History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions

(contents)


Part III

A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Introduction Phylosophy

The nature of Western philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy
 

Medieval philosophy
 

Renaissance philosophy

Modern philosophy

Contemporary philosophy


 

Western Philosophy
 

 

 




 

 
 

 

 


Western philosophy

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 
 
 
 


Western philosophy


History of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present.

 




Modern philosophy




Modern philosophy » Literary forms and sociological conditions

The literary forms in which philosophical exposition was couched in the early modern period ranged from the scientific aphorisms of Bacon and the autobiographical meditations of Descartes to the systematic prose of Hobbes and the episodic propositional format of Leibniz. Two basic tendencies, however, can be discerned:

1. The early Renaissance commitment to the dialogue form (already noted), inspired by the rediscovery of the Platonic dialogues.

2. The later prevalence of the systematically ordered treatise, undoubtedly influenced by the enormous prestige of deductive mathematics.

The concept of serial order stressed by geometry, in which the reasoner passes deductively from the universal (axioms) to the particular (theorems), influenced, in turn, the style of Hobbes, Descartes, and Spinoza. The organization of Hobbes’s Leviathan and Descartes’s Principles reflects this tendency, while Spinoza’s Ethics utilizes the Euclidean method so formalistically as almost to constitute an impenetrable barrier to the basic lucidity of his thought.

Medieval philosophy was characteristically associated with the medieval university. It is a singular fact, therefore, that from the birth of Bacon in 1561 to the death of the Scottish philosopher David Hume in 1776—i.e., for more than 200 years—not one first-rate philosophical mind in Europe was permanently associated with a university.

As the age of the saint passed into that of the gentleman, the changing social, political, and economic conditions were naturally reflected in the titles, social status, and economic situation of philosophers. Bacon was a lawyer, judge, and attendant upon the royal court; Hobbes was the tutor and companion of young noblemen; Descartes, the son of a noble family, traveled and studied at leisure, eventually retiring to Holland on an inherited income; and Leibniz, courtier, diplomat, and scholar, was a privy councillor and baron of the Holy Roman Empire. Some philosophers also associated with the great monarchs and administrators of the age: Descartes gave philosophical instruction to Queen Christina of Sweden, Leibniz was an intimate of the electress Sophia Charlotte of Prussia (1668–1705), and Spinoza enjoyed the personal friendship of the Dutch politician Johan de Witt (1625–72). Thus, in the early modern period, philosophers often belonged to the lesser nobility or were closely associated with the higher nobility, to whom—like poets—many of them dedicated their works.

Thus philosophy in the 16th and 17th centuries was clearly the preoccupation of a widely scattered elite. This meant that, despite the existence of printing, much philosophical communication took place within a small and informal circle. Treatises were circulated in manuscript, comments and objections were solicited, and a vast polemical correspondence was built up. Prior to its publication, Descartes prudently sent his Meditations to the theologians of the Sorbonne for comment; after its publication, his friend Marin Mersenne (1588–1648) sent it to Hobbes, Antoine Arnauld (1612–94), and Pierre Gassendi, among others, who returned formal objections to which Descartes in turn replied. The rich philosophical correspondence of the 17th century is exemplified by the letters that passed between Descartes and the scientist Christiaan Huygens (1629–95), between Leibniz and Arnauld, and between Leibniz and Samuel Clarke (1675–1729), which were published in 1717.

Throughout the early modern period, creative philosophy was sharply separated from formal centres of learning. Hobbes expressed extreme contempt for the Aristotelianism of Oxford; Descartes, despite his prudence, scorned the medievalists of the Sorbonne; and Spinoza refused the offer of a professorship of philosophy at Heidelberg with polite aversion. It was to be another 100 years before philosophy returned to the universities.

 



David Hume
Scottish philosopher

born May 7 [April 26, Old Style], 1711, Edinburgh, Scot.
died Aug. 25, 1776, Edinburgh

Main
Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism.

Hume conceived of philosophy as the inductive, experimental science of human nature. Taking the scientific method of the English physicist Sir Isaac Newton as his model and building on the epistemology of the English philosopher John Locke, Hume tried to describe how the mind works in acquiring what is called knowledge. He concluded that no theory of reality is possible; there can be no knowledge of anything beyond experience. Despite the enduring impact of his theory of knowledge, Hume seems to have considered himself chiefly as a moralist.

