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zompist bboard • View topic - A brief overview of the development of Western Philosophy

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Yiuel: I think it's best to read Plato's "Socrates" as a fictional character, and not to worry about how accurate a representation Plato's "Socrates" is of the historical person Socrates. Which isn't to say that there wasn't a historical person Socrates, but that the historical person's effect on subsequent history was essentially to be the inspiration for a legendary figure "Socrates". I don't think Socrates' value as an example is lessened by "bracketing" the question of historical accuracy, any more than Odysseus' by his being fictional. (Whether Socrates should be an example is another question...)

---
I want to make one small note about Epicurus' physics. It shows clearly what I said earlier about not taking the Greeks as failed Newtons or Einsteins. Epicurus' physics is based on the principle of multiple explanations: his goal is not to explain how things do happen, but to give several plausible explanations of how they could happen. People fear solar eclipses because they think they're signs from the gods of impending disaster; but they could just as well be caused by something coming between us and the Sun, by the emanations from the Sun being diverted (like refraction in water), etc. Therefore there's no reason to be afraid. Investigating nature is not an end in itself, it's a means towards happiness.

---
BettyCross: Aristotle was certainly not an empiricist either. Perception for Aristotle meant the thing's form/essence literally entering into the "mind" (a rather misleading translation of 'nous', which is not at all a psychological entity like our 'mind'), and that included all kinds of things like numbers and virtues that empiricists generally aren't fond of. For Plato, the forms are verified by human experience of the world: geometry (which was cutting-edge science at the time) is the experience of the forms of the equal, the triangle, etc. (And I don't want to jump ahead, but the extent to which British empiricism was based on actual experience is at least questionable.)


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2009 4:02 pm 
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Next post! And wow, this post is longer than I intended it to be, or thought it was. In my defense, it does cover nearly two thousand years.

---------

Although the Stoics and the Epicureans were the dominant schools throughout the Roman Empire, they were not unopposed. The two most significant opponents were in many ways very similar: the Skeptics and the Academics. The former are a curious movement of unknown origins, although they traced themselves apocryphally to a certain Pyrrho of Elis, for which reason they are also called Pyrrhonists; the latter are the descendants of Plato's Academy. Both criticised the surety of the Epicureans, and particularly of the Stoics.

The Academy had always had a sceptical element - Plato's Theory of Forms, after all, emphasised how little knowledge could be gained from physical experience, and many of his dialogues end with no conclusion. After the rise of Stoicism, Academics increasingly emphasised this skepticism against Stoic certainty. Most famous is Carneades, who seems to have preached an almost Sophist gospel: he infamously roused the ire of the Romans by arguing publicly for the virtue of Roman society on one day, and the next day, in the same place, arguing the exact opposite. He believed that all philosophical positions should be argued against. The Stoics believed that knowledge was necessary for virtue, and defined this as assent to a true perception whose truth was guaranteed by the causal process by which it was created; Carneades and his colleagues argued that this guarantee was impossible, and thus that the wise man would assent to no beliefs at all. This raised the question of how any action was possible; several answers were given, until Philo of Larissa finally revolted against the Stoic concept of knowledge itself, arguing that it was possible to know things even if they might be false. This opened the path for Middle Platonism, which would eventually transform society.

Meanwhile, however, the Skeptics (who in reality likely originated with the Academics) were more directly concerned with knowledge, and its role in ataraxia. They argued that it is confusion over which belief to accept that destroys tranquillity - the sage (of whom they took Pyrrho to be the paragon) was the one who did not believe anything at all, and so was immune to anxiety over the truth of his beliefs. This lack of beliefs was accomplished by demonstrating how all beliefs were false, or at least unjustified. Nonetheless, the Skeptics did not state conclusively that all beliefs were false (which would have undermined their own beliefs), but rather that they should search for true beliefs, but withhold assent from them all until they were known to be true - which they did not belief (though did not claim to know) would ever be possible. In practical terms, rather than specifically arguing against the Stoics, as the Academics did, the Skeptics tried to argue against all beliefs, by creating 'antitheses' - arguments designed to show that each question could be argued either way, and hence to create confusion, and ultimately equanimity. Following Socrates himself, the Skeptics sought to argue ad hominem - that is, they judged their arguments, like a doctor, to cure the illness of dogmatism in each patient individually, rather than attempting to make any objective claims - even objective claims of ignorance. We know about later Skepticism (and indeed much about other philosophy of the time) from Sextus Empiricus.


