PHILOSOPHY OF NEW TIME AND ENLIGHTENMENT (for students)

Goetia Niflheim
20 min readFeb 25, 2021

I. Features of the philosophy of New Times

  1. The priority of epistemology and methodology, questions of cognition (and not questions of being, ontology).
  2. Rationalism is the priority of reason over the whole world: “Knowledge is power”.
  3. Anti-dogmatism, anti-scholastic orientation.
  4. Orientation not to religion or art, but to science, which should, according to Bacon: serve to increase human power over nature,
    to be a means of knowing the causal relationships of natural phenomena, to invade the natural course of development of nature through experiment.
  5. Mechanism — the principle of knowledge, reducing all the phenomena of the world to various forms of mechanical movement, reducing the complex to simple elements, the whole to the sum of the parts (this principle is called reductionism).

II. Empires of F. Bacon and rationalism of R. Descartes

Empiricism (from Greek “έμπειρία” — experience) is a direction in the theory of knowledge that recognizes sensory experience as a source of knowledge and believes that the content of knowledge can be presented either as a description of this experience or reduced to it. Empiricism founder Francis Bacon criticizes the medieval scholastic tradition with its “spider method” (when the mind weaves itself web of knowledge, not based on sensory experience). True “experimental knowledge” is hindered by the “idols” (ghosts) of science: all sorts of superstitions, ideas, values, traditions based on religion, philosophy, individual characteristics, etc. Cognition is built on experience. For the first time, Bacon theoretically substantiated the ideal of a new type of knowledge — experimental-theoretical natural science, the purpose of which is to benefit man. He proposed the method of induction — inference, proceeding from the analysis of a large number of special cases to achieve a general statement (inference from particular to general).

A type of empiricism is sensualism (from Latin “sensus”— perception, feeling, sensation) — a direction in the theory of knowledge, according to which sensations and perceptions are the main and main form of reliable knowledge. Representatives: John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume.

The sensationalists believed that there were no innate ideas that preceded experience. The mind at the time of birth is empty, all its life it will reflect only what is given to it from the outside, it is like a tabula rasa (blank board), on which circumstances and education write their letters. The mind combines simple ideas based on sensory impressions from within itself.
(pain, joy) and outside (feeling salty, sweet, cold), and as a result creates more complex secondary ideas. Berkeley came to even more radical conclusions: “to exist is to be perceived”. Any thing is a combination of impressions.

Rationalism is a direction that considers reason as the fundamental and absolute principle of science, able to generalize, direct and control the cognitive process.
Rationalists: Rene Descartes, Benedict Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Rationalism absolutized the mind. Experience is a source of error.
Descartes developed a method of deduction, according to which all cognition should be comprehended by logical conclusions, based on certain, intuitive and universal truths (clear and precise ideas), which are accepted as fundamental axioms.

The main stages of cognition

  1. Initially, methodological doubt, intellectual search, free from dogma and stereotypes.
  2. All beliefs, all that is not proven, are questioned.
  3. The result is a positive remainder, an idea that cannot be doubted, something very simple and clear, requiring no proof (similar to an axiom).
  4. From the axiom, then the entire subsequent process of reasoning and proof is developed.

Descartes absolutized the role of the mind, its original authenticity, which was expressed in the formula: Cogito ergo sum [“I think, therefore, I exist”]. This means that if there is a thought, there is also its carrier — the subject.

Descartes discovers the subject (Human Self) as the source of thought (in antiquity, thought, idea existed without the subject, its carrier). “I am a substance, the whole essence of which consists in thinking”. This is the main achievement of new European thought. However, as was later shown, the Human Self is not reducible to thinking.

The main drawback of empiricism is that every experiment is theoretically loaded, it is always guided by a hypothesis (there is no pure, objective experience). Lack of rationalism — no experimental evidence.

III. The connection of epistemology and ontology: monism, dualism, pluralism. Doctrine of substance

The concept of substance helped answer the question of what underlies the world. Substance is some real basis of a concrete world, manifested in the most diverse forms of existence of objects and phenomena. Substance is a thing that exists without needing any other thing for its being.

