philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. His philosophy is called
Cartesianism (from Cartesius, the Latin form of his name).
Often called the father of modern philosophy, he is regarded as the
bridge between SCHOLASTICISM and all philosophy that followed him.
Primarily interested in mathematics, he founded ANALYTIC GEOMETRY and
originated the CARTESIAN COORDINATES and Cartesian curves. To
algebra he contributed the treatment of negative roots and the
convention of exponent notation. Descartes also contributed to
optics, physiology, and psychology.
His Discourse on Method (1637) and Meditations (1641) contain his important philosophical theories. Intending to extend mathematical method to all areas of human knowledge, Descartes discarded the authoritarian systems of the scholastic philosophers and began with universal doubt. Only one thing cannot be doubted: doubt itself. Therefore, the doubter must exist. This is the kernel of his famous assertion Cogito, ergo sum [I think, therefore I am]. From this certainty Descartes expanded knowledge, step by step, to admit the existence of God (as the first cause) and the reality of the physical world, which he held to be mechanistic and entirely divorced from the mind; the only connection between the two is the intervention of God. This is almost complete DUALISM.
Modern rationalism originated in the work of René Descartes. From the statement, I think, therefore I am," Descartes proceeded deductively to build a system in which God and mind belong to one order of reality and nature to another. He saw nature as a mechanism that can be explained mathematically, while God is pure spirit. The reconciliation of these two orders of reality in a new metaphysics occupied many other philosophers (Nicolas de Malebranche, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz).
scientist and religious philosopher. A mathematical prodigy, Pascal
founded the modern theory of probability, discovered the
properties of the cycloid, and contributed to the advance of
differential calculus. Always in frail health, Pascal became ill from
overwork. To relax he took up courtly social life, read philosophy,
and resumed mathematical work. For friends who gambled, he calculated
chances of loss or gain; this led him into pioneering work on
probability theory and to the independent discovery of the
arithmetical triangle. In a treatise on numerical powers, he deduced
the principles of integral calculus.
In physics his experiments in the equilibrium of fluids led to the invention of the hydraulic press. As a young man Pascal came under Jansenist influence, and after a profound religious experience in 1654 he entered the convent at Port-Royal, thereafter devoting his attention primarily to religious writing. His best-known works are Provincial Letters (1656), a defense of the Jansenists; and the posthumously published Pensées (1670), which preach the necessity of mystic faith in understanding the universe.
Les Pensees (1670) is an important work of Christian apologetics intended to defend religion against the attacks of freethinkers and the indifference of the worldly. It reflects the 17th-century controversy between the Jesuits and JANSENISM. A collection of notes, Pascal's work nevertheless constitutes a major statement of the doctrinal position that reason alone cannot cope with the human predicament; for this, faith, which is superior to reason, and mystic revelation--or "God felt in the heart"--are necessary. The Pensees is as notable for its masterly prose style as for the passionate devotion and rational power it witnesses.
French philosopher, social and political theorist, musician,
botanist, and one of the most eloquent writers of the Age of
Rousseau was born in Geneva on June 18, 1712, and was raised by an aunt and uncle following the death of his mother a few days after his birth. He was apprenticed at the age of 13 to an engraver, but after three years he ran away and became secretary and companion to Madame Louise de Warens, a wealthy and charitable woman who had a profound influence on Rousseau's life and writings. In 1742 Rousseau went to Paris, where he earned his living as a music teacher, music copyist, and political secretary. He became a close friend of the French philosopher Denis Diderot, who commissioned him to write articles on music for the French Encyclopédie.
In 1750 Rousseau won the Academy of Dijon award for his Discours sur les sciences et les arts (Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, 1750), and in 1752 his opera Le devin du village (The Village Sage) was first performed. In his prize-winning discourse and in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Among Mankind (1755; trans. 1761), he expounded the view that science, art, and social institutions have corrupted humankind and that the natural, or primitive, state is morally superior to the civilized state (see Naturalism). The persuasive rhetoric of these writings provoked derisive comments from the French philosopher Voltaire, who attacked Rousseau's views, and subsequently the two philosophers became bitter enemies.
