Remarks concerning twelve modern philosophers, from Francis Bacon to Bertrand Russell, and presenting a citizen standpoint involving a concluding discussion of science, one relating to the "against method" controversy associated with Paul Feyerabend.
1. Renaissance Humanists
2. Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon
3. Descartes and Spinoza
4. Leibniz and John Locke
5. David Hume and Immanuel Kant
6. Hegel and Schopenhauer
7. Karl Marx and Bertrand Russell
8. Citizen Corollary
9. Science, Philosophy, and Anarchism
1. Renaissance Humanists
The origins of modern Western philosophy are traceable to the Italian Renaissance, an era which transited from medieval attitudes. There are detailed studies on this period, though many commentators have commenced the modern sequence with English and French developments. That means Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes, who are both inseparably associated with the inauguration of scientific theory as known in later centuries.
Renaissance thinkers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries frequently gave latitude to beliefs that were subsequently eclipsed, including astrology and forms of occultism. The humanism of this period effectively revived Plato, who had long been in the shadow of Aristotle as mediated by the medieval Christian schoolmen. The Italian humanists have been described as scholars rather than philosophers. They were frequently quite closely allied to the Roman Catholic church, despite the points of departure they innovated. A well known instance of career convenience is that of the historian Francesco Guicciardini, who in 1529 revealed a rather glaring discrepancy:
"No man is more disgusted than I am with the ambition, the avarice, and the profligacy of the priests.... nevertheless, my position at the court of several Popes forced me to desire their greatness, for the sake of my own interest." (Quoted in Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, Routledge edn 2000, p. 488).
The necessary improvement upon such conveniences could well provide a gauge for subsequent philosophy roles. Independence from, and participation in, patronage and career status, can take various forms. The Papal court was a very obvious milieu of comfortable livelihood, plus sanction as a relevant status entity. The Medici court was another avenue for intellectual subservience during the Renaissance period.
The study of social background and career complexities may be regarded as a necessary complement to the inventories of conceptualism that are generally more predominant. A distinctive feature of philosophy is often considered to be independence of thinking from establishment drawbacks. This factor has not been uniform amongst philosophers. Direct attempts to point this out can meet with resistance, and so a more indirect approach is advisable.
2. Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon
In England there were strong reactions to the Roman Catholic doctrine and organisational format. One version of this mood gained expression in Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who has been described as the first materialist of the modern era. The son of a vicar, he attended Oxford University and gained a B. A. degree. He then became a tutor to the aristocratic Cavendish family, which resulted in a form of long term patronage. In 1610, Hobbes participated in the Grand Tour of Europe, an upper class convention associated with a cultured outlook and acquisition of skills in diplomacy. In France and Italy he encountered the new scientific mood, contrasting with the scholasticism he had learned at university. Yet he did not become a philosopher until the 1630s.
In 1640, Hobbes became a refugee in France during a phase of political strife in his homeland, when a civil war erupted between "Roundheads and Cavaliers." The royalists lost the fight, and in 1644-5 many of them fled to France. Hobbes' major work Leviathan was published in 1651. This book was composed during exile in France, and the sub-title more graphically depicts the contents: The Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil. Influential in political philosophy, Leviathan is famous for the mechanistic insistence that life is only a motion of the limbs. "Developing his assertion that only matter existed, Hobbes came to look at every moving object, including human beings, as some sort of machine, indeed at the whole universe as a vast machine" (Bryan Magee, The Story of Philosophy, London: Dorling Kindersley 1998, p. 79).
Hobbes resisted both academic ("Aristotelian") and religious ideologies, and is often identified as an early empiricist. He believed in equality, and was liberal in several basic respects; he nevertheless maintained a stance in the elite sector, advocating absolutist government as a means of avoiding civil war. Yet the Leviathan exhibits a secularist orientation, and as a consequence, the author was in friction with other exiled royalists. At large, both Anglicans and French Catholics were offended by his output. In some desperation he returned to England in 1651, and successfully appealed to the new "Commonwealth" government for protection.
This new republican government is strongly associated with Oliver Cromwell (d. 1658), a Puritan military commander who became Lord Protector. The radical strategy had abolished the monarchy, the House of Lords, and the Anglican church. Hobbes had been in acute contradiction with his invocation of absolutism, clearly influenced by aristocratic patronage.
Events were in flux. At the Restoration in 1660, he was favoured by Charles II (his former student in mathematics), who granted him a pension. However, the notoriety of Hobbes as an atheist surfaced in a 1666 House of Commons bill against atheism, implicating the Leviathan. He was not thereafter allowed to publish anything controversial; his views were suppressed. Yet Hobbes was famous on the Continent, and had participated in Parisian events, being one of those savants who criticised the Meditations of Rene Descartes in well known scholarly and scientific controversies. Hobbes met Descartes in 1648, but they were in some disagreement. Though both were "mechanists," Hobbes was much closer to a materialist view than his French rival. The versions of Reason were already strongly diverging.
Some commentators have asserted that Hobbes was an atheist. He himself denied the accusations made against him. The ideational background is very relevant. At this period, many reasoning people were accused of atheism when they actually did believe in God; their overall views simply did not fit in with the mode of dogmatic religion then current and encouraged by clergymen. A number of the contemporary critics of Hobbes did credit him with a belief in God. He exposited a "matter in motion" theory which seems to be materialist or proto-materialist, though he also commented that essential religion does not contradict reason and experience. Hobbes often refers to God as existing, and attributed materiality to God, believing that minds were material (whereas Descartes believed that mind/thought can exist without a body). Hobbes could be described as a sceptical theist, and one who was strongly critical of Biblical texts (reminiscent of Spinoza the deist).
In his pre-philosophy period, Hobbes was secretary for a time to Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a predecessor who gained giant stature amongst scientists of subsequent generations. The nature of Bacon's career has been controversial, in view of the accusation that he accepted bribes in his role as Lord Chancellor of England. His defence has since minimised the weakness, though during his lifetime he was pronounced guilty and dismissed from office.
Sir Francis Bacon had close connections with the English royal court during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I, and became a viscount. He had attended Cambridge University, and there reacted to the academic Aristotelianism. His career as a lawyer and politician was accompanied by philosophic interests. Bacon advocated scientific bodies of researchers in the pursuit of observations conducive to the discovery of fact; Aristotelian logic was here bypassed. His formulation of scientific method, as in Novum Organum (1620), is considered by critics to have the disadvantage of creating an obsession with experiment. His theories exercised a strong influence upon many members of the Royal Society, founded by Charles II in 1662. Bacon is viewed as the founder of modern inductive method.
"The part played by deduction in science is greater than Bacon supposed" (Russell, Hist. of Western Philos., p. 529). The hypothetico-deductive component in scientific activity has received many treatments since Bertrand Russell inaugurated analytical philosophy. The vital component can often be elusive, or fractured, despite the concessions appearing.
Bacon's influential book The Advancement of Learning (1605) evidenced his resistance to the scholasticism of the universities, a subject often associated with Aristotle. Bacon was not against religion, but maintained that philosophy should be governed by reason.
"The whole basis of his philosophy was practical: to give mankind mastery over the forces of nature by means of scientific discoveries and inventions. He held that philosophy should be kept separate from theology, not intimately blended with it as in scholasticism" (Russell, Hist. of Western Philos., p. 527).
Mastery of the forces of nature has not always been a blessing, and the twentieth century is likely to be remembered as a disaster era, if due education prevails. Today, sixteenth century scholasticism is often dismissed in a few lines, and was eclipsed by Baconian induction. The subject had very little to do with Aristotle, who was overlaid by the Christian series of interpreters, dating back to the time of Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274).
