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.

The nature of Western philosophy » The Western tradition


The history of Western philosophy reveals in detail the concentrated activity of a multitude of serious and able thinkers reflecting upon, reasoning about, and considering deeply the nature of their experience. But throughout this diversity certain characteristic oppositions continually recur, such as those between monism, dualism, and pluralism in metaphysics (see pluralism and monism); between materialism and idealism in cosmological theory; between nominalism and realism in the theory of signification; between rationalism and empiricism in epistemology; between utilitarianism and deontological ethics in moral theory; and between partisans of logic and partisans of emotion in the search for a responsible guide to the wisdom of life.

Many of these fundamental oppositions among philosophers will be treated in the article that follows. But if any single opposition is taken as central throughout the history of Western philosophy at every level and in every field, it is probably that between the critical and the speculative impulses. These two divergent motivations tend to express themselves in two divergent methods: analysis and synthesis, respectively. Plato’s Republic is an example of the second; the Principia Ethica (1903) of G.E. Moore (1873–1958), a founder of analytic philosophy, is an example of the first. Beginning with a simple question about justice, the Republic in its discursiveness slowly but progressively brings more and more areas into the discussion: first ethics, then politics, then educational theory, then epistemology, and finally metaphysics. Starting with one specific question, Plato finally managed to make his discussion as broad as the world. Principia Ethica does just the opposite. Beginning with a general question—What is good?—it progressively breaks up this question into a whole series of subordinate questions, analyzing meanings ever more minutely, growing narrower and narrower but always with the utmost modesty and sincerity, striving for increasing simplicity and exactitude.

The analytic, or critical, impulse treats any subject matter or topic by concentrating upon the part, by taking it apart in the service of clarity and precision. It was essentially the method of Aristotle (384–322 bc) and of Peter Abelard (1079–1142), a French Scholastic; of David Hume (1711–76), a Scottish skeptic, and of Rudolf Carnap (1891–1970), a German American logical positivist; and of Russell and Moore. The synthetic, or speculative, impulse operates by seeking to comprehend the whole, by putting it all together in the service of unity and completeness. It is essentially the method of Parmenides, a Sophist, and of Plato; of Aquinas and of Benedict de Spinoza (1632–77), a Dutch Jewish rationalist; and of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), a German idealist, and of Whitehead. Throughout philosophy’s history, each of the two traditions has made its insistent claim.
 



G. E. Moore

British philosopher

born Nov. 4, 1873, London, Eng.
died Oct. 24, 1958, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Main
influential British Realist philosopher and professor whose systematic approach to ethical problems and remarkably meticulous approach to philosophy made him an outstanding modern British thinker.

Elected to a fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1898, Moore remained there until 1904, during which time he published several journal articles, including “The Nature of Judgment” (1899) and “The Refutation of Idealism” (1903), as well as his major ethical work, Principia Ethica (1903). These writings were important in helping to undermine the influence of Hegel and Kant on British philosophy. After residence in Edinburgh and London, he returned to Cambridge in 1911 to become a lecturer in moral science. From 1925 to 1939 he was professor of philosophy there, and from 1921 to 1947 he was editor of the philosophical journal Mind.

Though Moore grew up in a climate of evangelical religiosity, he eventually became an agnostic. A friend of Bertrand Russell, who first directed him to the study of philosophy, he was also a leading figure in the Bloomsbury group, a coterie that included the economist John Keynes and the writers Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster. Because of his view that “the good” is knowable by direct apprehension, he became known as an “ethical intuitionist.” He claimed that other efforts to decide what is “good,” such as analyses of the concepts of approval or desire, which are not themselves of an ethical nature, partake of a fallacy that he termed the “naturalistic fallacy.”

Moore was also preoccupied with such problems as the nature of sense perception and the existence of other minds and material things. He was not as skeptical as those philosophers who held that we lack sufficient data to prove that objects exist outside our own minds, but he did believe that proper philosophical proofs had not yet been devised to overcome such objections.

Although few of Moore’s theories achieved general acceptance, his unique approaches to certain problems and his intellectual rigour helped change the texture of philosophical discussion in England. His other major writings include Philosophical Studies (1922) and Some Main Problems of Philosophy (1953); posthumous publications were Philosophical Papers (1959) and the Commonplace Book, 1919–1953 (1962).

 

 



 



Aristotle
Greek philosopher
Greek Aristoteles

born 384 bc, Stagira, Chalcidice, Greece
died 322, Chalcis, Euboea

Overview
Greek philosopher and scientist whose thought determined the course of Western intellectual history for two millenia.

He was the son of the court physician to Amyntas III, grandfather of Alexander the Great. In 367 he became a student at the Academy of Plato in Athens; he remained there for 20 years. After Plato’s death in 348/347, he returned to Macedonia, where he became tutor to the young Alexander. In 335 he founded his own school in Athens, the Lyceum. His intellectual range was vast, covering most of the sciences and many of the arts. He worked in physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, and botany; in psychology, political theory, and ethics; in logic and metaphysics; and in history, literary theory, and rhetoric. He invented the study of formal logic, devising for it a finished system, known as syllogistic, that was considered the sum of the discipline until the 19th century; his work in zoology, both observational and theoretical, also was not surpassed until the 19th century. His ethical and political theory, especially his conception of the ethical virtues and of human flourishing (“happiness”), continue to exert great influence in philosophical debate. He wrote prolifically; his major surviving works include the Organon, De Anima (“On the Soul”), Physics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Eudemian Ethics, Magna Moralia, Politics, Rhetoric, and Poetics, as well as other works on natural history and science. See also teleology.

Main
ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, one of the greatest intellectual figures of Western history. He was the author of a philosophical and scientific system that became the framework and vehicle for both Christian Scholasticism and medieval Islamic philosophy. Even after the intellectual revolutions of the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment, Aristotelian concepts remained embedded in Western thinking.

Aristotle’s intellectual range was vast, covering most of the sciences and many of the arts, including biology, botany, chemistry, ethics, history, logic, metaphysics, rhetoric, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, physics, poetics, political theory, psychology, and zoology. He was the founder of formal logic, devising for it a finished system that for centuries was regarded as the sum of the discipline; and he pioneered the study of zoology, both observational and theoretical, in which some of his work remained unsurpassed until the 19th century. But he is, of course, most outstanding as a philosopher. His writings in ethics and political theory as well as in metaphysics and the philosophy of science continue to be studied, and his work remains a powerful current in contemporary philosophical debate.

This article deals with Aristotle’s life and thought. For the later development of Aristotelian philosophy, see Aristotelianism. For treatment of Aristotelianism in the full context of Western philosophy, see philosophy, Western.

Life » The Academy
Aristotle was born on the Chalcidic peninsula of Macedonia, in northern Greece. His father, Nicomachus, was the physician of Amyntas III (reigned c. 393–c. 370 bc), king of Macedonia and grandfather of Alexander the Great (reigned 336–323 bc). After his father’s death in 367, Aristotle migrated to Athens, where he joined the Academy of Plato (c. 428–c. 348 bc). He remained there for 20 years as Plato’s pupil and colleague.

Many of Plato’s later dialogues date from these decades, and they may reflect Aristotle’s contributions to philosophical debate at the Academy. Some of Aristotle’s writings also belong to this period, though mostly they survive only in fragments. Like his master, Aristotle wrote initially in dialogue form, and his early ideas show a strong Platonic influence. His dialogue Eudemus, for example, reflects the Platonic view of the soul as imprisoned in the body and as capable of a happier life only when the body has been left behind. According to Aristotle, the dead are more blessed and happier than the living, and to die is to return to one’s real home.

Another youthful work, the Protrepticus (“Exhortation”), has been reconstructed by modern scholars from quotations in various works from late antiquity. Everyone must do philosophy, Aristotle claims, because even arguing against the practice of philosophy is itself a form of philosophizing. The best form of philosophy is the contemplation of the universe of nature; it is for this purpose that God made human beings and gave them a godlike intellect. All else—strength, beauty, power, and honour—is worthless.

It is possible that two of Aristotle’s surviving works on logic and disputation, the Topics and the Sophistical Refutations, belong to this early period. The former demonstrates how to construct arguments for a position one has already decided to adopt; the latter shows how to detect weaknesses in the arguments of others. Although neither work amounts to a systematic treatise on formal logic, Aristotle can justly say, at the end of the Sophistical Refutations, that he has invented the discipline of logic—nothing at all existed when he started.

During Aristotle’s residence at the Academy, King Philip II of Macedonia (reigned 359–336 bc) waged war on a number of Greek city-states. The Athenians defended their independence only half-heartedly, and, after a series of humiliating concessions, they allowed Philip to become, by 338, master of the Greek world. It cannot have been an easy time to be a Macedonian resident in Athens.

Within the Academy, however, relations seem to have remained cordial. Aristotle always acknowledged a great debt to Plato; he took a large part of his philosophical agenda from Plato, and his teaching is more often a modification than a repudiation of Plato’s doctrines. Already, however, Aristotle was beginning to distance himself from Plato’s theory of Forms, or Ideas (eidos; see form). (The word Form, when used to refer to Forms as Plato conceived them, is often capitalized in the scholarly literature; when used to refer to forms as Aristotle conceived them, it is conventionally lowercased.) Plato had held that, in addition to particular things, there exists a suprasensible realm of Forms, which are immutable and everlasting. This realm, he maintained, makes particular things intelligible by accounting for their common natures: a thing is a horse, for example, by virtue of the fact that it shares in, or imitates, the Form of “Horse.” In a lost work, On Ideas, Aristotle maintains that the arguments of Plato’s central dialogues establish only that there are, in addition to particulars, certain common objects of the sciences. In his surviving works as well, Aristotle often takes issue with the theory of Forms, sometimes politely and sometimes contemptuously. In his Metaphysics he argues that the theory fails to solve the problems it was meant to address. It does not confer intelligibility on particulars, because immutable and everlasting Forms cannot explain how particulars come into existence and undergo change. All the theory does, according to Aristotle, is introduce new entities equal in number to the entities to be explained—as if one could solve a problem by doubling it.(See below Doctrines: Physics and metaphysics: Form.)


Life » Travels
When Plato died about 348, his nephew Speusippus became head of the Academy, and Aristotle left Athens. He migrated to Assus, a city on the northwestern coast of Anatolia (in present-day Turkey), where Hermias, a graduate of the Academy, was ruler. Aristotle became a close friend of Hermias and eventually married his ward Pythias. Aristotle helped Hermias to negotiate an alliance with Macedonia, which angered the Persian king, who had Hermias treacherously arrested and put to death. Aristotle saluted Hermias’s memory in Ode to Virtue, his only surviving poem.

While in Assus and during the subsequent few years when he lived in the city of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Aristotle carried out extensive scientific research, particularly in zoology and marine biology. This work was summarized in a book later known, misleadingly, as The History of Animals, to which Aristotle added two short treatises, On the Parts of Animals and On the Generation of Animals. Although Aristotle did not claim to have founded the science of zoology, his detailed observations of a wide variety of organisms were quite without precedent. He—or one of his research assistants—must have been gifted with remarkably acute eyesight, since some of the features of insects that he accurately reports were not again observed until the invention of the microscope in the 17th century.

The scope of Aristotle’s scientific research is astonishing. Much of it is concerned with the classification of animals into genus and species; more than 500 species figure in his treatises, many of them described in detail. The myriad items of information about the anatomy, diet, habitat, modes of copulation, and reproductive systems of mammals, reptiles, fish, and insects are a melange of minute investigation and vestiges of superstition. In some cases his unlikely stories about rare species of fish were proved accurate many centuries later. In other places he states clearly and fairly a biological problem that took millennia to solve, such as the nature of embryonic development.

Despite an admixture of the fabulous, Aristotle’s biological works must be regarded as a stupendous achievement. His inquiries were conducted in a genuinely scientific spirit, and he was always ready to confess ignorance where evidence was insufficient. Whenever there is a conflict between theory and observation, one must trust observation, he insisted, and theories are to be trusted only if their results conform with the observed phenomena.

About eight years after the death of Hermias, in 343 or 342, Aristotle was summoned by Philip II to the Macedonian capital at Pella to act as tutor to Philip’s 13-year-old son, the future Alexander the Great. Little is known of the content of Aristotle’s instruction; although the Rhetoric to Alexander was included in the Aristotelian corpus for centuries, it is now commonly regarded as a forgery. By 326 Alexander had made himself master of an empire that stretched from the Danube to the Indus and included Libya and Egypt. Ancient sources report that during his campaigns Alexander arranged for biological specimens to be sent to his tutor from all parts of Greece and Asia Minor.


Life » The Lyceum
While Alexander was conquering Asia, Aristotle, now 50 years old, was in Athens. Just outside the city boundary, he established his own school in a gymnasium known as the Lyceum. He built a substantial library and gathered around him a group of brilliant research students, called “peripatetics” from the name of the cloister (peripatos) in which they walked and held their discussions. The Lyceum was not a private club like the Academy; many of the lectures there were open to the general public and given free of charge.

Most of Aristotle’s surviving works, with the exception of the zoological treatises, probably belong to this second Athenian sojourn. There is no certainty about their chronological order, and indeed it is probable that the main treatises—on physics, metaphysics, psychology, ethics, and politics—were constantly rewritten and updated. Every proposition of Aristotle is fertile of ideas and full of energy, though his prose is commonly neither lucid nor elegant.

Aristotle’s works, though not as polished as Plato’s, are systematic in a way that Plato’s never were. Plato’s dialogues shift constantly from one topic to another, always (from a modern perspective) crossing the boundaries between different philosophical or scientific disciplines. Indeed, there was no such thing as an intellectual discipline until Aristotle invented the notion during his Lyceum period.

