A Glossary of Concepts

This is the index page for the Conceptual Glossary for the Commons.

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Capability, Capabilities

Capabilities are modes of exercising control that persons and groups can exercise in seeking self-maintenance in life. Capabilities are both physical and cultural. They are numerous and diverse. Nearly every verb of agency describes a capability.

Capacity, Capacities

A capacity is an actualized capability. A capability becomes an actual capacity when control of it has emerged and use of it takes place as a person or group interacts with circumstances.

Cause, Causality

Causality is a mode of thinking by which the mind postulates necessary connections between observed phenomena describing a determinative sequence of action in time. A cause appears to determine an outcome or result according to its action in sequential time. Causal explanation indicates necessary connections between successive states in a temporal order, the cause preceding and the result following. Causes appear as existential phenomena in the experience of a living form, and they are moot within the absolute realm of things-in-themselves.

Circumstance, Circumstances

All that co-exists in time and space through a living form. Circum­stance comprises all that takes place through the interactions a living form occasions in the course of its self-maintaining. Circumstance has a phenomenal presence at one or another level of sentience in the existen­tial experience of a living form.

Co-existence (also, Simultaneity and Reciprocity)

Co-existence is to control, as sequence is to cause. What co-exists is existentially simultaneous in time and space for a living form, and all that co-exists reciprocally interacts through it, out of which emergent states take place. Co-existence does not pertain to the moot realm of things-in-themselves, but to the existential condition of a living form. The time scale for co-existence can vary from the instantaneous to an extended period of reciprocal interaction.


The physical and cultural resources built up through the sum of human efforts at self-maintenance that have taken place through historical time. The commons is prior to and inclusive of all enclosures. It may be thought of as the unbounded plane of human interaction, with respect to which there are no externalities. The commons is the net of human activity.


Complexity arises because the scope, density, and variety of reciprocal interactions making accounting for each specific action taking place impossible. Hence, complex phenomena appear in experience as aggregates. Vital significance emerges from the complexity of innumerable reciprocal interactions taking place among countless centers of control over sustained periods. This complexity defies clear-cut causal analysis. It is important to understand it as the existential field out of which education and all of human experience emerges.


The effort by a living form to use positive and negative feedback to modulate reciprocal interactions of significance for its self-maintenance. The possibility of control arises as a living form postulates a telos, relative to which it judges negative and positive feedback. Control takes place. An agent seeks to exercise it. Its success or failure is contingent on the capacities of the agent and the particulars of the circumstances impinging on the effort.

Disclosing the commons

As enclosure has privatized more and more vital resources and distributed their benefits more inequitably, pressure increases to disclose the commons, to reassert the prerogatives of humanity, in common, over its accumulated achievements. As enclosing private property has been the driving endeavor in the modern era, disclosing the commons is becoming the essential concern in the postmodern era. Disclosing the commons is taking place in large part as communal activities emerge through self-organizing interactions over information networks and prove far more useful relative to their enclosed counterparts, quickly displacing them. Thus, Wikipedia has wrenched the encyclopedia out of the privatized realm and put it into the commons, disclosing anew the status of accumulated knowledge as an essential component of the human commons.


Education is not to be enclosed in the work of special institutions. Education takes place ubiquitously and continuously throughout all of life. Education is an ongoing emergence of vital capa­cities taking place as the person, from infancy on, acquires her in­stantiation of human culture. Persons and groups are the agents of their own education, not the recipients of it.


Emergence indicates a new or different state taking place through a critical transition, or change of phase, evident in a pattern of complex reciprocal interactions. Numerous forms of emergence take place in the material world as changes of phase occur in the ways reciprocal interactions take place in response to ambient conditions, as when a liquid freezes solid as the surrounding temperature drops. Emergence in life, in the vital cosmos, includes an aspect of control that the agent of the emergence exercises. As a result, the vital changes of phase take place relative to a self-maintaining intentionality, as when a bike rider shifts his direction of fall by steering against the one he senses taking place. And in a universe capable of endless recursion, intentionality, itself, manifests its multifarious forms as successive states of an elemental indeterminacy take place through emergence.


