Modern Philosophy II

Modern Philosophy II

Descartes’ hyperbolic doubt begins the age of modern philosophy by forgoing most of the previous metaphysical assumptions established in the scholastic schools of thought. In doubting all sensory perceptions and the body, he arrives at the fundamental assumption that only his thoughts “as is” exist and thus he exists through thoughts; one’s skepticism of his/her existence via thought is sufficient to prove the existence of the mind. Knowledge of external things is not known in the senses/body as the binding of senses to objecthood occurs in the thoughts/mind; senses are unreliable as they require constantancy to form a description of the world at this low-level. The ability of the mind to make deductions (rationalism) and to ignore the body suggests an immaterial quality that is exception to natural laws. The apparent dualism between mind & body and how the two can interact is a problem that later philosophers will have to address.


Spinoza opposes the mind-body dualism by arguing that everything that exists in nature has a common substance (objecthood) and is synonymous with God (Pantheism). Both thoughts and extensions are attributes of this substance (among an infinitely many that we are not aware of) with different modes (modifications). His ethics are Epicurean and negates absolute good/evil as either can be positive/negative w.r.t. pain/pleasure. His writings on psychology expounds upon active & passive (passions) emotions where the former rises from understanding and latter by external causes; passions, which are purported to be responsible for the ills of the world, can be transformed into understanding so that we become the cause of our effects. These concepts will be the seeds for the later development of psychoanalysis in the 19-20th century.


Leibniz’s solution to the mind-body problem was a new metaphysics based on elementary particles called Monads that reflects the universe (blurred perception of other Monads), are uninteracting (immaterial), and are in pre-harmony with each other. Monads are independent as they have been pre-programmed since inception; they are centers of force from which space, matter, force are appearances. For man, Monads are hierarchical and serve (pre-programmed) the purposes of single Monad that represents his soul. Thus, the non-interaction between Monads resolve the mind-body issue at a cost of free-will. The determinism in his metaphysics creates theological problems; one inquires as to why God allowed for the ills of the world to exist in contradiction to his absolute goodness. The explanation holds that the world is the best of all possible worlds with the largest surplus of good. This follows from the tenant that everything that which does not exist “struggles” to exist (be realized) in the world; the law of compossibility (fewest contradictions) asserts that the world consists of heterogeneous truths. One can view this as a utilitarian solution for maximizing good in an over-determined system.


Locke’s theory of knowledge flipped that of Descartes on its head by placing experience above reason. Knowledge is empirical as it first comes by the senses and then the perception of the mind’s operation (reflection); the mind is initially a blank-slate (tabular rasa) without a priori ideas to which simple to complex ideas are built from experience in a bottom-up manner. Knowledge is thus the agreement of ideas between minds to which the problem of knowing ultimate causes outside experience is circumvented; the cause is often conflated with the sense of the cause. The investigation of ideas is thus probabilistic as they can only be confirmed by experience or by the testimony of experiences of others.


A consequence of Locke’s empiricism enables him to take stances on ethics and state-crafting that are more closely aligned with political actualities. Working from Hobbes, Locke defines the “state of nature” as a lack of a common judge or authority amongst equals with natural rights (life, liberty, and property) grounded by natural laws (Christian ethics). Similar to Hobbes, man engages in a social contract to form a civil society as to protect his natural rights. Unlike Hobbes, authority is not unconditionally (with the exception of self-preservation) handed over to a monarch but instead is given consent which is contingent upon its ability to protect said rights; the denizens are responsible for revolution if the government is ineffectual at its task. The tension between private interests and the rights that were given up to form the public are palpable in the short term but through the assumption that man is rational, will coincide in the long term; prudence is thusly valued. Property, as a natural right, derives from the Christian conception of natural resources given to humanity in common by God. Man, who owns himself, owns his labor to which it enters natural resources and transforms it into property.


Modern Philosophy II

Modern Philosophy (Interlude)

Modern Philosophy 1 (Interlude)

The enlightenment era marks the beginning of the end for the scholastic philosophy from which much of the Western church doctrines and humanity’s knowledge of the world is derived. From a political standpoint, the authority of the Western church and its papal orders were severely undermined in reaction to its gross abuses of powers; the selling of both indulgences and simony violated the spirit of the original gospels. The protestant reformation, spearheaded by Luther and Calvin, resulted in another schism of the Church, particularly in the northern European nations where Papal authority was distant; subsequent power shifted away from the church and back to the state. Political theorists such as Machiavelli and Hobbes produced new commentaries as to how states are both won and maintained. Renewed interests in the classical Greek works led to a revival of a humanistic tradition (life on Earth as opposed to the heavens) and scientific inquiry not seen since the pre-Socratic philosophers.