"Scholasticism," when applied to the late medieval centuries, is a blanket term in which different trends are conflated. The Aquinas contingent had vanquished the Averroists, who had effectively separated reason from the confines of theology. Prior to that development were the Islamic falasifa, a diverse grouping, and also the Neoplatonist John Scottus Eriugena. All this was late in the day by comparison with Greek Neoplatonism and the earlier philosophies of the Hellenistic world deriving from Athens and other locales. Much of the history involved had been lost by the time of Francis Bacon, and some of this is still obscure, despite the recent progress made. Bacon was not the first to separate philosophy from religion, but the subsequent and dramatic increase in technological accomplishment was unprecedented. Whether that empiricist factor is a sufficient denominator for philosophy is now very much in question.
3. Descartes and Spinoza
A foil to Hobbesian and Baconian preoccupations is often seen in the approach of Rene Descartes (1596-1650). His reputation as an arch-rationalist, emphasising the priority of reason, is realistically muted by his empiricist preoccupations in relation to physiology. Descartes was a competent mathematician, but this was not the only scientific dimension of his interests. He believed in certain knowledge, contrasting with the contemporary sceptics in France whom he rivalled. His Principles of Philosophy (1644) endeavoured to explain all phenomena in terms of a "mechanical" operation, though differing strongly from Hobbes via such factors as the "Cartesian dualism" of mind and matter. His version of science has since been superseded by more detailed models, though "dualism" remains a subject of disagreement.
The lifestyle of Descartes opted for a private pursuit of his research interests, which involved a retreat from the religious strictures in France to the comparative freedom of the Netherlands. He sought to explicate a philosophy in harmony with the new sciences forming in his time; he has been described as a major contributor to the Scientific Revolution. This effort evoked the antagonism of Roman Catholic and Calvinist theologians, who were entrenched in the university milieux. The Catholic opponents were committed to the late medieval scholastic doctrines, which Descartes was effectively negotiating. At the end of his life he moved to the royal court of Sweden at the invitation of Queen Christina, but died soon after.
Thomas Hobbes was in effective rivalry with Descartes, though the latter avoided involvement with political crossfire, and was not encumbered by the ideology of absolutist monarchy. In France, that form of regime continued for several generations after, and in the shadow of which lived such philosophical radicals as Denis Diderot, who were not Cartesians.
The second major rationalist was Baruch Spinoza (1632-77), and he was even more retiring. This Jewish dissident, living in Holland, was excommunicated by the rabbis at an early age, and the details are still largely obscure. Moving at a tangent to Descartes, he was forceful in his critique of orthodox religion, a matter which has been attended by confusions. He was long accused of being an atheist, but was discernibly a deist. Spinoza's independence from both conservative religion and academic role involved a simple and non-status lifestyle as a lens-grinder living in rented rooms.
The writings of Spinoza include the pantheist Ethics and the Theological-Political Treatise. In the latter, he approached the Bible from an unusual standpoint that gained widespread censure from Christian theologians. Spinoza employed an early form of historical criticism, viewing Old Testament texts as being created by ideological limitations of the composers. His Ethics could not be published during his lifetime, though not because that treatise was composed in a geometrical style associated with Euclid. This book "shows that those endowed with human minds should devote themselves, as much as they can, to a contemplative life" (quote from the jacket description to The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza's Ethics, ed. O. Koistinen, Cambridge University Press, 2009). However, Spinoza was not a cloistered ascetic, but a retiring artisan with a very unusual polymathic temperament.
Unlike the empiricist philosophers and scientists of his time, Spinoza included a distinctive psychological endeavour in his Ethics (and quite apart from his substance monism, which has also been compared to Stoic tenets). This relates to the control of emotion. Ancient philosophical influences have been detected in his ethical theory, which is, however, quite distinctive. The inferred influences are here Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics (Don Garrett, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, 1996, p. 305).
In the ideational sense, Spinoza died a grim death at the hands of diverse theological critics and empiricist suppressors for several generations after, becoming more acceptable to the Romantics, though relegated to acosmism even by Hegel. When the Rationalist corpse was eventually exhumed by scholarship, the "intellectual love of God" did not tally with the stigma of "atheist." The ghost of "pantheism" may yet evade the various misconceptions imposed.
4. Leibniz and John Locke
One of the visitors to Spinoza at The Hague was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), who there learned of the heretic's complex contention that "God is the substance of all things." Leibniz was the third major rationalist of this era, and a polymath of extensive scope. The son of a professor at Leipzig University, he gained a degree in law and early refused a professorial post. Leibniz opted instead for the life of a courtier, librarian, and diplomat in the service of the wealthy Dukes of Hanover, contrasting strongly with the independent lifestyle of Spinoza. A well known accusation against Leibniz is that "what he published was designed to win the approbation of princes and princesses" (Russell, Hist. of Western Philosophy, p. 563). However, the distinctive letters and unpublished writings of Leibniz add further dimensions to his profile.
Leibniz pursued diverse researches in logic, mathematics, physics, and metaphysics. He is celebrated for an independent discovery of infinitesimal calculus, a feat which caused a pronounced friction with Isaac Newton. The overall complexity of his polymathic project has been described in terms of:
"the dream of recalling the multiplicity of human knowledge to a logical, metaphysical, and pedagogical unity, centred on the theistic vision of the Christian tradition and aimed at the common good; this project was formulated in a series of texts which outlined his comprehensive plan to reform and improve the whole encyclopaedia of the sciences" (Maria R. Antognazza, Leibniz: An Intellectual Biography, Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 6).
One of his unpublished writings was the distinctive Nouveaux Essais (New Essays), written during 1703-5. This composition was the response of Leibniz to the major work of his English contemporary John Locke. The German polymath produced a critical commentary on Locke's lengthy Essay Concerning Human Understanding, following the French translation of the latter work. Leibniz disagreed with Locke, but was respectful, and wanted to be in communication or debate with him. Attempts at correspondence were frustrated by Locke's reluctance to reply in depth, a situation terminated by the latter's death in 1704.
Leibniz abandoned his intention to publish the commentary. "One cannot but be astonished at Leibniz's ability to turn his back on even his most polished and significant manuscripts.... Leibniz did not attempt to provide a rounded account either of his own philosophy or of Locke's. Yet for all these limitations, the Nouveaux Essais were undoubtedly a masterpiece of philosophical thinking of exceptional depth and seemingly inexhaustible fertility" (ibid., pp. 413-14). See also Nicholas Jolley, Leibniz and Locke: A Study of the New Essays on Human Understanding (Oxford, 1984). The shelved commentary was not published until 1765, long after the author's death.
"Predictably the New Essays has been seen as a classic confrontation between rationalist and empiricist theories of knowledge. In fact, however, it is clear from Leibniz's statements about the work that his main aim is not to refute Locke's theory of knowledge at all; it is rather to defend an immaterialist theory of mind against what he regarded as Locke's insidious attacks on the doctrine" (Nicholas Jolley, Leibniz, Routledge, 2005, p. 25).
John Locke 1632-1704) was initially an Oxford academic. In 1667 he became personal physician to Lord Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury. The patron was much involved in politics, a factor which influenced the interests of Locke, who thereafter acted as a secretary and bureaucrat. The patron became Lord Chancellor in 1672, and was the leader of Parliamentary opposition to the Stuart kings; Shaftesbury was eventually part of the unsuccessful attempt to prevent the Catholic monarch James II from gaining the throne. Shaftesbury took flight to Holland in 1682, and in the year following, Locke likewise became a political exile.