Depending on how many substances were laid in the foundation of being, the teachings stood out

  • Monism of Benedict Spinoza (there is only one universal eternal substance): substance is that which exists in itself and appears in itself (Causasui — causality of itself). At the heart of the world lies one substance — the pantheistic God, inseparable from nature and completely devoid of personality traits. A single substance (God) as its attributes (inalienable properties) has extension and thinking, they are two angles of view on the same substance. Spinoza’s nature is endowed with thinking, from which the principle of cognizability of the world follows. So, the Spinoza God encompasses all the things and phenomena that are his modes. Modus is the state of a substance when it exists in a single thing. By studying the consequences of substance (modes), one can comprehend the root cause of all things (God). Thus, Spinoza tried to explain how multiple finite things flow from a single and infinite beginning (substance).
  • Dualism of Descartes: the world is divided into two unrelated substances: spiritual (thinking) and material (extension). Spiritual substance (soul) is indivisible, eternal, identical with thought, its ideas are innate (for example, the idea of God, ideas of numbers, a number of general concepts, etc.). Material substance, on the contrary, is infinitely divisible, and all material things are derived from it. Material substance is determined by the principles of mechanism.
  • Pluralism of Leibniz: the doctrine of the multiplicity of monad substances. Monads (from the Greek — unit, single) are living, spiritual units of which everything consists. Everything in the world from within is spiritually and only externally determined by bodily qualities. Each monad represents the whole world. There are a lot of monads, they are simple, devoid of parts, are in constant change and movement (it seems like the atomism of Democritus, only monads are intangible). The monad does not depend on anyone and on anything, it is autonomous and independent, and the unity and consistency of the monads is the result of the god of “pre-established harmony”. Individuals in an individualized Western society can serve as an example of monads: each individual person is unique, inimitable, independent and self-contained, constantly in self-development, and God will coordinate all the programs for the development of monads into a single whole. With this Leibniz explains the diversity of the world, but at the same time tries to bring this diversity into an orderly unity.

IV. Social Philosophy of the New Age

Built on non-religious explanation of the origin of the state.

Thomas Hobbes is an English philosopher, creator of the concept of a “social contract”, the author of “Leviathan”.

Key ideas:
1) The provision “the war of all against all” is the natural state of people, since egoism is characteristic of people.
2) In a society where there is no state organization, arbitrariness and powerlessness reign.
3) The state arises as a result of a social contract between people by transferring power to a single person or group of persons. The state restricts the natural state of people (hostility) by civil law.

John Locke is an English philosopher, the creator of the concept of separation of power into three branches (executive, judicial, legislative, which hold back each other, do not provide an opportunity to suppress the interests of society). Creator of the theory of human rights: a person from birth has three fundamental rights: to life, to freedom, to property. This formula of J. Locke was included in many early bourgeois constitutions (for example, the first constitution of North Carolina). The Locke concept of law puts respect and observance of a person’s civil independence in the first place, respect for the constitution as a powerful weapon of social progress. And thus, a new style of philosophical thinking led to the development of a progressive legal worldview.

V. The philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment

Basic Principles of Enlightenment

  1. Materialism: everything is material, even thought and soul, movement is an inseparable attribute of matter, having a source in it itself. The largest work of French materialism was Holbach’s book — “The Systems of Nature”. In it, he believes that nature is the whole universe, which is eternal. The substance is matter. Matter is in motion. The movement takes place in space and time. In nature, causality dominates. There are no accidents. There are many laws in nature. Many of them are known, especially clearly believed, the laws of celestial mechanics are formulated. The laws of mechanics permeate all areas of nature, including those that apply to the functioning of man. The Universe is a permanent mechanical stationary unit. And man is some kind of machine acting according to the laws of mechanics.
  2. “Enlightening” rationalism and optimism: ideas of the special role of knowledge in social development, the concept of the world as a single whole, bound by rational laws, primarily the laws of mechanics that need to be cognized, a look at negative moments in history as mistakes of an unenlightened mind that can be eliminated by bringing knowledge to human society, and above all, to the minds of rulers. So many enlighteners, for example, Voltaire, Diderot, corresponded with European and Russian emperors and empresses, for example, the Prussian king Frederick II, Catherine the Great, the Swedish king Gustav III and others. They hoped thereby to influence the rule in other countries, to make people’s lives more free and civilized.
  3. The secular nature of culture, expressed in a special philosophical attitude to religion:
  • Deism — the view according to which God created the world without taking part in its further development;
  • Atheism — criticism of the religious worldview in general, priests and the Church.

