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Modern Western Civilization
Class 8: The Rebirth of Philosophy
In building up to our consideration of the Enlightenment we have
spent some time looking at the Scientific Revolution, and the
intellectual creativity it encompassed.
Philosophy - another sort of intellectual adventure. - no clear
direction before Descartes.
Descartes and Bacon had a purely philosophical impact as well
as their work on scientific method. We will also discuss Locke
in this class as a philosopher.
II. The Rationalist Tradition
Tends to try to construct a world system from a priori
reasoning - as opposed to bits and pieces observation.
RATIONALISM in this case is not just being reasonable, it is making
A. René Descartes 1591-1650
1628 - moved to Holland where he lived most of his life.
1649 - moved to Stockholm to visit Queen Christina -the weather
His aim was to try build knowledge from scratch
The Myth: 1619
closeted in a stone heated room in Bavaria he made his decision
b. Main Works
- Discourse on Method 1637
emphasis on deduction and maths - important in his whole philosophy
- maths is a form of non-empirical knowledge
- Meditationes de Prima Philosophia 1641 - Meditations
- Principia Philosophiae 1644- Principles
c. Descartes' Philosophy
- Radical Doubt
He tried to doubt everything as a methodological tool - "mischevious
But Je pense, donc je suis/ Cogito ergo sum
HIS PHILOSOPHY IS THUS EXTREMELY INDIVIDUALISTIC IT STARTS
FROM THE FACT HE KNOWS HIMSELF
- Then he says that you can prove existence of God- ontological
proof - based on idea of perfection implying existence.
- He makes assumptions in this argument that show his "doubt"
was less radical than is often supposed - he claims men have INNATE
IDEAS which are more or less contained in the "I" that
one knows exists - and these enable man to make certain statements
and deductions - eg the Law of non-contradiction (Aristotle).
Since God is perfect and good you can trust the evidence of the
senses - this allows scientific knowledge.
- MOST IMPORTANT was that from cogito ergo sum Descartes
argued to sum res cogitans - I am a being that thinks
FOR DESCARTES THERE IS A RADICAL DISTINICTION BETWEEN THE MIND
AND THE BODY - DUALISM
- The world is made of two incompatible substances - MIND and
MATTER -our bodies can thus have no part in what we really are
-Man is an incorporeal mind in a mechanical body (opposite of
Aristotle, similar to Plato)
-Descartes does not explain how mind acts on body he locates the
Pineal gland as the place of contact, but does not explain how
the contact is made.
- The problem of how consciousness is related to matter is still
a problem - and will be unless we are prepared to say, with Marx,
that consciousness is just an effusion of matter.
B. Baruch (Benedictus) Spinoza 1632-77
Dutch/Jewish: born and lived in Holland
- Tractatus Theologico-Politicus 1670
- Ethics 1677
He was also a thinker trying to construct a world system from
his own thoughts - like Descartes he thought knowledge was deductive.
He was a incredibly complicated writer.
- Main Idea - Everything is God, God is Everything Pantheism
or Panentheism (explain difference). Spinoza also put a great
emphasis on Ethics.
- Spinoza was seen as an atheist - expelled from his synagogue
- but his ideas did have an effect through the writings of others.
C. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) German
- Unlike Spinoza he denied their was just one thing in the world
(ie God) and said there were an infinite number of things.
- His Philosophy is too complicated to go into[!], but he was
another rationalist thinker.
- He was also a great mathematician
-invented Calculus about the same time as Newton
-he also disputed with Newtom about the nature of space
-he disbelieved in the possibility of limitless empty space (links
up with modern ideas).
- A Victim of Voltaire
He had a view of God - that God made best of all possible
worlds - God would only do the best as the best would always be
most economical - this view was attacked by Voltaire in Candide.
D. Rationalism - Summary
The Ideas of these Rationalist Thinkers may seem odd - but this
was because they followed reason over any observation. In fact
they had little influence on science after Newton - but as we
shall see observation/empiricism has its problems.
More importantly they set the trend for the speculative trend
in Continental European thought: Hegel, Marx, Satre, Existentialism
etc - All were thinkers who set out to make systems that explain,
or explain away everything - European philosophers continue to
have wider interests than mere observation would allow.
