Philosophies, Theories, Etc




Philosophies are evaluated using Brush, 1960*

with the following organizational lens:

Select the first letter of the philosophy you wish to read:



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Axiology (value view) – the study of ethics and morality; the study of aesthetics or beauty.  What is morally right or true?  What is beauty?  What is it that makes something beautiful?

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Philosophy:  Empiricism


Metaphysics: empiricists believe that the natural world exists within or without our experience of it.  It is measurable and constant, and can be observed and understood, it has its own rules and laws, and its own order.


Epistemology: empiricists base their entire theory on the fact that humans can observe and analyze the natural world.  The empiricist point of view is that a thing cannot be known or even exist unless it can be perceived or sensed by a human.  It is important to note that like some others, empiricists do not believe humans can naturally know things without having observed or sensed them.


Axiology:  the search for truth through empiricism is the search for input or experience.  However, beyond just experiencing or sensing a thing or a system, empiricists who seek to know about things appreciate the beauty of nature when they come to understand the laws, the order, or the features of an observed thing.  This is really an appreciation of nature itself, however empiricists appreciate the completeness or wholeness of coming to understand a system such as the motion of the planets or the interactions of a cell


Application: Scientists in the generally accepted senses are fundamentally empiricists.  They are skeptical of something until they have observed it, systematically eliminated variability in their observations, and come to know its characteristics, laws, rules and order.  However, as mentioned, the most skeptical of scientists will still appreciate the wholeness of understanding a system.  From Einstein: "I have deep faith that the principle of the universe will be beautiful and simple."


Organizational Lens: Situational/Open. Empiricism is by nature, contextual. While the characteristics of light were accepted to be ray-like for a long time, some experimentation later showed that it had wave-like characteristics. Still later, Einstein showed that light could have particle-like (quantum) characteristics. It could still be found at a time in the future that light has some overlying characteristic that incorporates all of these apparently disparate characteristics, however for the present, Empiricists would accept what they can experimentally demonstrate

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Epistemology (knowledge view) – the human way of knowing; the way we acquire and verify the knowledge we seek about a given thing.  Question:  How is it that we know what we know?  Where did our knowledge come from?

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Philosophy:  Existentialism


Metaphysics: like pragmatists, existentialists see no value in a surrounding reality, or externally defined or created reality; existentialists live much more within their own frames of reference to be concerned with an overlying reality; they do accept natural realities such as gravity, physics, chemistry and so on, but these things are secondary to the experiences important to existentialists


Epistemology: the most important way of knowing by an existentialist is by subjective evaluation of oneself; they do not reject the scientific method, or prayer, or intuition, but these things are just choices to an existentialist, not absolute learning or knowledge; existentialists seek knowledge for themselves that they find appropriate


Axiology:  like their metaphysical position, existentialists do not recognize externally defined specifications of truth or beauty; instead, they apply themselves seriously to a personal search for these; they seek knowledge of aesthetics through the arts and through drama and literature, but they also consider the knowledge gained as personal, and they accept the responsibility for both their actions and their beliefs; they define their own personal reality, but they also take responsibility for their definition, and hence, their lives


Application: existentialists are seekers, looking within and without for the reality that seems or feels appropriate; they are people who believe it is right for them to conduct the process of searching for truth and beauty, but who also understand and accept the consequences of implementing this process on their own


Organizational Lens: Internal/Closed. Existentialism is clearly subjective. Existentialists find or synthesize their own reality out of their intuition and their interactions with the world

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Philosophy:  Idealism


Metaphysics: idealism posits that reality is conceptual and not material, being the perfect representation of the things and the ideas we might have; idealism may also be spiritual in the sense that a greater ideal being, from whom humans have been made imperfect replicas, represents the ideal


Epistemology: Plato felt that humans are capable of knowing the ideals, but they are buried below the conscious mind and could be brought out through interactive discussion; while by definition, humans do not have the capacity to implement or live the ideals, ideals themselves are a human construct


Axiology:  truth to an idealist is absolute; ideal beauty or value are specific and absolute, but may not be completely knowable by humanity


