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Jul 15, 2015

READER: The Philosophy Book PART III

THE AGE OF REVOLUTION – c.1750 – 1900
During the age of Revolution, Philosophy increasingly focussed on social and political issues, also along national lines. In Britain, where a revolution had already come and gone, empiricism reached a peak in the works of David Hume, while the new utilitarianism dominated political philosophy.

This is the third part of the post on the Philosophy - History and its ideas and perspectives. To read the other parts, click below...

Doubt Is Not A Pleasant Condition, But Certainty Is Absurd – Voltaire c. 1694 – 1778
Voltaire Image curtsy Wikipedia
Voltaire refutes the idea of certainty in two ways. First, he points out that apart from a few necessary truths of mathematics and logic, nearly every fact and theory in history has been revised at some point in time. Second, He agrees with Locke that there is no such thing as an innate idea, and points out that idea we seem to know as true from birth may be only cultural, as these changes from country to country.

Custom Is The Great Guide Of Human Life – David Hume c.1711 -1776
David Hume, divided the contents of our minds into two kinds of phenomenon, and then asking how these relate to each other. 

The two phenomenon are ‘impressions’ – or direct perceptions, which Hume calls the ‘sensations, passions, and emotions’ – and ‘ideas’, which are faint copies of our impressions, such as thoughts, reflections, and imaginings.

Hume makes his strongest case against rationalism, for he is saying that it is belief (which he defines as ‘a lively idea related to or associated with a present impression’), guided by custom, that lies at the heart of our claim to knowledge rather than reason.
1781: Kant is inspired by Hume to write his ‘Critique of Pure Reason’
1934: Karl Popper proposes falsification as the basis for the scientific method, as opposed to observation and induction.

Time Line
Man Was Born Free Yet Everywhere He Is In Chains – Jean-Jacques Rousseau c. 1712 – 1778
Like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Rousseau compared an idea of humanity in a hypothetical ‘natural state’ with how people actually live in a civil society. At the centre of all his works lay the idea that reason threatens human innocence and, in turn, freedom and happiness. Instead of the education of the intellect, he proposes an education of the senses, and he suggests that our religious faith should be guided by the heart, not the head.

1971: John Rawls develops the idea of ‘Justice as Fairness’ in his book A Theory Of Justice.

Man Is An Animal That Makes Bargains – Adam Smith c.1723 – 1790
Like his Swiss contemporary, Rousseau, Smith that the motives of human beings are partly benevolent and partly self – interested, but that self-interest is the stronger trait and so is a better guide to human behaviors. Smith goes on to claim that the exchange of useful objects is a distinctively human characteristic.

There Are Two Worlds: Our Bodies And The External World – Immanuel Kant c.1724 – 1804
Image curtsy Wikipedia
Immanuel Kant thought it was ‘scandalous’ that in more than 2000 years of philosophical thought, nobody had been able to produce an argument to prove that there really is a world out there, external to us. He insists that space, time, and certain concepts are features of the world we experience (what Kant called the phenomenal world) rather than features of the world itself considered separately from experience (what Kant called the noumenal world)

The fact that Kant locates the a priori even within our intuitions of the world was important for 20th century phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, who sought to examine objects of experience independently of any assumptions we may have about them. Kant’s work also remains an important reference for contemporary philosophers today, especially in the branches of metaphysics and epistemology.
19th Century: The German idealist movement develops in response to Kant’s Philosophy.
1900s: Edmund Husserl develops phenomenology, the study of objects of experience, using Kant’s understanding of consciousness.

Society Is Indeed A Contract – Edmund Burke c. 1729 -97
Edmund Burke attempts to redress the balance by reminding us that human beings also enrich their lives through science, art, and virtue, and that while society is indeed a contract or partnership, it is not simply concerned with economics, or, as he puts it, ‘gross animal existence’. Society embodies the common good (our agreement on customs, norms, and values), but for Burke, ‘society’ means more than just the people living now – it also includes our ancestors and descendants. Moreover, because every political constitution is part of ‘the great primeval contract of eternal society’. God himself is society’s ultimate guarantor.
20th Century: British philosopher Michael Oakeshott develops a more liberal form of Conservatism.

