Rationalism typically starts from premises that cannot coherently be denied, then attempts by logical steps to deduce every possible object of knowledge. The first rationalist, in this broad sense, is often held to be Parmenides fl. But thinking must have an object, therefore something beyond thinking really exists.
Zeno of Elea born c. Plato — B. The philosopher's work is to consider being, and the essence of things. But the characteristic of essences is that they are universal. The nature of a man, a triangle, a tree, applies to all men, all triangles, all trees. Modern rationalism begins with Descartes.
Reflection on the nature of perceptual experience, as well as scientific discoveries in physiology and optics, led Descartes and also Locke to the view that we are directly aware of ideas, rather than objects. This view gave rise to three questions:.
In , in Meditations on First Philosophy, he used this method of doubt in an attempt to establish what knowledge is most certain. He chose as the foundation of his philosophy the famous statement Cogito ergo sum "I think, therefore I am". He then attempted to rebuild a system of knowledge based on this single supposedly indubitable fact.
This involves proving the existence of God, using, among other means, a version of the ontological argument. Empiricism , in contrast to rationalism, downplays or dismisses the ability of reason alone to yield knowledge of the world, preferring to base any knowledge we have on our senses. John Locke propounded the classic empiricist view in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in , developing a form of naturalism and empiricism on roughly scientific and Newtonian principles.
Hume's work A Treatise of Human Nature combined empiricism with a spirit of skepticism.
'A reckoning for our species': the philosopher prophet of the Anthropocene
Other philosophers who made major contributions to empiricism include Thomas Hobbes and George Berkeley Bishop Berkeley. During this era, religious ideas played a mixed role in the struggles that preoccupied secular philosophy. Bishop Berkeley 's famous idealist refutation of key tenets of Isaac Newton is a case of an Enlightenment philosopher who drew substantially from religious ideas. The restricted interests of many of the philosophers of the time foreshadow the separation and specialization of different areas of philosophy that would occur in the 20th century.
Kant's intention with this work was to look at what we know and then consider what must be true about the way we know it. One major theme was that there are fundamental features of reality that escape our direct knowledge because of the natural limits of the human faculties. Kant's philosophy, known as transcendental idealism , would later be made more abstract and more general, in the movement known as German idealism , a type of absolute idealism.
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German idealism rose to popularity with G. Hegel 's publication in of Phenomenology of Spirit. In that work, Hegel asserts that the aim of philosophy is to spot the contradictions apparent in human experience which arise, for instance, out of the recognition of the self as both an active, subjective witness and a passive object in the world and to get rid of these contradictions by making them compatible.
Hegel believed that every thesis creates its own antithesis, and that out of the two arises a synthesis, a process known as the "Hegelian dialectic. The late nineteenth century brought about the rise of a new philosophy in the New World. Charles Peirce and William James are considered to be the co-founders of loosely allied schools of pragmatism , which holds that the truth of beliefs does not consist in their correspondence with reality, but in their usefulness and efficacy.
It led to what would later be called instrumentalism , the idea that what is important for a good theory is how useful it is, not how well it represents reality. Since the usefulness of any belief at any time might be contingent on circumstance, Peirce and James conceptualized final truth as that which would be established only by the future, final settlement of all opinion. Though not widely recognized under the term "pragmatist," philosophers like Henri Bergson and G.
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Moore shared many of the same foundational assumptions with the pragmatists. Pragmatism has recently been taken in new directions by Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam. Critics have accused pragmatism of falling victim to a simple fallacy: because something that is true proves useful, that usefulness is the basis for its truth. With the publication of Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's Principia Mathematica in , mathematical logic attracted the interest of many philosophers.
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With this increased interest in mathematical logic came the rise in popularity for the view known as logical positivism and related theories, all of which shared a commitment to the reliability of empirical tests. Philosophers such as Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach considered only confirmable or falsifiable claims to be genuine philosophy; anything that could not be deduced from testable claims was considered mere superstition or dogma. At the same time that logic was coming to prominence in America and Britain, a separate movement occurred in continental Europe.
Under the influence of Franz Brentano , Edmund Husserl developed a new method to study human problems in his Logical Investigations and Ideas The method, known as phenomenology , was used to examine the details of human experience and consciousness in order to observe the most basic facts of human existence; the examination included not just observations of the way the world appears but observations of one's own thoughts, and when and how they occur.
An important part of Husserl's phenomenological project was to show that all conscious acts are directed at or about objective content, a feature that Husserl called intentionality. Phenomenology later achieved international fame through the work of such philosophers as Martin Heidegger formerly Husserl's research assistant , Maurice Merleau-Ponty , and Jean-Paul Sartre. Indeed, through the work of Heidegger and Sartre, Husserl's focus on subjective experience influenced aspects of existentialism.