Locke has been implicated in the Parliamentarian plot to install the Dutch Protestant king William of Orange on the English throne, thereby replacing the problems caused by James II (rgd 1685-88), who was associated with absolutist rule. The Glorious Revolution was achieved peacefully in 1688. Locke formulated an argument against absolutist monarchy in the first of his TwoTreatises of Government (1690). He was contesting the theme of "divine right of kings," promoted by Sir Robert Filmer. Locke asserted that neither scripture or reason supported this belief. In contrast, the references to slavery in the Second Treatise have received differing interpretations, some critics believing that Locke was justifying the problem rather than mitigating it.
He is often viewed as a representative of the best in the political temper of his time. Locke was a religious man, the son of a Puritan, and yet advocated religious toleration, as found in his Letters Concerning Toleration (1689-92). In his last years, Locke wrote The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), in which he argued that the basic doctrines of Christian religion are compatible with reason. The precise nature of his religious affiliation has been in dispute. Locke apparently moved from an orthodox Anglican position to what has been called dissenting rational theology.
His most important work is Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Locke here rejected the customary appeals to authority, including government and the church. Instead, reason should operate in the endeavour to establish truth. He was intent upon determining the limits of human understanding, though critics say that it is an arbitrary feat to impose this form of criteria. Locke was generally "contemptuous of metaphysics," wrote another well known sceptic (Russell, Hist. of Western Philos., p. 588), in contrast to his contemporary Leibniz. In his Essay, Locke repudiates the conception of "innate ideas" associated with Plato and the scholastic tradition, and maintains that all knowledge is derived from experience. Such emphases gained him the reputation of an empiricist, and indeed, the first major British empiricist.
In contrast, the rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) did not trust sensory experience as a source of knowledge, maintaining (in diverse variants) the primacy of reason and related metaphysical themes. Locke claimed to provide the correct explanation of how various types of knowledge are acquired. His book became a popular classic, though the complexities remain a subject for argument. This field has also been called the philosophy of mind.
Recent discoveries have included the deduction that Locke's influential concept of the tabula rasa (found in the Essay) was derived from a Latin translation (by Edward Pococke) of the Arabic philosophical work Hayy ibn Yaqzan, written by the twelfth century Islamic philosopher Ibn Tufayl. Locke used the concept of tabula rasa to represent the state of mind at human birth, a mind then empty of sensations and ideas, and subsequently imprinted by sensory experiences. Ibn Tufayl exercised a different intention in his depiction of a child growing to adulthood on a desert island, in complete isolation from human society.
Ibn Tufayl (d. 1185-6) was influenced by the more famous Ibn Sina (Avicenna), who called on his readers "to conceive themselves suspended in the air, isolated from all sensations, even from all sensory contact with their own bodies; one would still, he argued, have self-consciousness" (Lenn E. Goodman, "Ibn Tufayl," in S. H. Nasr and O. Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy Part 1, Routledge 1996, p. 315). Further, "the finding of Ibn Tufayl's thought experiment is that language, culture, religion and tradition are not necessary for the development of a perfect mind but may well impede its progress" (ibid., p. 316). Yet, of course, such pre-modern philosophy is now considered outmoded by the contemporary complacencies presuming progress.
Critics of Locke have fastened upon certain indications of contradiction for his democratic profile. In the early years of his acquaintance with Shaftesbury (Lord Ashley), and apparently at the latter's instigation, Locke acted as Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations, collecting data about trade and colonies, possibly to serve the interests of his patron in commercial activities. In 1671, Locke invested in the Royal African Company, which decodes to the slave trade (Wikipedia, accessed 16/11/2011). He also participated in drafting the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas, which was perhaps strongly influenced by Shaftesbury. A section of that document reads: "Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves."
Defenders of Locke attribute the offensive stipulation to Shaftesbury or Sir John Colleton, the latter being a plantation capitalist in Barbados who owned slaves. Yet Locke was apparently involved in amending the Fundamental Constitution for some years, and the clause about negro slavery was not removed. His agreement with this clause has accordingly been deduced.
The accusations made in this direction could justify the conclusion that close alliance with powerful and wealthy patrons is not always advisable, amounting to a distraction from philosophy. To work in the service of patrons may lead to identification with the interests of those patrons, interests which may not always be above suspicion. Though England dispensed with absolutist monarchy, the slave trade continued for generations, until liberal reformers began to agitate. Empiricism does not guarantee due ethical judgments, especially if sensory data influences the mind to the wrong course of action.
5. David Hume and Immanuel Kant
David Hume (1711-1776) gained the reputation of an empiricist and extremist sceptic. There are different versions of his contribution. Partisans extol Hume as "the most important philosopher ever to write in English" (Stanford Encyclopaedia). Critics are less exuberant. His first book is very controversial.
"Hume sceptically asserted that there is no reason to study philosophy except as an agreeable way of passing the time for some temperaments. In other words, a leisure interest or a career pursuit. There was no effective difference between Humean philosophy and the career of a bureaucrat or a national historian.... In Hume's version of science, there is little or nothing to be learned except scepticism, and his philosophy consists substantially of a dismissive approach to pressing problems which he could not answer" (Shepherd, Pointed Observations, 2005, p. 236).
Hume was largely self-taught, which is not one of my complaints against him (he left college at the age of fourteen, without taking a degree; I left grammar school at the age of fifteen, renouncing the prospect of a salaried career).
"The traditional view of Hume... takes him to be an extreme sceptic, to have undermined the claims to validity of the whole body of our beliefs in the external world, the self and causation. More recently, the idea has gained ground that he has sceptically established the limits of rational justification, turned reason on itself, in order to show that these beliefs are nevertheless natural, instinctive and inevitable" (Anthony Quinton, "Hume," in R. Monk and F. Rapahel, eds., The Great Philosophers, London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2000, pp. 244-5).
Hume's now well known Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) originally "fell dead-born from the press," to quote his own words. That early work contains the statement: "I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement" (ibid., p. 243). Some components may have been missing from such parsimonious judgments.
The social background of David Hume was that of landed gentry. His father combined the career of a lawyer with ownership of a long-established family estate in Berwickshire. That estate was modest by comparison with aristocratic assets, and the Hume family might be classified as upper middle class.
Another famous statement in the Treatise is: "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them" (J. P. Wright et al, eds., A Treatise of Human Nature, London: Everyman, 2003, p. 236). In his empiricist opposition to rationalism (and associated metaphysics), Hume urged that reason "can never oppose passion in the direction of the will" (ibid., p. 234). This bizarre argument has obvious disadvantages for personal deportment.
The anomaly has been associated with Hume's early encounter with a servant girl, who cited him in court in 1734 as the father of her illegitimate child, though nothing was proved against the accused (cf. Alfred J. Ayer, Hume, Oxford 1980, p. 3). Menials counted for nothing in Georgian class society, a state of affairs assisted by confusions in ethical premises, such as one finds in Hume.
Shortly after, Hume moved to France in 1734, settling in La Fleche, where he composed much of the Treatise during the period 1735-37. In later years, he recast parts of this work in two other more compact books, including An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751). He aroused the dislike of clergymen, and gained the reputation of an atheist. Clergymen could hold very narrow views, though Hume's destructive scepticism (in his first book) had gone to the extent of deriving moral judgments from non-rational sentiment (and he contradicted Locke on the demonstrable relevance of morality). In 1745, Hume applied for a chair in philosophy at Edinburgh University, but met with resistance from clergymen. A sequel occurred several years later, when he was refused the chair of logic at Glasgow University. During the interval, he joined a military expedition against the French in Quebec, though in a secretarial capacity. He contributed to economic theory in his Political Discourses (1752).
Hume eventually became a librarian in Edinburgh, and industriously composed his multi-volume History of England (1754-61), going back to the Roman period. This work became a bestseller, and his repute as a historian eclipsed his philosophical profile in some directions. In 1763, he became secretary to Lord Hertford, the ambassador to France. In this capacity he spent three years in Paris as an Embassy official, and was also active in Parisian salons, gaining the company of high society women and philosophers such as D'Holbach and Denis Diderot. Hume gained fame as a major thinker of the proclaimed Enlightenment.
