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History of Western Philosophy


  • philosophy as distinct from theology, began in Greece in 6th C BC, again became submerged by theology as Chrsitianity rose & Rome fell.
  • its 2nd great period, from the 11th to 14th C AD was dominated by the Catholic Church, except for a few great rebels such as Emperor Frederic II (1195-1250)
    • this period ended due to the confusions that culminated in the Reformation
  • the 3rd great period, from the 17th C to present day, is dominated by science, although traditional religious beliefs remain important

ancient philosophy:


  • the Milesian school
    • Thales (~585BC)
      • everything is made of water
      • the earth rests on water
      • the magnet has a soul in it because it moves iron
      • all things are full of gods
    • Anaximander (~564BC)
      • all things come from a single primal substance, but it is not water, nor other known substances
      • conception of justice - of not overstepping eternally fixed bounds
      • man evolved from fishes
      • earth is a cylinder
    • Anaximedes (<494BC)
      • the fundamental substance is air
      • earth is shaped like a round table surrounded by air
  • Pythagorus (~532BC)
    • founded a school of mathematics - all things are numbers
    • founded a religion - transmigration of souls; sin to eat beans;
  • Heraclitus (~500BC)
    • fire is the fundamental substance
    • everything is born by the death of something else
    • hostile attitude to life
  • Parmenides (500-450BC)
    • the way of opinion
    • the way of truth - “both thought & language require objects outside themselves” “words have a constant meaning”
  • Empedocles (~440BC)
    • discovered that air is a separate substance
    • evolution & survival of the fittest
    • founder of Italian medical school
    • 4 elements - earth, air, fire & water - combined by love & separated by strife
  • Anaxogorus (500-432BC)
    • everything is infinitely divisible
    • moon shines by reflected light
    • correct theory of eclipses, knew moon is below sun
    • 1st to bring philosophy to Athens
  • Atomists - Leucippus & Democritus (~440BC)
    • contemporaries to the Sophists
    • everything is composed of atoms which always moved

Socratic era:

  • Socrates (469-399BC)
    • taught people to question beliefs and accepted customs and to analyze them in a logically reasoned manner and not just accept what the majority believed
    • sentenced to death on the grounds of being a heretic, not believing in the Greek gods and inciting young people to question their beliefs
  • Plato (429-347BC): - a dualist
    • a pupil of Socrates and one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy.
    • he was so self-conscious about how philosophy should be conceived, and what its scope and ambitions properly are, and he so transformed the intellectual currents with which he grappled, that the subject of philosophy, as it is often conceived — a rigorous and systematic examination of ethical, political, metaphysical, and epistemological issues, armed with a distinctive method — can be called his invention. 
    • Plato believed that the true substances are not physical bodies, which are ephemeral, but the eternal Forms of which bodies are imperfect copies. These Forms not only make the world possible, they also make it intelligible, because they perform the role of universals, or what Frege called 'concepts'. It is their connection with intelligibility that is relevant to the philosophy of mind. Because Forms are the grounds of intelligibility, they are what the intellect must grasp in the process of understanding.
    • Few other authors in the history of philosophy approximate him in depth and range: perhaps only Aristotle (who studied with him), Aquinas, and Kant would be generally agreed to be of the same rank.
  • Aristotle (~350BC):
    • Aristotle did not believe in Platonic Forms, existing independently of their instances. Aristotelian forms (the capital 'F' has disappeared with their standing as autonomous entities) are the natures and properties of things and exist embodied in those things. This enabled Aristotle to explain the union of body and soul by saying that the soul is the form of the body. This means that a particular person's soul is no more than his nature as a human being. Because this seems to make the soul into a property of the body, it led many interpreters, both ancient and modern, to interpret his theory as materialistic. 
    • The interpretation of Aristotle's philosophy of mind — and, indeed, of his whole doctrine of form — remains as live an issue today as it was immediately after his death (Robinson (1983) and (1991); Nussbaum (1984); Rorty and Nussbaum, eds, (1992)). 
    • Nevertheless, the text makes it clear that Aristotle believed that the intellect, though part of the soul, differs from other faculties in not having a bodily organ. His argument for this constitutes a more tightly argued case than Plato's for the immateriality of thought and, hence, for a kind of dualism. He argued that the intellect must be immaterial because if it were material it could not receive all forms. Just as the eye, because of its particular physical nature, is sensitive to light but not to sound, and the ear to sound and not to light, so, if the intellect were in a physical organ it could be sensitive only to a restricted range of physical things; but this is not the case, for we can think about any kind of material object (De Anima III,4; 429a10 – b9). As it does not have a material organ, its activity must be essentially immaterial.
  • Epicurus:
    • felt most of us don't understand what we really need to make us happy, and substitute spending in place of it
    • blamed advertising in the commercial world for misleading and confusing us
    • whilst some money is needed to allow us to attain happiness by provision of our basic needs, more money than this is not an essential ingredient for further levels of happiness
    • all you need for happiness are friends, freedom & thought
      • feeding without a friend is like a lion - always consider carefully who you will eat with & don't eat alone
      • friends should ideally be people we meet with daily not just once in a while
      • created a self-sufficient commune to get freedom
      • analyse life by taking step back from world & quietly think about your life and your problems
    • often misinterpreted as meaning eating excessively, drinking wine & materialism, neither of these he did
    • most of his writings have been lost, but his philosophy has been maintained in epicurean communities esp. southern Turkey 