Aristotle divided the sciences into three kinds: productive, practical, and theoretical. The productive sciences, naturally enough, are those that have a product. They include not only engineering and architecture, which have products like bridges and houses, but also disciplines such as strategy and rhetoric, where the product is something less concrete, such as victory on the battlefield or in the courts. The practical sciences, most notably ethics and politics, are those that guide behaviour. The theoretical sciences are those that have no product and no practical goal but in which information and understanding are sought for their own sake.

During Aristotle’s years at the Lyceum, his relationship with his former pupil Alexander apparently cooled. Alexander became more and more megalomaniac, finally proclaiming himself divine and demanding that Greeks prostrate themselves before him in adoration. Opposition to this demand was led by Aristotle’s nephew Callisthenes (c. 360–327 bc), who had been appointed historian of Alexander’s Asiatic expedition on Aristotle’s recommendation. For his heroism Callisthenes was falsely implicated in a plot and executed.

When Alexander died in 323, democratic Athens became uncomfortable for Macedonians, even those who were anti-imperialist. Saying that he did not wish the city that had executed Socrates “to sin twice against philosophy,” Aristotle fled to Chalcis, where he died the following year. His will, which survives, makes thoughtful provision for a large number of friends and dependents. To Theophrastus (c. 372–c. 287 bc), his successor as head of the Lyceum, he left his library, including his own writings, which were vast. Aristotle’s surviving works amount to about one million words, though they probably represent only about one-fifth of his total output.


Writings
Aristotle’s writings fall into two groups: those that were published by him but are now almost entirely lost, and those that were not intended for publication but were collected and preserved by others. The first group consists mainly of popular works; the second group comprises treatises that Aristotle used in his teaching.


Writings » Lost works
The lost works include poetry, letters, and essays as well as dialogues in the Platonic manner. To judge by surviving fragments, their content often differed widely from the doctrines of the surviving treatises. The commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias (born c. 200) suggested that Aristotle’s works may express two truths: an “exoteric” truth for public consumption and an “esoteric” truth reserved for students in the Lyceum. Most contemporary scholars, however, believe that the popular writings reflect not Aristotle’s public views but rather an early stage of his intellectual development.


Writings » Extant works
The works that have been preserved derive from manuscripts left by Aristotle on his death. According to ancient tradition—passed on by Plutarch (ad 46–c. 119) and Strabo (c. 64 bc–ad 23?)—the writings of Aristotle and Theophrastus were bequeathed to Neleus of Scepsis, whose heirs hid them in a cellar to prevent their being confiscated for the library of the kings of Pergamum (in present-day Turkey). Later, according to this tradition, the books were purchased by a collector and taken to Athens, where they were commandeered by the Roman commander Sulla when he conquered the city in 86 bc. Taken to Rome, they were edited and published there about 60 bc by Andronicus of Rhodes, the last head of the Lyceum. Although many elements of this story are implausible, it is still widely accepted that Andronicus edited Aristotle’s texts and published them with the titles and in the form and order that are familiar today.


Doctrines » Logic » Syllogistic
Aristotle’s claim to be the founder of logic rests primarily on the Categories, the De interpretatione, and the Prior Analytics, which deal respectively with words, propositions, and syllogisms. These works, along with the Topics, the Sophistical Refutations, and a treatise on scientific method, the Posterior Analytics, were grouped together in a collection known as the Organon, or “tool” of thought.

The Prior Analytics is devoted to the theory of the syllogism, a central method of inference that can be illustrated by familiar examples such as the following:

Every Greek is human. Every human is mortal. Therefore, every Greek is mortal.

Aristotle discusses the various forms that syllogisms can take and identifies which forms constitute reliable inferences. The example above contains three propositions in the indicative mood, which Aristotle calls “propositions.” (Roughly speaking, a proposition is a proposition considered solely with respect to its logical features.) The third proposition, the one beginning with “therefore,” Aristotle calls the conclusion of the syllogism. The other two propositions may be called premises, though Aristotle does not consistently use any particular technical term to distinguish them.

The propositions in the example above begin with the word every; Aristotle calls such propositions “universal.” (In English, universal propositions can be expressed by using all rather than every; thus, Every Greek is human is equivalent to All Greeks are human.) Universal propositions may be affirmative, as in this example, or negative, as in No Greek is a horse. Universal propositions differ from “particular” propositions, such as Some Greek is bearded (a particular affirmative) and Some Greek is not bearded (a particular negative). In the Middle Ages it became customary to call the difference between universal and particular propositions a difference of “quantity” and the difference between affirmative and negative propositions a difference of “quality.”

In propositions of all these kinds, Aristotle says, something is predicated of something else. The items that enter into predications Aristotle calls “terms.” It is a feature of terms, as conceived by Aristotle, that they can figure either as predicates or as subjects of predication. This means that they can play three distinct roles in a syllogism. The term that is the predicate of the conclusion is the “major” term; the term of which the major term is predicated in the conclusion is the “minor” term; and the term that appears in each of the premises is the “middle” term.

In addition to inventing this technical vocabulary, Aristotle introduced the practice of using schematic letters to identify particular patterns of argument, a device that is essential for the systematic study of inference and that is ubiquitous in modern mathematical logic. Thus, the pattern of argument exhibited in the example above can be represented in the schematic proposition:

If A belongs to every B, and B belongs to every C, A belongs to every C.

Because propositions may differ in quantity and quality, and because the middle term may occupy several different places in the premises, many different patterns of syllogistic inference are possible. Additional examples are the following:

Every Greek is human. No human is immortal. Therefore, no Greek is immortal.

Some animal is a dog. Some dog is white. Therefore, every animal is white.

From late antiquity, triads of these different kinds were called “moods” of the syllogism. The two moods illustrated above exhibit an important difference: the first is a valid argument, and the second is an invalid argument, having true premises and a false conclusion. An argument is valid only if its form is such that it will never lead from true premises to a false conclusion. Aristotle sought to determine which forms result in valid inferences. He set out a number of rules giving necessary conditions for the validity of a syllogism, such as the following:

At least one premise must be universal.

At least one premise must be affirmative.

If either premise is negative, the conclusion must be negative.

Aristotle’s syllogistic is a remarkable achievement: it is a systematic formulation of an important part of logic. From roughly the Renaissance until the early 19th century, it was widely believed that syllogistic was the whole of logic. But in fact it is only a fragment. It does not deal, for example, with inferences that depend on words such as and, or, and if…then, which, instead of attaching to nouns, link whole propositions together.


Doctrines » Logic » Propositions and categories
Aristotle’s writings show that even he realized that there is more to logic than syllogistic. The De interpretatione, like the Prior Analytics, deals mainly with general propositions beginning with Every, No, or Some. But its main concern is not to link these propositions to each other in syllogisms but to explore the relations of compatibility and incompatibility between them. Every swan is white and No swan is white clearly cannot both be true; Aristotle calls such pairs of propositions “contraries.” They can, however, both be false, if—as is the case—some swans are white and some are not. Every swan is white and Some swan is not white, like the former pair, cannot both be true, but—on the assumption that there are such things as swans—they cannot both be false either. If one of them is true, the other is false; and if one of them is false, the other is true. Aristotle calls such pairs of propositions “contradictories.”

The propositions that enter into syllogisms are all general propositions, whether universal or particular; that is to say, none of them is a proposition about an individual, containing a proper name, such as the proposition Socrates is wise. To find a systematic treatment of singular propositions, one must turn to the Categories. This treatise begins by dividing the “things that are said” (the expressions of speech) into those that are simple and those that are complex. Examples of complex sayings are A man runs, A woman speaks, and An ox drinks; simple sayings are the particular words that enter into such complexes: man, runs, woman, speaks, and so on. Only complex sayings can be statements, true or false; simple sayings are neither true nor false. The Categories identifies 10 different ways in which simple expressions may signify; these are the categories that give the treatise its name. To introduce the categories, Aristotle employs a heterogeneous set of expressions, including nouns (e.g., substance), verbs (e.g., wearing), and interrogatives (e.g., where? or how big?). By the Middle Ages it had become customary to refer to each category by a more or less abstract noun: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, posture, vesture, activity, and passivity.

The categories are intended as a classification of both the kinds of expression that may function as a predicate in a proposition and of the kinds of extralinguistic entity such expressions may signify. One might say of Socrates, for example, that he was human (substance), that he was five feet tall (quantity), that he was wise (quality), that he was older than Plato (relation), and that he lived in Athens (place) in the 5th century bc (time). On a particular occasion, his friends might have said of him that he was sitting (posture), wearing a cloak (vesture), cutting a piece of cloth (activity), or being warmed by the sun (passivity).

If one follows Aristotle’s lead, one will easily be able to classify the predicates in propositions such as Socrates is potbellied and Socrates is wiser than Meletus. But what about the term Socrates in propositions such as Socrates is human? What category does it belong to? Aristotle answers the question by making a distinction between “first substance” and “second substance.” In Socrates is human, Socrates refers to a first substance—an individual—and human to a second substance—a species or kind. Thus, the proposition predicates the species human of an individual, Socrates.(See below Physics and metaphysics: Form.)

Aristotle’s logical writings contain two different conceptions of the structure of a proposition and the nature of its parts. One conception can trace its ancestry to Plato’s dialogue the Sophist. In that work Plato introduces a distinction between nouns and verbs, a verb being the sign of an action and a noun being the sign of an agent of an action. A proposition, he claims, must consist of at least one noun and at least one verb; two nouns in succession or two verbs in succession—as in lion stag and walks runs—will never make a proposition. The simplest kind of proposition is something like A man learns or Theaetetus flies, and only something with this kind of structure can be true or false. It is this conception of a proposition as constructed from two quite heterogeneous elements that is to the fore in the Categories and the De interpretatione, and it is also paramount in modern logic.

In the syllogistic of the Prior Analytics, in contrast, the proposition is conceived in quite a different way. The basic elements out of which it is constructed are terms, which are not heterogeneous like nouns and verbs but can occur indifferently, without change of meaning, as either subjects or predicates. One flaw in the doctrine of terms is that it fosters confusion between signs and what they signify. In the proposition Every human is mortal, for example, is mortal predicated of humans or of human? It is important to distinguish between use and mention—between the use of a word to talk about what it signifies and the mention of a word to talk about the word itself. This distinction was not always easy to make in ancient Greek, because the language lacked quotation marks. There is no doubt that Aristotle sometimes fell into confusion between use and mention; the wonder is that, given his dysfunctional doctrine of terms, he did not do so more often.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics
Aristotle divided the theoretical sciences into three groups: physics, mathematics, and theology. Physics as he understood it was equivalent to what would now be called “natural philosophy,” or the study of nature (physis; see also nature, philosophy of); in this sense it encompasses not only the modern field of physics but also biology, chemistry, geology, psychology, and even meteorology. Metaphysics, however, is notably absent from Aristotle’s classification; indeed, he never uses the word, which first appears in the posthumous catalog of his writings as a name for the works listed after the Physics. He does, however, recognize the branch of philosophy now called metaphysics: he calls it “first philosophy” and defines it as the discipline that studies “being as being.”

Aristotle’s contributions to the physical sciences are less impressive than his researches in the life sciences. In works such as On Generation and Corruption and On the Heavens, he presented a world-picture that included many features inherited from his pre-Socratic predecessors. From Empedocles (c. 490–430 bc) he adopted the view that the universe is ultimately composed of different combinations of the four fundamental elements of earth, water, air, and fire. Each element is characterized by the possession of a unique pair of the four elementary qualities of heat, cold, wetness, and dryness: earth is cold and dry, water is cold and wet, air is hot and wet, and fire is hot and dry. Each element has a natural place in an ordered cosmos, and each has an innate tendency to move toward this natural place. Thus, earthy solids naturally fall, while fire, unless prevented, rises ever higher. Other motions of the elements are possible but are “violent.” (A relic of Aristotle’s distinction is preserved in the modern-day contrast between natural and violent death.)

Aristotle’s vision of the cosmos also owes much to Plato’s dialogue Timaeus. As in that work, the Earth is at the centre of the universe, and around it the Moon, the Sun, and the other planets revolve in a succession of concentric crystalline spheres. The heavenly bodies are not compounds of the four terrestrial elements but are made up of a superior fifth element, or “quintessence.” In addition, the heavenly bodies have souls, or supernatural intellects, which guide them in their travels through the cosmos.

Even the best of Aristotle’s scientific work has now only a historical interest. The abiding value of treatises such as the Physics lies not in their particular scientific assertions but in their philosophical analyses of some of the concepts that pervade the physics of different eras—concepts such as place, time, causation, and determinism.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » Place
Every body appears to be in some place, and every body (at least in principle) can move from one place to another. The same place can be occupied at different times by different bodies, as a flask can contain first wine and then air. So a place cannot be identical to the body that occupies it. What, then, is place? According to Aristotle, the place of a thing is the first motionless boundary of whatever body is containing it. Thus, the place of a pint of wine is the inner surface of the flask containing it—provided the flask is stationary. But suppose the flask is in motion, perhaps on a punt floating down a river. Then the wine will be moving too, from place to place, and its place must be given by specifying its position relative to the motionless river banks.