A new time has passed under the banner of the triumph of rationalism. Since science has and still has a monopoly on it, the philosophy of the New Age can only be understood as a reflection on the foundations of scientific knowledge. Philosophy tried to find out how justified the attempts of science to become the dominant worldview and to push religion, art and philosophy itself. In the literature, this period is sometimes called the “modern era”. The Age of Enlightenment marked a new stage in the development of European classical philosophical thought of the XVII-XIX centuries. Enlightenment philosophers advocated the improvement of society and man under the slogans of the triumph of science and progress. They stood for the dissemination of knowledge, for the thoughtful education of man. Enlightenment was not only a philosophical movement, it combined the ideological and political self-awareness of the emerging bourgeoisie. The figures of the Enlightenment in England and France cultivated a cult of reason, criticized feudal survivals, defended the freedom of scientific and philosophical thinking, opinions of citizens, artistic creation, exposed various superstitions and prejudices. The philosophy of the Enlightenment was able to be realized practically — in the slogans and ideals of the Great French bourgeois revolution of 1789–1794. This is the largest event in European history of the XVIII century in turn, gave a powerful impetus to the process of updating philosophy itself. A fundamentally new stage in its development was the work of the classics of German idealism of the late XVIII — early XIX centuries.

VI. Classical German philosophy

VI.I. Basic premises and achievements of German classical philosophy

German classical philosophy covers the period of the end of the 18th century — the first third of the 19th century and is represented by the names of I. Kant, J. Fichte, F. Schelling, G. Hegel, L. Feuerbach.

Prerequisites:

  • Bourgeois transformations (economic, social, political) caused by the influence of the French bourgeois revolution of 1789–1794.
  • Revolutionary changes in natural science (departure from the dominance of mechanics and the principle of reductionism towards life sciences — chemistry, biology, etc.).
  • The sharpest struggle between freedom of thought and religion.
  • All worldview problems needed rethinking. The world in the perceptions of the citizens of that era was crumbling and splitting, it began to move. And therefore his perception was fragmentary. The universality, all-embracing of what is happening in the world gave rise to the need to create universal theories, systems understanding of the world, with the help of which it would be possible to master the culture of the entire era. The task of such a range corresponds only to philosophy. But in the history of mankind, only German classical philosophy has managed not only to put forward and realize such a goal, but also to achieve it.

Leading trends in German classical philosophy:

  1. Objective idealism (F. Schelling, G. Hegel).
  2. Subjective idealism (J. Fichte).
  3. Materialism (L. Feuerbach).

German classical philosophy developed several common problems:

  1. Turned the attention of philosophy from traditional problems (being, thinking, cognition, etc.) to the study of human essence;
  2. Paid special attention to the problem of development;
  3. Significantly enriched the logical-theoretical apparatus of philosophy;
  4. Took a look at the history of the holistic process;
  5. Began the development of one of the fundamental methods of philosophical knowledge — the dialectical method.

VI.II. Philosophical teachings of Kant: epistemology and ethics

Kant’s epistemology — overcoming shortcomings previous attitudes of empiricism and rationalism, an attempt to understand the significance of both experience and activities of the human mind. Kant believed that outside of experience there is no sensory contact of the subject with an object, and therefore there is no real premise enrichment of knowledge.

The entire philosophy of Kant is divided into two periods:

  1. Subcritical: interest in natural science problems;
  2. Critical: creating a system of transcendental idealism, analyzing the process of cognition, the capabilities of the human mind and its boundaries.

Transcendental idealism regards man not as an empirical subject (with his individual psychological characteristics), but as a transcendental, supra-empirical, supra-individual subject. Kant believes that such a cognizing subject, cleared of specific empirical characteristics, determines the method of cognition and constructs the subject of knowledge.