the Stoic school (Stoicism):

  • Zeno of Citium in Cyprus (344-262 BC)
  • Cleanthes (d. 232 BC)
  • Chrysippus (d. ca. 206 BC).
  • Stoicism was one of the new philosophical movements of the Hellenistic period. The name derives from the porch (stoa poikilê) in the Agora at Athens decorated with mural paintings, where the members of the school congregated, and their lectures were held. Unlike ‘epicurean,’ the sense of the English adjective ‘stoical’ is not utterly misleading with regard to its philosophical origins. The Stoics did, in fact, hold that emotions like fear or envy (or impassioned sexual attachments, or passionate love of anything whatsoever) either were, or arose from, false judgements and that the sage–a person who had attained moral and intellectual perfection–would not undergo them.
  • the sage is utterly immune to misfortune and that virtue is sufficient for happiness.
  • only the sage is free while all others are slaves.
  • Though it seems clear that some Stoics took a kind of perverse joy in advocating views which seem so at odds with common sense, they did not do so simply to shock. Stoic ethics achieves a certain plausibility within the context of their physical theory and psychology, and within the framework of Greek ethical theory as that was handed down to them from Plato and Aristotle. It seems that they were well aware of the mutually interdependent nature of their philosophical views, likening philosophy itself to a living animal in which logic is bones and sinews; ethics and physics, the flesh and the soul respectively (another version reverses this assignment, making ethics the soul). Their views in logic and physics are no less distinctive and interesting than those in ethics itself.
  • The only complete works by Stoic philosophers that we possess are those by writers of Imperial times, Seneca (4 BC-65 AD), Epictetus (c. 55-135) and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180) and these works are principally focused on ethics. They tend to be long on moral exhortation but give only clues to the theoretical bases of the moral system.

Christian era:

  • Marcus Aurelius (`150AD)
  • St Augustine (~400AD)

middle age philosophy:

11th-14thC AD:

  • Avicenna (~1000AD)
  • Peter Abelard (1079 – 21 April 1142):
    • was the pre-eminent philosopher and theologian of the twelfth century. The teacher of his generation, he was also famous as a poet and a musician. 
    • Prior to the recovery of Aristotle, he brought the native Latin tradition in philosophy to its highest pitch. His genius was evident in all he did. 
    • He is, arguably, the greatest logician of the Middle Ages and is equally famous as the first great nominalist philosopher. 
    • He championed the use of reason in matters of faith (he was the first to use ‘theology’ in its modern sense), and his systematic treatment of religious doctrines are as remarkable for their philosophical penetration and subtlety as they are for their audacity. 
    • Abelard seemed larger than life to his contemporaries: his quick wit, sharp tongue, perfect memory, and boundless arrogance made him unbeatable in debate — he was said by supporter and detractor alike never to have lost an argument — and the force of his personality impressed itself vividly on all with whom he came into contact. 
    • His luckless affair with Héloïse made him a tragic figure of romance, and his conflict with Bernard of Clairvaux over reason and religion made him the hero of the Enlightenment. 
    • For all his colourful life, though, his philosophical achievements are the cornerstone of his fame.
  • St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274):
    • lived at a critical juncture of western culture when the arrival of the Aristotelian corpus in Latin translation reopened the question of the relation between faith and reason, calling into question the modus vivendi that had obtained for centuries. This crisis flared up just as universities were being founded. 
    • Thomas, after early studies at Montecassino, moved on to the University of Naples, where he met members of the new Dominican Order. It was at Naples too that Thomas had his first extended contact with the new learning. When he joined the Dominican Order he went north to study with Albertus Magnus, author of a paraphrase of the Aristotelian corpus. 
    • Thomas completed his studies at the University of Paris, which had been formed out of the monastic schools on the Left Bank and the cathedral school at Notre Dame. In two stints as a regent master Thomas defended the mendicant orders and, of greater historical importance, countered both the Averroistic interpretations of Aristotle and the Franciscan tendency to reject Greek philosophy. The result was a new modus vivendi between faith and philosophy which survived until the rise of the new physics. 
    • Thomas's theological writings became regulative of the Catholic Church and his close textual commentaries on Aristotle represent a cultural resource which is now receiving increased recognition.