In the long run, however, neither Stoic empiricism nor Academic/Pyrrhonist scepticism proved the victorious school. Instead, the world came to be dominated by Middle Platonism and its successors.
The originator of Middle Platonism is held to be Antiochus of Ascalon (died 68 BC), the student of Philo of Larissa. His tutor's rejection of the Stoic epistemology that had dominated philosophy freed the Academics to go back to talking about Plato, escaping from the sterility and restrictions of scepticism. For Antiochus, the most important parts of Plato were the Unwritten Teachings, and the Timaeus, which seems closest to them of the published dialogues in content, and yet incompatible with them. Middle Platonism therefore had two principle concerns: reconciling the Timaeus with the Unwritten Teachings (themselves subject to debate, as they were not codified), and reconciling both with popular beliefs, both Stoic and religious. The resultant doctrines differed in many details, but had a common shape:

- The world has two fundamental substances: Material and Ideal

- The physical world is divided into two parts: the 'sub-lunar' world
(where we live), and the 'super-lunar' world (where God lives). The sub-lunar world was Material; the super-lunar world, Ideal. This is clearly an acceptance of the folk cosmology where the gods inhabited a world beyond the planetary bodies - but crucially, although the physical interpretation fell away in the end, the implication of a continuum remained: if God is merely up in the sky somewhere, there is a continuum of places between Him and us, rather than a sharp division
- Some theorists posed a variety of beings and places between God and humanity - many such beings were called 'demons'.

- The Forms, or Ideas, that material matter imitates, are 'thoughts in the mind of God'

- The material world is ever-changing and inconstant. Periodically, it is consumed utterly by fire and remade. The Ideal world, however, remains eternally

- The efficient cause of all events in the material world is the Logos, or Word. This is also called World-Soul (from the Unwritten Teachings) or the Demiurge (from the Timaeus).

- The Demiurge is an intellectual being, a craftsman, and created the material world; he may choose to destroy it at any time. The Demiurge/Logos itself is the third principle of the world, after God, and an opposing, perhaps evil, principle named the Dyad. The Logos and Dyad, however, are both emanations of the One, God.

- The creation of the world may have been a temporal event, or may have been outside, or before, time. Either way, time did not exist before that point, just as it does not exist in the super-lunar world (or 'Heaven' as we call it now). Accordingly, although the Logos comes from the One and the Dyad, they always existed together as a trinity - the temporal idea of 'comes from' is just a way of explaining the priority and fundamentalness of the One. As a later Platonist put it: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God".

- Because we are able to grasp the Ideal through reason, there is a part of us, the soul, that is itself Ideal. This Soul thus entered the world from Heaven; it either may, or will, return to Heaven on our death, where it will become divine itself, and re-unite with God.

- Because the Ideal is unchanging and original, and the Material is in in flux, inconstant, and cannot be trusted, as well as being the cause of all suffering, there is something superior and preferable about the Ideal, rather than the Material.

This Middle Platonist schema gradually outflanked both Stoicism and Epicureanism - the former, with its empiricist reticence, could not compete with the certainty of knowledge of Platonism, and was in any case rather too hostile and difficult to be appealing to everybody. The latter, meanwhile, found that its protestations that death was nothing to worry about could not in the end compete with Platonism's reassurance that physical death was not the death of what really mattered, the Soul.

Middle Platonism itself, however, was too vague and disparate a movement to become dominant. Instead, the first few centuries AD are marked by the emergence of multiple strains of Platonist thought, varying by how they interacted with popular religion:

- Some proposed Middle Platonism as a truth that underlay the religions of the day. Plutarch, for instance, syncretised Greek religion with Egyptian, and interpreted both as expressions of Platonism. More importantly, the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, imposed Platonist doctrines onto Hebrew religion. In the following decades, Paul of Tarsus extended Philo's work to interpret a new Jewish cult he had joined, and his followers continued the effort, creating a Platonic-Jewish branch of the cult that eventually outcompeted the non-Platonic branch lead by the surviving original leaders of the cult. The focus of their interpretation was the claim that a certain Yeshua the Nazarene was a bodily incarnation of the Logos. The claim, most notably forcefully made in the Gospel of John, was originally controversial among Christians (as followers of the new religion came to be known) - John was not only the last gospel to be written, but also by far the last to be universally accepted, precisely because it was the most Platonic, and the most thoroughly Pauline. Some of the more completely Platonist doctrines, such as the immortality of the soul, were not fully accepted for centuries - as late as Constantine, there was still disagreement on the matter, and only through the efforts of avowed Platonists like Origen and Augustine did the Platonic vision win out. [Many Platonist doctrines were temporarily discarded in early Protestantism - Luther and Tyndale both decrying, for instance, the 'heathen' concept of 'Heaven' (as a destination of souls, rather than simply the residence of God) that the Platonists had introduced - but by then such ideas were too strongly established in the populace, and it wasn't long until Plato snuck back in again]

- Others 'mysticised' Middle Platonism, through the detailing of many of the features left vague by the official doctrine, and often by translating it into more human terms, and often by co-opting elements of existing religions. Most famous of these groups were the various Gnostic sects, that combined Platonism with Semitic religions, including the new cult of Jesus, and focused on detailing the nature of the intermediary emanations between God and the material world. Others include the Hermetic and Chaldean traditions - the latter of which epitomises the eclecticism of the movement by relabelling the Trinity (One, Dyad and Demiurge) as Father, Power and Intellect, and personifying the 'membrane' that it posited between the divine and the material as the goddess Hecate. This mystic tradition typically stressed the evil of the material world and the importance of escape, through special knowledge or practice, to higher realms. In doing so, these thinkers typically made the Demiurge evil (as in much Gnosticism), or divided the Demiurge (as maker of the material world) from the World-Spirit (from which emanated Nature and Fate, rulers of the material world), as in the Chaldean Oracles.

- A third group emerged that were in essence merely prophets, Messiahs and miracle-workers who co-opted Platonic terminology and theology. Examples are Apollonius of Tyana and Simon Magus.

These three groups interacted with mainstream Platonist philosophers in a complicated and productive way.


----


Eventually, two main Platonist doctrines emerged in the Roman Empire: the Plato-Antiochus-Philo-Paul tradition (Pauline Christianity) and the Plato-Antiochus-Numenius-Plotinus tradition (Neoplatonism). The former became the dominant European belief system, while the latter provided inspiration to mystics, with its belief that the cosmos was the self-expression of a contemplative God, and that its apparent division in matter was only a momentary stage toward its complete actualisation - and its depiction of the individual soul as undergoing the same journey. Enlightnment (gnosis), for Plotinus, comes when the Soul views Nature, not as an objective 'other', but as its own act - just as Intellect (or 'essence') arises when the One (or 'existence') views itself as 'other', and 'Being' is the realisation of Intellect's self-division into observing self and observed other, or into subject and object. Life is to be celebrated as the Soul's creative act; death is to be celebrated as the Soul's repose, and its return to contemplation of that act.

More than a century after Plotinus, the final scholarch of the Academy, Proclus, advanced and crowned Neoplatonist doctrine. At the same time, there was a final recombination of the two Platonist religions, through such figures as the Christian Neoplatonists Augustine of Hippo and Pseudo-Dionysius (who claims to be St Dionysius the Areopagite, a disciple of Paul of Tarsus, but who in reality wrote many centuries later, and was probably a student of Proclus).



The West therefore became dominated, one way or another, by Plato. In the Middle-East, however, the picture was somewhat different - although the Neoplatonism of Plotinus and Proclus (and lesser figures, such as Porphyry and Iamblichus) was initially hugely influential (particularly in the development of Sufism), Islamic attention turned early to Neoplatonic accounts of the work of Aristotle, and by the ninth century the entire Aristotelian corpus was translated into Arabic, having been lost almost entirely in the West. For many centuries, Islamic philosophy, while acknowledging Plotinus, was primarily based upon Aristotle - which is likely a reason for the greater scientific advancement of Islamic society during that time.

