of several possible perspectives, i.e.: art is defined by the intention of the artist (as Dewey); art is in the response/emotion of the viewer (as Tolstoy); art is a character of the item itself; art is a function of an object's context (as Danto); or art is imitation (as Plato).

The elements that contribute to the aesthetic appeal of an object depend upon the medium under design; some elements are listed below.

Aesthetics in art

Of course art appreciation is in the eyes of the beholder, although there are certain elements that we can define across a group of paintings that can be generalized or delineated, and hence discussed and analyzed on their own merits.

Generally, art adheres to the aesthetic principles of symmetry/asymmetry, focal point, pattern, contrast, perspective, 3D dimensionality, movement, rhythm, unity/Gestalt, and proportion.

You can't take a sample of artwork, lay it down, critique it across aesthetic dimensions, and reach some kind of quantitative judgement as to its quality. Great paintings touch our souls; they may violate some guidelines or lend different weights to various aesthetic principles (sometimes a piece of art veers violently from an aesthetic principle specifically for effect). Yet the principle of aesthetics gives us a basis for discussion. Regardless, recent research by Semir Zeki has given birth to the discipline of neuroesthetics which seeks to explain great artwork as an embodiment of biological principles of the brain, namely that great works of art capture the essence of things just as vision and the brain capture the essentials of the world from the ever-changing stream of sensory input.

Aesthetics in music

Music has the ability to affect our emotions, intellect, and our psychology; lyrics can assuage our loneliness or incite our passions. As such, music is a powerful art form whose aesthetic appeal is highly dependent upon the culture in which it is practiced.

Some of the aesthetic elements expressed in music include lyricism, harmony, hypnotism, emotiveness, temporal dynamics, resonance, playfulness, and colour (see Musical development).

Aesthetics in architecture

Applying aesthetics to buildings and related architectural structures is complex, as factors extrinsic to visual design (such as structural integrity, cost, the nature of building materials, and the functional utility of the building) contribute heavily to the design process.

Notwithstanding, architectural designers can still apply the aesthetic principles of ornamentation, edge deliniation, texture, flow, solemnity, symmetry, color, granularity, the interaction of sunlight and shadows, transcendence, and harmony.

Aesthetics in the performing arts

Performing artists appeal to our aesthetics of storytelling, grace, balance, class, timing, strength, shock, humor, costume, irony, beauty, and sensuality.

Aesthetics in literature

Encompassing poetry, short stories, novels, and non-fiction, authors use a variety of techniques to appeal to our aesthetic values. Depending on the type of writing an author may employ rhythm, illustrations, structure, time shifting, juxtaposition, dualism, imagery, fantasy, suspense, analysis, humor/cynicism, and thinking aloud.

In literary aesthetics the study of affect creates an awareness of the deep structures of reading and receiving literary works. Affect refers to the emotional sense created in the reader or receiver of a literary work. These affects may be broadly grouped by their mode of writing, and relationship the reader assumes with time. Catharsis is the affect of dramatic completition of action in time. Kairosis is the affect of novels whose characters become integrated in time. Kenosis is the affect of lyric poetry which creates a sense of emptyness and timelessness.

Aesthetics in landscape design

Landscape designers use natural and artificial materials scaling from the size of a person to the expanse of a golf course. They may employ water (in pools, streams, or fountains), color, plants, reflection, seasonal variance, stonework, fragrance, variance of viewing expansiveness (depth of field?), exterior lighting, repetition, statues, and lawns as aesthetic elements.

Culinary aesthetics

Although food is a basic and frequently experienced commodity, careful attention to the aesthetic possibilities of foodstuffs can turn eating into dining. Chefs inspire our gastronomy with regionalism, spices, diversity/contrast, anticipation, seduction, and decoration/garnishes.

External links

See also: morality, ethics, aestheticism


Beauty is visual pleasantness of a person, animal, object or scene, and also pleasantness of sound, especially music. Beauty is the opposite of ugliness.

Understanding the nature and meaning of beauty is one of the key themes in the philosophical discipline known as aesthetics.