As is clear from this example, for Aristotle a thing is not only in the place defined by its immediate container but also in whatever contains that container. Thus, all human beings are not only on the Earth but also in the universe; the universe is the place that is common to everything. But the universe itself is not in a place at all, since it has no container outside it. Thus, it is clear that place as described by Aristotle is quite different from space as conceived by Isaac Newton (1643–1727)—as an infinite extension or cosmic grid (see cosmos). Newtonian space would exist whether or not the material universe had been created. For Aristotle, if there were no bodies, there would be no place. Aristotle does, however, allow for the existence of a vacuum, or “void,” but only if it is contained by actually existing bodies.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » The continuum
Spacial extension, motion, and time are often thought of as continua—as wholes made up of a series of smaller parts. Aristotle develops a subtle analysis of the nature of such continuous quantities. Two entities are continuous, he says, when there is only a single common boundary between them. On the basis of this definition, he seeks to show that a continuum cannot be composed of indivisible atoms. A line, for example, cannot be composed of points that lack magnitude. Since a point has no parts, it cannot have a boundary distinct from itself; two points, therefore, cannot be either adjacent or continuous. Between any two points on a continuous line there will always be other points on the same line.

Similar reasoning, Aristotle says, applies to time and to motion. Time cannot be composed of indivisible moments, because between any two moments there is always a period of time. Likewise, an atom of motion would in fact have to be an atom of rest. Moments or points that were indivisible would lack magnitude, and zero magnitude, however often repeated, can never add up to any magnitude.

Any magnitude, then, is infinitely divisible. But this means “unendingly divisible,” not “divisible into infinitely many parts.” However often a magnitude has been divided, it can always be divided further. It is infinitely divisible in the sense that there is no end to its divisibility. The continuum does not have an infinite number of parts; indeed, Aristotle regarded the idea of an actually infinite number as incoherent. The infinite, he says, has only a “potential” existence.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » Motion
Motion (kinesis) was for Aristotle a broad term, encompassing changes in several different categories. A paradigm of his theory of motion, which appeals to the key notions of actuality and potentiality, is local motion, or movement from place to place. If a body X is to move from point A to point B, it must be able to do so: when it is at A it is only potentially at B. When this potentiality has been realized, then X is at B. But it is then at rest and not in motion. So motion from A to B is not simply the actualization of a potential at A for being at B. Is it then a partial actualization of that potentiality? That will not do either, because a body stationary at the midpoint between A and B might be said to have partially actualized that potentiality. One must say that motion is an actualization of a potentiality that is still being actualized. In the Physics Aristotle accordingly defines motion as “the actuality of what is in potentiality, insofar as it is in potentiality.”

Motion is a continuum: a mere series of positions between A and B is not a motion from A to B. If X is to move from A to B, however, it must pass through any intermediate point between A and B. But passing through a point is not the same as being located at that point. Aristotle argues that whatever is in motion has already been in motion. If X, traveling from A to B, passes through the intermediate point K, it must have already passed through an earlier point J, intermediate between A and K. But however short the distance between A and J, that too is divisible, and so on ad infinitum. At any point at which X is moving, therefore, there will be an earlier point at which it was already moving. It follows that there is no such thing as a first instant of motion.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » Time
For Aristotle, extension, motion, and time are three fundamental continua in an intimate and ordered relation to each other. Local motion derives its continuity from the continuity of extension, and time derives its continuity from the continuity of motion. Time, Aristotle says, is the number of motion with respect to before and after. Where there is no motion, there is no time. This does not imply that time is identical with motion: motions are motions of particular things, and different kinds of changes are motions of different kinds, but time is universal and uniform. Motions, again, may be faster or slower; not so time. Indeed, it is by the time they take that the speed of motions is determined. Nonetheless, Aristotle says, “we perceive motion and time together.” One observes how much time has passed by observing the process of some change. In particular, for Aristotle, the days, months, and years are measured by observing the Sun, the Moon, and the stars upon their celestial travels.

The part of a journey that is nearer its starting point comes before the part that is nearer its end. The spatial relation of nearer and farther underpins the relation of before and after in motion, and the relation of before and after in motion underpins the relation of earlier and later in time. Thus, on Aristotle’s view, temporal order is ultimately derived from the spatial ordering of stretches of motion.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » Matter
Change, for Aristotle, can take place in many different categories. Local motion, as noted above, is change in the category of place. Change in the category of quantity is growth (or shrinkage), and change in the category of quality (e.g., of colour) is what Aristotle calls “alteration.” Change in the category of substance, however—a change of one kind of thing into another—is very special. When a substance undergoes a change of quantity or quality, the same substance remains throughout. But does anything persist when one kind of thing turns into another? Aristotle’s answer is yes: matter. He says,

By matter, I mean what in itself is neither of any kind nor of any size nor describable by any of the categories of being. For it is something of which all these things are predicated, and therefore its essence is different from that of all the predicates.

An entity that is not of any kind, size, or shape and of which nothing at all can be said may seem highly mysterious, but this is not what Aristotle has in mind. His ultimate matter (he sometimes calls it “prime matter”) is not in itself of any kind. It is not in itself of any particular size, because it can grow or shrink; it is not in itself water or steam, because it is both of these in turn. But this does not mean that there is any time at which it is not of any size or any time at which it is neither water nor steam nor anything else.

Ordinary life provides many examples of pieces of matter changing from one kind to another. A bottle containing a pint of cream may be found, after shaking, to contain not cream but butter. The stuff that comes out of the bottle is the same as the stuff that went into it; nothing has been added and nothing taken away. But what comes out is different in kind from what went in. It is from cases such as this that the Aristotelian notion of matter is derived.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » Form
Although Aristotle’s system makes room for forms, they differ significantly from Forms as Plato conceived them. For Aristotle, the form of a particular thing is not separate (chorista) from the thing itself—any form is the form of some thing. In Aristotle’s physics, form is always paired with matter, and the paradigm examples of forms are those of material substances.

Aristotle distinguishes between “substantial” and “accidental” forms. A substantial form is a second substance (species or kind) considered as a universal; the predicate human, for example, is universal as well as substantial. Thus, Socrates is human may be described as predicating a second substance of a first substance (Socrates) or as predicating a substantial form of a first substance. Whereas substantial forms correspond to the category of substance, accidental forms correspond to categories other than substance; they are nonsubstantial categories considered as universals. Socrates is wise, for example, may be described as predicating a quality (wise) of a first substance or as predicating an accidental form of a first substance. Aristotle calls such forms “accidental” because they may undergo change, or be gained or lost, without thereby changing the first substance into something else or causing it to cease to exist. Substantial forms, in contrast, cannot be gained or lost without changing the nature of the substance of which they are predicated. In the propositions above, wise is an accidental form and human a substantial form; Socrates could survive the loss of the former but not the loss of the latter.

When a thing comes into being, neither its matter nor its form is created. When one manufactures a bronze sphere, for example, what comes into existence is not the bronze or the spherical shape but the shaped bronze. Similarly in the case of the human Socrates. But the fact that the forms of things are not created does not mean that they must exist independently of matter, outside space and time, as Plato maintained. The bronze sphere derives its shape not from an ideal Sphere but from its maker, who introduces form into the appropriate matter in the process of his work. Likewise, Socrates’ humanity derives not from an ideal Human but from his parents, who introduce form into the appropriate matter when they conceive him.

Thus, Aristotle reverses the question asked by Plato: “What is it that two human beings have in common that makes them both human?” He asks instead, “What makes two human beings two humans rather than one?” And his answer is that what makes Socrates distinct from his friend Callias is not their substantial form, which is the same, nor their accidental forms, which may be the same or different, but their matter. Matter, not form, is the principle of individuation.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » Causation
In several places Aristotle distinguishes four types of cause, or explanation. First, he says, there is that of which and out of which a thing is made, such as the bronze of a statue. This is called the material cause. Second, there is the form or pattern of a thing, which may be expressed in its definition; Aristotle’s example is the proportion of the length of two strings in a lyre, which is the formal cause of one note’s being the octave of another. The third type of cause is the origin of a change or state of rest in something; this is often called the “efficient cause.” Aristotle gives as examples a person reaching a decision, a father begetting a child, a sculptor carving a statue, and a doctor healing a patient. The fourth and last type of cause is the end or goal of a thing—that for the sake of which a thing is done. This is known as the “final cause.”

Although Aristotle gives mathematical examples of formal causes, the forms whose causation interests him most are the substantial forms of living beings. In these cases substantial form is the structure or organization of the being as a whole, as well as of its various parts; it is this structure that explains the being’s life cycle and characteristic activities. In these cases, in fact, formal and final causes coincide, the mature realization of natural form being the end to which the activities of the organism tend. The growth and development of the various parts of a living being, such as the root of a tree or the heart of a sheep, can be understood only as the actualization of a certain structure for the purpose of performing a certain biological function.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » Being
For Aristotle, “being” is whatever is anything whatever. Whenever Aristotle explains the meaning of being, he does so by explaining the sense of the Greek verb to be. Being contains whatever items can be the subjects of true propositions containing the word is, whether or not the is is followed by a predicate. Thus, both Socrates is and Socrates is wise say something about being. Every being in any category other than substance is a property or a modification of substance. For this reason, Aristotle says that the study of substance is the way to understand the nature of being. The books of the Metaphysics in which he undertakes this investigation, VII through IX, are among the most difficult of his writings.

Aristotle gives two superficially conflicting accounts of the subject matter of first philosophy. According to one account, it is the discipline “which theorizes about being qua being, and the things which belong to being taken in itself”; unlike the special sciences, it deals with the most general features of beings, insofar as they are beings. On the other account, first philosophy deals with a particular kind of being, namely, divine, independent, and immutable substance; for this reason he sometimes calls the discipline “theology.”

It is important to note that these accounts are not simply two different descriptions of “being qua being.” There is, indeed, no such thing as being qua being; there are only different ways of studying being. When one studies human physiology, for example, one studies humans qua animals—that is to say, one studies the structures and functions that humans have in common with animals. But of course there is no such entity as a “human qua animal.” Similarly, to study something as a being is to study it in virtue of what it has in common with all other things. To study the universe as being is to study it as a single overarching system, embracing all the causes of things coming into being and remaining in existence.


Doctrines » Physics and metaphysics » The unmoved mover
The way in which Aristotle seeks to show that the universe is a single causal system is through an examination of the notion of movement, which finds its culmination in Book XI of the Metaphysics. As noted above, motion, for Aristotle, refers to change in any of several different categories. Aristotle’s fundamental principle is that everything that is in motion is moved by something else, and he offers a number of (unconvincing) arguments to this effect. He then argues that there cannot be an infinite series of moved movers. If it is true that when A is in motion there must be some B that moves A, then if B is itself in motion there must be some C moving B, and so on. This series cannot go on forever, and so it must come to a halt in some X that is a cause of motion but does not move itself—an unmoved mover.

Since the motion it causes is everlasting, this X must itself be an eternal substance. It must lack matter, for it cannot come into existence or go out of existence by turning into anything else. It must also lack potentiality, for the mere power to cause motion would not ensure the sempiternity of motion. It must, therefore, be pure actuality (energeia). Although the revolving heavens, for Aristotle, lack the possibility of substantial change, they possess potentiality, because each heavenly body has the power to move elsewhere in its diurnal round. Since these bodies are in motion, they need a mover, and this is a motionless mover. Such a mover could not act as an efficient cause, because that would involve a change in itself, but it can act as a final cause—an object of love—because being loved does not involve any change in the beloved. The stars and planets seek to imitate the perfection of the unmoved mover by moving about the Earth in a circle, the most perfect of shapes. For this to be the case, of course, the heavenly bodies must have souls capable of feeling love for the unmoved mover. “On such a principle,” Aristotle says, “depend the heavens and the world of nature.”

Aristotle is prepared to call the unmoved mover “God.” The life of God, he says, must be like the very best of human lives. The delight that a human being takes in the sublimest moments of philosophical contemplation is in God a perpetual state. What, Aristotle asks, does God think of? He must think of something—otherwise, he is no better than a sleeping human—and whatever he is thinking of, he must think of eternally. Either he thinks about himself, or he thinks about something else. But the value of a thought depends on the value of what it is a thought of, so, if God were thinking of anything other than himself, he would be somehow degraded. So he must be thinking of himself, the supreme being, and his life is a thinking of thinking (noesis noeseos).

This conclusion has been much debated. Some have regarded it as a sublime truth; others have thought it a piece of exquisite nonsense. Among those who have taken the latter view, some have considered it the supreme absurdity of Aristotle’s system, and others have held that Aristotle himself intended it as a reductio ad absurdum. Whatever the truth about the object of thought of the unmoved mover, it seems clear that it does not include the contingent affairs of individual human beings.

Thus, at the supreme point of Aristotle’s causal hierarchy stand the heavenly movers, moved and unmoved, which are the final cause of all generation and corruption. And this is why metaphysics can be called by two such different names. When Aristotle says that first philosophy studies the whole of being, he is describing it by indicating the field it is to explain; when he says that it is the science of the divine, he is describing it by indicating its ultimate principles of explanation. Thus, first philosophy is both the science of being qua being and also theology.


Doctrines » Philosophy of science
In his Posterior Analytics Aristotle applies the theory of the syllogism to scientific and epistemological ends. Scientific knowledge, he urges, must be built up out of demonstrations. A demonstration is a particular kind of syllogism, one whose premises can be traced back to principles that are true, necessary, universal, and immediately intuited. These first, self-evident principles are related to the conclusions of science as axioms are related to theorems: the axioms both necessitate and explain the truths that constitute a science. The most important axioms, Aristotle thought, would be those that define the proper subject matter of a science (thus, among the axioms of geometry would be the definition of a triangle). For this reason much of the second book of the Posterior Analytics is devoted to definition.

The account of science in the Posterior Analytics is impressive, but it bears no resemblance to any of Aristotle’s own scientific works. Generations of scholars have tried in vain to find in his writings a single instance of a demonstrative syllogism. Moreover, the whole history of scientific endeavour contains no perfect instance of a demonstrative science.


Doctrines » Philosophy of mind
Aristotle regarded psychology as a part of natural philosophy, and he wrote much about the philosophy of mind. This material appears in his ethical writings, in a systematic treatise on the nature of the soul (De anima), and in a number of minor monographs on topics such as sense-perception, memory, sleep, and dreams.

