THE MORDERN WORLD – 1900 -1950
Towards the end of the 19th century, philosophy once again reached a turning point. Science and particularly Charles Darwin's theory of evolution (1859), had thrown into doubt the idea of the universe as God's creation, with humankind as the peak of his creative genius. Moral and political philosophy had become entirely human-centerer, with Karl Marx declaring religion "the opiate of the people". Following in the footsteps of Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche believed that western Philosophy, withers roots in Greek and Judaeo-Christian traditions, was ill-equipped to explain modern world view.
This is the third part of the post on the Philosophy - History and its ideas and perspectives. To read the other parts, click below...
Man Is Something To Be Surpassed – Friedrich Nietzsche c1844 -1900
Nietzsche targets three linked ideas in particular: First, the idea we have of ‘man’ or human nature; second,
the idea we have of God; and third, the ideas we have about morality, or ethics.
Image by Edvard Munch curtsy Wikipedia
In’ How the “Real World” at last Became Myth’, Nietzsche goes on to explain this as follows: With the real world, we have also abolished the apparent world’. Nietzsche now sees the beginning of the end of philosophy’s ‘longest error’: its infatuation with the distinction between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’, and the idea of two worlds. The end of this error, Nietzsche writes, is the zenith of mankind – the high point of all humanity.
And when we see through these philosophical illusions, the old idea of ‘man’ can be surpassed. The ‘Superman’ is Nietzsche’s vision of a fundamentally life-affirming way of being. It is one that can become the bearer of meaning not in the world beyond, but here; Superman is ‘the meaning of the Earth’.
At one point in ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ he makes it clear that he considers nationalism is a form of alienation or failure. ‘Only where the state ends, Zarathustra says, ‘there begins the human being who is not superfluous.
1930s: Nietzsche’s work is used to help construct the mythology of Nazism
Intuition Goes In The Very Direction Of Life – Henri Bergson c.1859 – 1941
Bergson says there are two different kinds of knowledge: relative knowledge, which involves knowing something from our own unique particular perspective; and absolute knowledge, which is knowing things as they actually are. Bergson believes that these are reached by different methods, the first through analysis or intellect, and the second through intuition. Kant’s mistake, Bergson believes, is that he does not recognize the full importance of our faculty of intuition, which allows us to grasp an object’s uniqueness through direct connection. Our intuition is linked to what, Bergson called our élan vital, a life –force (Vitalism) that interprets the flux of experience in terms of time rather than space.
1927: Alfred North Whitehead writes ‘Process Philosophy’ suggesting that the existence of the natural world should be understood in terms of process and change, not things or fixed stabilities.
We Think Only When We Are Confronted With Problems – John Dewey c.1859 -1952
For Dewey, philosophical problems are not abstract problems divorced from people’s lives. He sees them as problems that occur because humans are living beings trying to make a sense of their world, struggling to decide how to best act within it.
“Education is not an affair of telling and being told, but an active and constructive process” John Dewey.
Real progress, Santayana believes, is not so much a matter of revolution as of adaptation, taking what we have learned from the past and using it to build the future.
2004: In his book, Memory, History, Forgetting, French philosopher Paul Ricoeur explores the necessity not only of remembering, but also of forgetting the past.
It Is Only Suffering That Makes Us Persons – Miguel De Unamuno c. 1864 – 1936
The Spanish philosopher, novelist, and poet, Miguel de Unamuno, is perhaps best known for his book ‘The Tragic Sense Of Life’ (1913). In this he writes that all consciousness is consciousness of death (We are painfully aware of our lack of immortality) and of suffering. What makes us human is the fact that we suffer.
It looks like the idea of Buddha, but Unamuno’s response to suffering is very different. Unlike Buddha, who also said that suffering is an inescapable part of all human life, Unamuno does not see suffering as a problem to be overcome through practicing detachment. Instead he argues that suffering is an essential part of what it means to exist as a human being, and a vital experience.
20th Century: Unamuno’s philosophy of suffering influences other Spanish writers such as Federico Garcia Lorca and Juan Ramon Jimenez, and the British author Graham Greene
Russell’s suggestion is that we look at work not in terms of these curious moral ideas that are a relic of earlier times, but in terms of what makes for a full and satisfying human life. And when we do this, Russell believes, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we should all simply work less.
Love Is A Bridge From Poorer To Richer Knowledge – Max Scheler c.1874 - 1928
Max Scheler belongs to philosophical movement ‘Phenomenology, which attempts to investigate all the phenomena of our inner experience; it is the study of our consciousness.
It is love, Scheler believes, that makes things apparent to our experience and that makes knowledge possible. Scheler writes, that love is ‘a kind of spiritual midwife’ that is capable of drawing us towards knowledge, both knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of the world. It is the ‘primary determinant’ of a person’s ethics, possibilities, and fate.
Only As An Individual Can Man Become A Philosopher – Karl Jaspers c.1883 - 1969
For German Philosopher and psychiatrist Karl Jaspers, philosophy is a personal struggle. He suggests that philosophy is a matter of our own attempts to realize truth. Since philosophy is an individual struggle, he writes in his 1941 book ‘On My Philosophy’, we can philosophize only as individuals. We cannot turn to anybody else to tell us the truth; we must discover it for ourselves, by our own efforts.
Life Is A Series Of Collisions With The Future – Jose Ortega Y Gasset c.1883 -1955
Ortega says that it makes no sense to see ourselves as separate from the world. If we want to think seriously about ourselves, we have to see that we are always immersed in particular circumstances – Circumstances that are often oppressive and limiting. There limitations are not only because of our physical surroundings, but also of our thoughts, which contain prejudices, and our behavior which is shaped by habit.
