Philosophy and Ethics Key Terms


Philosophy : Ancient Philosophical Influences

  • Forms: a name Plato gave to ideal concepts.
  • Reason: using logical steps and thought processes in order to reach conclusions.
  • Rationalist: someone who thinks that the primary source of knowledge is reason.
  • Empiricist: someone who thinks that the primary source of knowledge is experience gained through the five senses.
  • Prime Mover: Aristotle’s concepts of the ultimate cause of movements and change in the universe.
  • Socratic method: the method of philosophical reasoning which involves critical questioning.
  • Analogy: a comparison between one thing and another in an attempt to clarify meaning. 
  • Transcendent: being beyond this world and outside the realms of ordinary experience.
  • Dualism: the belief that reality can be divided into two distinct parts, such as good and evil, or physical and non-physical.
  • Aetion: an explanatory factor, a reason or cause for something.
  • Telos: the end, or purpose, of something.
  • Theist: someone who believes in a God or gods.
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Philosophy : Soul, mind and body

  • Soul: often, but not always, understood to be the non-physical essence of a person.
  • Consciousness: awareness or perception.
  • Substance: a subject which has different properties attributed to it.
  • Dualism: the belief that reality can be divided into two distinct parts, such as good and evil, or physical and non-physical.
  • Substance Dualism: the belief that the mind and the body both exist as two distinct and separate realities.
  • Scepticism: a questioning approach which does not take assumptions for granted.
  • Materialism: the belief that only physical matter exists, and that the mind can be explained in physical terms as chemical activity in the brain.
  • Reductive Materialism: otherwise known as identity theory- the view that mental events are identical with physical occurrences in the brain.
  • Category Error: a problem of language that arises when things are talked about as if they belong to one category when in fact they belong to another.
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Philosophy: Arguments based on observation

  • Teleological: looking to the end results (telos) in order to draw a conclusion about what is right or wrong.
  • Cosmological: relating to the origin and development of the universe.
  • Natural theology: drawing conclusions about the nature and activity of God by using reason and observing the world.
  • Contingent: depending on other things.
  • Principle of Sufficient Reason: the principle that everything must have a reason to explain it.
  • Sceptic: someone who will not accept what others say without questioning and challenging.
  • A posteriori arguments: arguments which draw conclusions based on observation through experience.
  • Necessary existence: existence which does not depend on anything else.
  • A priori arguments: arguments which draw conclusions through the use of reason.
  • Logical fallacy: reasoning that has a flaw in its structure.
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Philosophy: Arguments based on reason

  • A posteriori arguments: arguments which draw conclusions based on observation through experience.
  • Ontological: relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.
  • A priori arguments: arguments which draw conclusions through the use of reason.
  • Contingent: depending on other things.
  • Necessary existence: existence which does not depend on anything else.
  • Predicate: a term which describes a distinctive characteristic of something.
  • Epistemic distance: a distance in knowledge and understanding. Humans are given a certain level of autonomy from their creator in virtue of being created at an “epistemic distance” from God.
  • Logical fallacy: reasoning that has a flaw in its structure.
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Philosophy: Religious Experience

  • Mystical experience: experiences of God or of the supernatural which go beyond everyday sense experience.
  • Conversion experience: an experience which produces a radical change in someone’s belief system.
  • Corporate religious experience: religious experiences which happed to a group of people ‘as a body’.
  • Numinous experience: an indescribable experience which invokes feelings of awe, worship and fascination.
  • Principle of credulity: Swinburne’s principle that we should usually trust that other people are telling the truth.
  • Naturalistic explanation: an explanation referring to natural rather than supernatural causes.
  • Neurophysiology: an area of science which studies the brain and the nervous system. 
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Philosophy: The problem of evil

  • Omnipotent: all-powerful.
  • Omniscient: all-knowing.
  • Omnibenevolent: all-loving.
  • Inconsistent triad: the omnibenevolence and omnipotence of God, and the existence of evil in the world, are said to be mutually incompatible.
  • Theodicy: an attempt to justify God in the face of evil in the world.
  • Natural evil: evil and suffering caused by non-human agencies.
  • Moral evil: the evil done and the suffering caused by deliberate miss of human free will.
  • Privatio boni: a phrase used by Augustine to mean an absence of goodness.
  • Free will: the ability to make independent choices between real options.
  • Epistemic distance: a distance in knowledge and understanding. Humans are given a certain level of autonomy from their creator in virtue of being created at an “epistemic distance” from God.
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Philosophy:The nature of attributes of God

