Goetia Niflheim
17 min readMar 26, 2020


Under modern Western philosophy refers to Western European philosophy and US philosophy of the late XIX — XX centuries. Western philosophy of this period is a huge variety of philosophers of all kinds of schools, directions and concepts. Conventionally, they can be divided into two areas: the philosophy of scientism (from Latin “scientia” — science) — basically has an idea of ​​science, scientific knowledge as the highest cultural value and a sufficient condition for the orientation of a person in the world; and the philosophy of anti-scientism, which emphasizes the limited capabilities of science, and in its extreme forms interprets it as a force alien and hostile to the true essence of man, a force that destroys culture.

I. Positivism

Positivism is a philosophical direction based on the principle that all genuine, positive knowledge can be obtained as a result of individual special sciences and their synthetic combination, and that philosophy as a special science, which claims to be an independent study of reality, has no right to exist.

The first historical form of positivism took shape in the 30–40s of the XIX century. Its founder was the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857). The destiny of science, according to Comte, is not an explanation, but a description of things. Science, in principle, is not able to answer the question — “Why?”, it should limit itself to stating facts and answer the question — “How?”. Only in this case can science become positive. Its task is to systematize concrete scientific knowledge on the basis of a rational classification of sciences.

The second historical form of positivism [empirio-criticism] arose at the turn of the XIX-XX centuries. Its leading representatives were the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach (1838–1916) and the Swiss philosopher Richard Avenarius (1843–1896). In contrast to the “first positivism”, which in the person of Comte considered philosophy as a science synthesizing, the “second positivism” reduced it to the theory of knowledge and sought to build a theoretical model of the process of cognition. Empirio-criticism meant “criticism of experience” and implied “purification” of experience from all positions that are metaphysical in nature. Experience, according to Mach, consists of sensations, which he actually are “elements of the world”.

The third historical form of positivism is neopositivism (logical positivism) — a direction in 20th century philosophy that claims to analyze and solve pressing philosophical and methodological problems put forward by the development of modern science: the role of the symbolic means of scientific thinking, the relationship of the theoretical apparatus and the empirical basis of science, nature and the functions of mathematization and formalization of knowledge. Neopositivism arose almost simultaneously in Austria, England and Poland in the 1920s. Its main representatives are: M. Schlick, R. Carnap, G. Reichenbach, L. Wittgenstein.

Representatives of the “third positivism” argue that philosophy is neither a science of any reality, nor a theory of knowledge. It is a special kind of activity associated with the logical analysis of natural and artificial languages.

II. Postpositivism

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, neopositivism as a philosophical trend in the study of science began to lose its influence. He was replaced by the “fourth positivism”, or post-positivism, which revised the problems of philosophy, its role in science and society, and methods of scientific research. Among his most prominent representatives are K. Popper, I. Lakatos, T. Kuhn, J. Agazzi.

The main problem of postpositivism is the development (dynamics of scientific knowledge). It is primarily interested in the sociocultural determination of scientific knowledge, the emergence of new theories, their acceptance by a community of scientists, the criteria for comparing and choosing competing scientific concepts.

A feature of most concepts of postpositivism is their rejection of cumulativism (from Latin “сumulatio” — increase, accumulation) in understanding the development of scientific knowledge. According to cumulatism, the development of knowledge occurs by gradually adding new provisions to the accumulated amount of true knowledge. Representatives of postpositivism argued that revolutionary transformations are inevitable in the history of science. As a result of revolutions in science, there is a revision of previously recognized and substantiated knowledge, not only of theories, but also of methods and facts (change of scientific paradigms). A paradigm is a combination of beliefs, values ​​and technical means adopted by the scientific community and ensuring the existence of a scientific tradition.

Postpositivism refuses to draw hard lines between scientific knowledge and philosophy. He recognizes the meaningfulness of philosophical principles and their fundamental inevitability from science. Some representatives of post-positivism generally refuse to see any difference between science, philosophy and myth.

The recognition of the conditionality of science by external factors, social and cultural is also indicative of positivism. All this speaks of the fundamental differences between post-positivism and the logical positivism that preceded it, although for a number of basic points their single connection remains.