modern philosophy:

17th C:

  • Francis Bacon (1561–1626):
    • a lawyer, member of Parliament, and Queen's Counsel, Bacon wrote on questions of law, state and religion, as well as on contemporary politics; but he also published texts in which he speculated on possible conceptions of society, and he pondered questions of ethics (Essays) even in his works on natural philosophy (The Advancement of Learning).
    • To the present day Bacon is well known for his treatises on empiricist natural philosophy (The Advancement of Learning, Novum Organum Scientiarum) and for his doctrine of the idols, which he put forward in his early writings, as well as for the idea of a modern research institute, which he described in Nova Atlantis.
  • Descartes (1596-1650) - a dualist:
    • While the great philosophical distinction between mind and body in western thought can be traced to the Greeks, it is to the seminal work of René Descartes (1596-1650), French mathematician, philosopher, and physiologist, that we owe the first systematic account of the mind/body relationship.
    • Descartes proposed a mechanism for automatic reaction in response to external events. According to his proposal, external motions affect the peripheral ends of the nerve fibrils, which in turn displace the central ends. As the central ends are displaced, the pattern of interfibrillar space is rearranged and the flow of animal spirits is thereby directed into the appropriate nerves. It was Descartes' articulation of this mechanism for automatic, differentiated reaction that led to his generally being credited with the founding of reflex theory.
    • In Descartes' conception, the rational soul, an entity distinct from the body and making contact with the body at the pineal gland, might or might not become aware of the differential outflow of animal spirits brought about through the rearrangement of the interfibrillar spaces. When such awareness did occur, however, the result was conscious sensation – body affecting mind. In turn, in voluntary action, the soul might itself initiate a differential outflow of animal spirits. Mind, in other words, could also affect body.
    • “Cartesian science” is that which was taught by Descartes.
  • Baruch Spinoza (1632-77):
    • His thought combines a commitment to Cartesian metaphysical and epistemological principles with elements from ancient Stoicism and medieval Jewish rationalism into a nonetheless highly original system. 
    • His extremely naturalistic views on God, the world, the human being and knowledge serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passions leading to virtue and happiness. 
    • They also lay the foundations for a strongly democratic political thought and a deep critique of the pretensions of Scripture and sectarian religion. 
    • Of all the philosophers of the seventeenth-century, perhaps none have more relevance today than Spinoza.
  • John Locke (1632 - 1704):
    • Much of Locke's work is characterized by opposition to authoritarianism. This opposition is both on the level of the individual person and on the level of institutions such as government and church. 
    • For the individual, Locke wants each of us to use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition. He wants us to proportion assent to propositions to the evidence for them.
  • Thomas Hobbes (published 1642-81):
    • is now widely regarded as one of a handful of truly great political philosophers, whose masterwork Leviathan rivals in significance the political writings of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Rawls. 
    • Hobbes is famous for his early and elaborate development of what has come to be known as “social contract theory”, the method of justifying political principles or arrangements by appeal to the agreement that would be made among suitably situated rational, free, and equal persons. 
    • He is infamous for having used the social contract method to arrive at the astonishing conclusion that we ought to submit to the authority of an absolute – undivided and unlimited – sovereign power.