The Greatest Happiness For The Greatest Number – Jeremy Bentham c. 1748 – 1832
Jeremy Bentham, a legal reformer and philosopher, was convinced that all human activity was driven by only two motivating forces – the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure. In ‘The principles of Morals and Legislation’ (1789), he argues that all social and political decisions should be made with the aim of achieving the greatest number for the greatest numbers of people.

Mind Has No Gender – Mary Wollstonecraft c. 1759 – 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft
Image curtsy Wikipedia
Wollstonecraft argues that if men and women are given the same education they will acquire the same good character and rational approach to life, because they have fundamentally similar brains and minds.

Late 20th Century: A surge of feminist activism begins to overturn most of the social and political inequalities between the sexes in Western society.

What Sort Of Philosophy One Chooses Depends On What Sort Of Person One Is – Johann Gottlieb Fichte c.1762 – 1814
Gottlieb examined how it is possible for us to exist as ethical beings with free will, while living in a world that appears to be causally determined: that is to say, in a world where every event follows on necessarily from previous events and conditions, according to unvarying laws of nature.

About No Subject Is There Less Philosophizing than About Philosophy – Friedrich Schlegel c.1772 – 1829
The German Historian and Poet, Friedrich Schlegel is generally credited with introducing the use of aphorisms (short, ambiguous sayings) into later modern philosophy. Schlegel disagrees with the approaches of Aristotle and Descartes, saying they are wrong to assume that there are solid ‘first principles’ that can form a starting point. Schlegel says Philosophy must always ‘start in the middle… it is a whole, and the path to recognizing it is no straight line but a circle’.
1830” George Hegel says that ‘the whole of philosophy resembles a circle of circles’
1920s: Martin Heidegger argues that philosophy is a matter of our relationship with our own existence.
1967: Jacques Derrida claims that philosophical analysis can only be made at the level of language and texts.

Reality Is A Historical Process – Georg Hegel c.1770 – 1831
Hegel was the single most famous philosopher in Germany during the First half of the 19th century. His central idea was that all phenomena from consciousness to political institutions are aspects of a single Spirits (by which is meant both ‘mind’ and ‘idea’). Over time spirit recognizes these phenomena as aspects of itself, and reintegrates them. This process of reintegration Hegel calls the ‘dialectic’, and it is one that we (who are all aspects of Spirit) understand as ‘history’.

Reality is Spirit – both thought and what is known by thought – and undergoes a process of historical development.
1846: Karl Marx writes ‘The German Ideology’, which uses Hegel’s dialectical method.
1943: Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist work ‘Being and Nothingness’ relies upon Hegel’s notion of the dialectic.

Every Man Takes The Limits Of His Own Field Of Vision For The Limits Of The World – Arthur Schopenhauer c.1788 -1860
Arthur Schopenhauer
Image curtsy Wikipedia
The important difference between Kant and Schopenhauer is that for Schopenhauer, the phenomenal and noumenal are not two different worlds but the same world, experienced differently. Schopenhauer’s philosophy here echoes the Buddhist concept of nirvana (a transcendent state free from desire or suffering).

Schopenhauer studied the Hindu Bhagwat Gita. He realizes that if we can recognize that our separateness from the universe is essentially an illusion – because all our individual wills and the Will of the universe is one and the same thing
Late 19th Century: Friedrich Nietzsche puts forward the notion of a ‘Will to Power’ to explain human motivations.
Early 20th Century: Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud explores what lies behind our basic human urges.

Theology Is Anthropology – Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach c.1804 -1872
Feuerbach suggest that in our yearning for all that is best in humankind – love, compassion, kindness and so on – we have imagined a being that incorporates all of these qualities in the highest possible degree, and then called it ‘God’. Theology (the study of God) is therefore nothing more than anthropology (the study of humanity).