The composer and critic Robert Schumann distinguished between two kinds of beauty, natural beauty and poetic beauty: the former being found in the contemplation of nature, the latter in man's conscious, creative intervention into nature. Schumann indicated that in music, or other art, both kinds of beauty appear, but the former is only sensual delight, while the latter begins where the former leaves off.

Decoration is an object or act to increase beauty of a person, room, etc.; see also Interior decoration. It may also be something that is an honor to get, see List of prizes, medals, and awards.

A common theory says that beauty is the appearance of things and people that are good. This has many supporting examples. Most people judge physically attractive human beings to be good, both physically and on deeper levels. Symmetry may be important because it is evidence that the person grew up in a healthy way, from without visible genetic defects. One traditional, subtle feature that is considered an indication of beautiful women in all cultures is a waist-to-hip ratio of about 70%. The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) theory was discovered by psychologist Dr. Devendra Singh of the University of Texas at Austin. Physiologists have shown that this ratio accurately indicates most women's fertility. Traditionally, in premodern ages when food was more scarce, fat people were judged more attractive than slender.

"Beauty as goodness" still has whole classes of significant counterexamples with no agreed solution. These include such things as a glacier, or a ruggedly dry desert mountain range. Many people find beauty in hostile nature, but this seems bad, or at least unrelated to any sense of goodness. Another type of counterexample are comic or sarcastic works of art, which can be good, but are rarely beautiful.

It is well known that people's skills develop and change their sense of beauty. Carpenters may view an out-of-true building as ugly, and many master carpenters can see out-of-true angles as small as half a degree. Many musicians can likewise hear as dissonant a tone that's high or low by as little as two percent of the distance to the next note. Most people have similar aesthetics about the work or hobbies they've mastered.

The earliest theory of beauty can be found in the works of early Greek philosophers from the pre-Socratic period, like Pythagoras. The extant writings attributed to Pythagoras reveal that the Pythagorean school, if not Pythagoras himself, saw a strong connection between mathematics and beauty. In particular, they noted that objects proportioned according to the golden ratio seemed more attractive. Some modern research seems to confirm this, in that people whose facial features are symmetric and proportioned according the golden ratio are consistently ranked as more attractive than those whose faces are not.

Different cultures have deified beauty, typically in female forms. Here is a list of the goddesses of beauty in different mythologies.

Even mathematical formulae can be considered beautiful. eiπ + 1 = 0 is commonly considered one of the most beautiful theorems in mathematics. (see Euler's identity)

Another connection between mathematics and beauty which played a prominent role in Pythagoras' philosophy was the way in which musical tones can be arranged in mathematical sequences, which repeat at regular intervals called octaves.

Beauty contests claim to be able to judge beauty. The millihelen is sometimes jokingly defined as the scientific unit of human beauty. This derives from the legend of Helen of Troy as presented in Christopher Marlowe's The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, in which her beauty was said to have launched a thousand ships. The millihelen is therefore the degree of beauty that can launch one ship.

A survey conducted by London Guildhall University of 11,000 people showed that (subjectively) good-looking people earn more. Less attractive people earned, on average, 13% less than more attractive people, while the penalty for overweight was around 5%.

See also

External Links

Literary criticism

Literary criticism is the study, discussion, evaluation, and interpretation of literature. Modern literary criticism is often informed by literary theory, which is the philosophical discussion of its methods and goals. Though the two activities are closely related, literary critics are not always, and have not always been, theorists.

Modern literary criticism is often published in essay or book form. Academic literary critics teach in literature departments and publish in academic journals, and more popular critics publish their criticism in broadly circulating periodicals such as the New York Times Book Review, the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, The Nation, and The New Yorker.

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History of literary criticism

Classical and medieval criticism

Literary criticism has probably existed for as long as literature. Aristotle wrote the Poetics, a typology and description of literary forms with many specific criticisms of contemporary works, in the 4th century BC. Poetics developed for the first time the concepts of mimesis and catharsis, which are still crucial in literary study. Plato's attacks on poetry as imitative, secondary, and false were formative as well.

