RENAISSANCE AND THE AGE OF REASON – 1500 -1750
The Renaissance - a cultural 'rebirth' of extraordinary creativity in Europe - began in 14th century Florence. It was to spread across Europe, lasting until 17th century, and it is now viewed as the bridge between the medieval and modern periods. Marked by a renewed interest in the whole of Greek and Latin Classical culture - not just the philosophical and mathematical texts assimilated by medieval Scholasticism - it was a movement that viewed humans, not God, at its centre.
This is the second part of the post on the Philosophy - History and its ideas and perspectives. To read the other parts, click below...
The End Justifies The Means – Niccolo Machiavelli c.1469 – 1527
|Niccolo Machiavelli |
But Machiavelli does not argue that the end justifies the means in all cases (Consist of those that would make the people hate their prince). There are certain means that a wise prince must avoid, for though they might achieve the desired ends, they lay him open to future dangers.
16th Century: Machiavelli’s peers begin to use the adjective ‘Machiavellian’ to describe acts of devious cunning
1928: Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini describes ‘The Prince’ as the statesman’s supreme guide.
Fame And Tranquility Can Never Be Bedfellows – Michel De Montaigne c.1533 -1592
In his essay ‘On Solitude’, (from the first volume of his Essays), Montaigne takes up a theme that has been popular since ancient times: the intellectual and moral dangers of living among other, and the value of solitude. Montaigne is not stressing the importance of physical solitude, but rather of developing the ability to resist the temptation to mindlessly fall in with the opinion and actions of the mob.
Late 19th Century: Nietzsche describes solitude as necessary to the task of self-examination, which he claims can alone free humans from the temptation just to thoughtlessly follow the mob.
Knowledge Is Power – Francis bacon c.1561 – 1626
Often credited with being the first in a tradition of thought known as British Empiricism, which is characterized by the view that all knowledge must come ultimately from sensory experience.
In 1618, he was appointed Lord Chancellor, but was dismissed two years later, when he was convicted of accepting bribes.
1934: Karl Popper states that falsification, not induction, defines the scientific method.
Man Is Machine – Thomas Hobbes c.1588 – 1679
According to Hobbes, all animals including humans are nothing more than flesh-and-blood machines. For Hobbes, the divine nature of God’s attributes is not something that the human mind is capable of fully understanding; therefore the term ‘incorporeal’ is the only one that recognizes and also honors the unknowable substance of God.
We cannot trust our senses, as we have all been ‘deceived’ by them at one time or another, and so we cannot rely on them as a sure footing for knowledge. Even though we believe that God is good, it is possible that he made us in such a way that we are prone to errors in our reasoning, or perhaps there is no God – in which case we are even more likely to be imperfect beings (having arisen only by chance) that are capable of being deceived all the time. It is at this point that Descartes realizes that there is one belief that he surely cannot doubt: his belief in his own existence. Each of us can think or say: ‘I am, I exist’, and while we are thinking or saying it we cannot be wrong about it.
For Descartes, the certainty of his own existence is crucial to his project of enquiry, but it is not the foundation of his epistemology.
1781: In his Critique of Pure Reason’, Immanuel Kant argues against Descartes, but adopts the First Certainty – ‘I think, therefore I exist’ – as the heart and starting point of his idealist philosophy.
Pascal’s point is that imagination is the most powerful force in human beings and one of our chief sources of error.As imagination usually leads to error, then the beauty, justice, and happiness it produces will usually be false.
Pascal argues that betting that God does not exist risks losing a great deal (infinite happiness in Heaven) while only gaining a little (a finite sense of independence in this world) – but betting that God exists risks losing little while gaining a great deal. It is more rational, on this basis, to believe in God.
1740: In his ‘Treatise of Human nature’, David Hume argues that ‘nothing we imagine is absolutely impossible’.
1787: Kant claims that we synthesize the incoherent messages from our sense into images, and then into concepts, using the imagination.
God Is Cause Of All Things, Which Are In Him – Benedictus Spinoza 1632 – 1677
Spinoza’s position is known as ‘Substance Monism’, which claims that all things are ultimately aspects of a single thing, as opposed to ‘substance dualism’ which claims that there are ultimately two kind of things in the universe, most commonly defined as ‘mind’ and ‘matter’.
God therefore, is not what Spinoza calls a ‘transitive’ cause of the world – something external that brings the world into being. Rather, God is the ‘immanent’ cause of the world. This means that God is in the world, that the world is in God, and that the existence and essence of the world are explained by God’s existence and essence. For Spinoza, to fully appreciate this fact is to attain the highest state of freedom and salvation possible – a state he calls ‘blessedness’.
“The human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God” - Spinoza
Late 20th Century: Philosophers Stuart Hampshire, Donald Davidson, and Thomas Nagel all develop approaches to the philosophy of mind that have similarities to Spinoza’s monist thought.
No Man’s Knowledge Can Go Beyond His Experience – John Locke 1632-1704
John Locke was against the idea that human beings possess any kind of innate knowledge. He takes the view
that the mind at birth is a tabula rasa – a blank tablet or a new sheet of paper upon which experience writes.
Although Locke may reject the doctrine of innate ideas, he does no reject the concept that human beings have innate capacities. Indeed, the possession of capacities such as perception and reasoning are central to his accounts of the mechanics of human knowledge and understanding.
17th Century, Gottfried Leibniz argues that the mind may seem to be a tabula rasa at birth, but contains innate knowledge, which experience gradually uncovers.
1966: Noam Chomsky, in ‘Cartesian Linguistics, sets out his theory of innate grammer.
There Are Two Kinds Of Truths: Truths Of Reasoning And Truths of Fact: Gottried Leibniz c.1646-1716
His claim which he makes in his most famous work, the ‘Monadology’, is that in principle all knowledge can be accessed by rational reflection. However due to shortcomings in our rational faculties, human beings must also rely on experiences as a means of acquiring knowledge.
1600s: Rene Descartes claims that ideas come to us in three ways; they can come be derived from experience, drawn from reason, or known innately (being created in the mind by God)
1927: Alfred North Whitehead postulates ‘actual entities’, similar to Leibniz’s monads, which reflect the whole universe in themselves.
To Be Is To Be Perceived – George Berkeley c.1685 – 1753
Berkeley’s claims rather that all knowledge must come from experience, and that all we ever have access to are our perceptions. And since these perceptions are simply ‘ideas’ (or mental representations), we have no grounds for believing that anything exists other than ideas and the perceivers of ideas.
1781: Kant develops Berkeley’s theory into ‘transcendental idealism’, according to which the world that we experience is only appearance.
1807: George Hegel replaces Kant’s idealism with ‘absolute idealism’ – the theory that absolute reality is Spirit.
TEXT AND TIME LINE IMAGES: From "THE PHILOSOPHY BOOK" by the Publishers - DK London of series, 'Big Idea Simply Explained'.
ॐ नमः शिवाय