The Aristotelian tradition in Islam culminated in the great philosophers Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd (known at the time in the West as Avicenna and Averroes). It is through translations of these two, and in particular through the cultural intermingling of Iberia at that time, that Aristotle was re-introduced to Europe, and in particular to a certain Thomas Aquinas. The 'Thomist' introduction of Aristotelian thought into the Platonist core of Christianity created the basis for modern Christian thought - in particular, Catholic theology [theories of telos and form still shine through Catholic teaching on controversial topics like gay marriage and contraception] - and is often held to be the first spark of the Renaissance.




Medieval Christian philosophy is frequently characterised as a long period of darkness and silence - and certainly it is less lively than what preceded it. It may seem to have more in common with Chinese philosophy under Neoconfucianism than with the vitality of the Greece, or even the temporary confusion of Platonist doctrines at the end of the Roman Empire. This is likely due to the religious homogeneity of the day - philosophy as we know it thrives in conditions of dissent, not those of unanimity. In the Middle Ages, the fundamentals of philosophy were known with certainty - philosophy is reduced to 'scholastic' interpretations and commentary on previous writers, and painstaking detailing of precise points of theological questions. There is no need for great argument about validity of arguments, for instance, as the works of the church fathers, and ultimately the word of God in scripture, are the ultimate authority of truth and falsity.

Notwithstanding this, some progress was made in matters of logic, mathematics and science - John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham are the principle philosophers.



---------------


Plotinus' Enneads survive thanks to his student, Porphyry, and have been immensely influential. Until the nineteenth century (when 'Neoplatonism' was invented), Plotinus was regarded as the authoritative version of the views of Plato himself. In the nineteenth century, Plotinus was given a new significance as the prototype for opposition both to Pauline Christianity (both from mystical traditions within the religion and from outside) and to modern scientism; his significance is seen in Hegel, and later in Continental Philosophy. It is there that most attention has been paid to lesser Neoplatonists as well - Derrida, for instance, has written repeatedly on Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Plotinus is often called the third great philosopher of the Ancients, after Plato and Aristotle. Similarly, Ibn Sina has been called the greatest pre-Modern philosopher, while Christianity looks to Augustine and Aquinas.

At this time, the literary challenge to philosophers reverses: where previously we have been scrambling for fragments, now huge seas of text are available - the collected works of Plotinus, for instance, fill seven volumes.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2009 4:12 pm 
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ts come to my attention that perhaps a sense of time has been lost from this brief sketch. Accordingly, I present... a timeline! Or, at least, a list of dates (of the birth of each philosopher; some historical background provided as well):

624 BC: Thales of Miletus
530 BC: DEATH OF CYRUS
520 BC: Parmenides of Elea

495: BIRTH OF PERICLES
490 BC: Protagoras
480 BC: BATTLE OF THERMOPYLAE

469 BC: Socrates
431 BC: PELOPENNESIAN WAR BEGINS
428 BC: Plato
412 BC: Diogenes of Sinope (Diogenes the Cynic)
404 BC: PELOPENNESIAN WAR ENDS
384 BC: Aristotle
371 BC: BATTLE OF LEUCTRA (end of Spartan hegemony)

341 BC: Epicurus
334 BC: Zeno of Citium
323 BC: DEATH OF ALEXANDER
280 BC: Chrysippus
264 BC: PUNIC WARS BEGIN
214 BC: Carneades
159 BC: Philo of Larissa
146 BC: PUNIC WARS END
130 BC: Antiochus of Ascalon
86 BC: SULLA DESTROYS THE ACADEMY

44 BC: JULIUS CAESAR MURDERED
20 BC: Philo of Alexandria
4 BC: Seneca
10 AD(?): Paul of Tarsus
50 AD: GOSPEL OF THOMAS (early date - may be as late as 150)
55 AD: Epictetus
70 AD: GOSPEL OF MARK
150 AD: ALL FOUR CANONICAL GOSPELS COMPLETED (the last is John)

204 AD: Plotinus
354 AD: Augustine
412 AD: Proclus

801 AD: Al-Kindi (begins translations into Arabic)
980 AD: Ibn Sina
1225 AD: Thomas Aquinas

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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
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I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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Sanno
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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2009 11:30 am 
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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
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I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 19, 2009 7:52 pm 
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 7:07 am 
Smeric
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Delurking in order to bump the thread.


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PostPosted: Thu Oct 22, 2009 12:15 pm 
Sanno
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Awh, thank you!