He had meanwhile adopted a standpoint of "mitigated scepticism," perhaps intended to offset flaws in the Treatise, which he repudiated shortly before his death as a "juvenile" work. Nevertheless, the Treatise has long since acquired prominence in academic discussions, with partisans extolling the merits of this sceptical book as a key Enlightenment text, which is now inseparable from his profile.
Hume's personal bundle of perceptions (ideas and impressions) contracted the belief that "we can never know with absolute certainty that a material world exists externally to, and independently of, ourselves" (Magee, The Story of Philosophy, p. 112). Such drawbacks of sensory cognition were related to the more general empiricist conclusion that only probabilities were in prospect, not certainties.
Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779) were published posthumously. This work cemented his reputation as a sceptic and atheist, being intended to undermine well known arguments for the existence of God. Kant agreed that philosophy should not be placed in the service of religion, but disagreed with the sceptical angle of Hume. In the Treatise, Hume briefly acknowledged Locke and other recent British philosophers "who have begun to put the science of man on a new footing.... the improvements in reason and philosophy can only be owing to a land of toleration and of liberty" (A Treatise of Human Nature, Everyman edn 2003, p. 5). This rather nationalistic complacency does not annul the contributions of Rationalists such as Descartes, who proposed a science based on the certainty of reason. The intended science of Hume discounted certainty and was based on the concept of experiment, alias the "experimental method of reasoning."
Hume's professed "anatomy of the mind" employed an argument about ideas and impressions, appearing in both his Treatise and the subsequent extension in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). "He thinks that all contentful philosophical questions can be asked and answered in those terms" (Empiricism, accessed November 2011). This approach is believed by some to prove that metaphysics is contentless in referring to ultimate principles which allegedly go beyond anything that can be experienced.
In Humean logic, ideas had a lesser rating than sensations, which were assumed to be stronger, producing impressions affecting thinking. Impressions were identified with emotions and the senses (cf. Ayer, Hume, pp. 25-6). The senses and passions are here dominant; ideas are secondary. The ideas of empiricists can gain a transient status within such canons. Hedonism might have more persuasion.
The major rival of Hume transpired to be Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who is regarded by partisans as the pivotal figure in modern philosophy. The son of an artisan, he was not high in the social scale. His parents were Lutheran Pietists, but he early reacted to the form of doctrine involved. Kant became an academic philosopher with strong interests in the sciences. In 1770, he gained status as a professor of logic and metaphysics at Konigsberg University in East Prussia. His famous Critique of Pure Reason (1781) is not an easy work to read, and is now the subject of complex academic interpretations. One of the influences acting upon him was David Hume, whose first Enquiry was translated into German in 1755.
"Kant openly confessed that Hume had interrupted his dogmatic slumber and that in the Critique he was pursuing 'a well-founded, but undeveloped thought' of Hume.... No wonder he was known among his friends as the 'German Hume'.... Kant is also aware of Hume's skepticism, but he believes this skepticism is a consequence of Hume's inability to understand how the concept of causality can be thought purely a priori. Indeed, he tells us, Hume's skeptical conclusion was 'hasty' and 'incorrect' " (Manfred Kuehn, Kant: A Biography, Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 256).
Although Kant borrowed heavily from the empiricist tradition, he modified the empiricist stress on knowledge gained by sensory experience. Hume wished to prove that metaphysics was invalid. Kant wished to salvage morality, and to show that empiricist thought was inadequate.
"What Kant tries to answer is the question of whether the kind of knowledge sought by metaphysicians - including himself - is possible. The bulk of his work is meant to show that traditional metaphysics rests on a fundamental mistake, since it presupposes that we can make substantive knowledge claims about the world independent of experience, and Kant argues that we cannot validly make such claims.... But he does not simply follow the route of previous empiricist philosophers, who considered all knowledge to be derived from experience alone and thus tried to trace all knowledge back to sensation and reflection. Kant thought, rather, that all knowledge has an a priori component" (Kuehn, Kant, p. 242).
The a priori factor denotes a knowledge which does not depend upon (sensory) experience. Kant associated this factor with critical reason, arguing that the mind is autonomous from the sensory level, and creates the moral law. He evidently wished to validate both Newtonian science and traditional morality and religion. His critique of "theoretical" (pure) reason did not resort to traditional authorities, and was undertaken in the "Enlightenment" mode innovated by the eighteenth century intelligentsia. His reconciliation of science with morality involved a dense vocabulary and some penalties for the older Rationalist views, though he sidestepped Humean scepticism.
"Kant concludes that metaphysics is indeed possible in the sense that we can have a priori knowledge that the entire sensible world - not just our actual experience, but any possible human experience - necessarily conforms to certain laws. Kant calls this immanent metaphysics or the metaphysics of experience" (Stanford Encyclopaedia, accessed 22/11/2011).
There are some controversial points accompanying the innovations achieved by Kant. He "somewhat immodestly likens his sitation to that of Copernicus in revolutionising our worldview" (Internet Encyclopaedia, accessed 22/11/2011). Kant definitely did move at a tangent to both Empiricist and Rationalist doctrines, and may be credited with a noteworthy independent standpoint in this respect. Whether he was totally correct is another matter.
In his Inaugural Dissertation of 1770, he had credited the possibility of an a priori knowledge about the noumenal world, as distinct from the phenomenal (sensory) world. Afterwards however, in the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant reacted to the Platonism of his earlier theory, and switched to the very different view that human understanding is not capable of insight into a noumenal world. The noumenon or "thing in itself" was now declared to be unknowable. Only phenomena of the sensory world were knowable. Science is restricted to the sensory level, a factor which here gained deference. An a priori knowledge of the noumenon was stated by Kant to be impossible, and amounting to transcendent metaphysics, now effectively outlawed. The rejection of his earlier view was deemed necessary in order to reconcile science with traditional morality and religion.
Kant did not argue against the existence of God, but he did deny the possibility of knowledge in that respect. He preferred to elevate religious faith. Kant maintained that humans can never know the absolute truth. Instead he posited that a rationally grounded religious faith can hold in prospect the ideals of freedom, God, and an afterlife. Academic philosophy at Konigsberg can be regarded as a blend of empiricist thinking, neo-rationalist innovation, and quasi-theological reductionism.
The reasoning employed in the Critique has met with diverse criticism. Kant evidently believed that his relegation of God and the soul to the unknowable noumenal world "guarantees that it is impossible to disprove claims about God and the freedom or immortality of the soul, which moral arguments may therefore justify us in believing" ("Immanuel Kant," Stanford Ency. of Philos., accessed 22/11/2011)). He replaced "transcendent metaphysics" with his new science called the metaphysics of morals, expounded in a separate work.
The contention that humans cannot experience the noumenal dimension is part of what Kant classified as his "transcendental idealism." This format has been prone to different interpretations. However, it is obvious enough that he wished to supersede the metaphysics of Leibniz (and the latter's follower Christian Wolff, who lent an air of dogmatism to the formulations at issue). The basic complaint of Kant militated against the Leibnizian belief that humans can achieve a priori knowledge in relation to the soul, the cosmos, and God.
Critics say that Kant's modified empiricist argument does not prove that metaphysics has no relevance; the option for a moralistic dimension is preferential, rather than being definitive.
Leaving aside such issues, Kant's philosophy grants the mental events a strong role in creating experience of the sensory space-time world. He was in substantial affinity with the empiricist attitude (including the version of Hume), though he makes clear that this approach cannot provide a comprehensive account of experience. He refuted the empiricist idea of Locke that the mind is a blank slate (tabula rasa) imprinted by the sensory world. The crucial importance of mind is underlined by Kant's own form of analysis.