The protestant reformation rejected many of the Catholic church practices in favor of salvation by faith alone. Catholic doctrines on the purgatory (one’s sentence can be reduced through indulgences) were in clear violation of the protestant beliefs. Merits by good works no longer altered one’s passage to the after-life; it is only through God’s grace that one is pre-destined to enter either heaven or hell. Last, confessions of sins to a priest (middle man) were no longer required as one’s relationship with God has moved onto one’s individual faith alone.

political theory

The power shift from Church to individual (and thus state) gave rise to new commentaries on how societies emerge and are held in check. Machiavellian power-dynamics are a form of instrumentality that exchanges stability for moral corruption; such is the sharp departure from previous incarnations of Utopias idealized by Plato and More. Hobbes approached state-crafting from the perspective of self-preservation (rather than from a “will to power”) where men are equal in the state of nature (where the only right he can claim is his self-preservation) but live short and brutish lives unless engaged in social contracts with each other. However, a society (sovereign entity, state) built upon social-contracts would devolve back to anarchy unless leadership was provided; absolute monarchy was argued as the best leadership as it had fewer conflicts of interest.


The rise of scientific discourse, as a criterion of knowledge, placed hypotheses verified by observation above axiom/priors favored by the Platonic ideals. Francis Bacon’s induction finds similarities amongst accumulated data to build hypotheses. Copernicus placed the sun back into center of the universe; Kepler hypothesized that the orbits of planetary masses were ellipsoidal rather than circle ideals. Galileo developed the dynamics of acceleration and the law of inertia. Newton unified all these models in the universal theory of gravity; a mechanistic description of the universe is formed.

Modern Philosophy (Interlude)

Christianity Middle/Dark Ages

Christianity Dark Ages

The power the papacy grows and reaches its apex due to removal of older reigimes. Barbarian powers such as Lombards supplanted older emperors and took on different roles w.r.t. culture and faith. In the vicissitudes of state powers exchanged, the Church grew its authorities on faith as it took opportune moments assert its independence. However, authority wasn’t simply the command of the word but also a militaristic one (“Just war”) in the so-called defense of the institution. Ultimately, the great schism between east and western churches was the refusal of the former to submit to such an authority.


The scholastic philosophy that dominated this era (West) was the extension of Aristotle’s metaphysics and logic/dialectic. Western Christianity readily adopted the language and terms set established by their ancestors to define the nature of God. One of the earliest ontological arguments for existence of God was established by Saint Anselm; Russell quotes,
“We define God as the greatest possible object of thought. Now if an object of thought does not exist, another, exactly like it, which does exist, is greater.Therefore the greatest of all objects of thought must exist, since, otherwise, another, still greater,would be possible. Therefore God exists.”
The argument is a play on language where existence is used as a predicate.


Scholasticism culminated with the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas whose beliefs on the nature of God followed the metaphysics of Aristotle. God as actus puras (pure act) is identical with his essence which necessitates his existence; this is analogous to fusing both the Aristolean form and matter in their relation of potentiality and actuality. The existence of God follows from Aristotle’s “unmoved mover” or prime mover / first cause. Last, Thomas asserts that truth is derived from two sources: Natural reason or the logic of man from first principles is the first source. Divine reason or revelation by the grace of God is the second source. Moreover, the two bodies of knowledge derived from these sources can coexist (non-contradictory); this protected the many creeds issued by the Church in a retroactive sense.


Outside of issue of papal authority, the great schism between Eastern and Western churches disagreed on the nature of the trinity of God. From the works of Aquinas, the Western church’s holy trinity (father, son, holy-spirit) belong to the essence of God and are all inter-related but impersonal; each Person is not an treated as an individual per-se but are distinguished via relations with one another. I liken the Father to the universal form of all ideas, the Son as God’s awareness of the forms (self-knowledge) through will/intellect, and the Holy-spirit as an archetypal conscience that is derived from a tension between universals and particulars. The Eastern church disagrees as they center the God head on the Father (personal) as the sole originator of both the Son and the Holy-spirit.


The end of the middle ages is marked by the rejection of universals and the regularization of concepts. William Ockham was a major proponent of this Nominalist movement by asserting that universals didn’t exist but are abstractions via intellect (bottom-up organization); universals are merely words. Ockham’s razor posited that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity which is to say that solutions or explanations should be parsimonious or as simple as possible. Such a constraint will have a power effect on the enlightenment period where older assumptions are discarded/culled away and the scientific method for acquiring knowledge on nature can advance (in increments).

