Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
History of philosophy
The history of philosophy tracks the multitudinous theories which aim at some kind of understanding, knowledge or wisdom on fundamental matters as diverse as reality, knowledge, meaning, value, being and truth. Each culture, prehistoric, ancient, mediæval, and modern; Eastern and Western; religious and secular; have had their own unique schools of philosophy, as well as those shared through both inheritence and independent discovery. Such theories have grown from different premises and approaches, examples of which include rationalism (through logic), empiricism (through observation), and even through leaps of faith, hope and inheritance (such as the supernaturalist philosophies and religion).
See article History of Western philosophy
Western philosophy has a long history. Conventionally divided into three large eras - the Ancient, Medieval and Modern. The Ancient era runs through the fall of Rome and includes the Greek philosophers such as Plato. The Medieval period runs until roughly the late 1400s and the Renaissance. The "Modern" is a word with more varied use, which includes everything from Post-Medieval through the specific period of the early 20th century.
Western Philosophy is generally said to begin in the Greek cities of western Asia Minor (Ionia) with Thales of Miletus, who was active around 585 B.C. and left us the opaque dictum, "All is water." His most noted students were Anaximenes of Miletus and Anaximander ("All is air").
Other thinkers and schools appeared throughout Greece over the next couple of centuries. Among the most important were Heraclitus ("All is fire", all is chaotic and transistory), Anaxagoras (reality is so ordered that it must be in all respects governed by Mind), the Pluralists and Atomists (the world is composite of innumerable interacting parts), the Eleatics Parmenides and Zeno (All is One and change is impossible), the Sophists (became known (perhaps unjustly) for claiming that truth was no more than opinion and for teaching people to argue fallaciously to prove whatever conclusions they wished). This whole movement gradually became more concentrated in Athens, which had become the dominant city-state in Greece.
There is considerable discussion about why Athenian culture encouraged philosophy, but one popular theory says that it occurred because Athens had a direct democracy. It's known from Plato's writings that many sophists maintained schools of debate, were respected members of society, and were well paid by their students. It's also well known that orators had tremendous influence on Athenian history, possibly even causing its failure (See Battle of Miletus ). One other theory for the popularity of philosophical debate in Athens was due to the use of slavery there - the workforce, mainly slaves, performed the labour that otherwise would have been taken up by the male population of the city. Freed from working in the fields or in productive activity, they were then free to engage in the assemblies of Athens, and spend long hours discussing popular philosophical questions. The theory fills in the blanks by saying that the Sophists' students wanted to acquire the skills of an orator in order to influence the Athenian Assembly , and thereby grow wealthy and respected. Since winning debates led to wealth, the subjects and methods of debate became highly developed.
The key figure in transforming Greek philosophy into a unified and continuous project - the one still being pursued today - is Socrates, who studied under several Sophists. He then spent much of his life, we are told, engaging everyone in Athens in discussion trying to determine whether anyone had a very good idea what they were talking about, especially when they talked about important matters like justice, beauty and truth. He wrote nothing, but inspired many disciples. He was executed in 399 BCE on the charge that philosophy and sophistry, interchangeably, was destroying the piety and moral fiber of the city.
His most important student was Plato, who wrote a number of philosophical dialogues using his master's methods of inquiry to examine problems. Central ideas are the Theory of Forms, that the mind is imbued with an innate capacity to understand and apply concepts to the world, and that these concepts are in a significant way more real, or more basically real, than the things of the world around us; the immortality of the soul, and the idea that it too is more important than the body; the idea that evil is a kind of ignorance, that only knowledge can lead to virtue, that art should be subordinate to moral purposes, and that society should be ruled by a class of philosopher kings. In the later dialogues Socrates figures less prominently, and the Theory of Forms is cast in doubt; more directly ethical questions become the focus. Interestingly, in his most famous work, The Republic Plato attacks the system of democracy, blaming it for the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War - he attributes the indecision of the masses (who voted on everything, including military strategy) as the reason for military defeat. He proposed instead a three tiered structure of society, with workers, guardians and philosophers, in ascending order of importance (convenient for him and his disciples, clearly), citing the philosophers greater knowledge of the forms as the reason for them being more appropiate in running society.
Plato founded the Academy of Athens, and his most outstanding student there was Aristotle. Possibly Aristotle's most important and long-lasting work was his formalization of logic. It appears that Aristotle was the first philosopher to categorize every valid syllogism. A syllogism is a form of argument that is guaranteed to be accepted, because it is known (by all educated persons) to be valid. A crucial assumption in Aristotelian logic is that it has to be about real objects. Two of Aristotle's syllogisms are invalid to modern eyes. For example, "All A are B. All A are C. Therefore, some B are C." This syllogism fails if set A is empty.