Application: idealists strive for the ideal or perfect condition or situation knowing that achievement is not possible; however, it is their goal to approach or become more nearly like the stated ideal, or maintaining the ideal situation; for religious humans, God is an absolute ideal, and for secular humans more involved with an intellectual ideal, reality would be absolute truth or facts; for both groups, it is assumed that humans are imperfect representations of these ideals, but they should still strive for them


Organizational Lens: Internal/External Absolute. If idealism assumes that the perfect ideal is defined and decided by an Authority figure, such as Allah, Buddha, or God, this would be an External type of philosophy. However, if the ideals are defined or decided by the individual, then while the ideal is still absolute, the source of the ideal is the self, which identifies the philosophy as an Internal type

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Philosophy:  Marxism


Metaphysics: Marxists believe that the nature of economic reality comes from the production of the people as opposed to coming from the systems within which they work, and the perceived condition that there is not enough material wealth to go around. It is within the working class to know how the system should work, and it is a system that is greater than the sum of parts, being the workers/people, the material quantities, and the systems of economic transaction.


Epistemology: Marxism learns more about its reality by studying the production of the people, the amount of material goods available to an economic system, and the upheaval of the working classes within which people live. Economic systems must be studied over time to learn about the changes that occur in human production, and the changes that are expected to occur out of the human condition at that time.


Axiology:  the ultimate truth in Marxism is within the people, but not just as a model of form or ideal as in other theories. Rather, it is in the changes or upheavals that people will come to believe are needed as they progress through their lives as workers. If there is a beauty to Marxism, it is that Marxists believe that a certain path or process will be followed as workers evolve through their present conditions on their way to what Marxists consider the appropriate form of economic balance.


Application: It is actually somewhat difficult to find real applications of Marxism since the name is used to cover so many different actions. Marxism is a view of the dynamics of people and their material production and their possession, or lack, of wealth, but it also takes the view that humans do not evolve smoothly. Rather, they have revolutions along their lives as they change from the few owning the material things to the many having them. The problem is, many self-indulgent dictator types will call themselves Marxists in order to overthrow the present order, only to create another one that does not really represent what the people as a whole might have sought out, or to which they might naturally have evolved.


Note: In some of the research, it is noted that Marxism came from the study of the reality of the human working person's condition as opposed to, and in fact in rejection of, the ideal philosophies that were popular at Marx's time. However, when Marxism is studied, it appears to have an ideal that the working people will evolve and revolt as needed to come to the righteous society. It also appears to have a reality that this apparent ideal never happens.  I believe this is called a paradox.

Organizational Lens: Internal/Absolute. The type of philosophy could be argued for Marxism as stated in the note above. Considering that Marxism came from an individual who defined the ideal, it can be argued as an Internal type of philosophy. However, considering that it is assumed to be an ideal of how society and industry could operate, as observed and studied by that individual, it could be considered Situational/Open. However, most people who follow or support Marxism treat it as a closed ideal, so the Internal/Absolute type is probably most accurate

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Metaphysics (world view) – the basis upon which reality is grounded; that which is still there when everything else has been removed; that which is essential to existence; it is the  study of the characteristic or nature of reality.  Question: What is really there when everything else has been removed, including human study or construction?

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Philosophy:  Modernism


Metaphysics: modernists believe that reality is absolute, logical, and measurable.  It is not necessarily a result of a religiously espoused condition, and in fact, is less connected to a supreme being (e.g., a god or gods) than to nature.  The modern world is to some extent defined by what the ancient world was not; in other words, the reality of the modern world is different, and perhaps better than the ancient world, which had gained great stature at the outset of modernism.  The modern world and modern things such as automobiles, electricity, industry, and related conveniences are considered to be the appropriate reality because they are modern.


Epistemology: modernists study the world through observation and reason.  They pursue knowledge and truth through reasoned and skeptical analysis.  Modernists believe that everything in and about the universe can be known given the right study and consideration, and that all those known things can ultimately come under human kind's mastery.