For Aristotle the biologist, the soul is not—as it was in some of Plato’s writings—an exile from a better world ill-housed in a base body. The soul’s very essence is defined by its relationship to an organic structure. Not only humans but beasts and plants too have souls, intrinsic principles of animal and vegetable life. A soul, Aristotle says, is “the actuality of a body that has life,” where life means the capacity for self-sustenance, growth, and reproduction. If one regards a living substance as a composite of matter and form, then the soul is the form of a natural—or, as Aristotle sometimes says, organic—body. An organic body is a body that has organs—that is to say, parts that have specific functions, such as the mouths of mammals and the roots of trees.

The souls of living beings are ordered by Aristotle in a hierarchy. Plants have a vegetative or nutritive soul, which consists of the powers of growth, nutrition, and reproduction. Animals have, in addition, the powers of perception and locomotion—they possess a sensitive soul, and every animal has at least one sense-faculty, touch being the most universal. Whatever can feel at all can feel pleasure; hence, animals, which have senses, also have desires. Humans, in addition, have the power of reason and thought (logismos kai dianoia), which may be called a rational soul. The way in which Aristotle structured the soul and its faculties influenced not only philosophy but also science for nearly two millennia.

Aristotle’s theoretical concept of soul differs from that of Plato before him and René Descartes (1596–1650) after him. A soul, for him, is not an interior immaterial agent acting on a body. Soul and body are no more distinct from each other than the impress of a seal is distinct from the wax on which it is impressed. The parts of the soul, moreover, are faculties, which are distinguished from each other by their operations and their objects. The power of growth is distinct from the power of sensation because growing and feeling are two different activities, and the sense of sight differs from the sense of hearing not because eyes are different from ears but because colours are different from sounds.

The objects of sense come in two kinds: those that are proper to particular senses, such as colour, sound, taste, and smell, and those that are perceptible by more than one sense, such as motion, number, shape, and size. One can tell, for example, whether something is moving either by watching it or by feeling it, and so motion is a “common sensible.” Although there is no special organ for detecting common sensibles, there is a faculty that Aristotle calls a “central sense.” When one encounters a horse, for example, one may see, hear, feel, and smell it; it is the central sense that unifies these sensations into perceptions of a single object (though the knowledge that this object is a horse is, for Aristotle, a function of intellect rather than sense).

Besides the five senses and the central sense, Aristotle recognizes other faculties that later came to be grouped together as the “inner senses,” notably imagination and memory. Even at the purely philosophical level, however, Aristotle’s accounts of the inner senses are unrewarding.

At the same level within the hierarchy as the senses, which are cognitive faculties, there is also an affective faculty, which is the locus of spontaneous feeling. This is a part of the soul that is basically irrational but is capable of being controlled by reason. It is the locus of desire and passion; when brought under the sway of reason, it is the seat of the moral virtues, such as courage and temperance. The highest level of the soul is occupied by mind or reason, the locus of thought and understanding. Thought differs from sense-perception and is the prerogative, on earth, of human beings. Thought, like sensation, is a matter of making judgments; but sensation concerns particulars, while intellectual knowledge is of universals. Reasoning may be practical or theoretical, and, accordingly, Aristotle distinguishes between a deliberative and a speculative faculty.

In a notoriously difficult passage of De anima, Aristotle introduces a further distinction between two kinds of mind: one passive, which can “become all things,” and one active, which can “make all things.” The active mind, he says, is “separable, impassible, and unmixed.” In antiquity and the Middle Ages, this passage was the subject of sharply different interpretations. Some—particularly among Arab commentators—identified the separable active agent with God or with some other superhuman intelligence. Others—particularly among Latin commentators—took Aristotle to be identifying two different faculties within the human mind: an active intellect, which formed concepts, and a passive intellect, which was a storehouse of ideas and beliefs.

If the second interpretation is correct, then Aristotle is here recognizing a part of the human soul that is separable from the body and immortal. Here and elsewhere there is detectable in Aristotle, in addition to his standard biological notion of the soul, a residue of a Platonic vision according to which the intellect is a distinct entity separable from the body. No one has produced a wholly satisfactory reconciliation between the biological and the transcendent strains in Aristotle’s thought.


Doctrines » Ethics
The surviving works of Aristotle include three treatises on moral philosophy: the Nicomachean Ethics in 10 books, the Eudemian Ethics in 7 books, and the Magna moralia (Latin: “Great Ethics”). The Nicomachean Ethics is generally regarded as the most important of the three; it consists of a series of short treatises, possibly brought together by Aristotle’s son Nicomachus. In the 19th century the Eudemian Ethics was often suspected of being the work of Aristotle’s pupil Eudemus of Rhodes, but there is no good reason to doubt its authenticity. Interestingly, the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics have three books in common: books V, VI, and VII of the former are the same as books IV, V, and VI of the latter. Although the question has been disputed for centuries, it is most likely that the original home of the common books was the Eudemian Ethics; it is also probable that Aristotle used this work for a course on ethics that he taught at the Lyceum during his mature period. The Magna moralia probably consists of notes taken by an unknown student of such a course.


Doctrines » Ethics » Happiness
Aristotle’s approach to ethics is teleological. If life is to be worth living, he argues, it must surely be for the sake of something that is an end in itself—i.e., desirable for its own sake. If there is any single thing that is the highest human good, therefore, it must be desirable for its own sake, and all other goods must be desirable for the sake of it. One popular conception of the highest human good is pleasure—the pleasures of food, drink, and sex, combined with aesthetic and intellectual pleasures. Other people prefer a life of virtuous action in the political sphere. A third possible candidate for the highest human good is scientific or philosophical contemplation. Aristotle thus reduces the answers to the question “What is a good life?” to a short list of three: the philosophical life, the political life, and the voluptuary life. This triad provides the key to his ethical inquiry.

“Happiness,” the term that Aristotle uses to designate the highest human good, is the usual translation of the Greek eudaimonia. Although it is impossible to abandon the English term at this stage of history, it should be borne in mind that what Aristotle means by eudaimonia is something more like well-being or flourishing than any feeling of contentment. Aristotle argues, in fact, that happiness is activity of the rational soul in accordance with virtue. Human beings must have a function, because particular types of humans (e.g., sculptors) do, as do the parts and organs of individual human beings. This function must be unique to humans; thus, it cannot consist of growth and nourishment, for this is shared by plants, or the life of the senses, for this is shared by animals. It must therefore involve the peculiarly human faculty of reason. The highest human good is the same as good human functioning, and good human functioning is the same as the good exercise of the faculty of reason—that is to say, the activity of rational soul in accordance with virtue. There are two kinds of virtue: moral and intellectual. Moral virtues are exemplified by courage, temperance, and liberality; the key intellectual virtues are wisdom, which governs ethical behaviour, and understanding, which is expressed in scientific endeavour and contemplation.


Doctrines » Ethics » Virtue
People’s virtues are a subset of their good qualities. They are not innate, like eyesight, but are acquired by practice and lost by disuse. They are abiding states, and they thus differ from momentary passions such as anger and pity. Virtues are states of character that find expression both in purpose and in action. Moral virtue is expressed in good purpose—that is to say, in prescriptions for action in accordance with a good plan of life. It is expressed also in actions that avoid both excess and defect. A temperate person, for example, will avoid eating or drinking too much, but he will also avoid eating or drinking too little. Virtue chooses the mean, or middle ground, between excess and defect. Besides purpose and action, virtue is also concerned with feeling. One may, for example, be excessively concerned with sex or insufficiently interested in it; the temperate person will take the appropriate degree of interest and be neither lustful nor frigid.

While all the moral virtues are means of action and passion, it is not the case that every kind of action and passion is capable of a virtuous mean. There are some actions of which there is no right amount, because any amount of them is too much; Aristotle gives murder and adultery as examples. The virtues, besides being concerned with means of action and passion, are themselves means in the sense that they occupy a middle ground between two contrary vices. Thus, the virtue of courage is flanked on one side by foolhardiness and on the other by cowardice.

Aristotle’s account of virtue as a mean is no truism. It is a distinctive ethical theory that contrasts with other influential systems of various kinds. It contrasts, on the one hand, with religious systems that give a central role to the concept of a moral law, concentrating on the prohibitive aspects of morality. It also differs from moral systems such as utilitarianism that judge the rightness and wrongness of actions in terms of their consequences. Unlike the utilitarian, Aristotle believes that there are some kinds of action that are morally wrong in principle.

The mean that is the mark of moral virtue is determined by the intellectual virtue of wisdom. Wisdom is characteristically expressed in the formulation of prescriptions for action—“practical syllogisms,” as Aristotle calls them. A practical syllogism consists of a general recipe for a good life, followed by an accurate description of the agent’s actual circumstances and concluding with a decision about the appropriate action to be carried out.

Wisdom, the intellectual virtue that is proper to practical reason, is inseparably linked with the moral virtues of the affective part of the soul. Only if an agent possesses moral virtue will he endorse an appropriate recipe for a good life. Only if he is gifted with intelligence will he make an accurate assessment of the circumstances in which his decision is to be made. It is impossible, Aristotle says, to be really good without wisdom or to be really wise without moral virtue. Only when correct reasoning and right desire come together does truly virtuous action result.

Virtuous action, then, is always the result of successful practical reasoning. But practical reasoning may be defective in various ways. Someone may operate from a vicious choice of lifestyle; a glutton, for example, may plan his life around the project of always maximizing the present pleasure. Aristotle calls such a person “intemperate.” Even people who do not endorse such a hedonistic premise may, once in a while, overindulge. This failure to apply to a particular occasion a generally sound plan of life Aristotle calls “incontinence.”


Doctrines » Ethics » Action and contemplation
The pleasures that are the domain of temperance, intemperance, and incontinence are the familiar bodily pleasures of food, drink, and sex. In treating of pleasure, however, Aristotle explores a much wider field. There are two classes of aesthetic pleasures: the pleasures of the inferior senses of touch and taste, and the pleasures of the superior senses of sight, hearing, and smell. Finally, at the top of the scale, there are the pleasures of the mind.

Plato had posed the question of whether the best life consists in the pursuit of pleasure or the exercise of the intellectual virtues. Aristotle’s answer is that, properly understood, the two are not in competition with each other. The exercise of the highest form of virtue is the very same thing as the truest form of pleasure; each is identical with the other and with happiness. The highest virtues are the intellectual ones, and among them Aristotle distinguished between wisdom and understanding. To the question of whether happiness is to be identified with the pleasure of wisdom or with the pleasure of understanding, Aristotle gives different answers in his main ethical treatises. In the Nicomachean Ethics perfect happiness, though it presupposes the moral virtues, is constituted solely by the activity of philosophical contemplation, whereas in the Eudemian Ethics it consists in the harmonious exercise of all the virtues, intellectual and moral.

The Eudemian ideal of happiness, given the role it assigns to contemplation, to the moral virtues, and to pleasure, can claim to combine the features of the traditional three lives—the life of the philosopher, the life of the politician, and the life of the pleasure seeker. The happy person will value contemplation above all, but part of his happy life will consist in the exercise of moral virtues in the political sphere and the enjoyment in moderation of the natural human pleasures of body as well as of soul. But even in the Eudemian Ethics it is “the service and contemplation of God” that sets the standard for the appropriate exercise of the moral virtues, and in the Nicomachean Ethics this contemplation is described as a superhuman activity of a divine part of human nature. Aristotle’s final word on ethics is that, despite being mortal, human beings must strive to make themselves immortal as far as they can.


Doctrines » Political theory
Turning from the Ethics treatises to their sequel, the Politics, the reader is brought down to earth. “Man is a political animal,” Aristotle observes; human beings are creatures of flesh and blood, rubbing shoulders with each other in cities and communities. Like his work in zoology, Aristotle’s political studies combine observation and theory. He and his students documented the constitutions of 158 states—one of which, The Constitution of Athens, has survived on papyrus. The aim of the Politics, Aristotle says, is to investigate, on the basis of the constitutions collected, what makes for good government and what makes for bad government and to identify the factors favourable or unfavourable to the preservation of a constitution.

Aristotle asserts that all communities aim at some good. The state (polis), by which he means a city-state such as Athens, is the highest kind of community, aiming at the highest of goods. The most primitive communities are families of men and women, masters and slaves. Families combine to make a village, and several villages combine to make a state, which is the first self-sufficient community. The state is no less natural than the family; this is proved by the fact that human beings have the power of speech, the purpose of which is “to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust.” The foundation of the state was the greatest of benefactions, because only within a state can human beings fulfill their potential.

Government, Aristotle says, must be in the hands of one, of a few, or of the many; and governments may govern for the general good or for the good of the rulers. Government by a single person for the general good is called “monarchy”; for private benefit, “tyranny.” Government by a minority is “aristocracy” if it aims at the state’s best interest and “oligarchy” if it benefits only the ruling minority. Popular government in the common interest Aristotle calls “polity”; he reserves the word “democracy” for anarchic mob rule.

If a community contains an individual or family of outstanding excellence, then, Aristotle says, monarchy is the best constitution. But such a case is very rare, and the risk of miscarriage is great, for monarchy corrupts into tyranny, which is the worst constitution of all. Aristocracy, in theory, is the next-best constitution after monarchy (because the ruling minority will be the best-qualified to rule), but in practice Aristotle preferred a kind of constitutional democracy, for what he called “polity” is a state in which rich and poor respect each other’s rights and the best-qualified citizens rule with the consent of all.