The process of human cognition of the world is complex and contradictory. It cannot be reduced to an unambiguous direct perception by the subject of the object being mastered. At every turn, at every level of cognition, a person uses special cognitive means. Acting with them as tools, a person “processes the subject of knowledge” and, thereby, constructs its ideal “double”. In other words, the world opens up to the subject only insofar as the subject assimilates it with the forms of his activity (ideal-theoretical and subject-practical) and, therefore, as a result, not knowledge is consistent with the object, but the object with knowledge, more precisely, with its form.

The process of cognition is reduced to three human abilities, which can be considered as three stages of cognition

  1. Stage of sensory experience: cognition begins with the perception of the world through sensations (received with the help of the senses).
    Discovery of Kant: at this stage, all experience is not simply imprinted in the human mind, as on a blank board, but begins to be ordered with the help of a priori (i.e. pre-experienced) forms of contemplation — space and time. Kant characterizes space as external, time as internal a priori contemplation. A person, as it were, looks at the world through “space-time glasses”, which are not themselves objective.
    EXAMPLE: clinical examination of a patient. The vision and hearing of the physician are always professionally oriented towards the corresponding symptoms of the disease. And that means they are a priori in relation to them. In other words, the sensory experience of any professional is always focused. A person sees and hears how and what he understands.
    Space and time, according to Kant, are not properties of the world, but the ways of ordering experience inherent in human consciousness. A priori knowledge is viewed as a condition for the necessity, universality and organization of experimental knowledge.
  2. Stage of reason: the activity of judging sensory experience, based on summing up experience under the categories of reason (pure concepts of reason).
    EXAMPLE: clinical experience and diagnosis. On the basis of a clinical examination of the patient, the doctor determines which disease this ailment belongs to. Diagnosis is always a system of judgments about experience data. Categories are the scaffolding of thinking, which it uses in the production of concepts of objects perceived by us. Before Kant, it was believed that it was God who puts into the consciousness of a person at birth a certain range of “clear” concepts (René Descartes) or, conversely, it was assumed that all concepts come into thinking exclusively from observation and experience (David Hume). Kant considered both of these points of view unacceptable, since both of them deprive the mind of freedom. In the course of growing up, the formation of a person’s thinking, a certain “natural” spontaneous ability for logical functions — judgments, awakens in him. Types of categories (pure concepts), under which sensory experience is subsumed:
    a) quantity: unity, plurality, wholeness;
    b) quality: reality, denial, limitation;
    c) relation: substance and accident, cause and effect, interaction;
    d) modality: possibility and impossibility, existence and non-existence, necessity and chance.
    The categories themselves are empty. Knowledge about the world (judgments) is a synthetic activity of the mind to bring an object under a concept.
    Discovery of Kant: human consciousness is not a passive board on which impressions are imprinted, but an active, creative principle that gives form to sensory impressions. Reason is the sphere of science (here cognitive synthesis is carried out).
  3. Stage of theoretical reason (there is also practical reason, which realizes itself in actions, and not in the sphere of knowledge): if reason uses already developed categories, under which sensory experience brings, then reason creates the very rules, principles of cognition.
    Pure, theoretical mind goes beyond sensory contemplation and operates with pure ideas, i.e. ideas of supersensible reality (soul, God, space), in relation to which experience and reliable knowledge are impossible. Kant criticizes such “pure reason” which leads to dialectical antinomies — contradictions between two conclusions, each of which is recognized as correct and necessary.
    AN EXAMPLE OF ANTINOMY: Thesis: the world has a beginning in time and is limited in space (has a beginning in time and is limited in space). — Antithesis: the world has no beginning in time and its space is infinite (there are a number of final states, which cannot be synthesized, because one has to go beyond the world itself). Both of these positions cannot be verified empirically.
    So, the human mind creates pure a priori concepts — transcendental ideas.

Conclusion: criticizing human cognitive capabilities, Kant reveals the following limitations:
1) It is impossible to cognize the inner essence of things and phenomena of the environment (“things in themselves”).
2) One can only cognize the phenomena of things, i.e. their subjective vision.
3) Kant speaks from the position of agnosticism, i.e. recognition of the fundamental unknowability of the world itself.
4) Kant’s merit is that he showed the creative activity of the subject of cognition (it is the subject that creates, constructs, synthesizes the world), outlined the limits of reason.