"The project of the Critique of Pure Reason is also challenging because in the analysis of the mind's transcendental contributions to experience we must employ the mind, the only tool we have, to investigate the mind. We must use the faculties of knowledge to determine the limits of knowledge, so Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is both a critique that takes pure reason as its subject matter, and a critique that is conducted by pure reason" ("Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics," Internet Ency. of Philos., accessed 22/11/2011).
6. Hegel and Schopenhauer
Gone were the days when a pantheistic artisan could discuss metaphysics with a (partially) comprehending (but intellectually brilliant) courtier. No longer could an unusually diligent polymath compete with such front rank scientists as Isaac Newton in the higher reaches of mathematical discovery. Instead, what processed now was an increasingly academic pursuit of philosophy, though with certain famous exceptions.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) became the dominating academic figure in German philosophy. His presentation of Mind or Spirit (Geist) was posthumously to evoke strong resistance from empiricists like Bertrand Russell, who dismissed Hegelian phenomenology as retrogressive mysticism.
Hegel expounded a version of "idealism," a word strongly associated with Leibniz, whose followers opposed materialism. The precise application of that term in relation to Hegel has differed. The mystical writings of Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) have been implied as a strong influence. "Hegel accords him (Boehme) considerable space in his Lectures on the History of Philosophy" (Glenn A. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition, Cornell University Press, 2001, p. 2). This association has been regarded by some as reprehensible. Cf. Paul Redding, Analytic Philosophy and the Return of Hegelian Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2007). The correct interpretation of the subject is in dispute.
"The correct interpretation of Hegel places him somewhere between the traditional Christian conception and the pantheistic one. According to Hegel, Geist, or spirit, is manifested in everything, although it is not identical with everything that exists" (Peter Singer, "Hegel and Marx," in Bryan Magee, The Great Philosophers, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 195).
The extensive commentarial literature on Hegel reveals pronounced differences of academic interpretation, and to such an extent that some caution is required in any citizen presentation. Certain of Hegel's books are notoriously difficult to read, and one view has been that some passages are impossible to interpret, owing to complexities in the author's style of presentation.
The interpretations basically fall into three categories:
(1) the traditional view that Hegel is expositing a metaphysical version of Absolute Spirit, a format effectively returning to what Kant had rejected as speculative metaphysics. "Hegel often seems to invoke imagery consistent with the types of neo-Platonic conceptions of the universe that had been common within Christian mysticism, especially in the German states, in the early modern period" (Stanford Encyclopaedia, accessed 23/11/2011).
(2) the contrasting view that aspects of Hegel have a non-metaphysical complexion, and "thus it is commonly asserted that implicit within the 'bad' metaphysical Hegel is an anti-metaphysical philosopher struggling to get out - one potentially capable of beating the critical Kant at his own game" (last article linked above, accessed 23/11/2011). A convergence with the Kantian format is here favoured.
(3) the revised metaphysical view of Hegel, which rejects much of the traditional interpretation, but nevertheless awards relevance to metaphysical concepts; this approach is related to contemporary analytical metaphysics, and involves the deduction that Hegel strongly rejected Kant's format; this version credits Hegel as furthering the metaphysical outlook deriving from Aristotle, and the tag of neo-Aristotelianism has accordingly been employed.
Originally a theology student at Tubingen, Hegel became a professor of philosophy at Heidelberg and Berlin. During his prestigious tenure at Berlin University from 1818, Hegel's fame spread nationwide, and he was very much an establishment figure. Versions of his lectures were published after his death. His early supporters are often described as the Right Hegelians, a tag originating as a criticism from within the ranks of the so-called Left Hegelians, who became influential in their tangent from his conceptualism. Karl Marx is the most famous instance of this reactionary wing, which opted to advocate atheism.
Hegel was definitely not an atheist, and often stated that he was a Christian. Yet his themes were not compatible with orthodox Christianity. Indeed, Marx asserted that Hegel was propounding a pantheistic mysticism in a logical format. This description arose in the confrontation of Marx with Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1821), a form of political analysis including a discussion of market-based civil society and the state. Hegel here refers to the Idea which emerges from an ideality to become infinite and actual Spirit in the spheres of family and civil society. Hegel recognised that the unrestrained capitalist economy creates a social class afflicted by poverty; Marx utilised this feature as a point of departure, emphasising that the mode of production should be dramatically reformed in the interests of the workers as distinct from the proprietors.
Hegel's presentation is noted for elevating the Absolute Idea. According to Bertrand Russell, "logic, as Hegel understands the word, is declared by him to be the same thing as metaphysics" (Hist. of Western Philos., p. 702). Hegel's Science of Logic (1812-16) has been described as his most important work. This text has annoyed critics, who are averse to Hegel's phenomenology and commitment to non-empirical concepts. A more sympathetic assessor comments:
"What does the ambitious title Science of Logic mean? Logic here is not what one would ordinarily take it to be, namely the instrument that determines the formal rules of thought. Logic is science, just as metaphysics had, since Aristotle, been the supreme science which grounded all other sciences. Hegel called this basic science a logic because it did not deal with objects that could be distinguished from concepts, that is, because it dealt with the pure concepts themselves.... After Kant's destruction of traditional metaphysics, Hegel tried to reprocess the entire metaphysical stock of problems" (Rudiger Bubner, ed., German Idealist Philosophy, London: Penguin, 1997, p. 247).
The customary description of Hegel's dialectic in terms of thesis-antithesis-synthesis has been considered misleading by some analysts; Hegel himself did not overwork this theme. The tripartite schema involved a contention that the French Revolution (thesis) became the Reign of Terror (antithesis), though eventually creating a free state (synthesis).
Both partisans and critics have interpreted Hegel's version of history in terms of the progressive consciousness of freedom. His The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), along with some of his lectures, tends to elevate the German Enlightenment as the pinnacle of civilisation. Hegel gave some credit to earlier eras of religion, but in a rather condescending manner. In his time, there was nothing like the amount of information about the history of religion that exists today. However, his sense of affinity with Heraclitus is notable. The ancient Greek thinker, extant in fragments, was credited by the German professor as an advanced philosopher who, in comprehending truth, expressed himself in a manner eluding the level of commonsense.
The Phenomenology has aroused diverse reactions. The final chapters have precipitated an argument as to whether the Kantian critique of metaphysics is being rejected or integrated.
"The fact that it [the Phenomenology] ends in the attainment of 'Absolute Knowing,' the standpoint from which real philosophy gets done, seems to support the traditionalist reading in which a 'triumphalist' narrative of the growth of Western civilisation is combined with the theological interpretation of God's self-manifestation and self-comprehension" ("Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel," Stanford Ency. of Philos., accessed 23/11/2011).
The supposed progression to a free state can easily be contradicted. In The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), Karl Popper urged that Hegel was in affinity with the absolutist rule of the Prussian monarch Friedrich Wilhelm III (rgd 1797-1840). In a similar manner, Bertrand Russell accusingly wrote that Hegel's doctrine of the state "justifies every internal tyranny and every external aggression that can possibly be imagined" (Hist. of Western Philos., p. 711). Both Right and Left Hegelians interpreted Hegel as sanctioning the Prussian state of his day as an ideal outcome in history.
Living in the shadow of Hegel was Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), an innovative neo-Kantian who became posthumously renowned for his partiality to Eastern religions. He gained a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Jena, and afterwards paid to have his thesis published. In 1820, he became a private lecturer at Berlin University, and daringly timed his talks to coincide with those of Hegel. The unofficial tutor lost in this bid for recognition, and soon retreated from the academic world, later settling in Frankfurt. Schopenhauer frequently criticised Hegel as a mystifier, and was one of those analysts who interpreted the rival in terms of a diversionary glorification of church and monarchical state.