Heidegger expanded the study of phenomenology to elaborate a philosophical hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is a method of interpreting texts by drawing out the meaning of the text in the context it was written in. Heidegger stressed two new elements of philosophical hermeneutics: that the reader brings out the meaning of the text in the present, and that the tools of hermeneutics can be used to interpret more than just texts e.
Existentialism is a philosophical movement that rejects any predetermined role for human beings. Unlike tools, which are designed in order to fill some preconceived role for example, a knife's preconceived role, or essence , is to cut , human beings are capable, to some extent at least, of deciding for themselves what constitutes their own essence. Their influence, however, has extended beyond existentialist thought. Religious thinkers were among those influenced by Kierkegaard. Two of the targets of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche's writings were the philosophical systems of Hegel and Schopenhauer respectively, which they had each admired in their youths.
Kierkegaard thought Hegel ignored or excluded the inner subjective life of living human beings, while Nietzsche thought Schopenhauer's pessimism led people to live an ascetic, or self-hating, life. Nietzsche proposed perspectivism , which is the view that truth depends on individual perspectives.
What is Philosophy
Influence notably by Kierkegaard, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger is generally considered an existentialist thinker and one of the key figures in 20th century thought. In Being and Time , he presented a method of rooting philosophical explanations in human existence Dasein to be analysed in terms of existential categories.
Karl Jaspers is another important German existentialist philosopher. Sartre became the best-known proponent of existentialism, exploring it not only in theoretical works such as Being and Nothingness, but also in plays and novels. Sartre, along with Albert Camus , Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Simone de Beauvoir , all represented an avowedly atheistic branch of existentialism, which is now more closely associated with their ideas of the novel nausea, contingency, bad faith, and the absurd than with Kierkegaard's spiritual angst.
Nevertheless, the focus on the individual human being, responsible before the universe for the authenticity of his or her existence, is common to all these thinkers. The term analytic philosophy roughly designates a group of philosophical methods that stress clarity of meaning above all other criteria. The philosophy developed as a critique of Hegel and his followers in particular, and of speculative philosophy in general.
Some schools in the group include 20th-century realism , logical atomism, logical positivism , and ordinary language. The motivation is to have philosophical studies go beyond personal opinion and begin to have the cogency of mathematical proofs. In , Ludwig Wittgenstein published his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which gave a rigidly "logical" account of linguistic and philosophical issues. At the time, he understood most of the problems of philosophy as mere puzzles of language, which could be solved by clear thought.
Years later he would reverse a number of the positions he had set out in the Tractatus, notably in his second major work, Philosophical Investigations Investigations encouraged the development of "ordinary language philosophy," which was promoted by Gilbert Ryle , J. Austin, and a few others. The "ordinary language philosophy" thinkers shared a common outlook with many older philosophers Jeremy Bentham , Ralph Waldo Emerson , and John Stuart Mill , and it was this style of philosophical inquiry that characterized English-language philosophy for the second half of the twentieth century.
The implied outlook for "ordinary language philosophy" is that philosophy is thus not a unified whole but a set of unrelated problems.
Great thinkers whose work indicates an acceptance of this general outlook include Albert Einstein , Sigmund Freud , P. Analytic philosophy in general considers that a good approach to philosophy must itself be based on a careful examination of the meaning of language. One debate that has dominated the attention of ethicists in the history of the modern era has been between consequentialism the idea that the consequences of a particular action form the basis for any valid moral judgment about that action and deontology that decisions should be made solely or primarily by considering one's duties and the rights of others.
Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are famous for propagating utilitarianism , which is the idea that the fundamental moral rule is to strive toward the "greatest happiness for the greatest number. In contrast to consequentialism, Immanuel Kant argued that moral principles were simply products of reason. Kant believed that the incorporation of consequences into moral deliberation was a deep mistake, since it would deny the necessity of practical maxims to the working of the will.
According to Kant, reason requires that we conform our actions to the categorical imperative , which is an absolute duty unrelated to possible consequences. An important 20th-century deontologist, W. Ross , argued for weaker forms of duties called prima facie duties. More recent works have emphasized the role of character in ethics, a movement known as the aretaic turn that is, the turn towards virtues. One strain of this movement followed the work of Bernard Williams. Williams noted that rigid forms of both consequentialism and deontology demanded that people behave impartially.
This, Williams argued, requires that people abandon their personal projects, and hence their personal integrity, in order to be considered moral. Anscombe , in an influential paper, "Modern Moral Philosophy" , revived virtue ethics , inspired by Aristotle's ethics, as an alternative to what was seen as the entrenched positions of Kantianism and consequentialism.