Early life and works
Hume was the younger son of Joseph Hume, the modestly circumstanced laird, or lord, of Ninewells, a small estate adjoining the village of Chirnside, about nine miles distant from Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish side of the border. David’s mother, Catherine, a daughter of Sir David Falconer, president of the Scottish court of session, was in Edinburgh when he was born. In his third year his father died. He entered Edinburgh University when he was about 12 years old and left it at 14 or 15, as was then usual. Pressed a little later to study law (in the family tradition on both sides), he found it distasteful and instead read voraciously in the wider sphere of letters. Because of the intensity and excitement of his intellectual discovery, he had a nervous breakdown in 1729, from which it took him a few years to recover.

In 1734, after trying his hand in a merchant’s office in Bristol, he came to the turning point of his life and retired to France for three years. Most of this time he spent at La Flèche on the Loire, in the old Anjou, studying and writing A Treatise of Human Nature. The Treatise was Hume’s attempt to formulate a full-fledged philosophical system. It is divided into three books: book I, on understanding, aims at explaining man’s process of knowing, describing in order the origin of ideas, the ideas of space and time, causality, and the testimony of the senses; book II, on the “passions” of man, gives an elaborate psychological machinery to explain the affective, or emotional, order in man and assigns a subordinate role to reason in this mechanism; book III, on morals, describes moral goodness in terms of “feelings” of approval or disapproval that a person has when he considers human behaviour in the light of the agreeable or disagreeable consequences either to himself or to others. Although the Treatise is Hume’s most thorough exposition of his thought, at the end of his life he vehemently repudiated it as juvenile, avowing that only his later writings presented his considered views. The Treatise is not well constructed, in parts oversubtle, confusing because of ambiguity in important terms (especially “reason”), and marred by willful extravagance of statement and rather theatrical personal avowals. For these reasons his mature condemnation of it was perhaps not entirely misplaced. Book I, nevertheless, has been more read in academic circles than any other of his writings.

Returning to England in 1737, he set about publishing the Treatise. Books I and II were published in two volumes in 1739; book III appeared the following year. The poor reception of this, his first and very ambitious work, depressed him; but his next venture, Essays, Moral and Political (1741–42), won some success. Perhaps encouraged by this, he became a candidate for the chair of moral philosophy at Edinburgh in 1744. Objectors alleged heresy and even atheism, pointing to the Treatise as evidence. Unsuccessful, Hume left the city, where he had been living since 1740, and began a period of wandering: a sorry year near St. Albans as tutor to the mad marquess of Annandale (1745–46); a few months as secretary to Gen. James St. Clair (a member of a prominent Scottish family), with whom he saw military action during an abortive expedition to Brittany (1746); a little tarrying in London and at Ninewells; and then some further months with General St. Clair on an embassy to the courts of Vienna and Turin (1748–49).


Mature works
During his years of wandering Hume was earning the money that he needed to gain leisure for his studies. Some fruits of these studies had already appeared before the end of his travels, viz., a further Three Essays, Moral and Political (1748) and Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding (1748). The latter is a rewriting of book I of the Treatise (with the addition of his essay “On Miracles,” which became notorious for its denial that a miracle can be proved by any amount or kind of evidence); it is better known as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, the title Hume gave to it in a revision of 1758. The Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) was a rewriting of book III of the Treatise. It was in these works that Hume expressed his mature thought.

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is an attempt to define the principles of human knowledge. It poses in logical form significant questions about the nature of reasoning in regard to matters of fact and experience, and it answers them by recourse to the principle of association. The basis of his exposition is a twofold classification of objects of awareness. In the first place, all such objects are either “impressions,” data of sensation or of internal consciousness, or “ideas,” derived from such data by compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing. That is to say, the mind does not create any ideas but derives them from impressions. From this Hume develops a theory of meaning. A word that does not stand directly for an impression has meaning only if it brings before the mind an object that can be gathered from an impression by one of the mental processes mentioned. In the second place, there are two approaches to construing meaning, an analytical one, which concentrates on the “relations of ideas,” and an empirical one, which focuses on “matters of fact.” Ideas can be held before the mind simply as meanings, and their logical relations to one another can then be detected by rational inspection. The idea of a plane triangle, for example, entails the equality of its internal angles to two right angles, and the idea of motion entails the ideas of space and time, irrespective of whether there really are such things as triangles and motion. Only on this level of mere meanings, Hume asserts, is there room for demonstrative knowledge. Matters of fact, on the other hand, come before the mind merely as they are, revealing no logical relations; their properties and connections must be accepted as they are given. That primroses are yellow, that lead is heavy, and that fire burns things are facts, each shut up in itself, logically barren. Each, so far as reason is concerned, could be different: the contradictory of every matter of fact is conceivable. Therefore, any demonstrative science of fact is impossible.