Ethics of Kant: it is based on the idea of practical reason, which, unlike theoretical, pure reason is directly related to human actions and, according to Kant, is paramount. At the center of Kant’s ethical teaching is man.
He appears in two entities:
1) As an animal: as a sensual, unfree creature, determined by the laws of nature.
2) As a rational being: as a person with freedom and the possibility of self-determination.

Unlike classical theories of morality, Kant develops a theory of human behavior that organically combines the universal and the individual, morality and freedom. A person, if he wants to be a person, a person must voluntarily accept a universal moral law — the categorical imperative of moral consciousness.

This law is “categorical”, i.e. refers to all cases in the same way, and the “imperative”, i.e. he commands, he is obligatory for execution.
The categorical imperative reads: “Act according to such a maxim, which… itself can become a universal law” (maxim is a subjective principle of behavior). Otherwise — treat the other as a goal, and never — only as a means!

This means that a person must behave in such a way that his behavior is:
1) approved by all people;
2) reproduced by all people;
3) the other person cannot be a means to satisfaction
selfish needs.

The highest goal of moral behavior, Kant considered the good of everything
humanity. Kant attached great importance to the goodwill of man, to his desire to implement the categorical imperative. Good intention is valuable in and of itself, even if the result has not been achieved.
The moral formula is the identity of freedom (will) and duty.

Conclusion: Kant makes a great contribution to the Enlightenment project, shows the possibilities for the development of culture and society on the basis of reason, universal morality, compatible with individual freedom. He stands at the origins of transcendental philosophy, interest in which does not fade even today. With his ethics, he set the bar high for humanity. At the same time, he remained an idealist.

VI.III. Hegel’s philosophy

Georg Gegel (1770–1831) — German philosopher, the pinnacle of classical German philosophy, an objective idealist. A feature of Hegel’s philosophy is the doctrine of the development of the systemic spirit — an approach according to which a part (for example, an individual, a historical fact, a law) becomes understandable only on the basis of the whole to which it belongs. Hegel created a holistic philosophical teaching on the relationship between thinking and being. The main one or, as they say now,
Hegel’s backbone work is his three-volume “Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences”. In it, in a brief, thesis form, he lined up all those concepts and definitions by means of which we comprehend our world and transmit information to each other in a single, coherent series. Hegel put human thinking in order, taught to think systematically and made philosophy scientific.

The main ideas of Hegel
1. Creation of a system of objective idealism — doctrine, according to
which the primary principle of the world (including the material one) is an impersonal spiritual principle independent of the will and mind of man — the Absolute Idea.

EXAMPLE: when we argue whether this world is random or not, some are inclined to admit that our world “leads” to some goal by some cosmic, universal mind. This position is called objective idealism.

2. The absolute idea is not static, like the substance of Spinoza — it is constantly in progressive, consistent and regular movement, going through the steps:

I. Level of logic (thesis): absolute the idea (in other words, the World Spirit) first appears as a pure, abstract idea. The content of logic is a priori (supersensible) and speculative (abstract), logic does not contain any sensibly perceived material. The absolute idea is in its infancy, like an intangible seed that has yet to germinate.

II. Stage of nature (antithesis): the absolute idea is embodied in objective forms — in nature, state, social structure. The materialization of the originally abstract idea takes place, the reification of previously developed concepts: inanimate matter (“fossilized intellect”) arises. Living things (plants, animals) emerge from the inanimate substance. On the basis of living matter, a person emerges, who evolves, creates a human society with its institutions, the highest of which is the state.

III. Stage of spirit (synthesis): The world spirit, having evolved from a pure abstract idea to its embodiment in nature and social institutions through the increasingly powerful human mind, (thinking) cognizes itself in concepts, becomes absolute. This is facilitated by such forms of spirit as art, religion and philosophy. It is through philosophy as the highest form of conceptual thinking that humanity can come to the realization of the existence of the absolute World Spirit. Thus, the spiritualization (spiritualization) of matter takes place. The development of the World Spirit ends.

3. Man acts as the bearer of the Absolute Idea, his freedom lies in the awareness of the necessity and laws of the development of the world. Hegel denies the role of personality in history, such personalities as A. Macedon, Napoleon, etc. are just cogs in the wheel of history.