III. Critical rationalism

Critical rationalism is a direction in modern philosophy that is engaged in the development of a kind of “pure” model of rationality, true for all and at all times. He is one of the leading currents in post-positivism and most clearly represents this stage in the development of the problems of the methodology of scientific knowledge. Its founder is the English philosopher Karl Popper (1902–1988).

From the point of view of critical rationalism, the subject of study is not statements, but science as an integrated, dynamic, developing system. Scientific knowledge is integral in nature; it cannot be divided into separate statements or independent levels. In scientific knowledge, philosophical concepts are closely intertwined and interconnected with scientific concepts themselves.

K. Popper proceeded from the premise that the laws of science are not expressed by analytical judgments and at the same time are not reducible to observations. Science needs the principle of falsification, i.e. rebuttals of untruth. Falsification is the fundamental refutability of any statement relating to science. K. Popper argued that a statement that is not refuted by experience can be considered true. If conditions are found under which at least some basic “atomic” statements of a theory or hypothesis are false, then this theory or hypothesis is refutable. If there is no experimental refutation of the hypothesis, then it can be considered true or at least justified.

For K. Popper, the principle of falsification is not a method of empirical verification, but a definite set of science for a critical analysis of the content of scientific knowledge, for the constant need for a critical review of all its achievements. Science is a constant dynamic process in which any changes are continuously taking place.

A significant contribution to the development of ideas of critical rationalism was also made by T. Kuhn, I. Lakatos, P. Feyerabend.

IV. Structuralism

Structuralism is a methodological direction in a number of humanities (for example, in linguistics, ethnography, psychology, history), highlighting the analysis of the structure of the studied object. It originated in France in the first half of the 20th century. The main representatives of structuralism are the anthropologist C. Levi-Strauss, the psychoanalyst J. Lacan, the philosophers M. Foucault and L. Althusser.

The basis of the structural method is the identification of the structure as a set of relations that are invariant (unchanged) under certain transformations. In this understanding, the concept of structure is characterized not just by a stable “skeleton” of any object, but by a set of rules by which a second, third, and so on can be obtained from one object by rearranging its elements and some other symmetrical transformations. The identification of the structural laws of a certain set of objects is achieved by deriving the differences between these objects as concrete variants of a single abstract invariant that transform into each other.

The structural method was originally developed in linguistics, and then adopted in the “human sciences”: anthropology, ethnology, psychology, sociology and others as applied to thinking both in norm and in pathology. In particular, C. Levi-Strauss — the creator of the concept of structural anthropology, paid most attention to the research of mythological thinking, trying to show the presence of a common structure in the myths of various tribes and nationalities. He came to the conclusion that the same myths are reproduced with literal accuracy in different regions of the world. In his opinion, both mythological and scientific thinking are subject to the same logic.

Structuralism, along with critical rationalism, is one of the forms of positivism.

V. Pragmatism

The main representatives of pragmatism are the American philosophers Charles Peirce (1839–1914), William James (1862–1910), John Dewey (1859–1952).

The main ideas of pragmatism were first expressed by C. Peirce, who denied innate ideas and intuitive knowledge. According to him, visibility is the starting point of knowledge. Peirce formulated his “pragmatic maxim”: a complete concept of an object can be achieved only by considering all the practical consequences arising from actions with this object. Our knowledge of the object is always incomplete and refutable, hypothetical. This applies not only to ordinary knowledge and natural-scientific knowledge, but also to mathematical and logical judgments, the universality of which can be refuted by counterexamples. Truth, in Peirce’s understanding, is clear, distinct, consistent knowledge at this stage of development. The truth of knowledge is a reliable condition for effective practice. Practical interest is the reason for our interest in seeking the truth. Utility determines the meaning of truth, its reliability.

According to W. James, the truth of knowledge is determined by its usefulness for the success of our behavioral acts and actions. Success is not only the sole criterion for the truth of ideas, but also the very content of the concept of truth. Truth, according to W. James, reveals the meaning of moral virtue, and not the completeness of semantic information about the object of knowledge.

According to James, philosophy should contribute not to understanding the first principles of being, but to creating a general method for solving the problems that people face in different life situations, in a stream of constantly changing events. Experience was never given to us initially as something definite. All objects of knowledge are formed by our cognitive efforts in the course of solving life problems. The purpose of thinking is to choose the means necessary for success.