Mid-19th Century: Karl Marx uses Feuerbach’s reasoning in his philosophy of political revolution.
Late 19th Century: The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud argues that religion is a projection of human wishes.

Over His Own Body And Mind, The Individual Is Sovereign – John Stuart Mill c.1806 – 1873
Mill’s moral and political philosophy is less extreme than his predecessors’ aiming for reform rather than revolution, and it formed the basis of British Victorian liberalism. He believes that if society leaves individual to live in a way that makes them happy, it enables them to achieve their potential. This in turn benefits society, as the achievements of individual talents contribute to the good of all.
1930’s: Economist J M Keynes, influenced by Mill, develops liberal economic theories.
1971: John Rawls publishes ‘A Theory of Justice’, based on the idea that laws should be those everyone would accept.

Anxiety Is The Dizziness Of Freedom - Soren Kierkegaard c.1813 – 1855
Curtsy Wikipedia
Kierkegaard believes that our lives are determine by our actions, which are themselves determined by our choices, so how we make those choices is critical to our lives . Like Hegel, he sees moral decisions as a choice between the hedonistic (self-gratifying) and the ethical. But where Hegel thought this choice was largely determined by the historical and environmental conditions of our times, Kierkegaard believes that moral choices are absolutely free, and above all subjective. It is our will only that determines our judgment. However, far from being a reason for happiness, this compete freedom of choice provokes in us a feeling of anxiety or dread, which he explains in his book ‘The Concept of Anxiety’.
1927: Heidegger explores the concept of Angst and existentialist guilt in his book ‘Being and Time’.
1938: Sartre lays down the foundation of his existentialist philosophy.
1946: Ludwig Wittgenstein acknowledges Kierkegaard’s work in ‘Culture and Value’.

The History Of All Hitherto Existing Society Is The History Of Class Struggles – Karl Marx c.1818 -1883
Karl Marx
Image curtsy Wikipedia
Karl Marx, one of the greatest thinkers of 19th century, believed that the complex history of the human species can be reduced to a single formula.

Marx’s originality lies in his combination of pre-existing ideas rather than the creation of new ones. His system uses insights from German idealist Philosophers, especially Georg Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach; from French political theorists, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and from British political economist, particularly Adam Smith.
1880s: Friedrich Engels tries to develop Marx’s theories into a fully-fledged philosophy of historical materialism
1930s: Marxism becomes the official philosophy of the Soviet Union and many other communist countries

Must The Citizen Ever Resign His Consciousness To The Legislator? – Henry David Thoreau c.1817 – 1862
American Philosopher Henry Thoreau developed the idea that nature was essentially benign, further, arguing that ‘all good things are wild and free’, and that the laws of man suppress rather than protect civil liberties.
1907: Mahatma Gandhi cites Thoreau as an influence on his campaign of passive resistance in South Africa.
1964: Martin Luther King is awarded Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign to end racial discrimination through civil disobedience and non-cooperation.

Consider What Effect Things Have – Charles Sanders Peirce c.1839 -1914
This idea that the meaning of a concept is the sensory effect of its object is known as Pragmatic Maxim, and it became the founding principle of pragmatism – the belief that the ‘truth’ is the account of reality that works best for us.
1980s: Richard Rorty’s version of Pragmatism argues that the very notion of truth can be dispensed with.

Act As If What You Do Makes A Difference – William James c1842 – 1910
For James, the truth of an idea depends on how useful it is; that is to say, whether or not it does what is required of it. If an idea does not contradict the known facts – such as laws of science – and it does provide a means of predicting things accurately enough for our purposes, he says there can be no reason not to consider it true, in the same way that Pierce considered knowledge as a useful tool irrespective of the facts.

1921: Bertrand Russell explores reality a pure experience in ‘The Analysis Of Mind’

Time Line
TEXT AND TIME LINE IMAGES: From "THE PHILOSOPHY BOOKby the Publishers - DK London of series, 'Big Idea Simply Explained'. 

Hope you have liked the second part of the post on the Philosophy - History and its ideas and perspectives. To read the other parts, click below...

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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