Two elements of Aristotle’s teaching affected European political institutions for many centuries: his justification of slavery and his condemnation of usury. Some people, Aristotle says, think that the rule of master over slave is contrary to nature and therefore unjust. But they are quite wrong: a slave is someone who is by nature not his own property but someone else’s. Aristotle agrees, however, that in practice much slavery is unjust, and he speculates that, if nonliving machines could be made to carry out menial tasks, there would be no need for slaves as living tools. Nevertheless, some people are so inferior and brutish that it is better for them to be controlled by a master than to be left to their own devices.

Although not himself an aristocrat, Aristotle had an aristocratic disdain for commerce. Our possessions, he says, have two uses, proper and improper. Money too has a proper and an improper use; its proper use is to be exchanged for goods and services, not to be lent out at interest. Of all the methods of making money, “taking a breed from barren metal” is the most unnatural.


Doctrines » Rhetoric and poetics
Rhetoric, for Aristotle, is a topic-neutral discipline that studies the possible means of persuasion. In advising orators on how to exploit the moods of their audience, Aristotle undertakes a systematic and often insightful treatment of human emotion, dealing in turn with anger, hatred, fear, shame, pity, indignation, envy, and jealousy—in each case offering a definition of the emotion and a list of its objects and causes.

The Poetics is much better known than the Rhetoric, though only the first book of the former, a treatment of epic and tragic poetry, survives. The book aims, among other things, to answer Plato’s criticisms of representative art. According to the theory of Forms, material objects are imperfect copies of original, real, Forms; artistic representations of material objects are therefore only copies of copies, at two removes from reality. Moreover, drama has a specially corrupting effect, because it stimulates unworthy emotions in its audience. In response, Aristotle insists that imitation, so far from being the degrading activity that Plato describes, is something natural to humans from childhood and is one of the characteristics that makes humans superior to animals, since it vastly increases the scope of what they may learn.

In order to answer Plato’s complaint that playwrights are only imitators of everyday life, which is itself only an imitation of the real world of Forms, Aristotle draws a contrast between poetry and history. The poet’s job is to describe not something that has actually happened but something that might well happen—that is to say, something that is possible because it is necessary or likely. For this reason, poetry is more philosophical and more important than history, for poetry speaks of the universal, history of only the particular. Much of what happens to people in everyday life is a matter of sheer accident; only in fiction can one witness character and action work themselves out to their natural consequences.

Far from debasing the emotions, as Plato thought, drama has a beneficial effect on them. Tragedy, Aristotle says, must contain episodes arousing pity and fear so as to achieve a “purification” of these emotions. No one is quite sure exactly what Aristotle meant by katharsis, or purification. But perhaps what he meant was that watching tragedy helps people to put their own sorrows and worries in perspective, because in it they observe how catastrophe can overtake even people who are vastly their superiors.


Legacy
Since the Renaissance it has been traditional to regard the Academy and the Lyceum as two opposite poles of philosophy. Plato is idealistic, utopian, otherworldly; Aristotle is realistic, utilitarian, commonsensical. (This viewpoint is reflected in the famous depiction of Plato and Aristotle in Raphael’s Vatican fresco The School of Athens.) In fact, however, the doctrines that Plato and Aristotle share are more important than those that divide them. Many post-Renaissance historians of ideas have been less perceptive than the commentators of late antiquity, who saw it as their duty to construct a harmonious concord between the two greatest philosophers of the known world.

By any reckoning, Aristotle’s intellectual achievement is stupendous. He was the first genuine scientist in history. He was the first author whose surviving works contain detailed and extensive observations of natural phenomena, and he was the first philosopher to achieve a sound grasp of the relationship between observation and theory in scientific method. He identified the various scientific disciplines and explored their relationships to each other. He was the first professor to organize his lectures into courses and to assign them a place in a syllabus. His Lyceum was the first research institute in which a number of scholars and investigators joined in collaborative inquiry and documentation. Finally, and not least important, he was the first person in history to build up a research library, a systematic collection of works to be used by his colleagues and to be handed on to posterity.

Millennia later, Plato and Aristotle still have a strong claim to being the greatest philosophers who have ever lived. But if their contribution to philosophy is equal, it was Aristotle who made the greater contribution to the intellectual patrimony of the world. Not only every philosopher but also every scientist is in his debt. He deserves the title Dante gave him: “the master of those who know.”

Sir Anthony J.P. Kenny

 

 



 



Peter Abelard
French theologian and poet
French Pierre Abélard, or Abailard, Latin Petrus Abaelardus, or Abeilardus

born 1079, Le Pallet, near Nantes, Brittany [now in France]
died April 21, 1142, Priory of Saint-Marcel, near Chalon-sur-Saône, Burgundy [now in France]

Main
French theologian and philosopher best known for his solution of the problem of universals and for his original use of dialectics. He is also known for his poetry and for his celebrated love affair with Héloïse.

Early life
The outline of Abelard’s career is well known, largely because he described so much of it in his famous Historia calamitatum (“History of My Troubles”). He was born the son of a knight in Brittany south of the Loire River. He sacrificed his inheritance and the prospect of a military career in order to study philosophy, particularly logic, in France. He provoked bitter quarrels with two of his masters, Roscelin of Compiègne and Guillaume de Champeaux, who represented opposite poles of philosophy in regard to the question of the existence of universals. (A universal is a quality or property that each individual member of a class of things must possess if the same general word is to apply to all the things in that class. Redness, for example, is a universal possessed by all red objects.) Roscelin was a nominalist who asserted that universals are nothing more than mere words; Guillaume in Paris upheld a form of Platonic realism according to which universals exist. Abelard in his own logical writings brilliantly elaborated an independent philosophy of language. While showing how words could be used significantly, he stressed that language itself is not able to demonstrate the truth of things (res) that lie in the domain of physics.

Abelard was a peripatetic both in the manner in which he wandered from school to school at Paris, Melun, Corbeil, and elsewhere and as one of the exponents of Aristotelian logic who were called the Peripatetics. In 1113 or 1114 he went north to Laon to study theology under Anselm of Laon, the leading biblical scholar of the day. He quickly developed a strong contempt for Anselm’s teaching, which he found vacuous, and returned to Paris. There he taught openly but was also given as a private pupil the young Héloïse, niece of one of the clergy of the cathedral of Paris, Canon Fulbert. Abelard and Héloïse fell in love and had a son whom they called Astrolabe. They then married secretly. To escape her uncle’s wrath Héloïse withdrew into the convent of Argenteuil outside Paris. Abelard suffered castration at Fulbert’s instigation. In shame he embraced the monastic life at the royal abbey of Saint-Denis near Paris and made the unwilling Héloïse become a nun at Argenteuil.


Career as a monk
At Saint-Denis Abelard extended his reading in theology and tirelessly criticized the way of life followed by his fellow monks. His reading of the Bible and of the Fathers of the Church led him to make a collection of quotations that seemed to represent inconsistencies of teaching by the Christian church. He arranged his findings in a compilation entitled Sic et non (“Yes and No”); and for it he wrote a preface in which, as a logician and as a keen student of language, he formulated basic rules with which students might reconcile apparent contradictions of meaning and distinguish the various senses in which words had been used over the course of many centuries. He also wrote the first version of his book called Theologia, which was formally condemned as heretical and burned by a council held at Soissons in 1121. Abelard’s dialectical analysis of the mystery of God and the Trinity was held to be erroneous, and he himself was placed for a while in the abbey of Saint-Médard under house arrest. When he returned to Saint-Denis he applied his dialectical methods to the subject of the abbey’s patron saint; he argued that St. Denis of Paris, the martyred apostle of Gaul, was not identical with Denis of Athens (also known as Dionysius the Areopagite), the convert of St. Paul. The monastic community of Saint-Denis regarded this criticism of their traditional claims as derogatory to the kingdom; and, in order to avoid being brought for trial before the king of France, Abelard fled from the abbey and sought asylum in the territory of Count Theobald of Champagne. There he sought the solitude of a hermit’s life but was pursued by students who pressed him to resume his teaching in philosophy. His combination of the teaching of secular arts with his profession as a monk was heavily criticized by other men of religion, and Abelard contemplated flight outside Christendom altogether. In 1125, however, he accepted election as abbot of the remote Breton monastery of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys. There, too, his relations with the community deteriorated, and, after attempts had been made upon his life, he returned to France.

Héloïse had meanwhile become the head of a new foundation of nuns called the Paraclete. Abelard became the abbot of the new community and provided it with a rule and with a justification of the nun’s way of life; in this he emphasized the virtue of literary study. He also provided books of hymns he had composed, and in the early 1130s he and Héloïse composed a collection of their own love letters and religious correspondence.


Final years
About 1135 Abelard went to the Mont-Sainte-Geneviève outside Paris to teach, and he wrote in a blaze of energy and of celebrity. He produced further drafts of his Theologia in which he analyzed the sources of belief in the Trinity and praised the pagan philosophers of classical antiquity for their virtues and for their discovery by the use of reason of many fundamental aspects of Christian revelation. He also wrote a book called Ethica or Scito te ipsum (“Know Thyself”), a short masterpiece in which he analyzed the notion of sin and reached the drastic conclusion that human actions do not make a man better or worse in the sight of God, for deeds are in themselves neither good nor bad. What counts with God is a man’s intention; sin is not something done (it is not res); it is uniquely the consent of a human mind to what it knows to be wrong. Abelard also wrote Dialogus inter philosophum, Judaeum et Christianum (“Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian”) and a commentary on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Expositio in Epistolam ad Romanos, in which he outlined an explanation of the purpose of Christ’s life, which was to inspire men to love him by example alone.

On the Mont-Sainte-Geneviève Abelard drew crowds of pupils, many of them men of future fame, such as the English humanist John of Salisbury. He also, however, aroused deep hostility in many by his criticism of other masters and by his apparent revisions of the traditional teachings of Christian theology. Within Paris the influential abbey of Saint-Victor was studiously critical of his doctrines, while elsewhere William of Saint-Thierry, a former admirer of Abelard, recruited the support of Bernard of Clairvaux, perhaps the most influential figure in Western Christendom at that time. At a council held at Sens in 1140, Abelard underwent a resounding condemnation, which was soon confirmed by Pope Innocent II. He withdrew to the great monastery of Cluny in Burgundy. There, under the skillful mediation of the abbot, Peter the Venerable, he made peace with Bernard of Clairvaux and retired from teaching. Now both sick and old, he lived the life of a Cluniac monk. After his death, his body was first sent to the Paraclete; it now lies alongside that of Héloïse in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise in Paris. Epitaphs composed in his honour suggest that Abelard impressed some of his contemporaries as one of the greatest thinkers and teachers of all time.

David Edward Luscombe

 

 



 



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

 

 



 



Rudolf Carnap
German-American philosopher

born May 18, 1891, Ronsdorf, Ger.
died Sept. 14, 1970, Santa Monica, Calif., U.S.

Main
German-born U.S. philosopher of Logical Positivism. He made important contributions to logic, the analysis of language, the theory of probability, and the philosophy of science.

Education.
From 1910 to 1914 Carnap studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy at the universities of Jena and Freiburg im Breisgau. At Jena he attended the lectures of Gottlob Frege, now widely acknowledged as the greatest logician of the 19th century, whose ideas exerted a deep influence on Carnap.

After serving in World War I, Carnap earned his doctorate in 1921 at Jena with a dissertation on the concept of space. He argued that the conflicts among the various theories of space then held by scholars resulted from the fact that those theories actually dealt with quite different subjects; he called them, respectively, formal space, physical space, and intuitive space and exhibited their principal characteristics and fundamental differences.

For several years afterward Carnap was engaged in private research in logic and the foundations of physics and wrote a number of essays on problems of space, time, and causality, as well as a textbook in symbolic, or mathematical, logic (Abriss der Logistik, 1929; a considerably different later German version appeared in English translation: Introduction to Symbolic Logic and Its Applications, 1958).


Career in Vienna and Prague.
In 1926 Moritz Schlick, the founder of the Vienna Circle—a small group of philosophers, mathematicians, and other scholars who met regularly to discuss philosophical issues—invited Carnap to join the faculty of the University of Vienna, where he soon became an influential member of the Circle. Out of their discussions developed the initial ideas of Logical Positivism, or Logical Empiricism. This school of thought shared its basic Empiricist orientation with David Hume, a Scottish Empiricist, and Ernst Mach, an Austrian physicist and philosopher. Its leading members, informed and inspired by the methods and theories of contemporary mathematics and science, sought to develop a “scientific world view” by bringing to philosophical inquiry the precision and rigour of the exact sciences. As one means to this end, Carnap made extensive use of the concepts and techniques of symbolic logic in preference to the often inadequate analytic devices of traditional logic.

Carnap and his associates established close connections with like-minded scholars in other countries, among them a group of Empiricists that had formed in Berlin under the leadership of Hans Reichenbach, an eminent philosopher of science. With Reichenbach, Carnap founded a periodical, Erkenntnis (1930–40), as a forum for the new “scientific philosophy.”

The basic thesis of Empiricism, in a familiar but quite vague formulation, is that all of man’s concepts and beliefs concerning the world ultimately derive from his immediate experience. In some of his most important writings, Carnap sought, in effect, to give this idea a clear and precise interpretation. Setting aside, as a psychological rather than a philosophical problem, the question of how human beings arrive at their ideas about the world, he proceeded to construe Empiricism as a systematic-logical thesis about the evidential grounding of empirical knowledge. To this end, he gave the issue a characteristically linguistic turn by asking how the terms and sentences that, in scientific or in everyday language, serve to express assertions about the world are related to those terms and sentences by which the data of immediate experience can be described. The Empiricist thesis, as construed and defended by Carnap, then asserts that the terms and sentences of the first kind are “reducible” to those of the second kind in a clearly specifiable sense. Carnap’s conception of the relevant sense of reducibility, which he always stated in precise logical terms, was initially rather narrow but gradually became more liberal.