The fundamental concept of philosophy for J. Dewey was experience, which meant all forms of manifestation of human life. The task of philosophy, according to Dewey, is to organize life experience, first of all, the way of social life, which would contribute to improving the lives of people, their being in the world.

The means for this should be the method of science and reason, which would serve as an instrument, an instrument consistent with our pragmatic aspirations. Such a method consists in establishing the experienced difficulties or problems that arise in all kinds of life situations and put a person before the task of finding means for their appropriate solution. At the same time, ideas are called upon to play the role of vital intellectual tools.

According to Dewey, those ideas, concepts and theories that are productively profitable, work successfully in vital circumstances, and lead to pragmatic goals are true. Moreover, the means that are selected to solve the corresponding problems should not be subjective and derivative, but should correspond to the nature of the problem and the goal set.

The principles of pragmatism had a significant impact on the general style of American thinking and practice, including politics.

VI. Neo-kantianism

Neo-kantianism is a direction in philosophy, whose representatives tried to solve the main philosophical problems, based on the interpretation of the philosophy of I. Kant (the founder of German classical philosophy). It originated in the 60s of the XIX century in Germany. The greatest popularity of neo-kantianism came at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. It clearly distinguishes two philosophical schools: Marburg and Baden.

These schools have a number of common attitudes, such as:

  1. A positive assessment of Kant’s heritage as a doctrine (based on the principles of philosophizing which in modern conditions, it is possible to solve pressing problems of science and public practice);
  2. Orientation to the study of methods of scientific knowledge and understanding of philosophy as a critical theory of science;
  3. Adherence to the transcendental method of interpreting reality (according to which cognition is understood not as a reflection of reality and not as a description of reality, but as an activity to create the subject of cognition in general and science, in particular).

However, in different schools, neo-kantianism has quite significant differences in the interpretation of these general principles.

Representatives of the Marburg school — Hermann Cohen (1842–1918), Paul Natorp (1854–1924), Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945) — directed the main efforts to the development of the transcendental method of cognition, which boiled down to the release of scientific knowledge from psychology, i.e. from the anthropological substantiation of the unity of scientific knowledge. The source of scientific knowledge, in their opinion, is not the structure of consciousness of the knowing subject, but the logical structure of science. The theory of knowledge in them has turned into the logic of pure knowledge, i.e. the study of the logical structure of knowledge from its connections with reality and sensory knowledge.

Representatives of the Baden school — Wilhelm Windelband (1848–1915) and Heinrich Rickert (1863–1936) focused on the development of a methodology of scientific knowledge and the resulting rethinking of the role and significance of philosophy. Philosophy, in their opinion, is a normative doctrine, a doctrine of values ​​[axiology]. Its subject is the study of the relationship of the subject and value. Values, according to Rickert, form a completely independent “kingdom”, located on the other side of the subject and object — the “world of transcendental meaning”.

Neo-kantianism continues to have a rather strong influence on the whole of European philosophy. The principles of the methodology of scientific knowledge formulated at the Baden School are actively used in modern social science and, above all, in history and sociology.

VII. Phenomenology

Phenomenology is a philosophical direction, striving to free philosophical consciousness from naturalistic attitudes, to achieve its own field of philosophical knowledge — reflection of consciousness about its acts and the content given in them, to reveal the initial foundations of knowledge of human existence and culture. The ancestor of this trend is the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859–1938). He understood phenomenology as a new, strictly scientific philosophy about the phenomena of consciousness as about pure entities that form the world of ideal being, about self-evident logical principles that make it possible to clear the consciousness of empirical content in all its particular specifics.

This is carried out using the multistage method of “phenomenological reduction”, as a result of which the whole world, all existing views, scientific theories and the very question of the existence of what is the subject of research are excluded from consideration or bracketed. Thus, we kind of get back to things themselves in the form of a sphere of consciousness, free from attitude and reality, but retaining all the richness of its content. Such a reduction, i.e. mixing is a method of justification (idealization). Therefore, phenomenology is inherently a science of fact, extremely generalized and idealized. Husserl called it as a descriptive science.

Phenomenologists strive to highlight the pure, i.e. pre-subject, pre-symbolic consciousness and determine its features. This is because consciousness is a very complex entity with various functions. Highlighting the “pure” consciousness, we can understand the essence of consciousness in general. The main characteristic of consciousness in general is its constant focus on objects, i.e. intentionality.

