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Paul Halsall
Modern Western Civilization

Class 8: The Rebirth of Philosophy

I. Introduction

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 Reason everything.

A. René Descartes 1591-1650

a. Biography


1628 - moved to Holland where he lived most of his life.

1649 - moved to Stockholm to visit Queen Christina -the weather killed him

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

c. Descartes' Philosophy

  1. Radical Doubt
    He tried to doubt everything as a methodological tool - "mischevious Devil" idea
  2. Knowledge
    But Je pense, donc je suis/ Cogito ergo sum

  3. Then he says that you can prove existence of God- ontological proof - based on idea of perfection implying existence.
  4. 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.
  5. MOST IMPORTANT was that from cogito ergo sum Descartes argued to sum res cogitans - I am a being that thinks

  6. 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.
  7. 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

a. Biography

Dutch/Jewish: born and lived in Holland

b. Works

c. Philosophy

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.

  1. Main Idea - Everything is God, God is Everything Pantheism or Panentheism (explain difference). Spinoza also put a great emphasis on Ethics.
  2. Spinoza was seen as an atheist - expelled from his synagogue - but his ideas did have an effect through the writings of others.

d. Links

C. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) German

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.

III. Empiricism

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


a. Introduction

The most important and influential philosopher of his time

b. Works

c. Use of Newton

d. Implications of Locke's Epistemology

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 tradition

E. David Hume 1711-1761


a. Works

b. Philosophical Position

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"

V. Theology in the Age of Reason

A. Catholic

  1. Liguori and Moral Theology
  2. Jansenism and Ireland

B. Protestant

  1. Latitudinarianism
  2. Quietism
  3. Wesleyanism