To Philosophize First One Must Confess – Hajime Tanabe c.1885 -1962
For Tanabe, philosophy is a process of relating, in the deepest possible sense, to our very being – an idea that is partly shaped by his reading of Martin Heidegger.
Philosophy in other words, is not an activity that we engage in, but something that happens through us when we gain access to our true selves by letting go of the self – a phenomenon that Tanabe calls ‘action without an acting subject’.
Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico – Philosophicus is perhaps one of the most forbidding texts in the history of 20th century philosophy. Only around 70 pages long in its English translation, the book is made up of a series of highly condensed and technical numbered remarks. In the book, Wittgenstein wants to set the limits of language and, by implication, of all thought. He does this because he suspects that a great deal of philosophy discussion and disagreement is based on some fundamental errors in how we go about thinking and talking about the world.
We Are Ourselves The Entities To Be Analyzed – Martin Heidegger c.1889 -1976
In his book, ‘Being and Time’, Heidegger claims that when other philosopher have asked ontological questions, they have tended to use approaches that are too abstract and shallow. If we want to know what it means to say that something exists, we need to start looking at the question from the perspective of those being for whom being is an issue.
He contributed to the birth of existentialism and influenced Sartre, Levinas and Gadamer.
“Dying is not an event; it is a phenomenon to be understood existentially” Martin Heidegger
The Individuals Only True Moral Choice Is Through Self – Sacrifice For The Community – Tetsuro Watsuji c.1889 -1960
Watsuji was one of the leading philosophers in Japan in the early part of the 20th century. Watsuji’s studies of western approach to ethics convinced him that thinkers in the West tend to take an individualistic approach to human nature, and so also to ethics. But for Watsuji, individuals can only be understood a expressions of their particular times, relationships, and social contexts, which together constitutes a ‘climate’. He explores the ideas of human nature in terms of our relationships with the wider community, which form a network within which we exist.
Logic Is The Last Scientific Ingredient Of Philosophy – Rudolf Carnap c.1891 – 1970
Carnap believes that many apparently deep philosophical problems – such as metaphysical ones – are meaningless, because they cannot be proved or disproved through experience. He adds that they are also infact, pseudo-problems caused by logical confusions in the way we use language.
1930s: Karl Popper proposes that science works by means of falsifiability: no amount of positive proofs can prove something to be true, whereas one negative result confirms that a theory is incorrect.
Theories that are un-testable (e.g. that we each have an invisible spirit guide, or that God created the universe) are not part of the natural sciences. This does not mean that they are worthless, only that they are the kinds of theorist that sciences deal with.
The idea of falsifiability is still used in distinguishing between scientific and non-scientific claims, and Popper remains perhaps the most important philosopher of science of the 20th century.
1978: Paul Feyerabend, in ‘Against Method’, questions the very idea of scientific method.
Intelligence Is Moral Category – Theodor Adorno c. 1903 -1969
In his book ‘Minima Moralia’, the German Philosopher Theodor Adorno calls into question this long tradition of ‘saint / sage who was foolish but morally good or pure’. The problem with the idea of the holy fool, Adorno says, is that it divides us into different parts, and in doing so makes us incapable of acting judiciously at all. Adorno’s view implies that evil acts are not just failures of feelings, but also failures of intelligence and understanding.
"Popular culture, not only makes us stupid; it also makes us unable to act morally" - Theodor Adorno.
1994: Portuguese neuroscientist Antonio Damasio publishes ‘Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain’
Philosophy assumes that there is a universal essence of what it is to be human, and that this essence can be found in every single human that has ever existed, or will ever exist.
However, a rock is simply a rock, a cauliflower is simply a cauliflower, and mouse is simply a mouse. But human beings possess the ability to actively shape themselves. By making choices, we are also creating a template for how we think a human life ought to be. If I decide to become a philosopher, then I am not just deciding for myself. I am implicitly saying that being a philosopher is a worthwhile activity. This means that freedom is the greatest responsibility of all.
“As far as men go, it is not what they are that interest me, but what they can become” – Jean-Paul Sartre c.1905 - 1980
In Order To See The World, We Must Break With Our Familiar Acceptance Of It – Maurice Merleau-Ponty c.1908 - 1961
Merleau-Ponty’s focus on the role of the body in experience, and his insights into the nature of the mind as fundamentally embodied, have led to a revival of interest in his work among cognitive scientists. Many recent developments in cognitive science seem to bear out his idea, that once we break with our familiar experience of the world, experience is very strange indeed.
1979: Hubert Dreyfus draws on the works Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Merleau-Ponty to explore philosophical problems raised by artificial intelligence and robotics.
Language Is A Social Art – Willard Van Orman Quine c. 1908 -2000
Some philosophers assert that language is about the relationship between words and things. Quine, however, disagrees. Language is not about the relationship between objects and verbal signifiers, but about knowing what to say and when to say it. It is, he says in his 1968 essay ‘Ontological Relativity’, a social art.
1990s: In ‘Consciousness Explained’, Quine’s former student Daniel Dennett says that both meaning and inner experience can only be understood as social acts.
The Fundamental Sense Of Freedom Is Freedom From Chains – Isaiah Berlin c.1909 - 1997
What does it mean to be free? This is the question explored by the British Philosopher Isaiah Berlin in his famous essay ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’. For Berlin, ‘negative’ freedom is what he calls our ‘fundamental sense’ of freedom. This kind of freedom is freedom from external obstacles: I am free because I am not chained to a rock, because I am not in prison, and so on.
TEXT AND TIME LINE IMAGES: From "THE PHILOSOPHY BOOK" by the Publishers - DK London of series, 'Big Idea Simply Explained'.
ॐ नमः शिवाय