Notion (philosophy)

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A notion in philosophy is a reflection in the mind of real objects and phenomena in their essential features and relations. Notions are usually described in terms of scope and content. This is because notions are often created in response to empirical observations (or experiments) of covarying trends among variables.

Philosophy intellectual and/or logical study of general and fundamental problems

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Mind combination of cognitive faculties that provides consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, and judgement in humans and potentially other life forms

The mind is a set of cognitive faculties including consciousness, imagination, perception, thinking, judgement, language and memory. It is usually defined as the faculty of an entity's thoughts and consciousness. It holds the power of imagination, recognition, and appreciation, and is responsible for processing feelings and emotions, resulting in attitudes and actions.

Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real or existent, as opposed to that which is merely imaginary. The term is also used to refer to the ontological status of things, indicating their existence. In physical terms, reality is the totality of the universe, known and unknown. Philosophical questions about the nature of reality or existence or being are considered under the rubric of ontology, which is a major branch of metaphysics in the Western philosophical tradition. Ontological questions also feature in diverse branches of philosophy, including the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophical logic. These include questions about whether only physical objects are real, whether reality is fundamentally immaterial, whether hypothetical unobservable entities posited by scientific theories exist, whether God exists, whether numbers and other abstract objects exist, and whether possible worlds exist.


Notion is the common translation for Begriff as used by Hegel in his Science of Logic (1816).

Primitive notion

A primitive notion is used in logic or mathematics as an undefined term or concept at the foundation of an axiomatic system to be constructed.

In mathematics, logic, and formal systems, a primitive notion is an undefined concept. In particular, a primitive notion is not defined in terms of previously defined concepts, but is only motivated informally, usually by an appeal to intuition and everyday experience. In an axiomatic theory or other formal system, the role of a primitive notion is analogous to that of axiom. In axiomatic theories, the primitive notions are sometimes said to be "defined" by one or more axioms, but this can be misleading. Formal theories cannot dispense with primitive notions, under pain of infinite regress.

Logic the systematic study of the form of arguments

Logic is the systematic study of the form of valid inference, and the most general laws of truth. A valid inference is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the inference and its conclusion. In ordinary discourse, inferences may be signified by words such as therefore, hence, ergo, and so on.

Mathematics Field of study concerning quantity, patterns and change

Mathematics includes the study of such topics as quantity, structure, space, and change.

However, in philosophy the term "primitive notion" has historical content. For example, Gottfried Leibniz wrote De Alphabeto Cogitationum Humanarum (English: An Alphabet for Human Thought). Jaap Maat (2004) reviewed Leibniz for Philosophical Languages of the 17th Century. According to Leibniz, "The alphabet of human thought is a catalogue of primitive notions, or those we cannot render clearer by any definitions." Maat explains, "a thing which is known without other intermediate notions can be considered to be primitive," and further, "a primitive notion is said to be conceived through itself".

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

Another example is in the Meditations of René Descartes:

René Descartes 17th-century French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist

René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. A native of the Kingdom of France, he spent about 20 years (1629–1649) of his life in the Dutch Republic after serving for a while in the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. He is generally considered one of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age.

I think that there are certain primitive notions in us which are like originals. There are very few such notions. For apart from the most general notions of being, number, duration, etc which apply to everything that we can conceive, we have only the notion of extension that is specifically for the body, and from that flow the notions of shape and movement; and for the soul on its own we have only the concept of thought, which includes perceptions of the understanding and inclinations of the will. Finally, for the body and soul together, we have only the concept of their union, on which depends the notion of the soul's power to move the body and the body's power to act on the soul by causing its sensations and passions. [1]
"[Descartes'] claim that mind-body unity is a primitive notion on a par with the primitive notions of thinking and extended substance..." [2]

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In philosophy, Idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, Idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In contrast to Materialism, Idealism asserts the primacy of consciousness as the origin and prerequisite of material phenomena. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.

A subject is a being who has a unique consciousness and/or unique personal experiences, or an entity that has a relationship with another entity that exists outside itself.

Substance theory, or substance–attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears.

<i>Where Mathematics Comes From</i> book by George Lakoff

Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being is a book by George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, and Rafael E. Núñez, a psychologist. Published in 2000, WMCF seeks to found a cognitive science of mathematics, a theory of embodied mathematics based on conceptual metaphor.

In philosophy, rationalism is the epistemological view that "regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge" or "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification". More formally, rationalism is defined as a methodology or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive".