From this basis Hume develops his doctrine about causality. The idea of causality is alleged to assert a necessary connection among matters of fact. From what impression, then, is it derived? Hume states that no causal relation among the data of the senses can be observed, for, when a person regards any events as causally connected, all that he does and can observe is that they frequently and uniformly go together. In this sort of togetherness it is a fact that the impression or idea of the one event brings with it the idea of the other. A habitual association is set up in the mind; and, as in other forms of habit, so in this one, the working of the association is felt as compulsion. This feeling, Hume concludes, is the only discoverable impressional source of the idea of causality.


Mature works » Belief
Hume then considers the process of causal inference, and in so doing he introduces the concept of belief. When a person sees a glass fall, he not only thinks of its breaking but expects and believes that it will break; or, starting from an effect, when he sees the ground to be generally wet, he not only thinks of rain but believes that there has been rain. Thus belief is a significant component in the process of causal inference. Hume then proceeds to investigate the nature of belief, claiming that he was the first to do so. He uses this term in the narrow sense of belief regarding matters of fact. He defines belief as a sort of liveliness or vividness that accompanies the perception of an idea. A belief is more than an idea; it is a vivid or lively idea. This vividness is originally possessed by some of the objects of awareness, by impressions and the simple memory images of them. By association it comes to belong to certain ideas as well. In the process of causal inference, then, an observer passes from an impression to an idea regularly associated with it. In the process the aspect of liveliness proper to the impression infects the idea, Hume asserts. And it is this aspect of liveliness that Hume defines as the essence of belief.

Hume does not claim to prove that the propositions, (1) that events themselves are causally related and (2) that they will be related in the future in the same ways as they were in the past, are false. He firmly believed both of these propositions and insisted that everybody else believed them, will continue to believe them, and must continue to believe them in order to survive. They are natural beliefs, inextinguishable propensities of human nature, madness apart. What Hume claims to prove is that natural beliefs are not obtained and cannot be demonstrated either by empirical observation or by reason, whether intuitive or inferential. Reflection shows that there is no evidence for them and shows also both that we are bound to believe them and that it is sensible or sane to do so. This is Hume’s skepticism: it is an affirmation of that tension, a denial not of belief but of certainty.


Mature works » Morals and historical writing
The Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals is a refinement of Hume’s thinking on morality, in which he views sympathy as the fact of human nature lying at the basis of all social life and personal happiness. Defining morality as those qualities that are approved (1) in whomsoever they happen to be and (2) by virtually everybody, he sets himself to discover the broadest grounds of the approvals. He finds them, as he found the grounds of belief, in “feelings,” not in “knowings.” Moral decisions are grounded in moral sentiment. Qualities are valued either for their utility or for their agreeableness, in each case either to their owners or to others. Hume’s moral system aims at the happiness of others (without any such formula as “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”) and at the happiness of self. But regard for others accounts for the greater part of morality. His emphasis is on altruism: the moral sentiments that he claims to find in human beings, he traces, for the most part, to a sentiment for and a sympathy with one’s fellows. It is human nature, he holds, to laugh with the laughing and to grieve with the grieved and to seek the good of others as well as one’s own. Two years after the Enquiry was published, Hume confessed, “I have a partiality for that work”; and at the end of his life he judged it “of all my writings incomparably the best.” Such statements, along with other indications in his later writings, make it possible to suspect that he regarded his moral doctrine as his major work. He here writes as a man having the same commitment to duty as his fellows. The traditional view that he was a detached scoffer is deeply wrong: he was skeptical not of morality but of much theorizing about it.