In his first great work, Der logische Aufbau der Welt (1928; Eng. trans.—with a smaller work—The Logical Structure of the World: Pseudoproblems in Philosophy), Carnap developed, with unprecedented rigour, a version of the Empiricist reducibility thesis according to which all terms suited to describe actual or possible empirical facts are fully definable by terms referring exclusively to aspects of immediate experience, so that all empirical statements are fully translatable into statements about immediate experiences.

Prompted by discussions with his associates in Vienna, Carnap soon began to develop a more liberal version of Empiricism, which he elaborated while he was professor of natural philosophy at the German University in Prague (1931–35); he eventually presented it in full detail in his essay “Testability and Meaning” (Philosophy of Science, vol. 3 [1936] and 4 [1937]). Carnap argued that the terms of empirical science are not fully definable in purely experiential terms but can at least be partly defined by means of “reduction sentences,” which are logically much-refined versions of operational definitions, and “observation sentences,” whose truth can be checked by direct observation. Carnap stressed that usually such tests cannot provide strict proof or disproof but only more or less strong “confirmation” for an empirical statement.

Sentences that do not thus yield observational implications and therefore cannot possibly be tested and confirmed by observational findings were said to be empirically meaningless. By reference to this testability criterion of empirical significance, Carnap and other Logical Empiricists rejected various doctrines of speculative metaphysics and of theology, not as being false but as making no significant assertions at all.

Carnap argued that the observational statements by reference to which empirical statements can be tested may be construed as sentences describing directly and publicly observable aspects of physical objects, such as the needle of a measuring instrument turning to a particular point on the scale or a subject in a psychological test showing a change in pulse rate. All such sentences, he noted, can be formulated in terms that are part of the vocabulary of physics. This was the basic idea of his “physicalism,” according to which all terms and statements of empirical science—from the physical to the social and historical disciplines—can be reduced to terms and statements in the language of physics.

In later writings, Carnap liberalized his conception of reducibility and of empirical significance even further so as to give a more adequate account of the relation between scientific theories and scientific evidence.


Career in the United States.
By the time “Testability and Meaning” appeared in print, Carnap had moved to the United States, mainly because of the growing threat of German National Socialism. From 1936 to 1952 he served on the faculty of the University of Chicago. During the 1940–41 school year, Carnap was a visiting professor at Harvard University and was an active participant in a discussion group that included Bertrand Russell, Alfred Tarski, and W.V.O. Quine.

Soon after going to Chicago, Carnap joined with the sociologist Otto Neurath, a former fellow member of the Vienna Circle, and with an academic colleague, the Pragmatist philosopher Charles W. Morris, in founding the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, which was published, beginning in 1938, as a series of monographs on general problems in the philosophy of science and on philosophical issues concerning mathematics or particular branches of empirical science.

Since his Vienna years, Carnap had been much concerned also with problems in logic and in the philosophy of language. He held that philosophical perplexities often arise from a misunderstanding or misuse of language and that the way to resolve them is by “logical analysis of language.” On this point, he agreed with the “ordinary language” school of Analytic Philosophy, which had its origins in England. He differed from it, however, in insisting that more technical issues—e.g., those in the philosophy of science or of mathematics—cannot be adequately dealt with by considerations of ordinary linguistic usage but require clarification by reference to artificially constructed languages that are formulated in logical symbolism and that have their structure and interpretation precisely specified by so-called syntactic and semantic rules. Carnap developed these ideas and the theoretical apparatus for their implementation in a series of works, including Logische Syntax der Sprache (1934; The Logical Syntax of Language) and Meaning and Necessity (1947; 2nd enlarged ed., 1956).

Carnap’s interest in artificial languages included advocacy of international auxiliary languages such as Esperanto and Interlingua to facilitate scholarly communication and to further international understanding.

One idea in logic and the theory of knowledge that occupied much of Carnap’s attention was that of analyticity. In contrast to the 19th-century radical Empiricism of John Stuart Mill, Carnap and other Logical Empiricists held that the statements of logic and mathematics, unlike those of empirical science, are analytic—i.e., true solely by virtue of the meanings of their constituent terms—and that they can therefore be established a priori (without any empirical test). Carnap repeatedly returned to the task of formulating a precise characterization and theory of analyticity. His ideas were met with skepticism by some, however—among them Quine, who argued that the notion of analytic truth is inherently obscure and the attempt to delimit a class of statements that are true a priori should be abandoned as misguided.

From about 1945 onward, Carnap turned his efforts increasingly to problems of inductive reasoning and of rational belief and decision. His principal aim was to construct a formal system of inductive logic; its central concept, corresponding to that of deductive implication, would be that of probabilistic implication—or, more precisely, a concept representing the degree of rational credibility or of probability that a given body of evidence may be said to confer upon a proposed hypothesis. Carnap presented a rigorous theory of this kind in his Logical Foundations of Probability (1950).

Carnap spent the years from 1952 to 1954 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he continued his work in probability theory. Subsequently, he accepted a professorship at the University of California at Los Angeles. During those years and indeed until his death, Carnap was occupied principally with modifications and considerable extensions of his inductive logic.

Carl G. Hempel

 

 



 



Parmenides
Greek philosopher

born c. 515 bc

Main
Greek philosopher of Elea in southern Italy who founded Eleaticism, one of the leading pre-Socratic schools of Greek thought. His general teaching has been diligently reconstructed from the few surviving fragments of his principal work, a lengthy three-part verse composition titled On Nature.

Parmenides held that the multiplicity of existing things, their changing forms and motion, are but an appearance of a single eternal reality (“Being”), thus giving rise to the Parmenidean principle that “all is one.” From this concept of Being, he went on to say that all claims of change or of non-Being are illogical. Because he introduced the method of basing claims about appearances on a logical concept of Being, he is considered one of the founders of metaphysics.

Plato’s dialogue the Parmenides deals with his thought. An English translation of his work was edited by L. Tarán (1965).

 

 



 



Benedict de Spinoza
Dutch-Jewish philosopher
Hebrew forename Baruch, Latin forename Bendictus, Portuguese Bento De Espinosa
(English: )
born Nov. 24, 1632, Amsterdam
died Feb. 21, 1677, The Hague

Main
Dutch-Jewish philosopher, the foremost exponent of 17th-century Rationalism.

Early life and career.
Spinoza’s grandfather and father were Portuguese and had been crypto-Jews after the Spanish Inquisition had compelled them to embrace Christianity. Later, after Holland’s successful revolt against Spain and the granting of religious freedom, they found refuge in Amsterdam. His mother, who also came from Portugal, died when Benedict was barely six years old. The Spinozas were prosperous merchants and respected members of the Jewish community, and it may be assumed that Spinoza attended the school for Jewish boys founded in Amsterdam in about 1638. Outside school hours the boys had private lessons in secular subjects. Spinoza was taught Latin by a German scholar, who may also have taught him German; and he knew to some extent all of the other significant continental languages. In March 1654 Benedict’s father died. There was some litigation over the estate, with Benedict’s only surviving stepsister claiming it all. Benedict won the lawsuit but allowed her to retain nearly everything.

His studies so far had been mainly Jewish, but he was an independent thinker and had found more than enough in his Jewish studies to wean him from orthodox doctrines and interpretations of Scripture; moreover, the tendency to revolt against tradition and authority was much in the air in the 17th century. But the Jewish religious leaders in Amsterdam were fearful that heresies (which were no less anti-Christian than anti-Jewish) might give offense in a country that did not yet regard the Jews as citizens. Spinoza soon incurred the disapproval of the synagogue authorities. In conversations with other students, he had held that there is nothing in the Bible to support the views that God had no body, that angels really exist, or that the soul is immortal; and he had also expressed his belief that the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was no wiser in physics or even in theology than were they, the students. The Jewish authorities, after trying vainly to silence Spinoza with bribes and threats, excommunicated him in July 1656, and he was banished from Amsterdam for a short period by the civil authorities. There is no evidence that he had really wanted to break away from the Jewish community, and indeed the scanty knowledge available would suggest the opposite. On Dec. 5, 1655, for example, he had attended the synagogue and made an offering that, in view of his poverty, must have been a rare event for him, and, about the time of his excommunication, he had addressed a defense of his views to the synagogue.

Among Spinoza’s Christian acquaintances was Franciscus van den Enden, who was a former Jesuit, an ardent classical scholar, and something of a poet and dramatist and who had opened a school in Amsterdam. For a time, Spinoza stayed with him, helping with the teaching of the schoolchildren and receiving aid in his own further education. In this way he improved his knowledge of Latin, learned some Greek, and was introduced to Neoscholastic philosophy. It may have also been through van den Enden’s school that Spinoza became acquainted with the “new philosophy” of René Descartes, later acknowledged to be the father of modern philosophy. Spinoza’s other Christian acquaintances were mostly of the Collegiants, a brotherhood that later merged with the Mennonites; they were especially interested in Cartesianism, the dualistic philosophy of Descartes and his followers.

At the same time, he was becoming expert at making lenses, supporting himself partly by grinding and polishing lenses for spectacles, telescopes, and microscopes; he also did tutoring. A kind of reading and discussion circle for the study of religious and philosophical problems came into being under the guidance of Spinoza. In order to collect his thoughts, however, and reduce them to a system, he withdrew in 1660 to Rijnsburg, a quiet village on the Rhine, near Leiden. Rijnsburg was the headquarters of the Collegiants, and Spinoza’s lodgings there were with a surgeon named Hermann Homan. In Homan’s cottage Spinoza wrote Korte Verhandeling van God, de Mensch en deszelfs Welstand (written c. 1662; Spinoza’s Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being, 1910) and Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione (“Treatise on the Correction of the Understanding”), both of which were ready by April 1662. He also completed the greater part of his geometrical version of Descartes’s Principia Philosophiae and the first book of his Ethica. Spinoza’s attitude in these works already showed a departure from Cartesianism. It was also during this stay that he met Heinrich Oldenburg, soon to become one of the two first secretaries of the Royal Society in London.


Influence of Descartes and the geometrical method.
His version of Descartes’s Principia was prepared while Spinoza was giving instruction in the philosophy of Descartes to a private pupil. It was published by his Cartesian friends under the title Renati des Cartes Principiorum Philosophiae Pars I et II, More Geometrico Demonstratae, per Benedictum de Spinoza (1663), with an introduction explaining that Spinoza did not share the views expressed in the book. This was the only book published in Spinoza’s lifetime with his name on the title page.

The philosophy of Spinoza may thus be regarded as a development from and a reaction to that of his contemporary Descartes (1596–1650). Though it has been argued that Spinoza was also much influenced by medieval philosophy (especially Jewish), he seems to have been much more conscious of the Cartesian influence, and his most striking doctrines are most easily understood as solutions of Cartesian difficulties. Clearly, he had studied Descartes in detail. He accepted Descartes’s physics in general, though he did express some dissatisfaction with it toward the end of his life. As for the Cartesian metaphysics, he found three unsatisfactory features: the transcendence of God, the substantial dualism of mind and body, and the ascription of free will both to God and to human beings. In Spinoza’s eyes, those doctrines made the world unintelligible. It was impossible to explain the relation between God and the world or between mind and body or to account for events occasioned by free will.

The publication of Spinoza’s version of Descartes’s Principia had been intended to prepare the way for that of his own philosophy, for he had both to secure the patronage of influential men and to show the more philosophically minded that his rejection of Cartesianism was not out of ignorance.

Spinoza became dissatisfied with the informal method of exposition that he had adopted in the Korte Verhandeling and the De Intellectus Emendatione and turned instead to the geometrical method in the manner of Euclid’s Elements. He assumed without question that it is possible to construct a system of metaphysics that will render it completely intelligible. It is therefore possible, in his view, to present metaphysics deductively—that is, as a series of theorems derived by necessary steps from self-evident premises expressed in terms that are either self-explanatory or defined with unquestionable correctness. His masterpiece, the Ethica, was set out in this manner—Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata, according to the reading of its subtitle. Its first part, “De Deo” (“Concerning God”), was finished and in the hands of his friends early in 1663. Initially the work was intended to have three parts only, but it eventually appeared (in 1677) in five parts. Spinoza’s desire for an impersonal presentation was probably his chief motive for adopting the geometrical method, appreciating that the method guarantees true conclusions only if the axioms are true and the definitions correct. Spinoza, like his contemporaries, held that definitions are not arbitrary but that there is a sense in which they may be correct or incorrect.

The question was discussed at length in his unfinished Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione. A sound definition, he held, should make clear the possibility or the necessity of the existence of the object defined. Because the Ethica begins with the definition of “substance,” the necessary existent, the entire system is vulnerable to anyone disputing that definition, however cogent the subsequent reasoning may be. In fact, as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a Rationalist philosopher and mathematician, pointed out, though the system is closely knit, its demonstrations do not proceed with mathematical rigour.

Period of the “Ethica.” In June 1663 Spinoza moved to Voorburg, near The Hague, and it appears that by June 1665 he was nearing the completion of the three-part version of the Ethica. During the next few years, however, he was at work on his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, which was published anonymously at Amsterdam in 1670. This work aroused great interest and was to go through five editions in as many years. It was intended “to show that not only is liberty to philosophize compatible with devout piety and with the peace of the state, but that to take away such liberty is to destroy the public peace and even piety itself.” As this work shows, Spinoza was far ahead of his time in advocating the application of the historical method to the interpretation of the biblical sources. He argued that the inspiration of the prophets of the Old Testament extended only to their moral and practical doctrines and that their factual beliefs were merely those appropriate to their time and are not philosophically significant. Complete freedom of scientific and metaphysical speculation is therefore consistent with all that is important in the Bible. Miracles are explained as natural events misinterpreted and stressed for their moral effect.