Enclosure is the operational principle defining the modern era. It results when people privilege the category of causality. Enclosure involves projecting postulated boundaries on selected portions of the material and cultural world, differentiating what is inside from what is outside, which makes it easier to simplify and normalize random complexities within the enclosed area, reducing them to a simplified, causal action of one matter on another through a temporal sequence within the enclosed space. As a mode of thinking and acting, enclosure has proved enormously productive (think internal combustion engine, etc.). It has limits, however, especially as it produces potentially disruptive side-effects by ignoring externalities left out of account in attending only through an exclusive reduction to selected elements of what has been enclosed.


Enough is the balance of negative and positive feedback relative to the purposes that a living form postulates in the quest for self-maintenance. All forms of control exercised in living life require the judgment of what isenough—neither too much nor too little. Enough is never precisely evident; it is approximated through continuous use of positive and negative feedback. Inability to judge rightly what is enough complicates or overwhelms a living form's capacity for self-maintenance.


Externalities are matters not taken into account as a result of the simplifications introduced in thinking and acting on what has been enclosed. Externalities are side-effects not taken into account within enclosure. As a result of leaving externalities out of account, the apparent costs and benefits arising from enclosed activities may differ greatly from those that would be evident were the externalities (e.g., air pollution, resource depletion, climate change, etc.) taken into account.

Feedback, positive and negative

In the exercise of control, through feedback, an agent recursively senses what is taking place within reciprocal interactions relative to its postulated goal and uses what it senses to amplify or modulate what is taking place in order to more closely approximate realization of its goal. Feedback enables living forms to engage in self-maintenance, to conduct their lives purposively. And again, the universe being infinitely recursive, feedback serves living forms, not only in their efforts to approximate their purposes, but also to evince new, more suitable, sustainable purposes, as complications with established ones become evident.

Formative justice

Problems of justice arise whenever people cannot have it all, that is, whenever they must choose between competing "goods," positive and negative. Different types of justice arise because people find themselves constrained to choose between different types of goods—public goods with distributive justice, human rights with social justice, enforcement of norms with retributive justice, and the pursuit of potentials with formative justice. Problems of formative justice arise because persons and groups, always facing the future, find more possibilities and potentialities before them than they have the energy, time, ability, and wherewithal to fulfill. They must choose among these and in doing so they are struggling to form their unfolding lives. Conceptions of formative justice advance principles for choosing, in the face of an indeterminate future, among controlling aspirations, for allocating effort towards desired fulfillments, personal and public. Formative justice is difficult because people must make consequential choices, uncertain whether they will prove to be successful and sustainable, and it is important because persons will suffer or enjoy, as the case may be, the lives they attempt thus to form.


Freeloading is the proper name for profit, which arises from economic exchanges in which the calculation of costs and benefits does not accurately account for significant externalities.


Persons and publics pursue fulfillment, seeking to self-maintain the greatest meaning and significance possible in their lived experience. Fulfillment is never an attained condition; it is always a sought objective. Persons and publics seek it as the goal or telos, something not presently secured, of their living effort. Seeking fulfillment, they maintain themselves by postulating objectives and using their inner senses of control to attain those in the flux of their lived experience. Fulfillment denotes a utilitarian norm for living in which attainment of the goal can never be simply measured. Fulfillment is the present pursuit of future possibilities, which continues until death. Throughout life, persons and publics must continually interpret and adapt their pursuit of fulfillment in the midst of the ever-changing experience taking place. Fulfillment is always a dynamic prospect.

Full employment

Full employment indicates the optimum development and use of the capacities with which persons and publics can pursue their fulfillment, seeking the greatest possible meaning or significance in their lived experience. As with fulfillment, full employment is a utilitarian concept subject to interpretation, not simple measurement, for the full use stands relative to ongoing processes that are at once real and indeterminate. That these utilitarian matters are ones of interpretation makes them no less real and no less objective than they would be were they subject to measurement. It simply redefines the way reasonable people must examine their reality and objectivity, namely in deciding how to live, making potential capacities actual, pursuing fulfillment with them, and suffering or enjoying the consequences in the actualities of their lives.