Following the publication of these works, Hume spent several years (1751–63) in Edinburgh, with two breaks in London. An attempt was made to get him appointed as successor to Adam Smith, the Scottish economist (later to be his close friend), in the chair of logic at Glasgow, but the rumour of atheism prevailed again. In 1752, however, Hume was made keeper of the Advocates’ Library at Edinburgh. There, “master of 30,000 volumes,” he could indulge a desire of some years to turn to historical writing. His History of England, extending from Caesar’s invasion to 1688, came out in six quarto volumes between 1754 and 1762, preceded by Political Discourses (1752). His recent writings had begun to make him known, but these two brought him fame, abroad as well as at home. He also wrote Four Dissertations (1757), which he regarded as a trifle, although it included a rewriting of book II of the Treatise (completing his purged restatement of this work) and a brilliant study of “the natural history of religion.” In 1762 James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson, called Hume “the greatest writer in Britain,” and the Roman Catholic Church, in 1761, paid him the attention of putting all his writings on the Index, its list of forbidden books.

The most colourful episode of his life ensued: in 1763 he left England to become secretary to the British embassy in Paris under the Earl of Hertford. The society of Paris accepted him, despite his ungainly figure and gauche manner. He was honoured as eminent in breadth of learning, in acuteness of thought, and in elegance of pen and was taken to heart for his simple goodness and cheerfulness. The salons threw open their doors to him, and he was warmly welcomed by all. For four months in 1765 he acted as chargé d’affaires at the embassy. When he returned to London at the beginning of 1766 (to become, a year later, undersecretary of state), he brought Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Swiss philosopher connected with the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert, with him and found him a refuge from persecution in a country house at Wootton in Staffordshire. This tormented genius suspected a plot, took secret flight back to France, and spread a report of Hume’s bad faith. Hume was partly stung and partly persuaded into publishing the relevant correspondence between them with a connecting narrative (A Concise and Genuine Account of the Dispute Between Mr. Hume and Mr. Rousseau, 1766).

In 1769, somewhat tired of public life and of England too, he again established a residence in his beloved Edinburgh, deeply enjoying the company—at once intellectual and convivial—of friends old and new (he never married), as well as revising the text of his writings. He issued five further editions of his History between 1762 and 1773 as well as eight editions of his collected writings (omitting the Treatise, History, and ephemera) under the title Essays and Treatises between 1753 and 1772, besides preparing the final edition of this collection, which appeared posthumously (1777), and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, held back under pressure from friends and not published until 1779. His curiously detached autobiography, The Life of David Hume, Esquire, Written by Himself (1777; the title is his own), is dated April 18, 1776. He died in his Edinburgh house after a long illness and was buried on Calton Hill.

Adam Smith, his literary executor, added to the Life a letter that concludes with his judgment on his friend as “approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.” His distinguished friends, with ministers of religion among them, certainly admired and loved him, and there were younger men indebted either to his influence or to his pocket. The mob had heard only that he was an atheist and simply wondered how such an ogre would manage his dying. Yet Boswell has recounted, in a passage in his Private Papers, that, when he visited Hume in his last illness, the philosopher put up a lively, cheerful defense of his disbelief in immortality.


Significance and influence
That Hume was one of the major figures of his century can hardly be doubted. So his contemporaries thought, and his achievement, as seen in historical perspective, confirms that judgment, though with a shift of emphasis. Some of the reasons for the assessment may be given under four heads:


Significance and influence » As a writer
Hume’s style was praised in his lifetime and has often been praised since. It exemplifies the classical standards of his day. It lacks individuality and colour, for he was always proudly on guard against his emotions. The touch is light, except on slight subjects, where it is rather heavy. Yet in his philosophical works he gives an unsought pleasure. Here his detachment, levelness (all on one plane), smoothness, and daylight clearness are proper merits. It is as one of the best writers of scientific prose in English that he stands in the history of style.


Significance and influence » As a historian
Library catalogs still list Hume as “Hume, David, the Historian.” Between his death and 1894, there were at least 50 editions of his History; and an abridgment, The Student’s Hume (1859; often reprinted), remained in common use for 50 years. Though now outdated, Hume’s History must be regarded as an event of cultural importance. In its own day, moreover, it was an innovation, soaring high above its very few predecessors. It was fuller and set a higher standard of impartiality. His History of England not only traced the deeds of kings and statesmen but also displayed the intellectual interests of the educated citizens, as may be seen, for instance, in the pages on literature and science under the Commonwealth at the end of chapter 3 and under James II at the end of chapter 2. It was unprecedentedly readable, in structure as well as in phrasing. Persons and events were woven into causal patterns that furnished a narrative with the goals and resting points of recurrent climaxes. That was to be the plan of future history books for the general reader.


