“Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), like Kierkegaard and Marx, was opposed to the pretensions of any kind of rationalist approach such as Hegel’s. But he was also a radical critic of Plato, of Christianity, and of the kind of person produced by liberal democracy (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), or communism (Marx). He called this kind of person “the Last Man” who, in his concern for bodily health, relaxation, entertainment, and feeling good about himself, thinks he is greater and smarter than anyone before in history; and yet who has lost all the deepest aspirations and desires that really make people human. Liberal democracy’s and communism’s preoccupation with comfortable self-preservation—the joyless quest for joy—ends up making us universal, homogeneous, and trivial. Nietzsche teaches that throughout history human beings have needed to create horizons of serious values by which to live and give meaning to their everyday existences. But they have to hide from themselves that these horizons or values have been created by their own will-to-power. Continue reading “Nietzsche”


“Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) also reacted against the abstractness of Hegel’s dialectical march of ideas in the unfolding of the Absolute Spirit because it leaves out the concrete dynamics of personal and individual existence. For Kierkegaard what is actual and particular is more important than universal concepts and abstractions. Passionately Christian, Kierkegaard was contemptuous of organized religion and of the tendency to use doctrines to blunt our awareness of how we are making decisions about our personal existence. He attacks any kind of rationalism (i.e. exclusive dependence on sense observation or reasoning in rejection of belief or faith) and he tries to justify a new commitment or ‘leap of faith’ in which passion and feeling have as much importance as reason and in which the inward and personal life of human beings is recognized as the source of meaning and value. Continue reading “Kierkegaard”


“Karl Marx (1818-1883) in his Theses on Feuerbach contends that up till his time philosophers like Hegel had only interpreted history, but that now the real task of philosophy was to make or change history. Marx claimed that the chief philosophy interpretations prior to him had been ideologies intended to cover up the real relationships between the economic forces of production (= any given stage of technological developments available) and the relations of production (social relations between capitalists [owners of means of production] and wage-earners). Hegel’s account of the historical evolution of universal freedom omitted the realities of economics and obscured how history is really the history of class warfare. The liberal capitalist ideology of Locke and Adam Smith tried to make people believe that the laws of the market place (of supply and demand) are necessary and iron-clad laws of nature (like Marx supposed the laws of physics were). But Marx unveiled them as really only misunderstandings of one phase in the dialectical development of economics from feudalism through capitalism to communism. Continue reading “Marx”


“George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) opposed Rousseau’s and Kant’s separation of reason and morality from the lawfulness of nature and tried to reintegrate them into a whole. In Reason in History he argues that history or the totality of the real is completely rational. The real is rational; the rational is the real. History is the rational process by which the Absolute Spirit (God) externalizes himself into nature and human history in a dialectical progress (of thesis [seed], antithesis [negation of seed and growth of sprout], and synthesis [flower]). In the dialectical unfolding of history the subjective spirit of laws, customs, and organizational structures mediate the representation or manifestations of the Absolute Spirit in the forms of Religion, Art, the State, and Philosophy until there emerges the final realization of the state of universal freedom. This growth starts in the orient where only one (the emperor) is free, to the Greek polis in which some citizens are free while the many are slaves, through the Roman republic, down to the Protestant and Lutheran form of Christianity and the French Revolution in which the need for all to be free is so brought to public awareness that it can be actually achieved in the German state of Hegel’s time. Hegel calls history a slaughter-bench. This means that by what he calls “the cunning of reason,” individuals motivated irrationally by their passions and interests, along with world-historical individuals like Caesar and Napoleon, cause terrific bloodshed in bringing about the end of history (universal freedom) of which only the philosopher Hegel has a comprehensive understanding” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Immanuel Kant

“Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) follows Rousseau in his moral philosophy. Earlier in his career, Hume’s thought had made him realize that objective knowledge of nature as it appears to the senses (i.e. laws of natural phenomena) required not on a priori concepts or categories, but also a posteriori sense intuitions: “Concepts without sense intuitions are empty; sense intuitions without concepts are blind.” The causal laws governing natural phenomena are absolutely universal and necessary, so nature is deterministic. Beyond the sphere of nature that can be objectively known is the rational or the noumenal sphere of liberty. Here, according to Kant, we cannot attain objective knowledge, but only rational beliefs or postulates concerning such things as the freedom and immortality of the human soul, the world as a whole, and God—they cannot be known objectively since we cannot perceive them with our senses), but only thought about rationally. Continue reading “Immanuel Kant”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) still followed Machiavelli, but he wrote in reaction both to the modern project of technological progress through science (Bacon, Descartes, and the Enlightenment in general), and to the earlier state of nature political theorists, Hobbes and Locke. He was more concerned than all of them with morality; and he added legitimation to power as a great modern political theme (instead of the ancient themes of wisdom and virtue). In his First Discourse on the arts and Sciences Rousseau criticizes the idea that progress in scientific knowledge and technology automatically bring along with them progress in morals. As going from particular to universal, science weakens the citizens’ attachment to their particular country; as yielding useful products, it causes luxury which makes citizens soft, spoiled, and unwilling to sacrifice themselves for the good of their country. Continue reading “Jean-Jacques Rousseau”

John Locke

“John Locke (1632-1704) follows Machiavelli by moderating the political philosophy of Hobbes. Power controlled by consent is also the central theme of the Second Treatise on Government; but the issue goes beyond just self-preservation as with Hobbes to comfortable self-preservation; not just staying alive but being well off. This shift in emphasis from mere life to the accumulation of property shows up in his version of the state of nature in which labor as giving the right to property and money as making unlimited accumulation of property possible are featured much more centrally. Continue reading “John Locke”