Instruction, Instructional

Instruction causes groups of students to learn pre-selected skills, values, and information as a result of actions by teachers using specially designed materials in enclosed times and places for schooling. Instruction has been the basic method of education developed and used during the modern era. Used in standard ways with almost all children in every part of the world, instruction has become one of the most successful and representative examples of modernity's strategy of enclosure. Instruction creates numerous, extensive educational externalities that impinge on different children in different ways, some highly inimically.


Interaction takes place between things, states, ideas, and the like that co-exist in time and space in some way. Co-existence means that it is not possible to confine the action of one thing on another with a direction defined by a temporal sequence (time's arrow), for the co-existence entails simultaneity and reciprocity. With co-existence, action dissolves into interaction. Rather than a state appearing as the caused outcome of something prior, with attention to interactions, it becomes evident simply as something that has taken place in the course of complex interactions through processes of emergence.

Life, living form

Life, a term used throughout Enough, denotes a counter-entropic, emergent capacity for self-maintenance in nature. Taking place through primordial indeterminacy, as something that maintains itself by controlling the mechanisms of matter and energy, living form thereafter works to maintain itself by converting matter and energy into meaningful resources that serve its self-postulated, self-sustaining purposes. Life creates itself through its living forms, each instance of which is mortal, but which together interact continuously with themselves and with the material chaos, cumulatively bringing more and more of it within the cosmos of vital experience. Owing to death, life is profoundly recursive and through the recursive work of life, the universe is becoming alive. And in doing so, life imbues the senseless universe with sentience, meaning, and value.

Lived experience

Experience as lived in an immediate present as our life takes place both bodily through somatic interactions and mentally through interactions involving subliminal and conscious awareness. Our lives take place through lived experience, which is the seat of judging, thinking, feeling, doing. "Lived experience" is a redundant term, but it is useful and perhaps necessary, nevertheless, because much of what people call "experience" merely grasps the afterglow of lived experience in ex post facto thought. Lived experience takes place in a vital present facing an indeterminate future, but most discourse about experience pertains to what happened in a determinate past. Education takes place as important capacities emerge in lived experience, with respect to which even the breathless "Ah ha!" is after the fact.

Person, Persons

Enough: A Pedagogic Speculation refers to persons throughout the text. "Person" stands for the human being whose life consists in lived experience, which is immediate, unique, and integral to the person. A person is a human agent seeking continuously to exercise diverse forms of control while interacting with circumstance. The person is prior to and independent of "the individual," who is an abstraction relative to various forms of "the society," and other collective abstractions. Enough has been written with conscious effort to confine use of "the individual" to mean, not a person, but a single member of an abstract class, the characteristics of whom are not those of a living person, but those of the abstract class.

Pupil (also Infant, Child, Student, Adult, Citizen, and many more)   

These specialized nouns appear throughout the text. They refer to a person, a human being—an infant, child, pupil, student, adult, citizen, and many more. In doing so, they usually refer to a person engaging immediate, unique, and integral lived experience, who happens to share an accidental characteristic such as infancy with other persons. In actuality, the integral person is prior to any class to which she may belong. Thus the person who is a pupil is prior the abstract class of "pupils." Within the text, maintaining the primacy of the person consistently in using these specialized nouns proves unfortunately impossible, for common usage often hypostatizes abstract classes, treating them as prior to and definitive of the people belonging to the abstract class. For instance, in common usage there are beings, pupils, who exist on numerous days of the year from about 8:15 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. and whose lived experience consists only of that much reduced set of behaviors recognized as characteristics of the class, pupil—generally various good and bad learning behaviors, along with some quirks of comportment that facilitate and impede their basic learning behaviors. Readers need to attend to the context to tell whether discussions using terms such as "pupils," concern the lived experience of the persons sharing a characteristic or the stereotypical actions of hypostatized abstractions. Usually if the term is the subject of an active verb, it refers to a living, integral person. However, if the term is in the predicate, particularly of a verb in the passive voice, or an indirect object of prepositional phrases, it is likely to refer to an abstract member of a reified class.