But fear not, I have another post!


-------------------------------------------------------

Three or four hundred years after Aquinas, something interesting happened: a curious conjunction of potentialities. Firstly, the creation of the printing press allowed a more literate society, where reading and knowledge were not the sole preserve of monks; secondly, the printing press, combined with new vernacular translations, made the text of Holy Scripture available to far more people than before; thirdly, trans-European trade links had improved to a standard not seen since the Romans, enabling new inventions and theories to be rapidly disseminate to all quarters; fourthly, several polities were in the process of advancing from feudal, medieval fiefdoms to modern, centralised countries; fifthly, new copies of Classical authors were emerging into the light – brought home from the Crusades, traded for from the East, stolen from the libraries of ransacked monasteries, copied and printed from dusty originals in the depths of the Vatican, and so on. The result of this conjunction was immense upheaval: strong new rulers wanted to oppose the Papacy, and in the new, dissenting interpretations of Scripture that were finding a growing literate audience, and in a new culture of respect for the Ancients, they found a weapon they had not previously had. Christendom was riven by the conflict between Catholic and Protestant; the old philosophical orthodoxy of Aristotle was challenged by the fresh emergence of Plato, Epictetus and Epicurus; the Classical world confronted the Medieval; and, at least in certain times and places, this cacophony of dissent was not stifled and suppressed by the ruling classes, but positively encouraged, by rulers who saw the new culture as their route to freedom from priests and Popes.

Events came to a head in the early seventeenth century. Key figures include Galileo (b. 1564), Kepler (b. 1571), Grotius (b. 1583), Hobbes (b. 1588), Gassendi (b. 1592), and Descartes (b. 1596). This was an epoch in European history; for centuries, Europe had been stumbling in Medieval darkness; the candles were relit with the Rennaissance; now, with the publication of Descartes’ Discourse on the Method in 1637, Europe attained Enlightenment.

Descartes and his contemporaries faced, even if they did not always recognise it explicitly, two great dilemmas: the conflict of between Plato and Aristotle, and the death of God. The first problem had never entirely gone away, but with the resurrection of Plato it became far more urgent: the scholars and scientists believed that knowledge came from the physical world, but they all acknowledged that it was difficult to say anything about that world with any certainty or precision; the new ‘mathematicians’, on the other hand, inspired by Plato, said that mathematics was certain and precise, safeguarded by the immutability of universal laws – yet all could see that the physical world did not follow those laws. This, after all, was the driving belief of the Platonic religions, which had not entirely been eradicated by the resurrection of Aristotle: the material world is imperfect, chaotic, and confusing, because it does not conform to the perfect, absolute, laws and forms of the ‘real’, ‘true’ world.

The solution was enunciated by Descartes, although it had already been anticipated in practice by others, and was greatly inspired by the atomism of the Ancients (in particular Epicurus, who was at the time being powerfully rehabilitated by Gassendi): the physical world DID obey absolute mathematical laws. The apparent fact that it didn’t was discarded: all those things that could not be explained mathematically were ignored as fundamentally unreal. In this way, science moved from the qualitative studies of Aristotle to the quantitative studies of modernity. All that physical things possessed, Descartes insisted, were size, shape, position and position – in other words, all they possessed were properties of extension in three physical dimensions. These properties could be defined precisely and mathematically, and therefore could be considered subject to mathematical laws. Descartes himself helped define many of those laws, both in physics and in mathematics – his theories of optics and gravitation were hugely influential (the former was even correct in many places, particularly in the laws of refraction), and he was the first to demonstrate how geometric problems could be solved through algebra, and he also laid the foundation for much modern mathematical notation. Meanwhile, Aristotelian ‘properties’ like ‘hot’, ‘cold’, ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ were done away with (although imitations of some of those properties, made objective and mathematical, were later re-introduced once science worked out how to derive them from the presence and motion of extended objects).