Axiology:  truth and beauty to modernists are the essence of the things that modern times have brought to bear.  The knowledge of expanding space, and that we should be able to figure out the origin of the universe are beautiful to modernists.  The ability to have a healthy meal in warm home, with comfortable (i.e., modern) conveniences are the important and valuable things related to modernism.


Application: modernists may be scientists, artists, writers, politicians, or others.  Whatever realm they inhabit, they seek to use and involve the modern conditions and/or a modern approach (sometimes defined as the approach that is different than the ancient one).  Einstein is quoted as saying, "I have deep faith that the principle of the universe will be beautiful and simple", which implicitly assumes that he believes we can figure it out, understand it, and very likely, take advantage of it


Organizational Lens: External/Absolute. Modernism is or has been engaged as an absolute kind of philosophy. Technology is considered as an unquestionable solution and an appropriate way to help society; the standards of science and industry are fairly immutable and should be followed; and the results and outcomes of Modernism are considered to be the right for society

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Philosophy:  Naturalism


Metaphysics: naturalism grew out of literary approach to studying the world which places reality in the hands of nature, or the "Laws of Nature". This is as opposed to a supernatural force such as a god or mystical being. There is not an external or unseen ideal in naturalism; the world view is that nature is the complete package (i.e., "what you see is what you get")


Epistemology: nature is studied through the senses. All things in nature can be observed, measured, or studied and humans can learn from these processes. Naturalism is a special form of realism, and can lead to scientific observation, although there is some argument that nature is too large and complex to be completely studied by science


Axiology:  nature is considered inherently beautiful as a closed system. In other words, nature is not evidence of "God's Hand", it is just nature and exists in and of itself. Humans are just one of the animals involved in nature, and must live in a somewhat predestined form as one of the "players" in nature. The "natural order" of things is the truth to be found in nature, as is the beauty of a newborn calf or child


Application: A French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, believed that human children are born into the world with essentially untarnished goodness, having no knowledge or previous burden. He also believed that they should grow up and learn from nature as young children, and to find ways to live in harmony with nature as adults. Rousseau also believed that mankind as a society did not live well with nature, and that this could change if the children were allowed to recommune with it


Organizational Lens: External/Absolute. While the concept of naturalism comes from individuals who believe it is the right philosophy, the philosophy itself assumes a higher power or authority, being nature itself. The followers of naturalism assume that nature is unchanging, and that the rules or "laws" of nature are the only ones that should be followed

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Philosophy:  Perennialism


Metaphysics: Perennialists believe in an overlying absolute or universal truth, which can be found in fundamental principles that have been shown to be "right" or "correct" for all people across all times. The universe is assumed to be governed by these or other absolute principles, and since these presumably never change, the world can be defined by them


Epistemology: To some extent, the study of the reality is defined by humans when a select group of them, theoretically educational experts, decides what things all students should know. Perennialists trust in the realist or Aristotelian epistemology that humans can observe, study, or reason their way to the overlying principles and knowlege. Academics are considered more important than vocational things because vocations can be fleeting, but knowledge is forever. The "Great Books" that are identified by the experts as critical to perennial learning are assumed to be fixed in that studying, discussing, and learning about them would be appropriate for students in any era


Axiology:  Ultimate truth and beauty are the virtues and principles upon which the world and the universe are founded. All humans have the right to be free, to learn and think, and to enjoy the world around them. Perennialists tend to follow Aristotle's "Golden Mean" which essentially supported a balance of action between extreme limitations and lack of inhibition. Reason can and should be used to find this balance, but this is still against the backdrop of the universal fundamentals


Application: The classic story of perennialism is the story of Mortimer Adler's (and other's) Paideia Proposal. Their position was that all children can learn, so all children should be given the same opportunity to learn. They believed that a good education would support a person's livelihood, citizenship, and ability to live a good life. They moved away from the behaviorists in believing that the real action of learning was in the childrens' minds, and they felt that children should not only have gained a common knowledge set, but also skills with reading, writing, and arithmetic, and a knowledge of the basic ideas and issues that are important. These ideas, and their supporters continue today