School, Schooling (also College, University, Higher education, etc.)            

Schools, etc., are institutions constructed through techniques of enclo­sure in order to impart a privileged set of skills, values, and ideas to a class of abstract individuals—pupils, students, youths, undergraduates, etc. Properly speaking, education takes place as capacities for control emerge through the reciprocal interactions integral to a person's lived experience. Common usage, however, abstracts education away from the lived experience of persons and attributes it to the program of causal actions that institutions such as schools carry out with the individuals attending them—most concretely in institutional rhetoric "the whole person," an abstraction perhaps best visualized by Al Capp's lovable shmoos. [ Wen ]  With the enclosure of education, it becomes what schools do—schooling. And people need education in order to become good or bad, a condition which eventuates, depending on whether their schooling did what schools do well or poorly. Such ways of thinking are excellent examples of superstition, attributing non-existent causal power to abstractions of the mind.


Self-maintaining is the essential activity of all living forms. For a living form, death occurs when self-maintaining activity stops. To live is to maintain oneself against the entropic forces of the mechanistic universe by projecting goals that seem conducive to the maintenance of self and by exerting control in an effort to approximate the purpose. As objective phenomena, capacities for self-maintaining must emerge from some constitutive indeterminacy of the universe, and all of life's vast and complicated purposive efforts emerge from innumerable, recursive, and specific activities of self-maintenance that have been taking place over eons through the lives of living forms.

Self-organizing / Phase changes

Self-organizing takes place in the process of emergence. Self-organization properly takes place with living forms, for they have a self capable of organizing. But the term often loosely indicates a mechanical transition in the organization of matter and energy taking place in a phase change determined by external causes. Self-organization often refers to the over-all outcome of an emergent process—the self-organization of a flock in flight. Phase change often refers to the specific transformations undergone as some emergent state self-organizes. Thus, an emergent whole self-organizes as its components each go through a change of phase.

Sequence, Sequential

Kant's second analogy was the principle of temporal sequence according to the law of causality. In a temporal sequence, a necessary connection between one state and another must be in the form of a causal action in which what comes before determines what follows after. An observer can give a true account of a temporal sequence only ex post facto. With respect to any future state, an observer can only give a probability based on predictions involving a starkly limited number of potential causes.

Students, Study

Students are persons actively engaged in the many forms of study in their lived experience. We call them "students" because they study, not because they are "learners." Students are persons; learners are abstractions which mysteriously respond positively to all that teachers try to impart. Study, in its most general sense, comprises the diverse efforts by students to control the educative interactions taking place in their lives. Through these interactions, the student forms her basic capabilities and capacities that facilitate self-maintenance and self-organizing. The many verbs denoting the forms of interaction that take place as a person engages her cultural circumstances indicate the educative capabilities emerging through study. The word-cloud on page 149 depicts a selection of verbs indicating what persons do as studying takes place in their lives. Here it appears as a partial listing of capacities that emerge in the course of study:
    • acquire, admire, affirm, analyze, answer, appropriate, argue, aspire, assert, associate, assume, calibrate, catalog, challenge, choose, classify, collaborate, comment, compare, complicate, compose, compute, concentrate, confirm, conform, conjecture, consider, consult, contend, contest, contrast, converse, cooperate, copy, correct, create, criticize, daydream, debate, decide, deduce, deliberate, desire, detect, disagree, discourage, discuss, dispute, doodle, doubt, draw, empathize, emulate, enjoy, err, estimate, evaluate, examine, exemplify, experiment, explore, fantasize, feel, finesse, forget, formulate, guess, hint, honor, hope, hypothesize, ignore, illustrate, imagine, imitate, impersonate, improvise, infer, inquire, inspect, interact, invent, inventory, investigate, joke, judge, laugh, learn, list, listen, look, make believe, manage, map, measure, meditate, memorize, mime, monitor, muddle, muse, negate, notice, observe, oppose, order, organize, paint, perceive, perform, picture, plan, play, predict, pretend, prioritize, probe, prove, question, quote, rail, react, read, reason, recite, recognize, record, reflect, refute, regulate, reject, remember, respond, review, scrutinize, search, seek, select, simulate, sing, solve, sort, speak, speculate, study, subordinate, suggest, suppose, sympathize, synthesize, taste, test, theorize, think, tinker, touch, travel, try, tune out, understand, use, value, waver, weigh, wonder, worry, write, and so on.
  • To keep in touch with the real activity of study, we should daily compose sentences using each of these verbs in the active voice, with "the student" as subject. Double credit for each verb added to the list!