This had one gigantic ramification: the entire concept of the world was changed. Previously, the world had been divided into two parts: material and ideal, or physical and universal, or mortal and divine. This was true both of the external world and of the mind itself, which had both a physical and a spiritual component. By insisting that everything material was in fact governed perfectly by the ideal and the universal, Descartes ended this dualism – but in the process created another. The old Aristotelian properties still needed to be explained in general terms, even if they were not to be theorised about in any detail, but there was no longer any room for them in the external world – hence, they had to be placed in the mind. Before Descartes, there was the rational ideal world and the irrational physical world, and in the latter was to be found all confusion, error and opinion; after Descartes, there was the rational physical world, and the (at least potentially) irrational mental world, and confusion, error and opinion all resided in the latter.

This, of course, created a problem – everybody knew that only like could know like, but now the mind was fundamentally unalike from the things it knew. Accordingly, the ‘idea’ was invented, or at least given the mental connotations that is has now – what the mind knows is the idea, and the idea represents the world. Later thinkers would extend this into the theory that all the mind could be is ideas, and that ideas were only representations, so that the nature of the mind is simply to be something that represents something else.

The second Cartesian problem was the death of God. By this I do not mean the death of faith per se – many of the thinkers of the day, even the Epicurean Gassendi, were still devoutly religious, and even those who were not did not yet dare admit it. God had died, not as something to be venerated, but as the arbiter of worldly arguments. No longer could arguments all be settled with recourse to the Bible and the Church Fathers – one person would not accept the Church Fathers, and another would not accept the Bible. One person would interpret the Bible one way, another would interpret it another, and they didn’t even all have the same version any more, with the proliferation of translations and recompilations. One person would argue from the Bible, and another would retort with arguments from Seneca or Plato. They could not simply turn to a priest for a resolution, as who could agree on a priest when they professed different confessions? It was not only a confusion of Catholic and Protestant, as Protestant burnt Protestant, and the Church in Rome struggled with her own Counter-Reformation.

God, therefore, was no longer a safe ground for conclusions. For a thousand years, people had learnt that God was the source of certain knowledge – and now he wasn’t. The question, then, was clear: what WAS the source of certain knowledge?

This was the second question Descartes addressed, most famously in his Meditations. He begins with a position of absolute scepticism – to find what is certain, he is willing to doubt everything, because only what cannot be doubted can be certain. To this end, he conjures up a number of scenarios that have since become familiar to us: what if I am not awake, but only dreaming that I am awake?; what if everything I see is not the real world, but an illusion created by an evil demon, specifically designed to mislead me?; what if nobody else in the world is capable of thought or emotion, and everybody else is simply an automaton set up to look like a human being? [The later puzzle is now mostly posed in terms of ‘philosophical zombies’, although philosophical robots have also been spoken of]

He eventually concludes that only one thing cannot be doubted: cogito, ergo sum. “I think, therefore I am”. This is not, as it is sometimes read, a statement about purpose or nature of human existence, but an epistemological conclusion: I cannot doubt that I am now thinking, and thus I cannot doubt that I now exist, as thinking requires existence. If I do briefly entertain the doubt, that doubt is still a form of thinking, and so the doubt is self-defeating.

What he has done here is clever, and may be overlooked. This conclusion is based upon the solution to the earlier puzzle – that is, on the model of the mind as containing all the errors and opinions and confusions. Following this, we can envisage the mind as a sort of mirror held up to the world, but a dusty or smeared mirror that does not show all things truly – where the world is regular, our perception of it is filled with irregularity. Doubt and error thus arise by the mirror of our mind failing to correctly portray the real world. It is in this, although Descartes does not realise it, that his solution is to be found: to avoid error and doubt, we must avoid looking at any representation of the world, which is to say that we must look at the mirror itself. This is one of the foundational principles of the modern world: only the contents of our own minds are certain. This is why Descartes cannot doubt that he is thinking – because so long as he is only looking at his thoughts, not at the world, he cannot be mistaken.

How, though, can we move from these immediately-knowable mental things to any sort of knowledge of the world? Only by following the truest and most perfect courses of the mind, which is to say by following reason. Reason alone can lead us out of error. For Descartes, this requires the aid of God – he has certain beliefs about God, which he cannot doubt, and reason tells him that he could not have those beliefs without God actually existing. From his knowledge of the nature of God, he can then know that, because God would not order the world to confuse him, certain forms of knowledge and argument are certain to be true. Because these forms of argument are certain, he can use them to prove the existence of God… and so on.