Later classical and medieval criticism often focused on religious texts, and the several long religious traditions of hermeneutics and textual exegesis have had a profound influence on the study of secular texts.

Renaissance criticism

The literary criticism of the Renaissance developed classical ideas of unity of form and content into a literary neoclassicism which proclaimed literature to be central to culture and entrusted the poet or author with the preservation of a long literary tradition.

(Much more could be said about pre-19th-century literary interpretation.)

19th-century criticism

The British Romantic movement of the early nineteenth century brought new aesthetic ideas to the study of literature, including the idea that the object of literature did not always have to be beautiful, noble, or perfect, but that literature itself could elevate a common subject to the level of the sublime. German Romanticism, which followed closely after the late development of German classicism, emphasized an aesthetic of fragmentation which can seem startlingly modern to a reader of English literature, and valued Witz – that is, "wit" or "humor" of a certain sort – more highly than the apparently serious Anglophone Romanticism.

The late nineteenth century brought several authors better known for their critical writings than for their own literary work, such as Matthew Arnold.

The New Criticism

However important all of these aesthetic movements were as antecedents, current ideas about literary criticism derive almost entirely from the new direction taken in the early twentieth century. Early in the century the school of criticism known as Russian Formalism, and slightly later the New Criticism in Britain and America, came to dominate the study and discussion of literature. Both schools emphasized the close reading of texts, elevating it far above generalizing discussion and speculation about either authorial intention (to say nothing of the author's psychology or biography, which became almost taboo subjects) or reader response. This emphasis on form and precise attention to "the words themselves" has persisted, after the decline of these critical doctrines themselves.


In the British and American literary establishment the New Criticism was more or less dominant until the late 1960s. Around that time Anglo-American university literature departments began to witness a rise of a more explicitly philosophical literary theory, influenced by structuralism, then post-structuralism, and other kinds of Continental philosophy. It continued until the mid-1980s, when interest in "theory" peaked. Many later critics, though undoubtedly still influenced by theoretical work, have been comfortable simply interpreting literature rather than writing explicitly about methodology and philosophical presumptions.

The current state of literary criticism

Today interest in literary theory and Continental philosophy coexists in university literature departments with a more conservative literary criticism of which the New Critics would probably have approved. Acrimonious disagreements over the goals and methods of literary criticism, which characterized both sides taken by critics during the "rise" of theory, have declined (though they still happen), and many critics feel that they now have a great plurality of methods and approaches from which to choose.

Some critics work largely with theoretical texts, while others read traditional literature; interest in the literary canon is still great, but many critics are also interested in minority and women's literatures, while some critics influenced by cultural studies read popular texts like comic books or pulp/genre fiction. Many literary critics also work in film criticism or media studies. Some write intellectual history; others bring the results and methods of social history to bear on reading literature.

See also

External link

What Is Art?

What Is Art? (1897) is a nonfictional essay by Leo Tolstoy in which he argues against numerous aesthetic theories which define art in terms of the good, truth, and especially beauty. In Tolstoy's opinion, art at the time was corrupt and decadent, and artists had been misled.

First, he separates art from non-art by requiring that art create a special emotional link between artist and audience, one which "infects" the viewer with the same emotion of the artist. To be real art, Tolstoy believes that it must unite people. Next, he distinguishes good art from bad art by examining whether that emotional link corresponds with the religion of the time. Good art, he claims, fosters those feelings which fit with the particular religion, while bad art inhibits such feelings.

The problem Tolstoy sees is that the upper class has entirely lost its religion, and thus clings to the art which was good according to another religion. To cite one example, ancient Greek art extolled virtues of strength, masculinity, and heroism according to the values derived from its mythology. However, since Christianity does not embrace these values (and in some sense values the opposite, the meek and humble), Tolstoy believes that it is unfitting for people in his society to continue to embrace the Greek tradition of art.

Among other artists, he specifically condemns Wagner and Beethoven as examples of overly cerebral artists, who lack real emotion. Without this emotion in the creation of their art, there is no way that they can "infect" their audience with it. Thus he views their art as counterfeit, and harmful to society, since it damages the people's ability to separate good art from bad art.