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).

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).

St. Thomas Aquinas

“St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) reconciles the teaching of the Christian Faith with Aristotle’s philosophical principles. Theology uses reason/philosophy to understand the supernatural mysteries of God, Trinity, Incarnation, Grace, Redemption, of revealed Truths first known by believing. Philosophy and theology cannot ultimately contradict each other, since the one, final sources of both truths known by unassisted reason and truths known by faith is God, who cannot and will not contradict himself. Aquinas argues Five Ways to God’s existence, starting from facts about ordinary experience: Continue reading “St. Thomas Aquinas”

St. Augustine

“St. Augustine (354-430 AD) sought to combine Christian faith and human reason: to believe in order to be able to understand. In his Confessions he explains his life-long quest for truth and goodness in which he moved from a life of sin and debauchery, passing first under the influence of Manichaeism ( a religious doctrine that held that human life is caught in a struggle between good and evil, God and matter, and which urged asceticism to free the self from evil), and then under the influence of Platonism (from which he learned the doctrine of Forms of Ideas (logos), and that reality goes beyond what is bodily), before finally undergoing a conversion and liberation of his will enslaved by sin through his encounter with the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. In his City of God he tried to show that Christianity is not the cause of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. He argues against Varro that the Greek and philosophical views on the best way of life based on moral and intellectual virtue, although true, is only able to be realized in speech, but not in deed on account of original and personal sin. Since a commonwealth, according to Cicero, is based on the common agreements or consensus or loves of its citizens, there are finally two cities based on two loves: the city of man based on sinful love (the love of self above all things even to the contempt of God); and the city of God based on the love of God above all even to the contempt of self. Grace and the God-given virtues of faith, hope, and charity make it possible for Christians to be good citizens in the earthly city, but they are aiming at the heavenly city. [His theory of knowing is Plato’s + the Interior Master of Word and Spirit who give us an inward, a priori standard of truth.]” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Aristotle

“Aristotle (384-322 BC), student of Plato at the Academy, teacher of Alexander the Great, and founder of the Lyceum, took up Plato’s ideas about politics as order towards the virtuous living of the citizens. In his Ethics he argued that all men seek one or other of three kinds of happiness: as sense pleasure or immediate satisfaction; as political honor or fame or glory; and as seeking to know the truth about what is highest and best or the whole (= contemplative or theoretic life). He defines habit as a good habit that enables one to act in the mean between the extremes of excess and defect easily, quickly, and with pleasure. (E.g. liberality as a virtue having to do with getting and giving wealth is the mean between extravagance which gives too much in relation to one’s getting, and stinginess which is too concerned with getting and does not give enough.) Continue reading “Aristotle”

Plato

“Plato (427-347 BC) was the student of Socrates (469-399 BC) and the teacher of Aristotle. He used his dialogues to justify philosophy in relation to the common sense of the city, the pretended wisdom of the Sophists, and the pseudo-inspired teaching of the comic poets (Aristophanes–The Clouds) and the tragic poets (Sophocles–Oedipus the King or Tyrant, Antigone). Continue reading “Plato”

Max Weber — “Specialists without spirit”

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“The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into evervday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view tile care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment”. But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.

Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. To-day the spirit of religious asceticism-whether finally, who knows?-has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, seems also to be irretrievably fading, and the idea of duty in one’s calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs. Where the fulfilment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it need not be felt simply as economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify it at all. In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport.

No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development, entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the fast stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said:’ “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p123-124).

Kierkegaard — On Self and Passion

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Kierkegaard’s understanding of “passion” is different from many writers of the early church who sought to quell passion in the soul. Here passion does not refer to inordinate desire, but rather to the awareness of the significance of one’s existence and actions.

It is impossible to exist without passion, unless existing means just any sort of so-called existence. For this reason every Greek thinker was essentially a passionate thinker. I have often wondered how one might bring a man to passion. So I have thought I might seat him on a horse and frighten the horse into a wild gallop, or still better, in order to bring out the passion properly, I might take a man who wants to go somewhere as quickly as possible (and so was already in a sort of passion) and seat him on a horse that can barely walk. But this is just how existence is, if one becomes conscious of it. Or if someone hitched a carriage with Pegasus and an old nag, and told the driver, who was not usually inclined to passion, “Now, drive”: I think that would succeed. And this is just how existence is, if one becomes conscious of it. Eternity is the winged horse, infinitely quick, and time is the old nag, and the existing individual is the driver; that is to say, he is the driver when his existence is not merely a so-called existence, for then he is no driver, but a drunken peasant who sleeps in the wagon and lets the horses fend for themselves. True, he also drives, he is a driver, and so there are perhaps many who–also exist.

Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Crumbs, trans Alastair Hannay, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) 260-261.

Plato’s allegory of the cave

(The Republic , Book VII)

Socrates And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:, Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. Continue reading “Plato’s allegory of the cave”