4. Development of a dialectical method — a way of knowing the world in a kind of unity and development. Dialectics is a theory of development, which is based on the unity and struggle of opposites, i.e. formation and resolution of contradictions.

Hegel was the first to clearly formulate the concept and meaning of dialectics; later, the laws of dialectics were formulated by F. Engels:

I. The law of unity and struggle of opposites: this law reveals the internal source of development — the struggle of opposite sides (for example, heat-cold, war-peace, etc.). Development is carried out not in an arbitrary order, but according to a certain rule: affirmation (thesis) — its negation (antithesis) — negation of negation (synthesis, removal of opposites). Thus, the collision of opposites gives rise to their synthesis and leads to the emergence of a new one.

EXAMPLE: when two contrasting colors (yellow and blue) are mixed, a new third color appears, which is not present in either the first or the second.

II. The law of the transition from quantity to quality: answers the question of how a new quality is born. Quality is the inner certainty of a thing. Quantity — external certainty things. When they are balanced, development is evolutionary, progressive, like an increase in quantitative characteristics, which leaves an object or property at the same level of development. And so it continues until the measure is violated. As soon as the measure is violated, quantity ceases to be external and turns into quality — this is how a qualitative leap, a revolution, takes place, which brings the system or object to a new level of development.

EXAMPLE: when the water in the kettle is heated, the water reaches its boiling point. At this moment, a qualitative leap occurs, and the water turns into steam.

III. The law of denial of negation: this law reveals the direction of development, the unity of variability and continuity, the emergence of a new and stability, the repetition of certain moments of the old state. Following the law of logic, double negation is, on the contrary, a statement. Development is always directed upward, since the resolution of the contradiction is associated with ascent. The law of negation of negation is a spiral development, i.e. repetition of the original state, but at a higher level, which combines transformation and preservation of the traditional.

EXAMPLE: every season women of fashion renew their wardrobe according to new fashion trends. However, in reality, fashion is a repetition of the old in something new (new fabrics, color combinations, styles, etc.). The fashion of today is a new round of a spiral that goes deep into the development of mankind.

Conclusion: The merit of Hegel lies in the fact that for the first time in history he analyzed and systematized all the scattered knowledge about nature and about humanity itself, which had already been accumulated by that time. Thanks to this, he put in order the arsenals of the human mind, built concepts and definitions through which we comprehend the world around us and transfer information to each other, according to the principle of the logical continuity of their meaning. Hegel transferred thinking from the level of reasoning to the level of reason. However, it is customary to find a contradiction in Hegel’s philosophy. The system of objective idealism ends with the knowledge of the World Spirit itself, and the dialectical method presupposes endless development, cognition. Those. the system is finite, the method is infinite.

IV. L. Feuerbach’s anthropological materialism

Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–1872) — German materialist philosopher and atheist. He entered philosophy as the creator of “anthropological materialism”. He is considered a philosopher who completed the stage of classical German philosophy and began the era of materialism.

The basic principles of his teaching:

  1. Criticism of German idealism, especially Hegel for the transformation of the Absolute Idea into the material world (he believed that modern science refuted this), for the identity of being and thinking.
  2. The only existing realities are nature and man.
  3. Man is a part of nature (not God’s creation).
  4. Man is the unity of the material and
    spiritual.
  5. Nature (matter) is eternal and infinite, by no one
    not created and not destroyed by anyone.
  6. Everything that surrounds us is various manifestations of matter.
  7. God as a separate and independent reality does not exist, it is the fruit of a person’s imagination to comfort and calm himself (a person invented God, objectifying his best qualities).
  8. Religion arose from the powerlessness of man in front of nature, any religion is an unaccountable form of alienation (distance from himself), with the help of which a person creates out of nothing (from his mind) the idea of a perfect deity, in order to submit to him later in the illusory hope of solving the irreparable conflicts of human existence.
  9. It is necessary to discard traditional religion and replace it with a religion of love for each other.
  10. The meaning of life is the pursuit of happiness.

Conclusion: classical German philosophy greatly influenced subsequent philosophy and science, it proposed a methodology for scientific research: the method of ascent from the abstract to the concrete, the laws of dialectics, systematized human thinking. Some thinkers believe that the role of German idealism is underestimated.

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