If God exists at all, surely He is the most important feature of the universe, and therefore worthy of study. One continuing interest in this time was to prove the existence of God, through logic alone, if possible.
One early effort was the cosmological argument, conventionally attributed to Thomas Aquinas. The argument roughly, is that everything that exists has a cause. Therefore, there must be an uncaused first cause, and this is God. Aquinas also adapted this argument to prove the goodness of God. Everything has some goodness, and the cause of each thing is better than the thing caused. Therefore, the first cause is the best possible thing. Similar arguments are used to prove God's power and uniqueness.
Another important argument proof of the existence of God was the Ontological Argument, advanced by St. Anselm. Basically, it says that God has all possible good features. Existence is good, and therefore God has it, and therefore exists. This argument has been used in different forms by philosophers from Descartes forward.
The application of Aristotelian logic proceeded by having the student memorize a rather large set of syllogisms. The memorization proceeded from diagrams, or learning a key sentence, with the first letter of each word reminding the student of the names of the syllogisms.
Each syllogism had a name, for example "Modus Ponens" had the form of "If A is true, then B is true. A is true, therefore B is true."
Most university students of logic memorized Aristotle's 19 syllogisms of two subjects, permitting them to validly connect a subject and object. A few geniuses developed systems with three subjects, or described a way of elaborating the rules of three subjects.
As with many periodizations, there are multiple current usages for the term "Modern Philosophy" that exist in practice. One usage is to date modern philosophy from the "Age of Reason", where systematic philosophy became common, which excludes Erasmus and Machiavelli as, "modern philosophers". Another is to date it, the way the entire larger modern period is dated, from the Renaissance. In some usages, "Modern Philosophy" ended in 1800, with the rise of Hegelianism and Idealism. There is also the lumpers/splitters problem, namely that some works split philosophy into more periods than others: one author might feel a strong need to differentiate between "The Age of Reason" or "Early Modern Philosophers" and "The Enlightenment", another author might write from the perspective that 1600-1800 is essentially one continuous evolution, and therefore a single period. Wikipedia's philosophy section therefore hews more closely to centuries as a means of avoiding long discussions over periods, but it is important to note the variety of practice that occurs.
A broad overview would then have Erasmus, Francis Bacon, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Galileo Galilei represent the rise of empiricism and humanism in place of scholastic tradition. 17th-century philosophy is dominated by the need to organize philosophy on rational, skeptical, logical and axiomatic grounds, such as the work of René Descartes, Blaise Pascal and Thomas Hobbes, attempting to integrate religious belief into philosophical frameworks, and, often to combat atheism or other unbelief, by adopting the idea of material reality, and the dualism between spirit and material. The extension, and reaction, against this would be the monism of George Berkeley and Benedict de Spinoza.
The 18th-century philosophy article deals with the period often called the early part of "The Enlightenment" in the shorter form of the word, and centers around the rise of systematic empiricism, following after Sir Isaac Newton's natural philosophy. Thus Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau and culminating with Kant and the political philosophy of the American Revolution are part of The Enlightenment.
The 19th century took the radical notions of self-organization and intrinsic order from Goethe and Kantian metaphysics, and proceded to produce a long elaboration on the tension between systematization and organic development. Foremost was the work of Hegel, whose Logic and Phenomenology of Spirit produced a "dialectical" framework for ordering of knowledge. The 19th century would also include Schopenhauer's negation of the will. As with the 18th century, it would be developments in science that would arise from, and then challenge, philosophy: most importantly the work of Charles Darwin, which was based on the idea of organic self-regulation found in philosophers such as Adam Smith, but fundamentally challenged established conceptions.
The 20th Century deals with the upheavals produced by a series of conflicts within philosophical discourse over the basis of knowledge, with classical certainties overthrown, and new social, economic, scientific and logical problems. 20th Century philosophy was set for a series of attempts to reform and preserve, and to alter or abolish, older knowledge systems. Seminal figures include Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietszche, Ernst Mach, John Dewey. Epistemology and its basis was a central concern, as seen from the work of Heidegger, Karl Popper, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Bertrand Russell. Phenomenologically oriented metaphysics undergirded existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard, Albert Camus) and finally postmodern_philosophy (Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida). Also notable was the rise of "pop" philosophers who promulgated systems for dealing with the world, but which were isolated philosophically, including Ayn Rand, CS Lewis and others.
See article Eastern philosophy
See article Buddhist philosophy
See article Chinese philosophy
See article Hinduism, section Hindu philosophy: the six Vedic schools of thought
See article Abrahamic religions
See article Jewish philosophy
See article Christian philosophy
See article Islamic philosophy
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