18th C:

  • George Berkeley (1685-1753):
    • He was a brilliant critic of his predecessors, particularly Descartes, Malebranche, and Locke. He was a talented metaphysician famous for defending idealism, that is, the view that reality consists exclusively of minds and their ideas. Berkeley's system, while it strikes many as counter-intuitive, is strong and flexible enough to counter most objections. 
    • His most-studied works, the Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (Principles, for short) and Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous (Dialogues), are beautifully written and dense with the sort of arguments that delight contemporary philosophers. 
    • He was also a wide-ranging thinker with interests in religion (which were fundamental to his philosophical motivations), the psychology of vision, mathematics, physics, morals, economics, and medicine. 
    • Although many of Berkeley's first readers greeted him with incomprehension, he influenced both Hume and Kant, and is much read (if little followed) in our own day.
  • David Hume (1711-76):
    • Generally regarded as the most important philosopher ever to write in English, the last of the great triumvirate of “British empiricists” – was also noted as an historian and essayist.
    • influenced Immanuel Kant & Charles Darwin in particular.
  • Immanuel Kant ( - 1804):
  • Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815):
    • theory of a universal magnetic fluid & use of magnets to cure which led to a form of hypnotism (“mesmerism”) developed by his disciple Armand-Marie-Jacques de Chastenet, Marquis de Puységur (1751-1825) who founded psychotherapy.
    • Mesmerism spread rapidly. In the United States it arrived from France with Charles Poyen de Saint Sauveur and became allied briefly with phrenology and more extensively with spiritualism, eventuating in the New Thought movement that exerted an impact on William James.

19th C:

  • Georg Hegel (1770-1831):
    • belongs to the period of “German idealism” in the decades following Kant. 
    • The most systematic of the post-Kantian idealists, Hegel attempted, throughout his published writings as well as in his lectures, to elaborate a comprehensive and systematic ontology from a “logical” starting point. 
    • He is perhaps most well-known for his teleological account of history, an account which was later taken over by Marx and “inverted” into a materialist theory of an historical development culminating in communism. 
    • For most of the twentieth century, the “logical” side of Hegel's thought had been largely forgotten, but his political and social philosophy continued to find interest and support. However, since the 1970s, a degree of more general philosophical interest in Hegel's systematic thought has also been revived.
  • James Braid (1843) and hypnotism:
    • refuted the idea that something passed between people in mesmerism, developed his theory of “nervous sleep” produced by “a peculiar condition of the nervous system, induced by a fixed and abstracted attention” which he called hypnotism, but this still remained in the realm of pseudo-science until Richet and Charcot in 1875, then Janet who laid the foundations for Freud in the 1890's.
    • Braid's linking hypnotic phenomena to brain physiology, development of a straightforward, less mystical induction technique, and introduction of a terminology that was more acceptable to the medical and scientific establishment, helped prepare the way for the eventual use of hypnosis in research on psychopathology.
    • In a little over a hundred years, a huge corpus of evidence and related neurological and psychological theory had led irrevocably to the belief that mental events – mesmeric trance states, rapport, the therapist's will to cure, the concentration of attention, mental suggestion, psychic trauma, the dissociation of consciousness, and catharsis – could effect radical alterations in the state of the body. No psychologist writing in the 1890s could afford to ignore this rich material and its implications for conceptualization of the nature of the mind/body relationship.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82):
    • began his career as a Unitarian minister in Boston, but achieved worldwide fame as a lecturer and the author of such essays as “Self-Reliance,” “History,” “The Over-Soul,” and “Fate.” 
    • Drawing on English and German Romanticism, Neoplatonism, Kantianism, and Hinduism, Emerson developed a metaphysics of process, an epistemology of moods, and an “existentialist” ethics of self-improvement. 
    • He influenced generations of Americans, from his friend Henry David Thoreau to John Dewey, and in Europe, Friedrich Nietzsche, who takes up such Emersonian themes as power, fate, the uses of poetry and history, and the critique of Christianity.
  • Max Stirner (1806-56):
    • best known as the author of the idiosyncratic and provocative Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum (1844). Familiar in English as The Ego and Its Own (a more literal translation might be The Individual and his Property), both the form and content of Stirner's work are disconcerting. 
    • He challenges expectations about how political and philosophical argument should be conducted, and seeks to shake confidence in the superiority of contemporary civilisation. He provides a sweeping attack on the modern world as dominated by religious modes of thought and oppressive social institutions, together with a brief sketch of a radical ‘egoistic’ alternative in which individual autonomy might flourish. 
    • The historical impact of The Ego and Its Own is not easy to assess. However, Stirner's book can plausibly be claimed to have had a destructive impact on his left-Hegelian contemporaries, to have played a significant role in the intellectual development of Karl Marx (1818-1883), and to have influenced the tradition of individualist anarchism.
  • Karl Marx (1818-1883):
    • is best known not as a philosopher but as a revolutionary communist, whose works inspired the foundation of many communist regimes in the twentieth century. It is hard to think of many who have had as much influence in the creation of the modern world. 
    • Trained as a philosopher, Marx turned away from philosophy in his mid-twenties, towards economics and politics. However, in addition to his overtly philosophical early work, his later writings have many points of contact with contemporary philosophical debates, especially in the philosophy of history and the social sciences, and in moral and political philosophy. Historical materialism — Marx's theory of history — is centered around the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they further and then impede the development of human productive power.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900):
    • challenged the foundations of traditional morality and Christianity. He believed in life, creativity, health, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond. 
    • Central to Nietzsche's philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines which drain life's energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. 
    • Often referred to as one of the first “existentialist” philosophers, Nietzsche has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life, including dancers, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and social revolutionaries.