Organizational Lens: Internal/Absolute. Perennialism is considered to be the right way for children to learn, as defined by the self-appointed authorities and/or experts who define it. Whether right or wrong, these individuals are the source of the authority

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Philosophy:  Positivism


Metaphysics: reality for positivists is absolute, and has no room for speculation or theorizing. The positivist reality is that which can be observed, studied, or verified using the scientific method. Any other concepts or components of reality cannot exist


Epistemology: the positivist world is studied with the scientific method or practice only. To the positivitist, the only way to study the world is through rigorous empirical methodology, which must include human perception of all of the components, but does not include human opinions that cannot be verified


Axiology:  to a positivist, beauty is found in the discovery and verification "how things work"; there may be intrinsic beauty or truth in observing a process or finding a law that explains a given set of circumstances. However, there is no unknown or unknowable magic or mystical consideration behind a given condition


Application: A positivist can get along with the Big Bang theory because there is quite a bit of evidence supporting it. However, because it is a theory, the positivist will remain skeptical of it until all required support and verification of it can be observed or found. On the other hand, a positivist would reject biblical ideas of creation because no part of it can be verified by human observation or empirical study

Organizational Lens: Situational/Relative. Positivism almost by definition could be considered a closed system since they believe that the truths that they have found are absolute.  However, in spite of their confidence in the system of study, Positivists will accept changes to rules, laws, or characteristics of reality if new evidence can be provided to support them

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Philosophy:  Postmodernism


Metaphysics: postmodernists argue that reality cannot be explained.  Postmodernism is to some extent reactionary to previous philosophies and uses them to gain perspectives, but not to identify an overlying reality or universe.  Postmodernists believe that we construct our universe through our own biases and understandings of the things we observe.  They also believe that these realities are passed on to descending generations, partly related to an understanding of reality, and partly laden with the power structure coming from the elite few who brought forth the understanding


Epistemology: postmodernists look at  previous philosophies and the scholars that developed them as perspectives to be considered, studied, and possibly even appreciated in their own right, but not necessarily with the goal of understanding or finding a reality.  The human use of symbols and language synthesizes its own truth or knowledge as part of the process of understanding or learning about the world.


Axiology:  unlike previous philosophies such as Realism or Idealism, postmodernists argue that there is no one universal truth or moral standard.  They are relativists in that they believe that the morals, ethics, and aesthetics that are appropriate for one group in one setting may not be appropriate for another.  In art, postmodernists seek not to follow accepted standards or rules as these are considered a component of the power base that is not to be accepted.  In the final analysis, they argue that following a universal standard of anything is accepting inappropriate authority, and that part of the process of finding truth and beauty is rejecting the authority and seeking discourse


Application: Thomas Jefferson was to some extent postmodernist when he argued, against the accepted norm of the time, that "all men are created equal"; up to that point it had been accepted that kings, queens, and other royalty were somehow closer to the deity and better than other humans.  Abstractionist art is a good example of artists who strive not to create objects that meet or exist within accepted or standard norms


Organizational Lens: Situational/Relative. By definition, postmodernists reject absolutism from major authorities (e.g., Buddha, God, etc), and from other, self-appointed authorities. Postmodernists do not just look for evidence to disprove certain rules or laws, they prefer to reject the established ones and seek out others

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Philosophy:  Poststructuralism


Metaphysics: Poststructuralists offer an extension to the structuralist philosophy. They argue that the world can be studied through power comparisons between the diads just as the structuralists do, however, they offer a problem for the structuralists. While the structuralists argued that there was nothing outside the text, they were using loaded terminology when they created the diads. "man", "woman", "good", "evil", and so on all have meanings, or are given meanings "outside the text", meaning outside the present reality. Therefore, poststructuralists offer structuralism but require that the diad terms be part of the discussion - in this condition, there is truly nothing outside the text