Pure consciousness or the “absolute I”, which is also the center of the stream of consciousness of a person, as if constructs the world, introducing “meanings” into it. All kinds of reality with which a person deals are explained from acts of consciousness. There is simply no objective reality that exists outside and independently of consciousness. Consciousness is explained from itself, reveals itself as a phenomenon.

The methods of phenomenology had a great influence on the development of 20th century philosophy, in particular, on the development of hermeneutics — art and the theory of the interpretation of texts.

VIII. Existentialism

Existentialism is an irrationalist trend in modern philosophy that arose at the beginning of the 20th century and sought to comprehend being as the immediate undivided integrity of the subject and object. Two directions of existentialism are known — religious, represented by such thinkers as Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) and Gabriel Marcel (1889–1973) and atheistic, expressed by Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), Albert Camus (1913–1960).

Existence (from Latin “exsistentia” — being) is understood in existentialism as the direct unity of the subject and the object, the orientation of the subject outside, openness to the other and movement to this other. In the religious version of existentialism, this “other” is God; a person moves towards him in his freedom. In the atheistic version, the other appears as nothing, this means that a person spontaneously self-creates himself, exercising his freedom. An abyss of consequences opens before a person and he is forced to make his choice. By exercising it, man creates freedom. He is responsible for his choice, first of all, to himself, it is not easy at all times to bear this burden of responsibility, realizing that by “building” yourself, you create other people and the world as a whole.

In his true existence, man is “abandoned” into the world; he is constantly facing the future, including the face of death. Existence appears as fear, existential anxiety as a borderline existential situation in which, according to Camus, the main philosophical question is the question of suicide.

According to existentialism, the question of the independent existence of nature is of little interest to man. Nature was given to man initially, the initial reality is integral, it is indivisible into the subject and object. And since science divides the world into an object and a subject, it is not able to express the existence that is comprehended in a special act of existence. Existence is not just an experience, but an experience of being in the world.

The significance of society for the individual lies in the fact that, at best, it can provide the prerequisites for economic, political, and other freedoms. However, more often a society restricts a person. According to Heidegger, society is an impersonal, averaged sphere. The breakthrough of this averaging takes place in existence, to which substantial moral criteria are not applicable. The main call of existentialism: “Be genuine.” In the outside world, in relation to others, this is hardly possible at all, but the more personal the attitude towards others, the more authentic it is. The same applies to artistic, religious, philosophical creativity, in which a person breaks the bonds of appearance and objectivity.

IX. Personalism

Personalism is a theistic trend in modern philosophy, recognizing a person as primary creative reality and the highest spiritual value, and the whole world as a manifestation of the creative activity of the supreme personality — God. Personalism exists in two versions — French, where it was founded by Emmanuel Mounier (1905–1950) and Jean Lacroix (1900–1986) and American, the most prominent representatives of which are Borden Bowne (1847–1910), Ralph Flewelling (1871–1966) and Edgar Brightman (1881–1953).

The main subject of research in personalism is the creative subjectivity of a person. It can only be explained through its involvement in God. Man is always a person, personality; its essence lies in its soul, which focuses in itself cosmic energy. The human soul is self-conscious, it is self-directed. People live fragmented and fall into the extreme of selfishness.

The other extreme is collectivism, where the personality is leveled and dissolved in the mass. A personalistic approach allows you to get away from these extremes, to reveal the true essence of man and to revive his individuality. The path to individuality lies through understanding oneself as a unique unique subject. History and society develop through a person’s personality.

The main problems of personalism are issues of freedom and moral education of man. Moral self-improvement, proper moral and religious education lead to a society of harmonious personalities. A personality becomes a person in the process of communication, an active dialogue with other people. This implies the importance of communication as involving people in the transformation of the world.

X. Freudianism and Neo-freudianism

Freudianism and neo-freudianism are stages in the development of psychoanalytic philosophy that arose in the 20s of the 20th century in Austria, and then in other countries of Europe and in America. The empirical basis of this philosophical trend is psychoanalysis. It arose within the framework of psychiatry as a peculiar approach to the treatment of neurosis by catharsis (self-cleaning).