  • Bertrand Russell (1872-1970):
    • a British philosopher, logician, essayist, and social critic, best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy.
    • His most influential contributions include his defense of logicism (the view that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic), and his theories of definite descriptions and logical atomism. Along with G.E. Moore, Russell is generally recognized as one of the founders of analytic philosophy.
  • Karl Popper (1902-)
  • Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980):
    • is arguably the best known philosopher of the twentieth century.
    • he is commonly considered the father of Existentialist philosophy, whose writings set the tone for intellectual life in the decade immediately following the Second World War.
  • identity theory of the mind - consciousness as a brain process:
    • pioneering papers Is Consciousness a Brain Process? by U.T. Place (Place 1956, Adelaide) and H. Feigl The “Mental” and the “Physical” (Feigl 1958) although Boring first used the term in 1933.
  • computational theory of the mind (CTM) - the mind working like a computer (Hilary Putnam 1961)
    • developed most notably for philosophers by Jerry Fodor [1975, 1980, 1987, 1993]
    • CTM combines a Representational Theory of Mind (RTM) with a Computational Account of Reasoning (CAR).
    • CTM rose to prominence as one of the most important theories of mind in the 1980s.
    • classical computational architectures employing rules and symbolic representations.
    • The most important philosophical benefit claimed for CTM was that it purported to show how reasoning could be a non-mysterious sort of causal process, and could nonetheless be sensitive to semantic relations between judgments.
    • through the 1980s and 1990s, many philosophers were convinced by Fodor's claim that CTM is “the only game in town” – i.e., that the only accounts we have of cognitive processes are computational, and that this implies the postulation of a language of thought and operations performed over the representations in that language. Given this argument that CTM is implicit in the theories produced by the sciences of cognition (see below), its additional ability to provide a compatibility proof for physicalism and intentional realism solidified its philosophical credentials by showing that this interpretation of the sciences of cognition was philosophically productive as well.
  • neural network model of the mind:
    • late 1980's.
    • seek to model the dynamics of psychological processes, not directly at the level of intentional states, but at the level of the networks of neurons through which mental states are (presumably) implemented.
    • Smolensky (1987), argued that connectionist models were importantly distinct from classical computational models in that the processing involved took place (and hence the relevant level of causal explanation must be cast) at a sub-symbolic level, such as Smolensky's tensor-product encoding. Unlike processing in a conventional computer, the process is distributed rather than serial, there is no explicit representation of the rules, and the representations are not concatenative.
      • There is some general agreement that some of these differences do not matter. Both sides are agreed, for example, that processes in the brain are highly parallel and distributed. Likewise, even in production-model computers, it is only in stored programs that rules are themselves represented; the rules hard-wired into the CPU are not.
    • Several types of learning in particular seem to come naturally to network architectures, and more recently researchers such as Smolensky have produced results suggesting that at least some features of language acquisition can be simulated by his models as well.

21st C:



history/h_philo1.txt · Last modified: 2021/07/21 17:12 by gary1

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