Rousseau left Paris in 1756 and secluded himself at Montmorency, where he wrote the romance Julie, or the New Eloise (1760; trans. 1773). In his famous political treatise The Social Contract (1762; trans. 1797) he developed a case for civil liberty and helped prepare the ideological background of the French Revolution by defending the popular will against divine right.
In the influential novel Émile (1762; trans. 1763) Rousseau expounded a new theory of education emphasizing the importance of expression rather than repression to produce a well-balanced, freethinking child.
Rousseau's unconventional views antagonized French and Swiss authorities and alienated many of his friends, and in 1762 he fled first to Prussia and then to England. There he was befriended by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, but they soon quarreled and denounced each other in public letters. During his stay in England he prepared the manuscript for his posthumously published treatise on botany, La botanique (Botany, 1802). Rousseau returned to France in 1768 under the assumed name Renou. In 1770 he completed the manuscript of his most remarkable work, the autobiographical Confessions (1782; trans. 1783, 1790), which contained a penetrating self-examination and revealed the intense emotional and moral conflicts in his life. He died July 2, 1778, in Ermenonville, France.
Although Rousseau contributed greatly to the movement in Western Europe for individual freedom and against the absolutism of church and state, his conception of the state as the embodiment of the abstract will of the people and his arguments for strict enforcement of political and religious conformity are regarded by some historians as a source of totalitarian ideology. Rousseau's theory of education led to more permissive and more psychologically oriented methods of child care, and influenced the German educator Friedrich Froebel, the Swiss educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, and other pioneers of modern education. The New Eloise and Confessions introduced a new style of extreme emotional expression, concern with intense personal experience, and exploration of the conflicts between moral and sensual values. In these writings Rousseau profoundly influenced romanticism in literature and philosophy in the early 19th century. He also affected the development of the psychological literature, psychoanalytic theory, and philosophy of existentialism of the 20th century, particularly in his insistence on free will, his rejection of the doctrine of original sin, and his defense of learning through experience rather than analysis. The spirit and ideas of Rousseau's work stand midway between the 18th-century Enlightenment, with its passionate defense of reason and individual rights, and early 19th-century romanticism, which defended intense subjective experience against rational thought.
Italian philosopher of history. Born in Naples, Vico was the son of a poor bookseller. He studied law at the University of Naples, where he was professor of rhetoric from 1699 to 1741. From 1735 until his death he was royal historiographer to the king of Naples.
Vico's philosophy of history, little known until the 19th
cent., is regarded as the precursor of modern theories of history.
For Vico, history was the account of the birth, development, and
decay of human societies and institutions. He urged the study of
language and mythology as a means of understanding earlier societies.
He thus departed from previous systems of writing history either as
the biographies of great individuals or as the unfolding of God's
...the most important forerunner of the historical view known as historicism: the idea that history is the key to any science of humanity. In his Scienza nuova (New Science, 1725, 1730, 1744) and other writings, Vico challenged the preference of Rene Descartes for a natural science of deductive logic based on clear and distinct ideas and challenged as well the notions favored by Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza of a constant human nature.
Vico stressed that history is the expression of human will and deeds and can therefore provide more certain knowledge about humanity than the natural sciences can. He proposed that human beings are historical entities and that human nature changes over time. He saw each epoch as a whole in which all aspects of culture--art, religion, philosophy, politics, and economics--are interrelated, and he regarded myth, poetry, and art as important means of understanding the spirit of a culture.
Cyclical theory of history: Scienza nuova
Vico's best-known work is the Principi di scienza nuova
d'intorno alla comune natura delle nazioni (Principles of a New
Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations, 1725, completely
revised in 1730 and 1744), usually called the Scienza nuova. In it he
propounded a cyclical theory of history, according to which
human societies progress through a series of stages from barbarism
to civilization and then return to barbarism.