Epistemology: Poststructuralists conduct a process called deconstruction to take apart all the diad or other terms that are used to study the world. Every term or supporting definition must be studied in depth, and in history (which the structuralists did not do), so that the real meaning of the situation, the real power interaction or process, can be uncovered. One condition posited by poststructuralist is that the diad is a power struggle of its own. For example, when man and woman are compared, it is assumed that man is the whole or complete thing while woman is not complete. Good is complete and whole, evil is just the other stuff. In fact, man needs woman to be compared to, good would not be recognizable if evil didn't exist - poststructuralists and deconstructionists argue that both things need and complete each other, and that, given the situation to be studied, the actual reality or solution is found between the two


Axiology:  Just like structuralists, poststructuralists' definition of the realm means what you see is what you get. If there is beauty in the condition you have analyzed or evaluated, or if there appears to be truth in the condition once all the supporting structures have been deeply evaluated (i.e., deconstructed), then you have it. Otherwise, they continue to argue that there is no background, no foundation, no other thing behind the present condition that might offer beauty, or anything else


Application: Like a structuralist, a poststructuralist would analyze the condition or text and seek to find the balance or interaction of power. "I have a dream" would start by comparing "I" to "not I" - the very powerful man who spoke these words was unique and not like others. His "dream" is a goal or higher place as opposed to the less complete alternate, such as not improving, growing, or learning - however (deconstruction) his dream may be different than another powerful man's dream, it may be more possible or less possible than another man's dream. In fact, what he defines as a dream may not be a dream at all to others (e.g., in this case the largely racist society). Finally, it is argued that he "has" the dream; however, it could be argued that he wishes to share the dream with everyone, or it could be argued that others could not at that time have that dream (e.g., in countries with apartheid for example). It can also be argued that he could not have had that dream in an earlier part of American history, so historical consideration is important as well. The whole of his text, or speech, must be completely analyzed as it is presented, and with comparison to what is not presented, or what would not be presented, to find the meaning, the power, and potentially the truth and beauty of what he brings to the world


Organizational Lens: Situational/Relative. Poststructuralists are not as reactionary as Postmodernists and are not as motivated to reject philosophical conditions out of hand.  However, they do believe that all of the structures of reality are relative and consider culture, sociology, and psychology when evaluating them. Since some or all of these "input" quantities can vary, Poststructuralists remain relativists and contextually driven thinkers


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Philosophy:  Pragmatism, also called Experimentalism or Instrumentalism


Metaphysics: pragmatists are not concerned with metaphysics; they feel that if something can be experimented upon and/or observed, then it is real, but there is no concern with a reality outside of human experience; from the pragmatist point of view, the only things worth study are the problems or questions to be addressed in the course of human function


Epistemology: pragmatists study the human experience, and derive knowledge from interactions between the human and her/his environment; pragmatists use their previous experience, including previously solved problems, to study, experiment, and learn how to solve new problems


Axiology:  pragmatists do not support a condition of externally defined truth or beauty, their ethics and morals are established with relative consideration of their previous experience and the conditions in which they have found themselves; they come to learn what is beautiful and right through their experience


Application: pragmatists are living scientists; everything they do is an experiment from which they strive to learn about how they interact with the environment, and how they can improve the interactions they experience


Organizational Lens: Situational/Relative. Like Empiricists, Pragmatists synthesize their reality by what they can see, measure, and/or touch and use. While subjectivism could bias their analysis of the world, they still live in contextual reality

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Philosophy:  Progressivism


Metaphysics: progressives believe that a "better life" exists that can be achieved through a democratic and to some extent meritocratic system. Progressives believe in an ideal society where people are not poor, oppressed, or unhealthy, and they believe that actions should be taken to drive people toward this better condition. In some cases, progressives set themselves outside the reality as they applied it to others that they consider less fortunate, or having less of the thing that they considered an appropriate, natural, or right


Epistemology: unlike positivist activities, progressives believe in the condition that humans will tend to naturally improve themselves, so their study beyond their ideal beliefs, is sociological. They would observe, support, and to some extent drive the growth or change of the identified individuals, and expect that the individuals would show social gains or improvement