In May 1670 Spinoza moved to The Hague, where he remained until his death. He began to compose a Hebrew grammar, Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae, but did not finish it; instead, he returned to the Ethica, although the prospect of its publication became increasingly remote. There were many denunciations of his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus as an instrument “forged in hell by a renegade Jew and the devil.” When the Ethica was completed in 1675, Spinoza had to abandon the idea of publishing it, though manuscript copies were circulated among his close friends.


Last years and posthumous influence.
Spinoza concentrated his attention on political problems and began his Tractatus Politicus, which he did not live to finish. During the post-Ethica period, he was visited by several important people, among them Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhaus (in 1675), a scientist and philosopher, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (in 1676), like Spinoza, one of the foremost Rationalists of the time. Leibniz, having heard of Spinoza as an authority on optics, had sent him an optical tract and had then received from Spinoza a copy of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, which deeply interested him. According to Leibniz’ own account, he “conversed with him often and at great length.” Spinoza, however, was now in an advanced stage of consumption, aggravated by the inhaling of glass dust from the polishing of lenses in his shop. He died in 1677, leaving no heir, and his few possessions were sold by auction. These included about 160 books, the catalog of which has been preserved.

In accordance with Spinoza’s previous instructions, several of his friends prepared his manuscripts secretly for the press, and they were sent to a publisher in Amsterdam. The Opera Posthuma (Dutch version: Nagelate Schriften), published before the end of 1677, was composed of the Ethica, Tractatus Politicus, and Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, as well as letters and the Hebrew grammar. His Stelkonstige reeckening van den regenboog (“On the Rainbow”) and his Reeckening van kanssen (“On the Calculation of Chances”) were printed together in 1687. The Korte Verhandeling was lost to the world until E. Boehmer’s publication of it in 1852.

Spinoza has an assured place in the intellectual history of the Western world, though his direct influence on technical philosophy has not been great. Throughout the 18th century he was almost universally decried as an atheist—or sometimes used as a cover for the detailing of atheist ideas. The tone had been set by Pierre Bayle, a Skeptical philosopher and encyclopaedist, in whose Dictionnaire historique et critique Spinozism was described as “the most monstrous hypothesis imaginable, the most absurd”; and even David Hume, a Scottish Skeptic and historian, felt obliged to speak of the “hideous hypothesis” of Spinoza.

Spinoza was rendered intellectually respectable by the efforts of literary critics, especially of the Germans G.E. Lessing and J.W. von Goethe and the English poet S.T. Coleridge, who admired the man and found austere excitement in his works, in which they saw an intensely religious attitude entirely divorced from dogma. Spinoza has also been much studied by professional philosophers since the beginning of the 19th century. Both absolute Idealists and Marxists have read their own doctrines into his work, and Empiricists, while rejecting his metaphysical approach, have developed certain detailed suggestions from his theory of knowledge and psychology.

 

 



 



Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
German philosopher

born August 27, 1770, Stuttgart, Württemberg [Germany]
died November 14, 1831, Berlin

Main
German philosopher who developed a dialectical scheme that emphasized the progress of history and of ideas from thesis to antithesis and thence to a synthesis.

Hegel was the last of the great philosophical system builders of modern times. His work, following upon that of Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Friedrich Schelling, thus marks the pinnacle of classical German philosophy. As an absolute Idealist inspired by Christian insights and grounded in his mastery of a fantastic fund of concrete knowledge, Hegel found a place for everything—logical, natural, human, and divine—in a dialectical scheme that repeatedly swung from thesis to antithesis and back again to a higher and richer synthesis. His influence has been as fertile in the reactions that he precipitated—in Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish Existentialist; in the Marxists, who turned to social action; in the Vienna Positivists; and in G.E. Moore, a pioneering figure in British Analytic philosophy—as in his positive impact.

Early life
Hegel was the son of a revenue officer. He had already learned the elements of Latin from his mother by the time he entered the Stuttgart grammar school, where he remained for his education until he was 18. As a schoolboy he made a collection of extracts, alphabetically arranged, comprising annotations on classical authors, passages from newspapers, and treatises on morals and mathematics from the standard works of the period.

In 1788 Hegel went as a student to Tübingen with a view to taking orders, as his parents wished. Here he studied philosophy and classics for two years and graduated in 1790. Though he then took the theological course, he was impatient with the orthodoxy of his teachers; and the certificate given to him when he left in 1793 states that, whereas he had devoted himself vigorously to philosophy, his industry in theology was intermittent. He was also said to be poor in oral exposition, a deficiency that was to dog him throughout his life. Though his fellow students called him “the old man,” he liked cheerful company and a “sacrifice to Bacchus” and enjoyed the ladies as well. His chief friends during that period were a pantheistic poet, J.C.F. Hölderlin, his contemporary, and the nature philosopher Schelling, five years his junior. Together they read the Greek tragedians and celebrated the glories of the French Revolution.

On leaving college, Hegel did not enter the ministry; instead, wishing to have leisure for the study of philosophy and Greek literature, he became a private tutor. For the next three years he lived in Berne, with time on his hands and the run of a good library, where he read Edward Gibbon on the fall of the Roman empire and De l’esprit des loix, by Charles Louis, baron de Montesquieu, as well as the Greek and Roman classics. He also studied the critical philosopher Immanuel Kant and was stimulated by his essay on religion to write certain papers that became noteworthy only when, more than a century later, they were published as a part of Hegels theologische Jugendschriften (1907). Kant had maintained that, whereas orthodoxy requires a faith in historical facts and in doctrines that reason alone cannot justify and imposes on the faithful a moral system of arbitrary commands alleged to be revealed, Jesus, on the contrary, had originally taught a rational morality, which was reconcilable with the teaching of Kant’s ethical works, and a religion that, unlike Judaism, was adapted to the reason of all men. Hegel accepted this teaching; but, being more of a historian than Kant was, he put it to the test of history by writing two essays. The first of these was a life of Jesus in which Hegel attempted to reinterpret the gospel on Kantian lines. The second essay was an answer to the question of how Christianity had ever become the authoritarian religion that it was, if in fact the teaching of Jesus was not authoritarian but rationalistic.

Hegel was lonely in Berne and was glad to move, at the end of 1796, to Frankfurt am Main, where Hölderlin had gotten him a tutorship. His hopes of more companionship, however, were unfulfilled: Hölderlin was engrossed in an illicit love affair and shortly lost his reason. Hegel began to suffer from melancholia and, to cure himself, worked harder than ever, especially at Greek philosophy and modern history and politics. He read and made clippings from English newspapers, wrote about the internal affairs of his native Wurtemberg, and studied economics. Hegel was now able to free himself from the domination of Kant’s influence and to look with a fresh eye on the problem of Christian origins.


Early life » Emancipation from Kantianism
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance that this problem had for Hegel. It is true that his early theological writings contain hard sayings about Christianity and the churches; but the object of his attack was orthodoxy, not theology itself. All that he wrote at this period throbs with a religious conviction of a kind that is totally absent from Kant and Hegel’s other 18th-century teachers. Above all, he was inspired by a doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The spirit of man, his reason, is the candle of the Lord, he held, and therefore cannot be subject to the limitations that Kant had imposed upon it. This faith in reason, with its religious basis, henceforth animated the whole of Hegel’s work.

His outlook had also become that of a historian—which again distinguishes him from Kant, who was much more influenced by the concepts of physical science. Every one of Hegel’s major works was a history; and, indeed, it was among historians and classical scholars rather than among philosophers that his work mainly fructified in the 19th century.

When in 1798 Hegel turned back to look over the essays that he had written in Berne two or three years earlier, he saw with a historian’s eye that, under Kant’s influence, he had misrepresented the life and teachings of Jesus and the history of the Christian Church. His newly won insight then found expression in his essay “Der Geist des Christentums und sein Schicksal” (“The Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate”), likewise unpublished until 1907. This is one of Hegel’s most remarkable works. Its style is often difficult and the connection of thought not always plain, but it is written with passion, insight, and conviction.

He begins by sketching the essence of Judaism, which he paints in the darkest colours. The Jews were slaves to the Mosaic Law, leading a life unlovely in comparison with that of the ancient Greeks and content with the material satisfaction of a land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus taught something entirely different. Men are not to be the slaves of objective commands: the law is made for man. They are even to rise above the tension in moral experience between inclination and reason’s law of duty, for the law is to be “fulfilled” in the love of God, wherein all tension ceases and the believer does God’s will wholeheartedly and single-mindedly. A community of such believers is the Kingdom of God.

This is the kingdom that Jesus came to teach. It is founded on a belief in the unity of the divine and the human. The life that flows in them both is one; and it is only because man is spirit that he can grasp and comprehend the Spirit of God. Hegel works out this conception in an exegesis of passages in the Gospel According to John. The kingdom, however, can never be realized in this world: man is not spirit alone but flesh also. “Church and state, worship and life, piety and virtue, spiritual and worldly action can never dissolve into one.”

In this essay the leading ideas of Hegel’s system of philosophy are rooted. Kant had argued that man can have knowledge only of a finite world of appearances and that, whenever his reason attempts to go beyond this sphere and grapple with the infinite or with ultimate reality, it becomes entangled in insoluble contradictions. Hegel, however, found in love, conceived as a union of opposites, a prefigurement of spirit as the unity in which contradictions, such as infinite and finite, are embraced and synthesized. His choice of the word Geist to express this his leading conception was deliberate: the word means “spirit” as well as “mind” and thus has religious overtones. Contradictions in thinking at the scientific level of Kant’s “understanding” are indeed inevitable, but thinking as an activity of spirit or “reason” can rise above them to a synthesis in which the contradictions are resolved. All of this, expressed in religious phraseology, is contained in the manuscripts written toward the end of Hegel’s stay in Frankfurt. “In religion,” he wrote, “finite life rises to infinite life.” Kant’s philosophy had to stop short of religion. But there is room for another philosophy, based on the concept of spirit, that will distill into conceptual form the insights of religion. This was the philosophy that Hegel now felt himself ready to expound.


Early life » Career as lecturer at Jena
Fortunately, his circumstances changed at this moment, and he was at last able to embark on the academic career that had long been his ambition. His father’s death in 1799 had left him an inheritance, slender, indeed, but sufficient to enable him to surrender a regular income and take the risk of becoming a Privatdozent. In January of 1801 he arrived in Jena, where Schelling had been a professor since 1798. Jena, which had harboured the fantastic mysticism of the Schlegel brothers and their colleagues and the Kantianism and ethical Idealism of Fichte, had already seen its golden age, for these great scholars had all left. The precocious Schelling, who was but 26 on Hegel’s arrival, already had several books to his credit. Apt to “philosophize in public,” Schelling had been fighting a lone battle in the university against the rather dull followers of Kant. It was suggested that Hegel had been summoned as a new champion to aid his friend. This impression received some confirmation from the dissertation by which Hegel qualified as a university teacher, which betrays the influence of Schelling’s philosophy of nature, as well as from Hegel’s first publication, an essay entitled “Differenz des Fichte’schen und Schelling’schen Systems der Philosophie” (1801), in which he gave preference to the latter. Nevertheless, even in this essay and still more in its successors, Hegel’s difference from Schelling was clearly marked; they had a common interest in the Greeks, they both wished to carry forward Kant’s work, they were both iconoclasts; but Schelling had too many romantic enthusiasms for Hegel’s liking; and all that Hegel took from him—and then only for a very short period—was a terminology.

Hegel’s lectures, delivered in the winter of 1801–02, on logic and metaphysics, were attended by about 11 students. Later, in 1804, with a class of about 30, he lectured on his whole system, gradually working it out as he taught. Notice after notice of his lectures promised a textbook of philosophy—which, however, failed to appear. After the departure of Schelling from Jena (1803), Hegel was left to work out his own views untrammelled. Besides philosophical and political studies, he made extracts from books, attended lectures on physiology, and dabbled in other sciences. As a result of representations made by himself at Weimar, he was in February 1805 appointed extraordinary professor at Jena; and in July 1806, on Goethe’s intervention, he drew his first stipend—100 thalers. Though some of his hearers became attached to him, Hegel was not yet a popular lecturer.

Hegel, like Goethe, felt no patriotic shudder when Napoleon won his victory at Jena (1806): in Prussia he saw only a corrupt and conceited bureaucracy. Writing to a friend on the day before the battle, he spoke with admiration of the “world soul” and the Emperor and with satisfaction at the probable overthrow of the Prussians.

At this time Hegel published his first great work, the Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807; Eng. trans., The Phenomenology of Mind, 2nd ed., 1931). This, perhaps the most brilliant and difficult of Hegel’s books, describes how the human mind has risen from mere consciousness, through self-consciousness, reason, spirit, and religion, to absolute knowledge. Though man’s native attitude toward existence is reliance on the senses, a little reflection is sufficient to show that the reality attributed to the external world is due as much to intellectual conceptions as to the senses and that these conceptions elude a man when he tries to fix them. If consciousness cannot detect a permanent object outside itself, so self-consciousness cannot find a permanent subject in itself. Through aloofness, skepticism, or imperfection, self-consciousness has isolated itself from the world; it has closed its gates against the stream of life. The perception of this is reason. Reason thus abandons its efforts to mold the world and is content to let the aims of individuals work out their results independently.

The stage of Geist, however, reveals the consciousness no longer as isolated, critical, and antagonistic but as the indwelling spirit of a community. This is the lowest stage of concrete consciousness, the age of unconscious morality. But, through increasing culture, the mind gradually emancipates itself from conventions, which prepares the way for the rule of conscience. From the moral world the next step is religion. But the idea of Godhead, too, has to pass through nature worship and art before it reaches a full utterance in Christianity. Religion thus approaches the stage of absolute knowledge, of “the spirit knowing itself as spirit.” Here, according to Hegel, is the field of philosophy.