In the first stage - called the Age of the Gods - religion, the family, and other basic institutions emerge;
in the succeeding Age of Heroes, the common people are kept in subjection by a dominant class of nobles;
in the final stage - the Age of Men - the people rebel and win equality, but in the process society begins to disintegrate.
Human societies pass through predictable stages of growth and decay.
They go from a bestial" state, in which they are ruled by superstition,
then they stabilize and divide into classes.
Class conflict follows, in which the lower classes attain equal rights.
This leads to corruption,
and sometimes a return to the bestial condition as security and money become life's goals.
...a four-stage theory of the development of myth and
religion in Greece.
The first stage expressed the divinization of nature: Thunder and the heavens become Zeus, the sea becomes Poseidon.
In the second stage, gods related to the domestication and domination of nature appear: Hephaestus, god of fire, Demeter, goddess of grain.
In the third stage, the gods embody civil institutions and parties: Hera, for example, is the institution of marriage.
The fourth stage is expressed by the total humanization of the gods, as found in Homer.
Vico outlined a conception of historical development in which great cultures, following the pattern of Rome, go through cycles of growth and decline.
Vico attacked the Cartesian concept of body and mind as separate entities, propounded a cyclical view of history, and anticipated the romantics' interest in the past.
Neglected in his own time, Vico was rediscovered by romantic
proponents of a historical outlook, such as Jules Michelet and Thomas
Carlyle, and is today regarded as one of the great historical
Vico influenced many later social theorists, including Montesquieu, Auguste Comte, and Karl Marx. ...Spengler's ideas were influenced by the comparative method of historical study developed by the Italian philosopher Giovanni Battista Vico.
...influenced the writings of such notable thinkers as Goethe....
Goethe praised the New Science' for its prophetic insights . . . based on sober meditation about life and about the future."
Marx's economic interpretation of history owes a good deal to Vico.
Many scholars now see Vico as an early thinker on anthropology and ethnology because of his perceptive views on human nature.
James JOYCE's novel Finnegans Wake (1939), centering on a Dublin family, proceeds by analogy and parallel to incorporate virtually all history and much of art, psychology, and mythology. For his structure, Joyce relies on Giambattista VICO's cyclical view of history, which posits four ages: the divine, the heroic, the human, and the age of confusion. The novel, accordingly, is divided into four parts, each corresponding to a particular age with its characteristic features and attributes. In this richly experimental work, begun in 1923, Joyce joins the local and the universal through his portrayal of the creative father of the Earwicker family, his quarreling sons, and his renovating wife.
The nature of peoples is first crude, then
severe, then benign, then delicate, finally
The New Science, bk. 1, para. 242 (ed. 1744; tr. 1984).
Men first feel necessity, then look for utility,
next attend to comfort, still later amuse themselves
with pleasure, thence grow dissolute in luxury, and finally
go mad and waste their substance.
The New Science, bk. 1, para. 241 (1744 ed.; tr. 1984).
Common sense is judgment without reflection, shared by an
entire class, an entire nation, or the entire human race.
The New Science, bk. 1, para. 142 (ed. 1744; tr. 1984).
The universal principle of etymology in all
languages: words are carried over from bodies and from the properties
of bodies to express the things of the mind and spirit. The order of
ideas must follow the order of things.
The New Science, bk. 1, para. 237-38 (ed. 1744; tr. 1968).
French philosopher who is known as the Father of Sociology. He
urged the use of natural science techniques in the study of social
Comte studied at the École Polytechnique, in Paris, from 1814 to 1816. In 1818 he became secretary to the Comte de St-Simon, a pioneer socialist. Beginning in 1826, Comte delivered private lectures to some of the leading French scholars and scientists of his day. These lectures became the basis of his most famous work, the six-volume Course of Positive Philosophy' which was published between 1830 and 1842. In 1827, two years after his marriage to Caroline Massin, Comte suffered a mental breakdown. After his recovery he was on the staff of the École Polytechnique from 1832 to 1842. In his four-volume System of Positive Polity' published between 1851 and 1854 Comte formulated a concept called religion of humanity."