Axiology:  to a progressive, evidence of beauty would be found when an individual or group has changed in some way toward the ideal that they propose. If poor, uneducated children get an education and find better living conditions, they have moved closer to the progressive ideal. Truth and beauty are to some extent relative as they are compared to the ideal or goal to which progressives wish to move a given group or society


Application: John Dewey was considered an educational progressive who fostered that attitude that children held a natural scientist's way of learning. He felt that children, given the right circumstances, would gain knowledge and skill if they were allowed to follow this apparently natural characteristic. Out of this ideal, he attempted to drive schooling toward more hand's on and/or personal experiences. The slogan "Learn by Doing!" was one result of this belief. Dewey also believed that children would naturally grow into democratic citizens if they were allowed to practice it in school. Democracy and capitalism were considered good and appropriate ways for humans to act, and he and others attempted to grow the educational processes that would support this


Organizational Lens: Internal/Closed. Progressives, like idealists, have a form or an ideal in their minds as to what should be the "right" reality for society. The work to change the society in which they live toward this ideal reality, so they recognize other realities, however, their own self-derived or self-defined philosophies are the ones they prefer to support

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Philosophy: Realism


Metaphysics: realism posits that reality is identifiable and observable, and while not all things real may be measured, they can be observed, discussed, and studied; realism also posits that reality may exist outside of human knowledge, that, unlike Plato’s conception of idealism, reality may not be intuitively known to any or all humans


Epistemology: realists measure, observe, and/or identify reality using evidence they have acquired to support their theses; this process is empiricist because realism requires evidenciary input supporting the existence, characteristic, or condition of the (real) object being studied


Axiology: realists believe that humans can come to know values and guiding principles, and that they can be learned from empirical study; like the metaphysical reality above, humans are not born with the values, and may not learn all of them, but values can be studied as part of the physical world; aesthetic beauty can also be observed and and identified from the physical world, and where harmony within an object is observed to be heightened or strengthened, it can be said to have beauty


Application: realists will study the motion of the planets with devices that provide evidence as to the way the solar system works.  Realists also assume they can observe, study, and measure or at least objectively discuss less measurable things such as beauty or art


Organizational Lens: External/Closed. Realists believe the world is defined outside themselves, but that they can see, observe, discuss, or study all of it. The philosophy supports the fact that the world is unchanging, and that the reality we observe, measure, and verify today will be the one that persists

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Philosophy:  Structuralism


Metaphysics: structuralists use language as a metaphor for their reality, and actually rest their belief on the fact that there is nothing outside the text of that reality. This is exaggerated with poststructuralism, but it is the foundation for the structuralist. Structuralists propose the "death of the author" in that people who write only bring together language components that have already existed. The process "decenters" or takes away the emphasis on humans since the focus is on the power and the authority of the structures in the language.


Epistemology: structuralists study their world by comparing conditions to a balance between diads such as man/woman, truth/lies, good/evil, and so on. This is a very relativist approach, but they argue that language incorporates power, psychology, sociology, culture, and so on, and that it can provide all the answers to the person who will study the interactions of the language. Structuralists say "There is nothing outside the text", which means that a student can find the complete answer within the language or text of the situation.


Axiology:  since structuralists believe that there is nothing outside the structure or system of the language, there is no outside truth or beauty to find. In fact, truth may move around between the diads of study depending on the person studying and/or interpreting them. Structuralists would certainly find beauty in a well interpreted text that is effectively argued with the structures on which it is supported, but this would be secondary to an ultimate beauty


Application: From the bible, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself". The structuralist would seek to argue this from the diad of the difference between love and hate, the existence of a neighbor versus that of an unknown person, the existance of a command versus free will, and finally the existence of the God who purportedly made this command versus a man or other entity that is "not God". Structuralists would create a study of this statement or its context to seek out the implicit or explicit evidence of power, control, or social interaction


Organizational Lens: Situational/Open. Like Poststructuralists, Structuralists see the reality of the world as created dynamically by our culture, our language, and our beliefs. As a result of this genesis of reality, it is assumed that it will be a different world from given moments to the next ones

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* Brush, Francis W., (1960, Fall). Patterns of thinking. The Iliff Review, XVII, 3.