This theory is clearly circular, and has not been that important, but the underlying principle was far more influential: we begin with certain facts about our thoughts, and deduce what must be the case in order for those thoughts to exist. In particular, Descartes’ theory of Dualism had one, seemingly fatal, flaw – how could the mind and the body interact? Or, if they didn’t interact, why did they seem to? Not only were they composed of different substances, but it was the nature of the physical to have extension, while the mental did not – and since influence seemed to require contact, and contact seemed to require surfaces, and surfaces required extension, and the mind had no extension, how could the mind possible influence the body and have any causal role at all?

This was one of the, though not the only, problem of the tradition following on from Descartes called “Continental Rationalism”. A second dimension is a belief in necessity: the only answer that can be given to ‘why does something exist rather than nothing?’ is ‘because it has to exist’. The world, after all, is strictly bound by the determinism of logic. The world had to exist; the world had to have the divisions that is has; we had to have the innate, unquestionable intuitions about it that we have. The study of what is necessary is the study of logic, and so logic is our tool to understand the universe: given our intuitions, what must have caused them? Given those facts about the world, why must those things be true?

For the Rationalists, what existed was a matter of ‘substance’. Substance is a concept going back to Aristotle – broadly, it is what exists when all qualities are stripped away from a thing. Substance is both the bearer of qualities and what individuates one thing from another. For Descartes, all the physical world had one substance, but each individual mind was a distinct substance, of a second nature, and a third nature of substance, God, ruled over all. This places the Mind as ontologically distinct from the body, on which it does not in any way depend, as well as killing off the Ancient notion that there may only be one Mind, which all people partake of or display in their own way. In many ways, the mind is a creation of Descartes.




Descartes wrote three major works: the Discourse on the Method (with appendices on optics, meteorology, and geometry), the Meditations, and the Principles of Philosophy. Of the three, the Meditations are most fundamental. Because Descartes is setting the starting point for the coming centuries, he is one of the few philosophers who starts at the beginning, as it were, and he is therefore often recommended for newcomers from philosophy (the text was probably intended as a textbook from the beginning). The Meditations are short and simple enough to be understandable to all (with some effort), although the nuances of WHY he is driven to say some things are less clear. In addition, the Meditations are usually published with a set of Objections from philosophers of his day (including Arnauld, Gassendi, and Hobbes), and his own Replies to them, which are interesting both for historical purposes and for clarification of his own views.

----------



I was going to make this be about the whole of Continental Rationalism, but I'm saving what I've got on Spinoza and Leibniz for a later post - Descarte probably merits on by himself, I think.

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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 25, 2009 6:47 am 
Sanno
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I appear to have dropped my readers...

I'm not sure: should I carry on ahead with the posts, or would people prefer time to digest things?



-------

Anyway, a further timeline:


1225: Thomas Aquinas
1291: CRUSADES END
1452: LEONARDO BORN
1453: FALL OF BYZANTIUM; HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR ENDS
1455: GUTENBURG BIBLE PRINTED
1487: TUDORS COME TO POWER
1492: END OF RECONQUISTA; DISCOVERY OF AMERICAS‏‏‏‏
1517: LUTHER: NINETY-FIVE THESES
1588: Thomas Hobbes
1596: René Descartes
1618: THIRTY YEARS’ WAR BEGINS
1632: Baruch Spinoza; John Locke
1637: “Discourse on the Method”
1642: ENGLISH CIVIL WARS BEGIN
1643: Isaac Newton
1646: Gottfried Leibniz
1648: PEACE OF WESTPHALIA
1677: “Ethics”
1685: George Berkeley
1688: GLORIOUS REVOLUTION; SECOND HUNDRED YEARS’ WAR BEGINS
1687: “Principia Mathematica”
1690: “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”
1710: “Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge”
1711: David Hume

1714: “Monadology”

1723: Adam Smith
1724: Immanuel Kant
1739: “Treatise on Human Nature”
1781: “Critique of Pure Reason”
1789: FRENCH REVOLUTION BEGINS

[Red for Rationalist, Green for Empiricist]

EDIT: FURTHERMORE IT IS MY BELIEF THAT MY TOPIC IN C&CQ SHOULD BE LOOKED AT.

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But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 25, 2009 11:14 am 
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I, at least, am still reading.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 25, 2009 11:24 am 
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Smeric
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I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!


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