Comte is best known for his law of the three stages." According to this law," man's explanations of natural and social processes pass through three stages:
* In the first theological stage, man sees these processes as the work of supernatural powers, the universe is explained in terms of gods, demons, and mythological beings.
* In the second metaphysical stage, he explains them by means of such abstract ideas as causes" and forces", reality is explained in terms of abstractions such as essence, existence, substance, and accident.
* In the third positive stage, he accumulates factual data and determines relationships among the observed facts, explanations can be based only on scientific laws discovered through experimentation, observation, or logic.
Each of the stages, Comte believed, is correlated with certain political developments. The theological stage is reflected in such notions as the divine right of kings. The metaphysical stage involves such concepts as the social contract, the equality of persons, and popular sovereignty. The positivist stage entails a scientific or "sociological" approach to political organization. Quite critical of democratic procedures, Comte envisioned a stable society governed by a scientific elite who would use the methods of science to solve human problems and improve social conditions.
The most powerful philosophical mind of the 19th century was the
German philosopher Hegel, whose system of absolute idealism,
although influenced greatly by Kant and Schelling, was based on a new
conception of logic in which
- conflict and contradiction are regarded as necessary elements of truth, and
- truth is regarded as a process rather than a fixed state of things.
Concerning the rational structure of the Absolute, Hegel, following the ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides, argued that "what is rational is real and what is real is rational." This must be understood in terms of Hegel's further claim that the Absolute must ultimately be regarded as pure Thought, or Spirit, or Mind, in the process of self-development (Idealism).
The logic that governs this developmental process is dialectic. The dialectical method involves the notion that movement, or process, or progress, is the result of the conflict of opposites. Traditionally, this dimension of Hegel's thought has been analyzed in terms of the categories of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
The source of all reality, for Hegel, is an absolute spirit, or cosmic reason, which develops from abstract, undifferentiated being into more and more concrete reality by a dialectical process consisting of triadic stages, each triad involving an initial state (or thesis), its opposite state (or antithesis), and a higher state, or synthesis, that unites the two opposites.
Although Hegel tended to avoid these terms, they are helpful in understanding his concept of the dialectic.
* The thesis, then, might be an idea or a historical movement.
* Such an idea or movement contains within itself incompleteness that gives rise to opposition, or an antithesis, a conflicting idea or movement.
* As a result of the conflict a third point of view arises, a synthesis, which overcomes the conflict by reconciling at a higher level the truth contained in both the thesis and antithesis.
This synthesis becomes a new thesis that generates another
antithesis, giving rise to a new synthesis, and in such a fashion the
process of intellectual or historical development is continually
Hegel thought that Absolute Spirit itself (which is to say, the sum total of reality) develops in this dialectical fashion toward an ultimate end or goal.
The goal of the dialectical cosmic process can be most clearly understood at the level of reason. As finite reason progresses in understanding, the Absolute progresses toward full self-knowledge. Indeed, the Absolute comes to know itself through the human mind's increased understanding of reality, or the Absolute.
Hegel analyzed this human progression in understanding in terms of three levels: art, religion, and philosophy.
* Art grasps the Absolute in material forms, interpreting the rational through the sensible forms of beauty.
* Art is conceptually superseded by religion, which grasps the Absolute by means of images and symbols. The highest religion for Hegel is Christianity, for in Christianity the truth that the Absolute manifests itself in the finite is symbolically reflected in the incarnation.
* Philosophy, however, is conceptually supreme, because it grasps the Absolute rationally. Once this has been achieved, the Absolute has arrived at full self-consciousness, and the cosmic drama reaches its end and goal. Only at this point did Hegel identify the Absolute with God. "God is God," Hegel argued, "only in so far as he knows himself."
British scientist, who laid the foundation of modern evolutionary theory with his concept of the development of all forms of life through the slow-working process of natural selection. His work was of major influence on the life and earth sciences and on modern thought in general.
