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John Locke (1632-1704):
"The Philosopher of Freedom."
"Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided." (Locke.)

The elementary question to be asked by all philosophers is, "what is the nature and ultimate significance of the universe." As things developed in philosophy, three camps emerged: there were those who hold reality subsists only in thought -- these are idealists; those who hold reality to subsist in only matter -- these are materialists; and those who hold that reality subsists both in thought and in matter -- these are dualists.

Ultimately, in his acceptance of the existence of God, Locke was a dualist -- though only barely so; he did not consider man to be a divine creature fixed with ideas on coming into this world. Locke was an empiricist, viz., all knowledge comes to us through experience. "No man's knowledge here can go beyond his experience." There is no such thing as innate ideas; there is no such thing as moral precepts; we are born with an empty mind, with a soft tablet (tabula rasa) ready to be writ upon by experimental impressions. Beginning blank, the human mind acquires knowledge through the use of the five senses and a process of reflection. Not only has Locke's empiricism been a dominant tradition in British philosophy, but it has been a doctrine which with its method, experimental science, has brought on scientific discoveries ever since, scientific discoveries on which our modern world now depends.

 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Philosopher 1712 - 1778

Never exceed your rights, and
they will soon become unlimited.
—Rousseau

In his early writing, Rousseau contended that man is essentially good, a "noble savage" when in the "state of nature" (the state of all the other animals, and the condition man was in before the creation of civilization and society), and that good people are made unhappy and corrupted by their experiences in society. He viewed society as "articficial" and "corrupt" and that the furthering of society results in the continuing unhappiness of man.

Rousseau's essay, "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" (1750), argued that the advancement of art and science had not been beneficial to mankind. He proposed that the progress of knowledge had made governments more powerful, and crushed individual liberty. He concluded that material progress had actually undermined the possibility of sincere friendship, replacing it with jealousy, fear and suspicion.

Perhaps Rousseau's most important work is "The Social Contract" that describes the relationship of man with society. Contrary to his earlier work, Rousseau claimed that the state of nature is brutish condition without law or morality, and that there are good men only a result of society's presence. In the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men. Because he can be more successful facing threats by joining with other men, he has the impetus to do so. He joins together with his fellow men to form the collective human presence known as "society." "The Social Contract" is the "compact" agreed to among men that sets the conditions for membership in society.

 

René Descartes

Born: 31 March 1596 in La Haye (now Descartes),Touraine, France
Died: 11 Feb 1650 in Stockholm, Sweden

"I concluded that I might take as a general rule the principle that all things which we very clearly and obviously conceive are true: only observing, however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining the objects which we distinctly conceive.
Discours de la Méthode." 1637.

Descartes, as a result of the principles already established in his method, had first of all to seek out a solid starting point (a clear and distinct concrete idea), and from this opens his deductive process. To arrive at this solid starting point, he begins with methodical doubt, that is, a doubt which will be the means of arriving at certitude. This differs from the systematic doubt of the Skeptics, who doubt in order to remain in doubt.

I can doubt all the impressions that exist within my knowing faculties, whether they be those impressions which come to me through the senses or through the intellect. Indeed, I may doubt even mathematical truths, in so far as it could be that the human intelligence is under the influence of a malignant genius which takes sport in making what is objectively irrational appear to me as rational.

Doubt is thus carried to its extreme form. But notwithstanding this fact, doubt causes to rise in me the most luminous and indisputable certainty. Even presupposing that the entire content of my thought is false, the incontestable truth is that I think: one cannot doubt without thinking; and if I think, I exist: "Cogito ergo sum."

It is to be observed that for Descartes the validity of "Cogito ergo sum" rests in this, that the doubt presents intuitively to the mind the subject who doubts, that is, the thinking substance. In this, Cartesian doubt differs from that of St. Augustine ("Si fallor, sum"), which embodies a truth sufficiently strong to overcome the position of Skepticism. In Descartes, "Cogito ergo sum" is assumed, not only in order to overcome the Skeptic position but as a foundation for the primary reality (the existence of the "res cogitans"), from which the way to further research is to be taken.

This is the point which distinguishes the classic realistic philosophy from Cartesian and modern philosophy. With Descartes, philosophy ceases to be the science of being, and becomes the science of thought (epistemology). Whereas, at first, being conditioned thought, now it is thought that conditions being. This principle, more or less realized by the philosophers immediately following Descartes, was to reach its full consciousness in Kant and modern Idealism.

In Descartes ideas do not come from experience, but the intellect finds them within itself. Descartes declares that only these ideas are valid in the field of reality. Thus the concreteness (or the objective validity) of an idea is dependent upon its own clearness and distinction.