Hegel lived as a celebrity academic at Berlin, and yet was so abstract in his writings that the effort to ascertain his meaning has been frustrated by different interpretations. In contrast, Schopenhauer, far removed from the quarters of academic prestige, is noted for a clear literary style, so that it is possible to be reasonably certain of his orientation.
Coming from a wealthy mercantile family, Schopenhauer utilised his private income to fund a lifestyle of independent study and writing. He was still in his twenties when he composed The World as Will and Representation (WWR), and was mortified that publication in 1818 failed to gain him notice. He lived in solitude and obscurity for many years, and added a second volume to his major work. Only during the last decade of his life did he gain recognition.
In 1814, Schopenhauer commenced to study a (defective) Latin translation of the Upanishads. He regarded those ancient Hindu texts as the highest wisdom. However, he interpreted that corpus in an atheistic mode. This source was in part an inspiration for his major work; nevertheless, his own worldview should be regarded as independent. He also acknowledged an affinity between his output and the Four Noble Truths of Hinayana Buddhism, a religion which he also studied, and which is counted as an accompanying influence in his later years.
Despite his enthusiasm for Hinduism and Buddhism, Schopenhauer's philosophy amounts to a tangent from those religious formats. His neo-Kantian exegesis imposed a Western logic. Plato and Kant were his figureheads. At that time, Eastern traditions posed a stumbling block in comprehension even for enthusiasts. Schopenhauer tended to eschew theistic passages in the Upanishads. Theism is not recognised in Hinayana Buddhism, and the Upanishads do not resemble Christian doctrine (even though the complex term atman, "self" or "soul," is a prominent feature of those texts). In WWR, "Schopenhauer expresses an atheistic philosophy... spiced with mysticism" (Robert Wicks, Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation: A Reader's Guide, London: Continuum, 2011, p. 4).
Alhough he was influenced to a considerable extent by Kant, Schopenhauer disagreed with the Kantian division between phenomenon (external object) and noumenon (thing in itself). In his version, noumenon becomes the will, the pervasive factor of blind impulse which he called the "will to live" (wille zum leben). The drive of "will to live" can never be adequately fulfilled, and frequently leads to suffering in a world of violence and injustice; a contrary incentive of negating personal desires, and cultivating detachment from the world, is the only way to achieve a liberation from the emotional and physical bindings.
The atheistic Schopenhauer rejected an afterlife. He believed that "the core of the universe is meaningless and that bodily death annihilates our individual consciousnesses" (Wicks, Schopenhauer, Oxford: Blackwell, 2008, p. xi). His outlook has customarily been described as pessimistic, though he advocated recourses for improving and transcending the human condition.
Schopenhauer elaborated an aesthetic theory which made much of a Platonist component. He affirmed that the highest purpose of art is to communicate the Platonic Ideas. He was here referring to architecture, sculpture, painting, and poetry. Music was his ideal in this direction, however. He liked to attend operas and concerts, and evidently believed that art and music could afford a means of temporary release from the physical prison imposed by the world. However, this benefit is very limited, and further modes of awareness are necessary, namely the moral and ascetic.
His moral philosophy extended to non-violence, non-egoism, and compassion. In his major work, Schopenhauer "states explicitly that his views on morality are entirely in the spirit of Christianity, as well as being consistent with the doctrines and ethical precepts of the sacred books of India" (Stanford Encyclopaedia, accessed 21/11/2011). This also means that "his outlook acknowledges traditional moral values without the need to postulate the existence of God" (ibid.).
Moral awareness is still not the ultimate state of mind, which involves a renunciation of the persistent will to live. This renunciation leads to tranquillity. In this extension of experience, Schopenhauer defers to the voluntary poverty and chastity of the religious (or mystical) ascetic. "Francis of Assisi and Jesus emerge, accordingly, as Schopenhauer's prototypes for the most enlightened lifestyle, as do the ascetics from every religious tradition" (ibid).
In this format, the ascetic has to transcend human nature, along with the violence and evil associated with the perverse will. At the end of the first volume of WWR, Schopenhauer "intimates that the ascetic experiences a mystical state of consciousness whose character is inscrutable" (ibid.), and that "we could loosely refer to words and phrases such as 'ecstasy,' 'rapture,' 'illumination,' and 'union with God' " (ibid.). This is a very unusual perspective in an atheistic thinker, and Schopenhauer was certainly not typical of that category.
Close analysis has observed an apparent anomaly in locating the mystical state of mind, transcending the oppressive will to live, within the schema supplied. In the second volume (1844) of his major work, using earlier notes, Schopenhauer qualified his initial equation of the will with the Kantian noumenon, informing that "it remains possible that the thing-in-itself has other modes of being that are incomprehensible in ordinary terms, but which might be accessible to mystical consciousness" (ibid.).
Certain influential interpretations have been faulty, including the depiction of this philosopher as a Kantian committed to the belief that knowledge of the noumenon is impossible.
Schopenhauer was not greatly concerned with politics, regarding that subject as a temporal distraction. He was definitely not a nationalist, and was strongly opposed to slavery. He was bleak on the subject of Judaism. His views on heredity are sometimes classified as anti-democratic; in this respect, the suggestion has been made that he influenced the elitist conceptualism of Nietzsche, who esteemed Schopenhauer. The convergence was by no means total.
Unlike Nietzsche, Schopenhauer did not glorify the will to power. Napoleon has strong Nietzschean associations. The young Schopenhauer witnessed the severe plight of many wounded French soldiers who poured into Berlin during 1812, fleeing the defeat in Russia of their manic warlord (Napoleon Bonaparte). Such military events disproved the erroneous beliefs of Idealist intellectuals that the world was entering a new phase of harmony and freedom. The "will to live" could so easily end on the battlefield, the casualties caused by the "will to power."
An attractive feature of Schopenhauer's outlook was a concern for animals. In 1841 he endorsed the founding, in London, of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He emphasised that a good man would be sympathetic to animals, and objected to the practise of vivisection. "The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity" (quoted in Wikipedia, accessed 17/11/2011). Western barbarism continues in elite empiricist quarters.
7. Karl Marx and Bertrand Russell
The inclusion of Karl Marx (1818-83) in listings of philosophers is still controversial. However, he might well be enrolled as a foil to the elitist complex of his contemporary Friedrich Nietzsche, a very undemocratic thinker and existentialist. Though likewise scornful of religion, Marx was definitely a champion of the working class and underprivileged; in contrast, Nietzsche unreasonably dismissed this sector as a common herd accomplice to religious morality.
Marx became well known for such statements as "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it." Marx unfortunately inclined to the advocacy of violent revolution; his associate Friedrich Engels did much to amplify the doctrine of historical (or dialectical) materialism. Marx did not regard himself as a philosopher, but as a revolutionary.
"His later writings have many points of contact with contemporary philosophical debates, especially in the philosophy of history and the social sciences, and in moral and political philosophy" (Stanford Encyclopaedia, accessed 27/11/2011).
Marx was born in Germany, but from 1849 he lived in London, where he wrote Das Kapital (1867). His analysis of capitalism proved influential, as political events proved after his death. Marx was initially a left wing Hegelian, moving in reaction to phenomenology. He is well known for contesting Hegel's view that ideas or consciousness determine social existence. Marx reversed this contention, believing that social existence determines the mental life. If such views are too inflexibly maintained, errors may occur. The problem with Marx is that he went to an extreme, claiming a scientific status for his socialist views on historical development, which transpired to be faulty. Nevertheless, his urge to rectify the drawbacks of social class are noteworthy, even if some analysts consider this a sociological topic rather than a philosophical one.