Born in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, on February 12, 1809, Darwin was the fifth child of a wealthy and sophisticated English family. His maternal grandfather was the successful china and pottery entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood; his paternal grandfather was the well-known 18th-century physician and savant Erasmus Darwin. After graduating from the elite school at Shrewsbury in 1825, young Darwin went to the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. In 1827 he dropped out of medical school and entered the University of Cambridge, in preparation for becoming a clergyman of the Church of England. There he met two stellar figures: Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873), a geologist, and John Stevens Henslow (1795-1861), a naturalist. Henslow not only helped build Darwin's self-confidence but also taught his student to be a meticulous and painstaking observer of natural phenomena and collector of specimens. After graduating from Cambridge in 1831, the 22-year-old Darwin was taken aboard the English survey ship HMS Beagle, largely on Henslow's recommendation, as an unpaid naturalist on a scientific expedition around the world.
Theory of Natural Selection
After returning to England in 1836, Darwin began recording his ideas about changeability of species in his Notebooks on the Transmutation of Species. Darwin's explanation for how organisms evolved was brought into sharp focus after he read An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), by the British economist Thomas Robert Malthus, who explained how human populations remain in balance. Malthus argued that any increase in the availability of food for basic human survival could not match the geometrical rate of population growth. The latter, therefore, had to be checked by natural limitations such as famine and disease, or by social actions such as war.
Darwin immediately applied Malthus's argument to animals and plants, and by 1838 he had arrived at a sketch of a theory of evolution through natural selection (see: Species and Speciation). For the next two decades he worked on his theory and other natural history projects. (Darwin was independently wealthy and never had to earn an income.) In 1839 he married his first cousin, Emma Wedgwood (1808-96), and soon after, moved to a small estate, Down House, outside London. There he and his wife had ten children, three of whom died in infancy.
Darwin's theory was first announced in 1858 in a paper presented at the same time as one by Alfred Russel Wallace, a young naturalist who had come independently to the theory of natural selection. Darwin's complete theory was published in 1859, in On the Origin of Species. Often referred to as the ìbook that shook the world,î the Origin sold out on the first day of publication and subsequently went through six editions.
Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is essentially that, because of the food-supply problem described by Malthus, the young born to any species intensely compete for survival. Those young that survive to produce the next generation tend to embody favorable natural variations (however slight the advantage may be)óthe process of natural selectionóand these variations are passed on by heredity. Therefore, each generation will improve adaptively over the preceding generations, and this gradual and continuous process is the source of the evolution of species. Natural selection is only part of Darwin's vast conceptual scheme; he also introduced the concept that all related organisms are descended from common ancestors. Moreover, he provided additional support for the older concept that the earth itself is not static but evolving.
Reactions to the Theory
The reaction to the Origin was immediate. Some biologists argued that Darwin could not prove his hypothesis. Others criticized Darwin's concept of variation, arguing that he could explain neither the origin of variations nor how they were passed to succeeding generations. This particular scientific objection was not answered until the birth of modern genetics in the early 20th century (see: Heredity; Mendel's Laws). In fact, many scientists continued to express doubts for the following 50 to 80 years. The most publicized attacks on Darwin's ideas, however, came not from scientists but from religious opponents. The thought that living things had evolved by natural processes denied the special creation of humankind and seemed to place humanity on a plane with the animals; both of these ideas were serious contradictions to orthodox theological opinion.
Darwin spent the rest of his life expanding on different aspects of problems raised in the Origin. His later booksóincluding The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868), The Descent of Man (1871), and The Expression of the Emotions in Animals and Man (1872)ówere detailed expositions of topics that had been confined to small sections of the Origin. The importance of his work was well recognized by his contemporaries; Darwin was elected to the Royal Society (1839) and the French Academy of Sciences (1878). He was also honored by burial in Westminster Abbey after he died in Down, Kent, on April 19, 1882.