Mind–body dualism Philosophical theory that mental phenomena are non-physical and that matter exists independently of mind

Mind–body dualism, or mind–body duality, is a view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.

<i>Critique of Pure Reason</i> 1781 book by Immanuel Kant

The Critique of Pure Reason is a 1781 book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in which the author seeks to determine the limits and scope of metaphysics. A heavily-revised second edition was published in 1787. Also referred to as Kant's "First Critique", it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgment (1790). In the preface to the first edition, Kant explains that by a "critique of pure reason" he means not "a critique of books and systems, but of the faculty of reason in general, in respect of all knowledge after which it may strive independently of all experience" and that he aims to reach a decision about "the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics". The First Critique is often viewed as a culmination of several centuries of early-modern philosophy, and an inauguration of modern philosophy.

The alphabet of human thought is a concept originally proposed by Gottfried Leibniz that provides a universal way to represent and analyze ideas and relationships by breaking down their component pieces. All ideas are compounded from a very small number of simple ideas which can be represented by a unique character.


Innatism is a philosophical and epistemological doctrine that holds that the mind is born with ideas/knowledge, and that therefore the mind is not a "blank slate" at birth, as early empiricists such as John Locke claimed. It asserts that not all knowledge is gained from experience and the senses. Plato and Descartes are prominent philosophers in the development of innatism and the notion that the mind is already born with ideas, knowledge and beliefs. Both philosophers emphasize that experiences are the key to unlocking this knowledge but not the source of the knowledge itself. Essentially, no knowledge is derived exclusively from one's experiences as empiricists like John Locke suggested.

<i>De Arte Combinatoria</i> scientific book by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

The Dissertatio de arte combinatoria is an early work by Gottfried Leibniz published in 1666 in Leipzig. It is an extended version of his first doctoral dissertation, written before the author had seriously undertaken the study of mathematics. The booklet was reissued without Leibniz' consent in 1690, which prompted him to publish a brief explanatory notice in the Acta Eruditorum. During the following years he repeatedly expressed regrets about its being circulated as he considered it immature. Nevertheless it was a very original work and it provided the author the first glimpse of fame among the scholars of his time.

In philosophy, potentiality and actuality are a pair of closely connected principles which Aristotle used to analyze motion, causality, ethics, and physiology in his Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics and De Anima, which is about the human psyche.


Spinozism is the monist philosophical system of Benedict de Spinoza that defines "God" as a singular self-subsistent Substance, with both matter and thought being attributes of such.

Trialism in philosophy was introduced by John Cottingham as an alternative interpretation of the mind–body dualism of Rene Descartes. Trialism keeps the two substances of mind and body, but introduces a third attribute, sensation, belonging to the union of mind and body. This allows animals, which do not have thought, to be regarded as having sensation and not as being mere automata.

In early philosophies of psychology and metaphysics, conatus is an innate inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself. This "thing" may be mind, matter, or a combination of both. Over the millennia, many different definitions and treatments have been formulated. Seventeenth-century philosophers René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and Thomas Hobbes made important contributions. The conatus may refer to the instinctive "will to live" of living organisms or to various metaphysical theories of motion and inertia. Often the concept is associated with God's will in a pantheist view of Nature. The concept may be broken up into separate definitions for the mind and body and split when discussing centrifugal force and inertia.

<i>Passions of the Soul</i> book

In the treatise Passions of the Soul, the last of Descartes' published work, completed in 1649 and dedicated to Queen Christina of Sweden, the author contributes to a long tradition of theorizing "the passions". The passions were experiences now commonly called emotions in the modern period, and had been a subject of debate among natural philosophers since the time of Plato.

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The mind–body problem is a philosophical problem concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness in the human mind, and the brain as part of the physical body. It is distinct from the question of how mind and body function chemically and physiologically since that question presupposes an interactionist account of mind-body relations. This question arises when mind and body are considered as distinct, based on the premise that the mind and the body are fundamentally different in nature.

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Spinoza's philosophy encompasses nearly every area of philosophical discourse, including metaphysics, epistemology, political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. It earned Spinoza an enduring reputation as one of the most important and original thinkers of the seventeenth century.

An ontological argument is a philosophical argument for the existence of God that uses ontology. Many arguments fall under the category of the ontological, and they tend to involve arguments about the state of being or existing. More specifically, ontological arguments tend to start with a priori theory about the organization of the universe. If that organizational structure is true, the argument will provide reasons why God must exist.


  1. Desmond M. Clarke (2003) Descartes's Theory of Mind, page 38
  2. Daniel Garber (1992) Descartes' Metaphysical Physics, page 92