"It can seriously be claimed for Karl Marx that his ideas had a greater influence in a shorter time than those of any other thinker in history. During his lifetime he was a little-known, impoverished intellectual, living on the charity of friends and spending his days reading and writing, often in the British Museum." (Bryan Magee, The Story of Philosophy, 1998, p. 171).
The conclusion can here be expressed that the well attested ideational influence of Marx (via communism) proves how ideas (or consciousness) can mould social existence as a causative factor. In a similar manner, the elite classes in so many former sociocultures set the pattern for social inequality with their dictates amounting to wrong ideas. Both Hegel and Marx can be considered deficient analysts of ideation and socioculture, the former being too abstract, and the latter also creating some confusions. However, Marx was more realistic on a number of accounts.
Another thinker to achieve a considerable influence was Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), though in a very different milieu. Earl Russell was the polar opposite of Marx in terms of social context. His grandfather was Lord John Russell, a liberal British politician who twice became Prime Minister. Another ancestor, the Earl of Bedford, was one of the most wealthy and powerful members of the new aristocracy created by the absolutist Henry VIII.
Russell became strongly associated with Cambridge University. Like many other philosophers, he was preoccupied with ideas about mathematics and logic, so often considered to be the answer to all problems, though seldom resulting in any due remedies for the population at large. He was early attracted to Pythagorean ideals in mathematics, though he subsequently rejected these. His Principles of Mathematics (1903) commenced with a dismissal of Kant's version of maths, and emphasised the subject in terms of logic. This meant that "Kant's appeal to subjective, psychological notions like 'forms of intuition' was unnecessary" (Ray Monk, "Russell," in R. Monk and F. Raphael, eds., The Great Philosophers, 2000, p. 325).
Russell needed to prove his reduction of the favoured subject to logic, and he gained assistance from the prestigious Alfred North Whitehead. "This collaboration produced the massive - and almost completely unreadable - classic three volumed work Principia Mathematica, which was published from 1909 to 1913.... Russell and Whitehead created a system of quite monstrous complexity" (art. cit., p. 333). Russell was unsuccessfully trying to prove that mathematical truths were part of the larger sphere of logical truth. He was "left with a horribly complicated 'logically proper language,' in which even the simplest mathematical formula would be expressed in an almost incomprehensibly convoluted manner" (ibid., p. 341).
Subsequently influenced by Wittgenstein, Russell abandoned his project. "Logical forms, like numbers, classes, and propositions, were consigned to the wastepaper basket of of metaphysical illusions" (ibid., p. 344). Russell had decided that "the Platonic world of objective mathematical truth was an illusion" (ibid., p. 346). It is strongly deducible that neither Pythagoras nor Plato intended any meaning equivalent to Principia Mathematica, being part of an ancient tradition now largely submerged to view in the rise and fall of sociocultures.
What had these logical deliberations to do with the real purpose of philosophy? Absolutely nothing, it may be concluded. The major problem being that the purpose is so often lost in the status versions of the subject, including Wittgenstein's linguistic analysis.
Unreadable, or difficult to read, philosophical works are a serious drawback, contributing to extensive misunderstandings.To his credit, Russell became readable in his subsequent career, commencing with The Problems of Philosophy (1912). He is actually far more lucid than many of his contemporaries. The question remains as to whether his version of the "problems" was adequately conceived. His career is complicated by his excursion into the "new liberalism," which included the advocacy of free love. Earl Russell gained notoriety as a womaniser, contracted four marriages, and is not commendable for his deficient private life. Partisans imply that he compensated for any faults by the unusual commitment in his last years to the campaign for nuclear disarmament. Critics view him as being far less than the ideal philosopher.
Russell's History of Western Philosophy (1946) is often regarded as a useful introduction to the subject. Many other philosophers never attempted such a work, which covers ancient Greek, medieval Christian, and the modern phases of philosophy. Again, this is to Russell's credit, and his book is of enduring interest, though complaints have been lodged against his personal judgments and biases that are expressed. For instance, fans of Schopenhauer have objected to the statement: "It is hard to find in his [Schopenhauer's] life evidences of any virtue except kindness to animals, which he carried to the point of objecting to vivisection in the interests of science; in all other respects he was completely selfish" (Hist. of Western Philos., p. 727).
Russell was here basically complaining that Schopenhauer did not live a more ascetic existence than he did, in view of his close interest in Eastern religion. There were very few "ascetics" in the annals of modern Western philosophy, and conscientous objectors to vivisection were not much in evidence prior to Peter Singer.
8. Citizen Corollary
Eight of the abovementioned entities can be described as citizen philosophers on account of their basically independent career. In contrast, Kant and Hegel were academic philosophers. Sir Francis Bacon and Earl Russell were too strongly participant in elite society to be counted as citizens. Even the elitist and professorial Nietzsche became independent. Twentieth century developments saw the subject of philosophy become an almost exclusively academic pursuit, to the extent that philosophy is viewed as a remote activity by many citizens, and equivalent to a martian pastime.
In the sphere of academic philosophy today, there is very rarely any concession to the citizen sector as having an autonomous existence in intellectual matters, and more especially, philosophical matters. Citizen philosophers are officially regarded more or less as a category who expired with the marginalised Schopenhauer and the controversial Marx. The primacy of university life is implicitly assumed as a guiding principle in all situations. Any contradiction to the prevailing suppositions and preferences would not normally be acknowledged in any way. The establishment bias in this situation is currently strong.
The status credentials of academic philosophers are clearly emblazoned in web media and other formats. Citizen philosophers, if they exist, might not have those credentials, possibly a complicating factor for establishment assessment of role.
There is the additional complexity that the term "citizen philosopher" can admit of two basic applications. Firstly, to those philosophers with an academic role who subsequently vacate their university position. Secondly, to those thinkers without any academic role or university graduation honours. The second category has never been common, and in the contemporary era is very unfashionable due to the diverse distractions invented by the capitalist technological socioculture and popular "alternative thought." Superficial mysticism and sectarian enthusiasms are major drawbacks afflicting unwary citizens.
As an example of the obstructions involved, one of the media distractions, namely Wikipedia (a largely pseudonymous project), has been discovered to possess no effective means of recognising different varieties of philosophical commitment, even while harbouring obstructive sectarian personnel. Wikipedia also persists in the imposition of commercial and/or academic publishing criteria for published output. Anything self-published is blacklisted, despite the fact that commercial publishing is frequently unreliable and caters for uninformed demand. Academic publishers do not on principle publish citizen material, which has to find a route elsewhere. See Wikipedia Anomalies. The realistic requirement for serious citizen philosophy is independence from both the commercial and academic channels, whether or not such application is cognisable to the routine forms of publishing output and media classification.
Contrary to the widespread contemporary assumptions concerning "freedom of speech," there is no such latitude for thinking citizens in the constrictions imposed by majoritarian and media habits of assessment (including the internet variant which is afraid to disclose personal identity, a distinctively contemporary retrogression suggesting that real name entities may be in danger of eclipse).
9. Science, Philosophy, and Anarchism
In a very readable book on Western philosophy, Professor Bryan Magee ends with a theme that is relevant for investigation. He refers to recent scientific advances, and more specifically to Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, and to quantum theory. A photograph of Einstein adorns the relevant page. A key statement is:
"Not only have the scientists radically altered our conception of what knowledge is. They have done more than the philosophers of their day [meaning the contemporary period] to change our understanding of concepts which are utterly fundamental to our experience of the world, concepts such as 'time,' 'space, 'matter, and 'physical object.' " (Magee, The Story of Philosophy, p. 225).