Christianity Middle/Dark Ages

Christianity (1-6th Centuries AD)

Fathers of Christianity (1-6th centuries)

chosen people    risetopower

The moral history of Christianity (The Elect, predestined for salvation at birth) is derived from the Jewish covenant with God (Chosen people, Jewish nation); the monotheist aspects are derived from Platonic/Orphic elements.  The psychology of Jewish state can be viewed as a purification through collective punishment; hostilities (by others) are sublimated into even greater faith towards virtuous actions. Although the Christians did not adopt such a broad concept (a nation of religion), they did place their elect on pedestals which produced a transitional object (the institution of the church) that circumvented the problem of original sin; descendants of Adam and Eve are all fallen and could only be saved by the grace of God which was predestined (arbitrary). The church, being a non-human, is exempt from such sin and would serve as a conduit/bridge to carry out the authority of God. Such authority was eventually recognized by the state for several reasons: The lack of a Christian nation made man’s direct relation with God the rationale for suffering, which during the declining years of the Roman states, siphoned away much of faith in material to a faith in the spiritual. Man’s soul was not ready the fall of the Godhead (freedom), and so a third object (Church institution) emerged to buffer the regression into the self. Hints of man’s growing subjectivism can be seen in Saint Augustine’s theory of time (memory, present, expectation).  A consequence of such faith in the afterlife is a fear-mongering campaign against eternal hell-fire; those who weren’t baptized (converted) would suffer eternal damnation, a fate much worse than the squalid conditions faced on Earth.

saintaugustine    expansion 
The power of the papacy over the state over the coming centuries was aided by efforts of theologians such as Saint Augustine (provided theoretical grounds for the supremacy of the Church) and other figures such as Saint Benedict (monk), Saint Gregory the Great (statesman) for controlling education/teachings (monastic life) and courting both the Emperors of Rome and the Barbarian warlords. Augustine’s City of God juxtaposed punishment in life for eternal punishment in the afterlife, raised virtue in mind over action, and authorized the Church in its own righteous defense of itself (just-war). The Church’s outreach (monastic order), via almsgiving and the education of its own beliefs/practices (miracles, preserved knowledge through dark-ages), converted the masses toward the faith.

Christianity (1-6th Centuries AD)

Post-Socratics to Antiquity

Post-Socratics to Antiquity

The period of antiquities after Aristotle to the middle ages was marked by a retreat from the material world in an age of increasing uncertainty. The decline of the Greek state following invasions by the Romans and the eventual collapse of the Western Roman empire had led to several schools of thought that signaled a beacon for withdrawal rather than for growth. Taking this analogy further, such a beacon represents a negation of what was once held in the highest esteem: Institutions were dismantled. Money, power, and fame were discarded. Austerity measures were adopted as a self-sufficient way of life. Thus, the artistic theme foretells a coming darkness (dark ages), a regression back to nature, and a clinging to a hope for a new golden age in the future.

cynics   skeptics

The cynics rejected many institutions from marriage, private property, and all luxuries that appeal to the senses; they freed themselves of possessions, professed a love for virtue, and lived with nature. The rejection of the material life (shrinking the sphere of the known) and the rejection of values such as power/fame (negation of ideals) confines life to a much smaller space. The skeptics refuted all theses (both sides can be shown to be valid and thus the issue “grey” or both sides are invalid and thus negated) and neglected to produce a positive replacement. Thus, many of the stronger (rigid) claims in both metaphysics (first principles) and ethics, were shown to be untenable.

epicureans    stoics

The Epicureans claimed that all virtues were empty unless in the pursuit of pleasure; pleasure is further differentiated into passive/active facets where the former is achieved in a state of equilibrium (balance like a web/mesh) and preferred to the latter. The practical result is the absence of pain/suffering, the abstinence of public life, and a safety in friendship. The Stoics believed in a cyclic determinism where everything that happened will repeat in after a great conflagration (reduction of elements to fire). The Platonic elements were reintroduced through the conception of a “world-soul” that connects all things through Pneuma (fire-air). The human soul, which is pure reason (rational), partakes as a citizen of the world and is obliged to uphold its virtues and organization (universal brotherhood).


Plotinus (neo-platonism) refines many of Plato’s concepts and differentiates the soul into the Holy trinity (“The One”, spirit, and soul). “The One”, as a transcendental being, is ineffable and cannot be defined with predicates but synonymous with the “Good” or “Potentiality”. The spirit is the first emanation of the “The One” and identifiable with ‘nous’ or mind; the image of the God illuminates the world of essence. The soul has two faces, one turned inwards toward the spirit. The other is turned outward to interface/manifest with the body/material. The good life is the former where the soul self-forgets as it turns inwards (towards union with the one) and merges with the spirit; both soul and spirit become simultaneously two and one.

Post-Socratics to Antiquity