Hegel

“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”

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote his Pensées in order to provide an apology for the Christian religion. He contrasts the geometric spirit (esprit géometrique = Descartes’ method of reducing complex whole to simple elements, ideas, or principles followed by deductive reconstruction) with the spirit of finesse (esprit de finesse) in which we intuitively see things at a glance and not through progressive analysis and reasoning. Continue reading “Blaise Pascal”

René Descartes

“René Descartes (1591-1650), like Bacon, follows Machiavelli in orienting knowledge to the acquisition of the power to “promote as far as possible the general good of mankind.” In his Discourse on Method he preferred the clear and distinct ideas of geometry with its certain conclusions to all other forms of knowledge. He tried to set all knowledge on the sure and firm foundation of certainty, arguing that we should suspect as false anything we think we know that can be doubted. His “method of universal doubt” stats the Enlightenment “prejudice against prejudice.” His “I think therefore I am” (cogito ergo sum) is supposed to prove his own existence as a thinking being and becomes the basis for the certain foundations of all knowledge, which includes two kinds of substance: non-corporeal (thinking beings, subjects) and corporeal (extended things, objects). Beginning from the knowledge he finds in himself, he proceeds to the “book of nature” outside him to build up an edifice ofknowledge with a certainty that is supposed to equal that of geometrical demonstration (the key to which is clear and distinct perception by reason independently of sense experience). The purpose of such knowledge, however, is “to make man the master and possessor of nature” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Thomas Hobbes

“Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) followed Machiavelli’s teachings in the area of political science by radicalizing them, finding a basis which “passion not distrusting may not seek to displace;” and using a version of geometric reasoning: proceeding step by step from a premise to a necessary conclusion. In the wake of long and bloody wars of religion, he was determined to get beyond the “seemings,” “vain imaginings,” and “fancies” of revealed religions in order to work out how civil society could establish and maintain a peaceful state. For Hobbes there is no highest good; people only desire “power after power that ceaseth only in death.” Continue reading “Thomas Hobbes”

Francis Bacon

“Franicis Bacon (1561-1626) followed Machiavelli’s idea of conquering and controlling nature “for the relief of man’s estate.” He had a plan for the total reorganization and development of human knowledge. His chief concern was with the method for acquiring knowledge and for using it to increase human dignity and greatness, which he presented in The Great Insatauration (first part on Advancement of Learning and second part called Novum Organum) [Insatauration=restoration]. His restoration of mankind to “dominion over the universe” was to be based on “pure and uncorrupted natural knowledge” and not on moral or religious knowledge. The Novum Organum calls the four great impediments to learning (1) the Idols of the Tribe (distortions of sense perception to which all are subject), (2) Idols of the Cave (personal limitations and prejudices of individuals), (3) Idols of the Market Place (i.e. of misleading communications with others on account of the misleadingness of words), (4) Idols of the Theater (i.e. of dogmas, systems, and theories). To advert these he proposed the inductive method of deriving general laws (“simple natures” that are like an “alphabet of nature”) or principles from a number of particular instances (a posteriori). His methodical strategy intended for human beings to obey the laws of nature in order to conquer it (parendo vincere); the end of science is “the invention of principles to command nature in action” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Martin Luther

“Martin Luther (1483-1546) broke from the Church of Rome and started the German part of the Protestant Reformation.  He had what he thought was a sudden revelation which convinced him that faith alone justifies without works (“By faith alone!”).  He went on to deny the mediating role of the Church (excluding any sacraments besides Baptism and Eucharist) and of the priesthood (“By grace alone!”  “Priesthood of all believers”).  He also contended that individual believers could find out by themselves the message of salvation in the revealed Word of God without need of official teachers or Church traditions.  He also taught that “Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter,” meaning that if you could not understand any passage of the Bible, the best way to uncover its meaning is to look in other parts to clarify its meaning: Scripture as a whole illumines all its parts (“By Scripture alone!”),” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Niccolò Machiavelli

“Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the founder of modern thought who set out to overthrow the great tradition of ancient philosophy and theology in his work The Prince, which is apparently a book of practical advice for rulers, but really is meant to establish “new modes and orders” that will not be based on “imagined republics that have never been seen or known to exist in truth” but teaches the effectual truth of “learning to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity.” This is Machiavelli’s notorious realism: “For a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good.” Machiavelli takes his bearings from great Founders of states (e.g. Romulus, Moses) because in those cases the need for force and fraud (the lion and the fox) is plain. If what you need to do to acquire equipment for fame and glory (the highest good for Machiavelli) goes against virtue, too bad for virtue. Virtù (the cunning use of force and fraud to reach one’s aims) exercised for the good of the state replaces Christian or Greek ideas of virtue. Fortune (Machiavelli’s term for nature) comprises chance or opportunity in human and subhuman virtue, which Machiavelli compares to a woman who can be raped by anyone young and bold enough. Machiavelli opposes the role of religion and of the Papal states in keeping Italy disunited and Italians unpatriotic” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).