The founder of psychoanalysis is the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud (1856–1939). His merit is the discovery of a special area of the human psyche — the unconscious. Freud investigated the structure of the unconscious, its influence on individual and social life.

According to Freud, human activity is due to the presence of both biological and social drives. The dominant role is played by the “instinct of life” — eros and the “instinct of death” — thanatos. A person, according to S. Freud, can either suppress his desires, which leads to various mental disorders, or possess his instincts and passions and consciously control them in real life. The task of psychoanalysis is to transfer the unconscious material of the human psyche into the realm of consciousness and subject it to its goals.

Gradually, from a medical technique, psychoanalysis “grew” to the level of a philosophical course, seeking to explain personal, cultural and social phenomena, which greatly simplified and vulgarized their understanding.

The ideas of psychoanalysis were developed by Carl Jung (1875–1961), who, unlike Freud, believed that instincts were not biological, but symbolic. He suggested that symbolics is an integral part of the psyche itself and that the unconscious produces forms or ideas that are schematic in nature and form the basis of all human representations.

These forms do not have an internal content, but are formal elements that can take shape in a concrete representation only when they penetrate the conscious level of the psyche. These formal elements, inherent to the entire human race, are called archetypes. They represent formal patterns of behavior or symbolic images, on the basis of which specific, content-filled images are drawn up, in real life, corresponding to stereotypes of conscious human activity. Archetypes act instinctively in a person.

Jung made a clear distinction between the individual and collective unconscious. The individual unconscious reflects the personal experience of an individual person and consists of experiences that were once conscious, but have lost their conscious character due to oblivion or suppression. The collective unconscious is a universal human experience that is characteristic of all races and peoples; it represents hidden traces of the memory of the human past, as well as a prehuman animal state, and it is fixed in mythology in the folk epos, in religious beliefs and manifests itself, comes to the surface of modern people through dreams.

The founders of psychoanalytic philosophy S. Freud and C. Jung set himselfs the task of clarifying the individual actions of man. Their followers are neo-freudians —Alfred Adler (1870–1937), Karen Horney (1885–1952), Erich Fromm (1900–1980) sought to explain the social structure of people’s lives on the basis of the basic ideas of this philosophy.

A. Adler believed that in order to explain the motives of a person’s behavior, it is necessary to know the ultimate goal of her aspirations, the “unconscious life plan” with which a person tries to overcome the stress of life and his insecurity. According to Adler, an individual experiences a feeling of inferiority or inferiority due to defects in the development of his bodily organs and imperfections of human nature. In an effort to overcome this feeling and assert itself among others, he actualizes his creative potential. This update is called compensation or overcompensation. Overcompensation is a special form of reaction to a feeling of inferiority. On its basis, large personalities, great people, distinguished by their exceptional abilities, “grow up”.

The main motive of the individual, from the point of view of K. Horney, is the desire for security, constantly born from the state of fear of the individual. Feelings of anxiety and worry, according to Horney, are basic to the behavior of individuals and accompany a human throughout his life. They can be caused by a lack of respect, a hostile atmosphere, and violent repression of desires through power or authority. Any forms of reactions are inadequate, a vicious circle is created: anxiety does not disappear, but grows, giving rise to more and more conflicts.

E. Fromm is considered the largest representative of neo-freudianism, who tried to combine the ideas of psychoanalysis, marxism and existentialism. Rejecting Freud’s biologism, Fromm revises the symbolism of the unconscious, shifting the emphasis from repressed sexuality to conflict situations due to sociocultural reasons. He introduces the concept of “social character” as a link between the psyche of the individual and the social structure of society. Fromm studies the main trends in the development of Western culture with its consumer values, depersonalization, dehumanization of a social nature, alienation. The elimination of historical contradictions that depend on the social conditions of people’s life correlates with the construction of a society based on the principles of humanistic ethics. Fromm connects a partial resolution of existential problems with the emancipation of a person’s internal abilities for love, faith and thinking. Ultimately, a person’s awareness of the authenticity of his existence in a society of total alienation, his realization of his essence and the acquisition of “self” instead of an “imaginary I”, the revival of a life-affirming worldview and internal moral renewal, the restoration of harmony between the individual and nature, the individual and society — all this perhaps based on the use of “humanistic psychoanalysis” proposed by Fromm as a socially acceptable means of liberating people from the illusions of their being.