Empiricism is basically the theory that all knowledge is derived
from experience. It is a tendency to give observation priority
in coming to know things - and as observation is piecemeal, so
is the way its world picture is built up.
A:. Francis Bacon 1561-1626
Already discussed his theory of Induction.
He was forerunner of the Empiricist school - basically and English/British
movement in Philosophy
B. Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679
Also a forerunner of Empiricism. He was most important for laying
the philosophical foundations of absolutism - and will look at
him in that context elsewhere.
What is important here is that his approach in setting up his
study of political science was based on observing how human beings
behaved - he self consciously applied the methods of Galileo and
William Harvey in science to political philosophy.
C. John Locke 1632-1704
The most important and influential philosopher of his time
- He often wrote in conscious opposition to Descartes.
- Like Hobbes he was very important as a political thinker and
we shall look at him elsewhere.
- He was just as important as a philosopher. His contribution
here was in epistemology (explain epistemology - science of how
we know what we know) [shell of philosophical egg]). This is sometimes
referred to as his Psychology -obviously epistemology and psychology
- A Letter Concerning Toleration 1689
- Essay Concerning Human Understanding 1690
- Two Treatises of Government 1690
c. Use of Newton
- Locke was the real founder of the empirical school. He took
Newton and science as his starting point. In OPPOSITION TO DESCARTES
Locke held that all knowledge comes from sense impressions made
on the mind from birth.
- Instead of INNATE IDEAS he proposed that at birth the mind
was a TABULA RASA - a blank table. The mind's knowledge of the
world was made by the innumerable observations imprinted on it
from birth - from these many impressions a picture of the world
was built up - He thought all of our complex ideas were built
up from simple ones .Obviously this is linked to the scientific
idea of induction. Although there were similarities with Descartes
- esp. in that knowledge is a sort of intuition - Locke implied
that, as in science, you never have certain knowledge, just highly
- This was first attempt to explain human knowledge that took
account of what had been happening in science. This shows one
way (as well as the general change in attitude) that the Scientific
Revolution had a dominant influence on the Enlightenment.
d. Implications of Locke's Epistemology
- Note that one consequence of thinking that people are really
formed by there experience might be a belief that by education
and proper upbringing you could make people better. He viewed
man as rational. These ideas were immensely influential - even
on the Continent.
- His thoughts on toleration also set the tone for continental
thought in the next century - Locke is thus one of the leading
influences on the Enlightenment. Toleration, Respect for Reason
and optimism about human perfectibility are hallmarks of the Enlightenment.
D. Bishop George Berkley 1685-1753
Also an empiricist - but with rather strange idea that material
things do not exist - only sensations. But he was in empiricist
E. David Hume 1711-1761
- Treatise on Human Nature 1739/40
- An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding 1748
- Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion 1777
b. Philosophical Position
- Hume rejected Rationalism, and was an empiricist, but he was
also empiricism's greatest problem:-
- He noted that if you reject absolutely the idea that the mind
is born with no innate way of making sense of the world - then
there is a problem as to how you can know that the sense it does
make accords with any reality -for instance how can we know that
the principle of causation (on which many arguments are based)
is true: the principle of causation cannot be drawn from observation,
but is projected on to it.
- He also criticized Induction - it is not in itself
a logical way of explaining things, since it relied on the non-logical
principle that a general conclusion can be drawn from a finite
number of observations.
- It must be said that these ideas clashed with Hume's concern
for scholarship and the experimental method in practice.
- Hume ends up with extreme scepticism that anything can be
known at all, including God, He was a complete atheist.
F. Empiricism - Summary
Empiricism did cause philosophical problems, but its approach
tended to be concrete.
Despite Hume, people still thought about the sort of ideas that
these early empiricists raised - you get in England and then in
the USA a tendency in Philosophy to look at piecemeal or "realistic"
solutions - you get fewer world system builders than on the continent.
IV. Immanual Kant 1724-1804
"inner world within, and starry heavens above"
- He dealt with problems and issues raised by both empiricists
- Most important modern Philosopher, but his thought is too
complicated to deal with in this class
- The main thing to note here across is Kant's moral theory
- the idea of duty - influence on Germany
Categorical imperative - Do what you would wish to be a universal
V. Theology in the Age of Reason
- Liguori and Moral Theology
- Jansenism and Ireland