Gymnasium rector
In spite of the Phänomenologie, however, Hegel’s fortunes were now at their lowest ebb. He was, therefore, glad to become editor of the Bamberger Zeitung (1807–08). This, however, was not a suitable vocation, and he gladly accepted the rectorship of the Aegidiengymnasium in Nürnberg, a post he held from December 1808 to August 1816 and one that offered him a small but assured income. There Hegel inspired confidence in his pupils and maintained discipline without pedantic interference in their associations and sports.

In 1811 Hegel married Marie von Tucher (22 years his junior), of Nürnberg. The marriage was entirely happy. His wife bore him two sons: Karl, who became eminent as a historian; and Immanuel, whose interests were theological. The family circle was joined by Ludwig, a natural son of Hegel’s from Jena. At Nürnberg in 1812 appeared Die objektive Logik, being the first part of his Wissenschaft der Logik (“Science of Logic”), which in 1816 was completed by the second part, Die subjecktive Logik.


University professor
This work, in which his system was first presented in what was essentially its ultimate shape, earned him the offer of professorships at Erlangen, at Berlin, and at Heidelberg.


University professor » At Heidelberg
He accepted the chair at Heidelberg. For use at his lectures there, he published his Encyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (1817; “Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Outline”), an exposition of his system as a whole. Hegel’s philosophy is an attempt to comprehend the entire universe as a systematic whole. The system is grounded in faith. In the Christian religion God has been revealed as truth and as spirit. As spirit, man can receive this revelation. In religion the truth is veiled in imagery; but in philosophy the veil is torn aside, so that man can know the infinite and see all things in God. Hegel’s system is thus a spiritual monism but a monism in which differentiation is essential. Only through an experience of difference can the identity of thought and the object of thought be achieved—an identity in which thinking attains the through-and-through intelligibility that is its goal. Thus, truth is known only because error has been experienced and truth has triumphed; and God is infinite only because he has assumed the limitations of finitude and triumphed over them. Similarly, man’s Fall was necessary if he was to attain moral goodness. Spirit, including the Infinite Spirit, knows itself as spirit only by contrast with nature. Hegel’s system is monistic in having a single theme: what makes the universe intelligible is to see it as the eternal cyclical process whereby Absolute Spirit comes to knowledge of itself as spirit (1) through its own thinking; (2) through nature; and (3) through finite spirits and their self-expression in history and their self-discovery, in art, in religion, and in philosophy, as one with Absolute Spirit itself.

The compendium of Hegel’s system, the “Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences,” is in three parts: “Logic,” “Nature,” and “Mind.” Hegel’s method of exposition is dialectical. It often happens that in a discussion two people who at first present diametrically opposed points of view ultimately agree to reject their own partial views and to accept a new and broader view that does justice to the substance of each. Hegel believed that thinking always proceeds according to this pattern: it begins by laying down a positive thesis that is at once negated by its antithesis; then further thought produces the synthesis. But this in turn generates an antithesis, and the same process continues once more. The process, however, is circular: ultimately, thinking reaches a synthesis that is identical with its starting point, except that all that was implicit there has now been made explicit. Thus, thinking itself, as a process, has negativity as one of its constituent moments, and the finite is, as God’s self-manifestation, part and parcel of the infinite itself. This is the sort of dialectical process of which Hegel’s system provides an account in three phases.


University professor » At Heidelberg » “Logic”
The system begins with an account of God’s thinking “before the creation of nature and finite spirit”; i.e., with the categories or pure forms of thought, which are the structure of all physical and intellectual life. Throughout, Hegel is dealing with pure essentialities, with spirit thinking its own essence; and these are linked together in a dialectical process that advances from abstract to concrete. If a man tries to think the notion of pure Being (the most abstract category of all), he finds that it is simply emptiness; i.e., Nothing. Yet Nothing is. The notion of pure Being and the notion of Nothing are opposites; and yet each, as one tries to think it, passes over into the other. But the way out of the contradiction is at once to reject both notions separately and to affirm them both together; i.e., to assert the notion of becoming, since what becomes both is and is not at once. The dialectical process advances through categories of increasing complexity and culminates with the absolute idea, or with the spirit as objective to itself.


University professor » At Heidelberg » “Nature”
Nature is the opposite of spirit. The categories studied in “Logic” were all internally related to one another; they grew out of one another. Nature, on the other hand, is a sphere of external relations. Parts of space and moments of time exclude one another; and everything in nature is in space and time and is thus finite. But nature is created by spirit and bears the mark of its creator. Categories appear in it as its essential structure, and it is the task of the philosophy of nature to detect that structure and its dialectic; but nature, as the realm of externality, cannot be rational through and through, though the rationality prefigured in it becomes gradually explicit when man appears. In man nature rises to self-consciousness.


University professor » At Heidelberg » “Mind”
Here Hegel follows the development of the human mind through the subconscious, consciousness, and the rational will; then through human institutions and human history as the embodiment or objectification of that will; and finally to art, religion, and philosophy, in which finally man knows himself as spirit, as one with God and possessed of absolute truth. Thus, it is now open to him to think his own essence; i.e., the thoughts expounded in “Logic.” He has finally returned to the starting point of the system, but en route he has made explicit all that was implicit in it and has discovered that “nothing but spirit is, and spirit is pure activity.”

Hegel’s system depends throughout on the results of scientific, historical, theological, and philosophical inquiry. No reader can fail to be impressed by the penetration and breadth of his mind nor by the immense range of knowledge that, in his view, had to precede the work of philosophizing. A civilization must be mature and, indeed, in its death throes before, in the philosophic thinking that has implicitly been its substance, it becomes conscious of itself and of its own significance. Thus, when philosophy comes on the scene, some form of the world has grown old.


University professor » At Berlin
In 1818 Hegel accepted the renewed offer of the chair of philosophy at Berlin, which had been vacant since Fichte’s death. There his influence over his pupils was immense, and there he published his Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse, alternatively entitled Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (1821; Eng. trans., The Philosophy of Right, 1942). In Hegel’s works on politics and history, the human mind objectifies itself in its endeavour to find an object identical with itself. The Philosophy of Right (or of Law) falls into three main divisions. The first is concerned with law and rights as such: persons (i.e., men as men, quite independently of their individual characters) are the subject of rights, and what is required of them is mere obedience, no matter what the motives of obedience may be. Right is thus an abstract universal and therefore does justice only to the universal element in the human will. The individual, however, cannot be satisfied unless the act that he does accords not merely with law but also with his own conscientious convictions. Thus, the problem in the modern world is to construct a social and political order that satisfies the claims of both. And thus no political order can satisfy the demands of reason unless it is organized so as to avoid, on the one hand, a centralization that would make men slaves or ignore conscience and, on the other hand, an antinomianism that would allow freedom of conviction to any individual and so produce a licentiousness that would make social and political order impossible. The state that achieves this synthesis rests on the family and on the guild. It is unlike any state existing in Hegel’s day; it is a form of limited monarchy, with parliamentary government, trial by jury, and toleration for Jews and dissenters.

After his publication of The Philosophy of Right, Hegel seems to have devoted himself almost entirely to his lectures. Between 1823 and 1827 his activity reached its maximum. His notes were subjected to perpetual revisions and additions. It is possible to form an idea of them from the shape in which they appear in his published writings. Those on Aesthetics, on the Philosophy of Religion, on the Philosophy of History, and on the History of Philosophy have been published by his editors, mainly from the notes of his students, whereas those on logic, psychology, and the philosophy of nature have been appended in the form of illustrative and explanatory notes to the corresponding sections of his Encyklopädie. During these years hundreds of hearers from all parts of Germany and beyond came under his influence; and his fame was carried abroad by eager or intelligent disciples.

Three courses of lectures are especially the product of his Berlin period: those on aesthetics, on the philosophy of religion, and on the philosophy of history. In the years preceding the revolution of 1830, public interest, excluded from political life, turned to theatres, concert rooms, and picture galleries. At these Hegel became a frequent and appreciative visitor, and he made extracts from the art notes in the newspapers. During his holiday excursions, his interest in the fine arts more than once took him out of his way to see some old painting. This familiarity with the facts of art, though neither deep nor historical, gave a freshness to his lectures on aesthetics, which, as put together from the notes taken in different years from 1820 to 1829, are among his most successful efforts.

The lectures on the philosophy of religion are another application of his method, and shortly before his death he had prepared for the press a course of lectures on the proofs for the existence of God. On the one hand, he turned his weapons against the Rationalistic school, which reduced religion to the modicum compatible with an ordinary worldly mind. On the other hand, he criticized the school of Schleiermacher, who elevated feeling to a place in religion above systematic theology. In his middle way, Hegel attempted to show that the dogmatic creed is the rational development of what was implicit in religious feeling. To do so, of course, philosophy must be made the interpreter and the superior discipline.

In his philosophy of history, Hegel presupposed that the whole of human history is a process through which mankind has been making spiritual and moral progress and advancing to self-knowledge. History has a plot, and the philosopher’s task is to discern it. Some historians have found its key in the operation of natural laws of various kinds. Hegel’s attitude, however, rested on the faith that history is the enactment of God’s purpose and that man had now advanced far enough to descry what that purpose is: it is the gradual realization of human freedom.

The first step was to make the transition from a natural life of savagery to a state of order and law. States had to be founded by force and violence; there is no other way to make men law-abiding before they have advanced far enough mentally to accept the rationality of an ordered life. There will be a stage at which some men have accepted the law and become free, while others remain slaves. In the modern world man has come to appreciate that all men, as minds, are free in essence, and his task is thus to frame institutions under which they will be free in fact.

Hegel did not believe, despite the charge of some critics, that history had ended in his lifetime. In particular, he maintained against Kant that to eliminate war is impossible. Each nation-state is an individual; and, as Hobbes had said of relations between individuals in the state of nature, pacts without the sword are but words. Clearly, Hegel’s reverence for fact prevented him from accepting Kant’s Idealism.

The lectures on the history of philosophy are especially remarkable for their treatment of Greek philosophy. Working without modern indexes and annotated editions, Hegel’s grasp of Plato and Aristotle is astounding, and it is only just to recognize that it was from Hegel that the scholarship lavished on Greek philosophy in the century after his death received its original impetus.

At this time a Hegelian school began to gather. The flock included intelligent pupils, empty-headed imitators, and romantics who turned philosophy into lyric measures. Opposition and criticism only served to define more precisely the adherents of the new doctrine. Though he had soon resigned all direct official connection with the schools of Brandenburg, Hegel’s real influence in Prussia was considerable. In 1830 he was rector of the university. In 1831 he received a decoration from Frederick William III. One of his last literary undertakings was the establishment of the Berlin Jahrbücher für wissenschaftliche Kritik (“Yearbook for Philosophical Criticism”).

The revolution of 1830 was a great blow to Hegel, and the prospect of mob rule almost made him ill. His last literary work, the first part of which appeared in the Preussische Staatszeitung while the rest was censored, was an essay on the English Reform Bill of 1832, considering its probable effects on the character of the new members of Parliament and the measures that they might introduce. In the latter connection he enlarged on several points in which England had done less than many continental states for the abolition of monopolies and abuses.

In 1831 cholera entered Germany. Hegel and his family retired for the summer to the suburbs, and there he finished the revision of the first part of his Science of Logic. Home again for the winter session, on November 14, after one day’s illness, he died of cholera and was buried, as he had wished, between Fichte and Karl Solger, author of an ironic dialectic.


Personage and influence
In his classroom Hegel was more impressive than fascinating. His students saw a plain, old-fashioned face, without life or lustre—a figure that had never looked young and was now prematurely aged. Sitting with his snuffbox before him and his head bent down, he looked ill at ease and kept turning the folios of his notes. His utterance was interrupted by frequent coughing; every sentence came out with a struggle. The style was no less irregular: sometimes in plain narrative the lecturer would be specially awkward, while in abstruse passages he seemed especially at home, rose into a natural eloquence, and carried away the hearer by the grandeur of his diction.

The early theological writings and the Phenomenology of Mind are packed with brilliant metaphors. In his later works, produced as textbooks for his lectures, the “Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences” and the Philosophy of Right, he compresses his material into relatively short, numbered paragraphs. It is only necessary to translate them to appreciate their conciseness and precision. The common idea that Hegel’s is a philosophy of exceptional difficulty is quite mistaken. Once his terminology is understood and his main principles grasped, he presents far less difficulty than Kant, for example. One reason for this is a certain air of dogmatism: Kant’s statements are often hedged around with qualifications; but Hegel had, as it were, seen a vision of absolute truth, and he expounds it with confidence.

Hegel’s system is avowedly an attempt to unify opposites—spirit and nature, universal and particular, ideal and real—and to be a synthesis in which all the partial and contradictory philosophies of his predecessors are alike contained and transcended. It is thus both Idealism and Realism at once; hence, it is not surprising that his successors, emphasizing now one and now another strain in his thought, have interpreted him variously. Conservatives and revolutionaries, believers and atheists alike have professed to draw inspiration from him. In one form or another his teaching dominated German universities for some years after his death and spread to France and to Italy. The vicissitudes of Hegelian thought to the present day are detailed below in Hegelianism. In the mid-20th century, interest in the early theological writings and in the Phänomenologie was increased by the spread of Existentialism. At the same time, the growing importance of Communism encouraged political thinkers to study Hegel’s political works, as well as his “Logic,” because of their influence on Karl Marx. And, by the time of his bicentennial in 1970, a Hegelian renascence was in the making.

Sir T. Malcolm Knox

 

 

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