  • Omnipotent: all-powerful.
  • Omniscient: all-knowing.
  • Omnibenevolent: all-good and all-loving.
  • Eternal: timeless, atemporal, being outside the constraints of time.
  • Everlasting: sempiternal, lasting forever on the same timeline as humanity.
  • Free will: the ability to make independent choices between real options.
  • Existentialism: a way of thinking that emphasises personal freedom of choice.
  • Immutable: incapable of changing or being affected.
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Philosophy:Religious language:negative, analogical

  • Agnosticism: the view that there is insufficient evidence for God, or the view that God cannot be known.
  • Truth-claim: a statement that asserts that something is factually true.
  • Apophatic way (via negativa): a way of speaking about God and theological ideas using only terms that say what God is not.
  • Cataphatic way (via positiva): a range of ways of speaking about God and theological ideas using only terms that say what God is.
  • Univocal language: words that mean the same thing when used in different contexts.
  • Equivocal language: words that mean different things when used in different contexts.
  • Analogy: a comparison made between one thing and another in an effort to aid understanding.
  • Symbol: a word or other kind of representation used to stand for something else and to shed light on its meaning.
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Philosophy:Religious language: 20th century perspe

  • Logical positivism: a movement that claims that assertions have to be capable of being tested empirically if they are to be meaningful.
  • Cognitive: having a factual quality that is available to knowledge, where words are labels for things in the world.
  • Non-cognitive: not having a factual quality that is available to knowledge; words are tools used to achieve something rather than labels for things.
  • Empirical: available to be experienced by the five senses.
  • Verification: providing evidence to determine that something is true.
  • Symposium: a group of people who meet to discuss a particular question or theme.
  • Falsification: providing evidence to determine that something is false.
  • Demythologising: removing the mythical elements from a narrative to expose the central message.
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Ethics: Natural Law

  • Deontological: from the Latin for ‘duty’, ethics focused on the intrinsic (belonging naturally; essential) rightness and wrongs of actions. 
  • Telos: the end, or purpose of something.
  • Natural law: a deontological theory based on behaviour that accords with given laws or moral laws (e.g. given by God) that exist independently of human societies and systems.
  • Synderesis: to follow the good and avoid the evil, the rule which all precepts follow.
  • Secondary precepts: the laws which follow from primary precepts.
  • Primary precepts: the most important rules in life: to protect life, to reproduce, to live in community, to teach the young and to believe in God.
  • Practical reason: the tool which makes moral decisions.
  • Eudaimonia: living well, as an ultimate end in life which all other actions should lead towards.
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Ethics: Situation Ethics

  • Justice: justice ordinarily refers to notions of fair distribution of benefits for all. Fletcher specifically sees justice as a kind of tough love; love applied to the world.
  • Pragmatism: acting, in moral situations, in a way that is practical, rather than purely ideologically.
  • Relativism: the rejection of absolute moral standards, such as laws or rights. Good and bad are relative to an individual or a community or, in Fletcher’s case, to love.
  • Positivism: proposes something as true or good without demonstrating it. Fletcher posits love as good.
  • Personalism: ethics centred on people, rather than laws or objects.
  • Conscience: the term ‘conscience’ may variously be used to refer to a faculty within us, a process of moral reasoning, insights from God or it may be understood in psychological terms. Fletcher described it as function rather than a faculty. 
  • Teleological ethics: moral goodness is determined by the end or result.
  • Legalistic ethics: law-based moral decision-making.
  • Antinomian ethics: antinomian ethics do not recognise the role of law in morality ( ‘nomos’ is Greek for ‘law’).
  • Situational ethics: another term for situation ethics, ethics focused on the situation , rather than fixed rules.
  • Agape love: unconditional love, the only ethical norm in situationism.
  • Extrinsically good: good defined with reference to the end rather than good in and of itself. Fletcher argued only love was intrinsically good.
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Ethics: Kantian Ethics

  • Moral law: binding moral obligations.
  • Maxims: another word for moral rules, determined by reason.
  • Duty: duties are created by the moral law, to follow it is our duty. The word deontological means duty-based.
  • Summum bonum: the highest, most supreme good.
  • Good will: a person of good will is a person who makes decisions according to the moral law.
  • Categorical imperative: an unconditional moral obligation that is always binding irrespective of a person’s inclination or purpose.
  • Hypothetical imperative: a moral obligation that applies only if one desires the implied goal.
  • Kingdom of ends: an imagined future in which all people act in accordance to the moral law, the categorical imperative.
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Ethics: Utilitarianism

  • Principle of utility/ greatest happiness: the idea that the choice that brings about the greatest good for the greatest number is the right choice.
  • Deontological: from the Latin for ‘duty’, ethics focused on the intrinsic righties and wrongness of actions.
  • Teleological: looking to the end results (telos) in order to draw a conclusion about what is right or wrong.
  • Hedonic calculus: the system for calculating the amount of pain or pleasure generated.
  • Consequentialism: ethical theories that see morality as driven by the consequences, rather than actions or character of those concerned.
  • Hedonistic: pleasure-driven.
  • Quantitative: focused on quantity (how many, how big, etc.).
  • Qualitative: focused on quality ( what kind of thing).
  • Act utilitarian: weighs up what to do at each individual occasion.
  • Rule utilitarian: weighs up what to do in principle in all occasions fo a certain kind.
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Ethics: Euthanasia

  • Non Treatment Decision: the decision medical professionals make to withhold or withdraw medical treatment or life support that is keeping a person alive because they are not going to get better, or because the person asks them to. Controversially it is also sometimes called passive euthanasia. 
  • Active euthanasia: a deliberate action performed by a third party to kill a person, e.g. by lethal injection. Active euthanasia is illegal in the UK.
  • Sanctity of life: the idea that life is intrinsically sacred or has such worth that it is not considered within the power of a human being.
  • Quality of life: a way of weighing the extrinsic experience of life, that affects or justifies whether or not it is worth continuing life.
  • Personhood: the quality of human life that makes it worthy- usually linked to certain higher capacities.
  • Autonomy and the right to die: the idea that human freedom should extend to decided the time and manner of death.
  • Voluntary euthanasia: this applies when a person’s life is ended painlessly by a third party at their own request.
  • Non-voluntary euthanasia: this applies when a person is unable to express their wish to die but there are reasonable grounds for ending their life painlessly, e.g. if a person cannot communicate but is in extreme pain.
  • Dignity: the worth or quality of life, which can be linked to sanctity or freedom.
  • Palliative care: end-of-life care to make the person’s remaining moments of life as comfortable as possible.
  • Involuntary euthanasia: where a person is killed against their wishes, e.g. when disabled people were killed by Nazi doctors.
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Ethics: Business Ethics

  • Capitalism: an economic system based on the private ownership of how things are made and sold, in which businesses compete freely with each other to make profits.
  • Shareholder: a person who has invested money in a business in return for a share of the profits.
  • Corporate social responsibility: a sense that businesses have wider responsibilities than simply to their shareholders, including the communities they live and work in and to the environment.
  • Whistle-blowing: when an employee discloses wrongdoing to the employer or the public.
  • Globalisation: the integration of economies, industries, markets, cultures and policymaking around the world.
  • Stakeholder: a person who is affected by or involved in some form of relationship with a business.
  • Consumerism: a set of social beliefs that put a high value on acquiring material things.
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Ethics:Meta-ethical theories

  • Absolutism: the view that morals are fixed, unchanging truths that everyone should always follow.
  • Relativism: the view that moral truths are not fixed and are not absolute. What is right changes according to the individual, the situation, the culture, the time and the place.
  • Naturalism: ethical theories that hold that morals are part of the natural world and can be recognised or observed in some way.
  • Intuitionism: ethical theories that hold that moral knowledge is received in a different way from science and logic.
  • Vienna Circle: a group of philosophers known as logical positivists who rejected claims that moral truth can be verified as objectively true.
  • Emotivism: ethical theories that hold that moral statements are not statements of fact but are either beliefs or emotions.
  • Hume’s Law: you cannot go from an ‘is’ (statement of fact) to an ‘ought’ (a moral).
  • Naturalistic fallacy: G.E. Moore’s argument that it is a mistake to define moral terms with reference to other properties ( a mistake to break Hume’s law)
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  • Ratio: the word used by Aquinas to describe reason, something which is placed in every person as a result of their being created in the image of God.
  • Synderesis: for Aquinas, this means to follow the good and avoid the evil, the rule that all precepts follow.
  • Id: for Freud, this is the part of the mind that has instinctive impulses that seek satisfaction in pleasure.
  • Super-ego: Freud uses this word to describe the part of the mind that contradicts the id and uses internalised ideals from parents and society to make the ego behave morally.
  • Ego: Freud uses this word to describe the mediation between the id and the super-ego.
  • Conscientia: this is the name Aquinas gives to the process whereby a person’s reason makes moral judgements.
  • Vincible ignorance: this is how Aquinas describes a lack of knowledge for which a person is responsible, and can be blamed.
  • Invincible ignorance: this is how Aquinas describes a lack of knowledge for which a person is not responsible, and cannot be blamed. 
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Ethics: Sexual Ethics

  • Cohabitation: an unmarried couple living together in a sexually active relationship. Sometimes known pejoratively as ‘living in sin’.
  • Consent: freely agreeing to engage in sexual activity with another person.
  • Premarital sex: sex before marriage.
  • Extramarital sex: sex beyond the confines of marriage, usually used to describe adulterous sex.
  • Betrothal: traditionally the exchange of promises, which in earlier times marked the point at which sex was permitted.
  • Consummation: an act of sexual intercourse that indicates, in some traditions, the finalisation of the marriage.
  • Exclusive: a commitment to be in a sexual relationship with a person to the exclusion of all others. This is the opposite of an ‘open marriage’ or a ‘casual relationship’.
  • Homosexuality: sexual attraction between people of the same sex.
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Developments: Augustine’s teaching on human nature

  • Will: the part of human nature that makes free choices.
  • Sin: disobeying the will and commands of God.
  • Grace: in theological terms, God’s free and underserved love for humanity, epitomised in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
  • The Fall: the biblical event in which Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden; also used to refer to the imperfect state of humanity.
  • Neoplatonism: philosophical thinking arising from the ideas of Plato.
  • Redeemed: in theological terms, ‘saved’ from sin by the sacrifice of Christ.
  • Concordia: human friendship.
  • Cupiditas: ‘selfish love’, a love of worldly things and of selfish desires.
  • Caritas: ‘generous love’, a love of others and of the virtues; the Latin equivalent of the Greek word agape.
  • Concupiscence: uncontrollable desire for physical pleasures and material things.
  • Ecclesia: heavenly society, in contrast with earthly society.
  • Summum bonum: the highest, most supreme good.
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Developments: Death and the afterlife

  • Disembodied existence: existing without a physical body.
  • Resurrection: living on after death in a glorified physical from in a new realm.
  • Beatific vision: a face-to-face encounter with God.
  • Purgatory: a place where people go, temporarily, after death to be cleansed of sin before they are fit to live with God.
  • Election (in a theological sense): predestination, chosen by God for heaven or hell.
  • Limited election: the view that God chooses only a small number of people for heaven.
  • Original Sin: a state of wrongdoing in which people are born (according to some Christians) because of the sin of Adam and Eve.
  • Unlimited election: the view that all people are called to salvation but only a few will be saved.
  • Universalism: the view that all people will be saved.
  • Parable: a story told to highlight a moral message.
  • Particular judgement: judgement for each person at the point of death.
  • Parousia: used in Christianity to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.
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Developments:Knowledge of God’s existence

  • Faith: voluntary commitment to a belief without the need for complete evidence to support it.
  • Empiricism: a way of knowing that depends on the five senses.
  • Natural theology: drawing conclusions about the nature and activity of God by using reason and observing the world.
  • Protestantism: a form of Christianity which rejects the authority of the Catholic Church and places greater emphasis soon the Bible and on personal faith.
  • Revelation: ‘uncovering’. In theological terms, this is when God chooses to let himself be known.
  • Immediate revelation: where someone is given direct knowledge of god.
  • Mediate revelation: where someone gains knowledge of God in a secondary, non-direct way.
  • Grace of God: God’s unconditional and undeserved gifts.
  • Wisdom literature: a genre of writing from the ancient world, teaching about wisdom and virtue. In the Bible, books such as Proverbs and Job are classified as wisdom literature.
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Developments:The person of Jesus Christ

  • Son of God: a term for Jesus that emphasises he is God incarnate, one of the three persons of the Trinity.
  • Liberator: a general term for someone who frees people or a group.
  • Rabbi: a Jewish teacher, often associated with having followers.
  • Hypostatic union: the belief that Christ is both fully God and fully human, indivisible, two natures untied in one person.
  • Homoousios: of the same substance or of the same being.
  • Word: from the Greek logos, another name for the second person of the Trinity, used at the beginning of John’s Gospel to describe the incarnation which existed from the beginning, of one substance with and equal to God the Father.
  • Redemption: the act of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.
  • Incarnation: God born as a human being, in Jesus Christ.
  • Zealot: a member of the Jewish political/military movement that fought against Rome in the first century (AD).
  • Messiah: in Christianity, the word is associated with Jesus Christ, who is believed to be the Son of God and the Saviour. In Judaism the word is associated with individuals who rose up against oppressions, the people of Israel. 
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Developments:Christian moral principles

  • Bible/Scripture: the collection or canon of books in the Bible which contain the revelation of God.
  • Church tradition: the traditions of how Christian life in community works, in worship, practical moral life and prayer, and the teaching and reflection of the Church handed down across time.
  • Sacred Tradition: the idea that the revelation of Jesus Christ is communicated in two ways. In addition to Scripture, it is communicated through the apostolic and authoritative teaching of the Church councils and the Pope.
  • Agape love: unconditional love, the only ethical norm in situationism.
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Developments:Christian moral action

  • Discipleship: following the life, example and teaching of Jesus.
  • Cheap grace: grace that is offered freely, but is received without any change in the recipient, and ultimately is false as it does not save. Bonhoeffer defined “cheap grace” as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
  • Costly grace: grace followed by obedience to God’s command and discipleship.
  • Passion: Jesus’ sufferings at the end of his life.
  • Solidarity: an altruistic (unselfish) commitment to stand alongside and be with those less fortunate, the oppressed, those who suffer.
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Developments:Religious pluralism and theology

  • Exclusivism: the view that only one religion offers the complete means of salvation.
  • Inter-faith dialogue: sharing and discussing religious beliefs between members of different religious traditions, with an aim of reaching better understanding.
  • Theology of religion(s): the branch of Christian theology that looks at the relationship between Christianity and other world religions from a Christian perspective.
  • Inclusivism: the view that although one’s own religion is the normative (setting the standard of normality) means of salvation, those who accepts its central principles may also receive salvation.
  • Pluralism: the view that there are many ways to salvation through different religious traditions.
  • Particularism: an alternative name for exclusivism, meaning that salvation can only be found in one particular way.
  • Vatican II: the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, held from 1962 to 1965 to discuss the place of the Catholic Church in the modern world.
  • Noumena: a Kantian term to describe reality as it really is, unfiltered by the human mind.
  • Phenomena: a Kantian term to describe reality as it appears to us, filtered by the human mind.
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Developments:Religious pluralism and society

  • Multi-faith societies: societies where there are significant populations of people with different religious beliefs.
  • Encyclical: an open letter sent to more than on recipient.
  • Missionary work: activity that aims to convert people to a particular faith or set of beliefs, or works for social justice in areas of poverty or deprivation.
  • Synod: the legislative body of the Church of England.
  • Social cohesion: when a group is united by bonds that help them to live together peacefully.
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Developments:Gender and society

  • Feminism: the name given to a wide range of views arguing for, and working for, quality for women.
  • Gender biology: the physical characteristics that enable someone to be identified as male or female.
  • Gender identification: the way people perceive themselves in terms of masculine, feminine, both or neither.
  • Gender expression: the ways in which people behave as a result of their gender identification.
  • Socialisation: the process by which people learn cultural norms.
  • Patriarchal society: a society that is dominated by men and men’s interests.
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Developments: Gender and theology

  • Post-Christian theology: religious thinking that abandons traditional Christian thought.
  • Reform feminist theology: religious thinking that seeks to change traditional Christian thought.
  • Davidic Messiah: a Messiah figure based on the kingly military images of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament).
  • Servant king: an understanding of the Messiah that focuses on service rather than overlordship.
  • Sophia: Greek for ‘wisdom’, personified in female form in the ancient world.
  • Thealogy: studying God based around the goddess (‘thea’ is Greek for ‘goddess’).
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Developments:The challenge of secularism

  • Secularism: a term that is used in different ways. It may mean a belief that religion should not be involved in government or public life. It may be a principle that no one religion should have a superior position in the state. It often entails a belief in a public space and a private space, and that religion should be restrained from public power.
  • Secularisation: a theory developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s, developed from Enlightenment thinking, that religious belief would progressively decline as democracy and technology advanced. Sociologists now doubt such a linear decline.
  • Secular: not connected or associated with religious or spiritual matters. Used colloquially in widely differing ways by atheists, pluralists and those who are anti-religion. Historically, the term was used to distinguish priests who worked in the world (secular priests) from those who belonged to religious communities, such as monasteries.
  • Wish fulfilment: according to Freud, wish fulfilment is the satisfaction of a desire through a dream or bother exercise of the imagination.
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Developments: Liberation theology and Marx

  • Exploitation: treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work or resources.
  • Alienation: the process of becoming detached or isolated.
  • Capitalism: an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. Communism is where trade and industry is controlled by the state.
  • Conscientisation: the process by which a person becomes conscious of the power structures in society.
  • Basic Christian communities: Christian groups that gather together to try to directly resolve difficulties in their lives.
  • Structural sin: the idea that sin is not just a personal action, but something that can be brought about through unjust organisations and social structures.
  • Preferential option for the poor: the idea that Jesus Christ stood with the poor and oppressed, and that the Church should focus on the poor and oppressed and stand in solidarity with them. 
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