As if to make quite sure that readers get the message, philosopher Bryan Magee employs the lead caption of: "Scientific knowledge is the most reliable and useful knowledge that human beings possess" (ibid.).
It is very noticeable that modern Western philosophy has often been preoccupied with scientific matters, if from different angles varying with exponents. Certainly, no serious investigator could overlook this looming factor. Yet it is rather disappointing to find that one of the more radical contributors to philosophy concludes a public document with the admission that academic philosophy is merely a runner-up to official science or empiricism. The scientists have been more inventive than the philosophers, in other words.
How does a citizen analyst approach this academic situation? The twentieth century vista is loaded with prestigious names. Sir Karl Popper and many other entities of daunting credentials are here involved. According to the Magee version, the scientists won in the effort to explain the world. Russell's "problems of philosophy" become a virtual sideline to discoveries in physics. One may deduce that Wittgenstein amounted to a linguistic manual for beginners who wanted a diversion to the major activity.
Recent physics has disproved conventional ideas of matter. Matter is not what it seems. The obscured Rationalists of the seventeenth century may have been correct to distrust the sensory level of data, whatever judgments are made about their elevation of reason. Was the empiricist John Locke a relative pedestrian in this field, despite his flair for analysis? David Hume was certainly pessimistic in his confrontation with mental events, and his scepticism was very influential.
As a citizen analyst, I can only comment from my own angle, cultivated over the last thirty years or so. When I researched Western philosophy at Cambridge University Library, I was disappointed with the twentieth century developments. In fact, I chose to profile Einstein and other scientists in my first book, entitled Psychology in Science (1983). Doubtless that was an amateur offering of little consequence. Bertrand Russell is there mentioned, and Karl Popper is cited in the postscript, but otherwise modern Western philosophy is almost completely absent. Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Schrodinger, Hoyle, Roger Sperry, and John C. Eccles are some of the names encompassed. The history of science was here the basic menu.
In the closing pages of my first book, I made critical reference to the theories of Professor Marvin Harris (1927-2001) and Professor Paul K. Feyerabend (1924-94). The tone of resistance was quite strong, I have been told. Harris was an anthropologist who had formulated what he called cultural materialism, which acknowledged Marx as an ancestor, though also involving a deference to the empiricist tradition in philosophy.
In the opening section of his provocative work Cultural Materialism (1979), Harris explicitly invoked the auspices of David Hume, and was clearly implicating himself as one of the scientific heirs to Hume. Diverse opponents in the anthropological arena were countered with a polemical thrust; the demo-techno-econo-environmental accents were barbed with a behaviourist slant. Ideas are here basically inferior emic components, with pride of place going to the etic infrastructure denoting familiar materialist clauses.
Harris made brief but pungent reference to Feyerabend, an Austrian philosopher of science who had studied under Karl Popper, and who gained both popular and academic attention with books like Against Method (1975). General readers could not always follow the arguments employed by Feyerabend; many academics did not approve of his explicit "relativism," which was controversial. Feyerabend became noted for his anarchistic philosophy of science.
Another well known book of Feyerabend was Science in a Free Society (1978), written in a similar vein. I could agree with some of the things that he said, but certain emphases struck me as very inappropriate, including his Dadaist quips and his relativist theme of "anything goes," which became celebrated as a rhetorically loaded phrase in his tangent from Karl Popper, whom he seemed to regard as an ogre of the scientific programme. Such matters have been described in terms of postmodern relativism.
Feyerabend had much to say about paradigm shifts, a new format associated with Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos, and now so very well known. Yet his conclusion opted for what he called an epistemological anarchism, represented by his catch-all refrain of "anything goes." In this view, the progress of science does not depend upon a set of methodological rules. Instead, ad hoc postulates that break the rules can prove beneficial, and "scientific method" then amounts to an illusion. While some aspects of this argument can be appreciated, Feyerabend went to an extreme in his overall conclusions.
The professed anarchist urged that science had gained a privileged status which was unjustified, and that scientific claims have no effective superiority over other claims from rival ideologies, including religion. His position was substantially complicated in the eyes of critics by his inclination to grant equality to subjects such as alternative medicine and astrology. Science was here regarded as an agent of repression. Fashionable ideas of pluralism were applied to this anarchistic presentation - all "traditions" were to have "equal rights and equal access to the centres of power." Critics said that alternative therapy could gain the same rating as physics and medicine in the free society of Feyerabend.
For many years (from 1958), Feyerabend lived in California, and was clearly influenced by some of the ideas in 1960s American counterculture, which developed into the so-called "new age" activities. There were some very reckless ventures in evidence. The resulting muddles in popular thought were favoured by some academics. Inchoate mysticism and commercial therapy were only two of the drawbacks. A wave of cults gained strength, and a frequent tendency was to bypass literacy and assume that "intuition" was in operation as a saving grace. Diverse hippies, gurus, counsellors, therapists, and anarchists improvised bizarre doctrines, the commercial purposes served being readily obvious to observers.
At the end of Psychology in Science, I viewed Professors Harris and Feyerabend as the Scylla and Charybdis of the philosophical panorama in science. I did not deny science, and in fact I supported the basic components of that endeavour. But there was a route, I believed, that needed to be distinguished from materialist (and empiricist) scepticism and technological excess, and also from the "new age" divergences and misconceptions that were becoming widespread in the public domain. Amongst other matters, I supported the ecological priorities charted by the early (1970s) Club of Rome. I also argued for "method" against "anything goes."
My ecological argument was clear enough to any reader, but the "method" was more ambiguous. Some readers assumed that I was supporting the methodology of natural science. That is true only in part; I was actually a complete outsider to the pursuit of conventional science, and was not a professed empiricist. What was really emerging here was my own citizen method, involving an interdisciplinary orientation that encompassed sciences and humanities (and also philosophy). Such a method was distinct from the "new age" exercise in supposedly "holistic" accomplishment, and which Feyerabend was indirectly (or effectively) validating.
The first book of mine was preliminary, as my (private) research was then at an initial stage. It was my resolve to self-publish, without any other publisher having seen the book. I did not not want any editing interference, which I knew was likely to occur with establishment publishers, who were customarily disinterested in such less-than-commercial compositions. Although I was projecting in philosophy, and an overall research approach I called anthropography, I worked through a citizen version of the history of science in my first publication. I do not claim anything for that effort, only that it was a citizen commitment.
The "against method" vogue increased in strength during the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately, this has allowed latitude for any craze and whim arising in the minds of those seeking dubious legitimation, the "new age" comprising a bandwagon for numerous entrepreneurs and suspect organisations.
A major emphasis of the pro-science exponents has been that scientific method contrasts with religious and other traditions: empirical discoveries can change the content of science, thus negotiating dogma. Some scientists have nevertheless tended to a form of dogmatism in their denials of anything non-materialist. At a global level, the abuse of technology has become steadily worse under the auspices of conventional science, which does not prevent environmental pollution, animal vivisection, and other afflictions.
A philosophy which does not address these matters is seriously wanting. Ecological science is one branch of "scientific method," and will require further scope to overcome the inertia imposed by capitalist interests. My first website demonstrated one aspect of my citizen version of method, objecting to problems and anomalies detectable in certain "new age" organisations and entrepreneurial trends (and including issues relating to Wikipedia, an influential media which has included anonymous sectarian activists).
My anthropographic philosophy includes both empiricist and rationalist elements, and which are not necessarily classifiable according to standard assessments of, for example, British empiricism. It should be obvious that I am not a pro-Humean empiricist/sceptic. As I have formerly stated: "I believe in a form of empiricism such as the [early] Club of Rome furthered, i.e., discovering what is actually happening, as distinct from what is commonly believed" (Science and Feyerabend, paragraph two).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
Copyright © 2011 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.