    Nota Bene: In some educational research, the rhetoric of which sometimes affects the text, "students," often in the plural, denotes abstract members of a class, selected characteristics of which are counted and classified, and then subjected to mathematical analyses that reveal the proximate causes making some members of the class effective learners and others hopeless dolts. Generally, we should avoid such usage.

    Taking place

    Philosophizing would be clearer were thinkers to pay more attention to the meaning of verbs. They are the tools of thought defined by action. Specific verbs fit well with each of Kant's three analogies of experience. The verb "to be" has a special relation to Kant's first analogy of experience, the principle of the persistence of substance, something Parmenides long ago observed. "To become," along with verbs such as "to result from" or "to be caused by," work well with the second analogy on the principle of causality, the prepositional component indicating the relation of causality. The verb construction, "to take place," describes especially well matters considered with the third analogy, the principle of reciprocity. Something emerges, it takes place, it happens, meaning that it manifests its unique temporal and spatial presence in all that co-exists. "To happen" has the element of unexpected emergence embedded in it, for it is derived from the old English word, hap, meaning chance, fortune, or luck—a use still alive in "happy," "happiness," and on the other side of the ledger, in "mishap." Throughout the text, the future authors describe states or conditions as taking place in order to indicate that readers should think about how such a state is emerging from reciprocal interactions between a self, aspiring to achieve control of some sort, and the self's circumstances.

    Teachers, Teaching

    The person who serves the office of teacher, who is often reduced to an abstraction.In conventional speech, an abstract teacher delivers instruction, imparting specific skills, values, and knowledge, to collections of abstract students—learners, who are ideally receptive unless limited by one or more well-documented psychological, ethnic, economic, and social impairment. The results of work by these abstract teachers are judged good, bad, or indifferent, according to how well some set of indicators reveal whether their abstract students can subsequently manifest traces of the material in which they have been instructed. Any similarity between these abstract teachers and flesh and blood teachers, whose lived experience comprises the whole of their lives, 24/7, 365 days, year in and year out, is purely coincidental. Real teachers, in and out of schools, are ubiquitous in the realm of human interaction. The actual accomplishment of real teachers is not to cause learning; it is to model human capacities for self-maintenance in ways that students can emulate, adapt, or reject. Together, all of us, through the sum of our reciprocal interactions, exemplify the full range of what can take place should our control of emergent capacities be excellent or inept—excellent or inept, not merely in the subjective view of the real teacher, but in the view of those who absorb what the teachers exemplify through interactions with them, experienced as emblematic of human possibilities, good, bad, or indifferent. Everyone on many occasions serves as a real teacher and some persons make it their life calling.


    Umwelt, or life-world, has been an important concept in twentieth-century thought. Its usage in Enough resists the tendency to think of an Umwelt as the environment peculiar to a particular being. It is more than an environment abstracted away from a living form. It is existential unity of the living being and the world the being interacts with in its living.

    Vital (as distinct from the mechanical)

    "Vital" is an adjective qualifying whatever pertains to the initiation and control of activity by living forms, as distinct from what the external operation of material causes initiates and determines. The familiar contrast between the natural sciences and the human sciences, with the former relying on causal explanation and the latter on cycles of interpretation, is closely related to the distinction advanced here between the mechanical and the vital. In both cases, the contrast illuminates the difference between the causal determination of factual states and the meaningful interpretation of significant happenings. The distinction drawn by the polarity of the mechanical and the vital may be less problematic than that between the natural and the human, however.