Significance and influence » As an economist
Hume steps forward as an economist in the Political Discourses incorporated in Essays and Treatises as part 2 of Essays Moral and Political. How far he influenced his friend Adam Smith, 12 years his junior, remains uncertain: they had broadly similar principles, and both had the excellent habit of illustrating and supporting these from history. He did not formulate a complete system of economic theory, as did Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, but Hume introduced several of the new ideas around which the “classical economics” of the 18th century was built. His level of insight can be gathered from his main contentions: that wealth consists not of money but of commodities; that the amount of money in circulation should be kept related to the amount of goods in the market (two points made by Berkeley); that a low rate of interest is a symptom not of superabundance of money but of booming trade; that no nation can go on exporting only for bullion; that each nation has special advantages of raw materials, climate, and skill, so that a free interchange of products (with some exceptions) is mutually beneficial; and that poor nations impoverish the rest just because they do not produce enough to be able to take much part in that exchange. He welcomed advance beyond an agricultural to an industrial economy as a precondition of any but the barer forms of civilization.


Significance and influence » As a philosopher
Hume conceived of philosophy as the inductive science of human nature, and he concluded that man is more a creature of sensitive and practical sentiment than of reason. On the Continent he is seen as one of the few British classical philosophers. For some Germans his importance lies in the fact that Immanuel Kant conceived his critical philosophy in direct reaction to Hume. Hume was one of the influences that led Auguste Comte, the 19th-century French mathematician and sociologist, to positivism. In Britain his positive influence is seen in Jeremy Bentham, the early 19th-century jurist and philosopher, who was moved to utilitarianism (the moral theory that right conduct should be determined by the usefulness of its consequences) by book III of the Treatise, and more extensively in John Stuart Mill, the philosopher and economist who lived later in the 19th century.

In throwing doubt on the assumption of a necessary link between cause and effect, Hume was the first philosopher of the postmedieval world to reformulate the skepticism of the ancients. His reformulation, moreover, was carried out in a new and compelling way. Although Hume admired Newton, Hume’s subtle undermining of causality called in question the philosophical basis of Newton’s science as a way of looking at the world, inasmuch as this rested on the identification of a few fundamental causal laws that govern the universe. As a result the positivists of the 19th century were obliged to wrestle with Hume’s questioning of causality if they were to succeed in their aim of making science the central framework of human thought. In the 20th century it was Hume’s naturalism rather than his skepticism that attracted attention, chiefly among analytic philosophers. Hume’s naturalism lies in his belief that philosophical justification could only be rooted in regularities of the natural world. The attraction of this for analytic philosophers was that it seemed to provide a solution to the problems arising from the skeptical tradition that Hume himself, in his other philosophical role, had done so much to reinvigorate.

Thomas Edmund Jessop
Maurice Cranston

 





 
 



Samuel Clarke
English theologian and philosopher

born Oct. 11, 1675, Norwich, Norfolk, Eng.
died May 17, 1729, Leicestershire

Main
theologian, philosopher, and exponent of Newtonian physics, remembered for his influence on 18th-century English theology and philosophy.

In 1698 Clarke became a chaplain to the bishop of Norwich and in 1706 to Queen Anne. In 1704–05 he gave two sets of lectures, published as A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God (1705) and A Discourse Concerning the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion (1706). In the first set he attempted to prove the existence of God by a method “as near to Mathematical, as the nature of such a Discourse would allow.” In the second he argued that the principles of morality are as certain as the propositions of mathematics and thus can be known by reason unassisted by faith, an approach sometimes called ethical rationalism. The criticism of religion by David Hume resulted in part from his dissatisfaction with Clarke’s effort to prove the existence of God. Clarke also spurred a vehement and prolonged controversy with his Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity (1712), which led many of his opponents to accuse him of Arianism, the belief that Christ is neither fully man nor fully God.

Clarke was a friend and disciple of Isaac Newton at the University of Cambridge and helped to spread Newton’s views. In 1697 he made a Latin translation of the physicist Jacques Rohault’s Traité de physique (1671; “Treatise on Physics”), adding numerous footnotes explaining Newton’s improvements on Rohault’s work. In 1706 he published a Latin translation of Newton’s Opticks. A correspondence of 1715–16 between Clarke and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, important for its defense of the reality of space and time, was published in 1717 and in several later editions. Clarke’s collected works were issued in four volumes in 1738–42.

 

 

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy