A O Synach - Early modern philosophy lectures with guidelines - страница 1

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Ministry of Education, Science, Youth and Sports of Ukraine Sumy State University





A. O. Synach









Lectures with Guidelines






















Sumy State University 2012

Early modern philosophy : lectures with guidelines for foreign students / compiler A. O. Synach. - Sumy : Sumy State University, 2012. - 54 p.



Philosophy department


















The edition provides a course in early modern philosophy, which includes empiricism and rationalism of XVII-XVIII centuries and classical German philosophy. The content of the lectures allows studying the basic philosophical categories and principles.

The lectures were prepared according to The State National programme 'Education', Doctrine of National Education as well as experience of compiling similar programmes of Ukrainian Humanities Centre and philosophy faculty of Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University and Vasyl Karazin Kharkiv National University.




Topic 1. The Age of Reason philosophy (XVII-XVIII centuries).. ..4

Topic 2. Classical German philosophy....... 21

Conceptual    dictionary 50

References 53


1.  Empiricism and sensualism in the philosophical teachings of F. Bacon, T. Hobbes, J. Locke.

2.      The essence of rationalism in XVII-XVIII century. R. Descartes', B. Spinoza's and H. Leibniz's teachings about substance.


The basic concepts and categories: picture of the world, scientific method, empiricism, sensualism, rationalism, idols, induction, deduction, innate idea, 'empty cabinet' ('tabula rasa'), substance, monad, dualism, pluralism, determinism.

Methodological Recommendations on Seminar Employments Conducting

Against the background of humanistic scholarship, the rise of the new science and the challenge of skepticism, modern philosophers were preoccupied with philosophical issues in several distinct areas:

Epistemology. Can human beings achieve any certain knowledge of the world? If so, what are the sources upon which genuine knowledge depends? In particular, how does sense perception operate in service of human knowledge?

Metaphysics. What kinds of things ultimately compose the universe? In particular, what are the distinctive features of human nature and how do they function in relation to each other and the world at large? Does god exist?

Ethics. By what standards should human conduct be evaluated? Which actions are morally right and what motivates us to perform them? Is moral life possible without the support of religious


Metaphilosophy. Does philosophy have a distinctive place in human life generally? What are the proper aims and methods of philosophical inquiry?

Although not every philosopher addressed all of these issues and some philosophers had much more to say about some issues than

others, our survey of modern philosophy will trace the content of their responses to questions of these basic sorts.

British philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626), for example, expressed the modern spirit well in a series of works designed to replace stultified. Bacon did not propose an actual philosophy, but rather a method of developing philosophy. In his opus 'Novum Organum' (1620), he argued that although philosophy at the time used the deductive syllogism to interpret nature, the philosopher should instead proceed through inductive reasoning from fact to axiom to law (induction is a method of reasoning by which a general conclusion is drawn from a set of premises, based mainly on experimental evidence). Before beginning this induction, the inquirer is to free his or her mind from certain false notions or tendencies which distort the truth. These are called 'Idols' (idola) and are of four kinds:

Idols of the Tribe, which arise from human nature generally, encourage us to over-estimate our own importance within the greater scheme of things by supposing that everything must truly be as it appears to us.

Idols of the Cave, which arise from our individual natures, lead each one of us to extrapolate inappropriately from his or her own case to a hasty generalization about humanity, life or nature generally.

Idols of the Marketplace, which arise from the use of language as a means of communication, interfere with an unbiased perception of natural phenomena by forcing us to express everything in traditional terms.

Idols of the Theatre, which arise from academic philosophy itself, produces an inclination to build and defend elaborate systems of thought that are founded on little evidence from ordinary experience.

Once we notice the effects that these 'Idols' have upon us, Bacon supposed, we are in a position to avoid them and our knowledge of nature will accordingly improve.

In a more positive spirit, Bacon proposed a patient method borrowed from the practice of the new scientists of the preceding

generation. First, we must use our senses (properly freed from the idols) to collect and organize many particular instances from experience. Resisting the urge to generalize whenever it is possible to do so, we adhere firmly to an experimental appreciation of the natural world. Only when it seems unavoidable will we then tentatively postulate modest rules about the coordination and regularity we observe among these cases, subject always to confirmation or refutation by future experiences.

So Bacon as the founder of empiricism guessed that all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses and that the mind is not furnished with a set of concepts in advance of experience.

Other famous English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was acquainted with both Bacon and Galileo. With the first he shared a strong concern for philosophical method, with the second an overwhelming interest in matter in motion.

For Hobbes, that conception is bound to be a mechanistic one: the movements of physical objects will turn out to be sufficient to explain everything in the universe. The chief purpose of scientific investigation, then, is to develop a geometrical account of the motion of bodies, which will reveal the genuine basis of their causal interactions and the regularity of the natural world. Thus, Hobbes defended a strictly materialist view of the world.

Human Nature

Human beings are physical objects, according to Hobbes, sophisticated machines all of whose functions and activities can be described and explained in purely mechanistic terms. Even thought itself, therefore, must be understood as an instance of the physical operation of the human body. Sensation, for example, involves a series of mechanical processes operating within the human nervous system, by means of which the sensible features of material things produce ideas in the brains of the human beings who perceive them ('Leviathan'; I, 1).

Human action is similarly to be explained on Hobbes's view. Specific desires and appetites arise in the human body and are experienced as discomforts or pains which must be overcome. Thus,

each of us is motivated to act in such ways as we believe likely to relieve our discomfort, to preserve and promote our own well-being. ('Leviathan'; I, 6). Everything we choose to do is strictly determined by this natural inclination to relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our bodies. Human volition is nothing but the determination of the will by the strongest present desire.

Hobbes nevertheless supposed that human agents are free in the sense that their activities are not under constraint from anyone else. On this compatibilist view, we have no reason to complain about the strict determination of the will so long as we are not subject to interference from outside ourselves ('Leviathan'; II, 21).

As Hobbes acknowledged, this account of human nature emphasizes our animal nature, leaving each of us to live independently of everyone else, acting only in his or her own self-interest, without regard for others. This produces what he called the 'state of war', a way of life that is certain to prove 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short' ('Leviathan'; I, 13). The only escape is by entering into contracts with each other mutually beneficial agreements to surrender our individual interests in order to achieve the advantages of security that only a social existence can provide ('Leviathan'; I, 14).

Concept of Reason

Hobbes's concept of reason has more in common with the classical philosophical tradition stemming from Plato and Aristotle, where reason sets the ends of behaviour, than with the modern tradition stemming from Hume where the only function of reason is to discover the best means to ends set by the passions. For Hobbes, reason is very complex; it has a goal, lasting self-preservation, and it seeks the way to this goal. It also discovers the means to ends set by the passions, but it governs the passions or tries to, so that its own goal is not threatened. Since its goal is the same in all people, it is the source of rules applying to all people. All of this is surprisingly close to the generally accepted account of rationality. We generally agree that those who follow their passions when they threaten their life are acting irrationally. We also believe that everyone always ought to act rationally, though we know that few always do so. Perhaps it was just

the closeness of Hobbes's account of reason to the ordinary view of the matter that has led to its being so completely overlooked.

The failure to recognize that the avoidance of violent death is the primary goal of reason has distorted almost all accounts of Hobbes's moral and political philosophy, yet it is a point on which Hobbes is completely clear and consistent.

He explicitly says that reason 'teaches every man to fly a contra-natural dissolution as the greatest mischief that can arrive to nature'. He continually points out that it is a dictate of right reason to seek peace when possible because people cannot 'expect any lasting preservation continuing thus in the state of nature, that is, of war'. And he calls temperance and fortitude precepts of reason because they tend to one's preservation.

It has not generally been recognized that Hobbes regarded it as an end of reason to avoid violent death because he often talks of the avoidance of death in a way that makes it seem merely an object of a passion. But it is reason that dictates that one take all those measures necessary for one's preservation; peace if possible, if not, defense. Reason's dictates are categorical; it would be a travesty of Hobbes's view to regard the dictates of reason as hypothetical judgments addressed to those whose desire for their own preservation happens to be greater than any conflicting desire. He explicitly deplores the power of the irrational appetites and expressly declares that it is a dictate of reason that one not scorn others because 'most men would rather lose their lives (that I say not, their peace) than suffer slander'. He does not say if you would rather die than suffer slander, it is rational to do so.

Human Society

Hobbes is one of the few philosophers to realize that to talk of that part of human nature which involves the passions is to talk about human populations. He says, 'though the wicked were fewer than the righteous, yet because we cannot distinguish them, there is a necessity of suspecting, heeding, anticipating, subjugating, self-defending, ever incident to the most honest and fairest conditioned'. Though we may be aware of small communities in which mutual trust and respect make law enforcement unnecessary, this is never the

case when we are dealing with a large group of people. Hobbes's point is that if a large group of people are to live together, there must be a common power set up to enforce the rules of the society. That there is not now, nor has there ever been, any large group of people living together without such a common power is sufficient to establish his point.

Often overlooked is Hobbes's distinction between people considered as if they were simply animals, not modified in any way by education or discipline, and civilized people. Though obviously an abstraction, people as animals are fairly well exemplified by children. 'Unless you give children all they ask for, they are peevish and cry, aye and strike their parents sometimes; and all this they have from nature'. In the state of nature, people have no education or training, so there is 'continual fear, and danger of violent death, and the life of man, [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. But real people have been brought up in families; they are, at least to some degree, civilized persons, and how they will behave depends on how they are brought up. Hobbes does not say that society is a collection of misfits and that this is why we have all the trouble that we do - a position congenial to the psychological egoist. But he does acknowledge that 'many also (perhaps most men) either through defect of mind, or want of education, remain unfit during the whole course of their lives; yet have they, infants as well as those of riper years, a human nature; wherefore man is made fit for society not by nature, but by education'. Education and training may change people so that they act out of genuine moral motives. That is why it is one of the most important functions of the sovereign to provide for the proper training and education of the citizens. In the current debate between nature and nurture, on the question of behaviour Hobbes would come down strongly on the side of nurture.

People, insofar as they are rational, want to live out their natural lives in peace and security. To do this, they must come together into cities or states of sufficient size to deter attack by any group. But when people come together in such a large group there will always be some that cannot be trusted, and thus it is necessary to set up a government with the power to make and enforce laws. This

government, which gets both its right to govern and its power to do so from the consent of the governed, has as its primary duty the people's safety. As long as the government provides this safety the citizens are obliged to obey the laws of the state in all things. Thus, the rationality of seeking lasting preservation requires seeking peace; this in turn requires setting up a state with sufficient power to keep the peace. Anything that threatens the stability of the state is to be avoided.

Attitude to Religion

As a practical matter, Hobbes took God and religion very seriously, for he thought they provided some of the strongest motives for action. Half of 'Leviathan' is devoted to trying to show that his moral and political views are supported by Scripture, and to discredit those religious views that may lead to civil strife. But accepting the sincerity of Hobbes's religious views does not require holding that Hobbes regarded God as the foundation of morality. He explicitly denies that atheists and deists are subject to the commands of God, but he never denies that they are subject to the laws of nature or of the civil state. Once one recognizes that, for Hobbes, reason itself provides a guide to conduct to be followed by all people, there is absolutely no need to bring in God. For in his moral and political theory there is nothing that God can do that is not already done by reason.

Other English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) tried to apply Baconian methods to the pursuit of his own philosophical aims. In order to discover how the human understanding achieves knowledge, we must trace that knowledge to its origins in our experience.

The Self

Locke's theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self, figuring prominently in the work of later philosophers such as Hume, Rousseau and Kant. Locke was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness. He postulated that the mind was a blank slate - tabula rasa or empty cabinet. Contrary to pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, he maintained that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge

is instead determined only by experience derived from sense perception.

Political Theory

Locke's political theory was founded on social contract theory. Unlike Thomas Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature is characterized by reason and tolerance. Like Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature allowed men to be selfish. This is apparent with the introduction of currency. In a natural state all people were equal and independent, and everyone had a natural right to defend his 'Life, health, Liberty or Possessions', basis for the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence; 'Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' ('Two Treatises of Government').

Like Hobbes, Locke assumed that the sole right to defend in the state of nature was not enough, so people established a civil society to resolve conflicts in a civil way with help from government in a state of society. Locke also advocated governmental separation of powers and believed that revolution is not only a right but an obligation in some circumstances. These ideas would come to have profound influence on the Constitution of the United States and its Declaration of Independence.

Perhaps the most important figure in the intellectual revolution of the seventeenth century in which the traditional systems of understanding based on Aristotle were challenged and, ultimately, overthrown was French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes (1596-1650).

The Cartesian System

In a celebrated simile, Descartes described the whole of philosophy as like a tree: the roots are metaphysics, the trunk physics and the branches are the various particular sciences, including mechanics, medicine and morals. The analogy captures at least three important features of the Cartesian system. The first is its insistence on the essential unity of knowledge, which contrasts strongly with the Aristotelian conception of the sciences as a series of separate disciplines, each with its own methods and standards of precision. The sciences, as Descartes put it in an early notebook, are all 'linked together'  in a sequence that is in principle as simple and

straightforward as the series of numbers. The second point conveyed by the tree simile is the utility of philosophy for ordinary living: the tree is valued for its fruits, and these are gathered, Descartes points out, 'not from the roots or the trunk but from the ends of the branches' - the practical sciences. Descartes frequently stresses that his principal motivation is not abstract theorizing for its own sake: in place of the 'speculative philosophy taught in the Schools', we can and should achieve knowledge that is 'useful in life' and that will one day make us 'masters and possessors of nature'. Third, the likening of metaphysics or 'first philosophy' to the roots of the tree nicely captures the Cartesian belief in what has come to be known as foundationalism - the view that knowledge must be constructed from the bottom up, and that nothing can be taken as established until we have gone back to first principles. The Method of Deduction

The main similarly productive method of Descartes' philosophy is deduction - the inference of particular instances by reference to a general law or principle. His deduction characterized by four simple rules:

1.  Accept as true only what is indubitable.

2.  Divide every question into manageable parts.

3.  Begin with the simplest issues and ascend to the more complex.

4.  Review frequently enough to retain the whole argument at


The Method of Doubt and Foundations of Belief

In his 'Discourse on the Method', Descartes attempts to arrive at a fundamental set of principles that one can know as true without any doubt. To achieve this, he employs a method called hyperbolical/metaphysical doubt, also sometimes referred to as methodological skepticism: he rejects any ideas that can be doubted, and then reestablishes them in order to acquire a firm foundation for genuine knowledge. The basic strategy of Descartes's method of doubt is to defeat skepticism on its own ground. Begin by doubting the truth of everything - not only the evidence of the senses and the more extravagant cultural presuppositions, but even the fundamental

process of reasoning itself. If any particular truth about the world can survive this extreme skeptical challenge, then it must be truly indubitable and therefore a perfectly certain foundation for knowledge. The First Meditation, then, is an extended exercise in learning to doubt everything that I believe, considered at three distinct levels:

1.  Perceptual Illusion

First, Descartes noted that the testimony of the senses with respect to any particular judgment about the external world may turn out to be mistaken. Things are not always just as they seem at first glance (or at first hearing, etc.) to be. But then, Descartes argues, it is prudent never wholly to trust in the truth of what we perceive. In ordinary life, of course, we adjust for mistaken perceptions by reference to correct perceptions. But since we cannot be sure at first which cases are veridical and which are not, it is possible (if not always feasible) to doubt any particular bit of apparent sensory knowledge.

2.  The Dream Problem

Second, Descartes raised a more systematic method for doubting the legitimacy of all sensory perception. Since my most vivid dreams are internally indistinguishable from waking experience, he argued, it is possible that everything I now 'perceive' to be part of the physical world outside me is in fact nothing more than a fanciful fabrication of my own imagination. On this supposition, it is possible to doubt that any physical thing really exists, that there is an external world at all.

Severe as it is, this level of doubt is not utterly comprehensive, since the truths of mathematics and the content of simple natures remain unaffected. Even if there is no material world (and thus, even in my dreams) two plus three makes five and red looks red to me. In order to doubt the veracity of such fundamental beliefs, I must extend the method of doubting even more hyperbolically.

3.  A Deceiving God

Finally, then, Descartes raises even more comprehensive doubts by inviting us to consider a radical hypothesis derived from

one of our most treasured traditional beliefs. What if (as religion teaches) there is an omnipotent God, but that deity devotes its full attention to deceiving me? The problem here is not merely that I might be forced by God to believe what something which is in fact false. Descartes means to raise the far more devastating possibility that whenever I believe anything, even if it has always been true up until now, a truly omnipotent deceiver could at that very moment choose to change the world so as to render my belief false. On this supposition, it seems possible to doubt the truth of absolutely anything I might come to believe. Do I exist?

Descartes arrives at only a single principle: thought exists. Thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist ('Discourse on the Method and Principles of Philosophy'). Most famously, this is known as cogito ergo sum (English: 'I think, therefore I am'). Therefore, Descartes concluded, if he doubted, then something or someone must be doing the doubting, therefore the very fact that he doubted proved his existence. 'The simple meaning of the phrase is that if one is skeptical of existence, that is in and of itself proof that he does exist'.


Descartes in his 'Passions of the Soul' and 'The Description of the Human Body' suggested that the body works like a machine, that it has the material properties of extension and motion, and that it follows the laws of physics. The mind (or soul), on the other hand, was described as a nonmaterial entity that lacks extension and motion, and does not follow the laws of physics. Descartes argued that only humans have minds, and that the mind interacts with the body at the pineal gland. This form of dualism or duality proposes that the mind controls the body, but that the body can also influence the otherwise rational mind, such as when people act out of passion. Most of the previous accounts of the relationship between mind and body had been unidirectional.

Descartes suggested that the pineal gland is 'the seat of the soul' for several reasons. First, the soul is unitary, and unlike many areas of the brain the pineal gland appeared to be unitary (though

subsequent microscopic inspection has revealed it is formed of two hemispheres). Second, Descartes observed that the pineal gland was located near the ventricles. He believed the cerebrospinal fluid of the ventricles acted through the nerves to control the body, and that the pineal gland influenced this process. Finally, although Descartes realized that both humans and animals have pineal glands, he believed that only humans have minds. This led him to the belief that animals cannot feel pain.

Descartes' Epistemology: Innate Ideas

Descartes argues that ideas may be either innate, adventitious or factitious. Innate ideas are ideas which are not dependent on our perceptions or on our own will. Innate ideas are inherently present in the reasoning of the mind. Adventitious ideas are ideas derived from our experience of the world. Factitious ideas are ideas which may be illusory or invented by the imagination.

Descartes also argues that all innate ideas are clear and distinct concepts of reality. Adventitious or factitious ideas, however, may be unclear and indistinct.

Descartes explains that an idea may be clear and distinct insofar as it sufficiently and accurately represents reality. An idea may be clear without being distinct. However, any idea which is distinct is also clear.

In the 'Fifth Meditation', Descartes argues that the idea of God, as an infinite, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful Being, is an innate idea which has more objective reality than the ideas by which finite substances are represented in the mind.

In the 'Sixth Meditation', having asserted that innate ideas or self-evident truths can be known by reason, Descartes describes how we can know that material things exist in the physical world. God can produce everything in the world exactly as we perceive it. When we have clear and distinct ideas about the world, we can know true reality.

Descartes explains that if we agree that God exists and that all things depend on God, then we can no longer doubt that we can have true and certain knowledge of material things. Knowledge of the truth

of things may depend on knowledge of God. The more that we know God, the more that we may know the truth of things. The Idea of God

In the 'Third Meditation' , Descartes offers a proof for the existence of God, arguing that the idea of God as Infinite Being could not occur in the finite mind of a human being unless God really existed. The idea of God as Infinite Being is an innate idea in the human mind, an idea which cannot be created by any finite being. This perfect idea can only be created by God.

Descartes argues that in God perfection is actually existent, rather than potentially existent. The idea of God cannot be caused by something which is merely potentially existent, but only by an actually existing reality.

Descartes also argues that God is Absolute Being. Nothingness is Non-Being. Reality depends for its being on God. Truth is the degree to which an idea corresponds to reality. Error is the degree to which an idea does not correspond to reality.

Descartes explains that in order to determine the truth of an idea, we must determine to what degree the idea corresponds to reality. Human susceptibility to error is caused by the fact that we, as human beings, do not have an unlimited ability to recognize the truth, and by the fact that we are free to choose either truth or falsehood.

According to Descartes, God is perfect and is not the cause of any error. When we think of God, we find no cause of error or falsehood. The reason why we doubt the truth is that we are incomplete in our ability to recognize the truth. We depend for our existence on God, who is complete and independent.

In the 'Fifth Meditation' , Descartes gives another proof of the existence of God. Descartes argues that existence cannot be separated from the essence of God. 'I cannot think of God as not actually existing... I cannot think of God other than as existing... I cannot say that God does not exist if I am thinking about God'. God has all perfections, including the idea of every perfection. Perfection of existence is found in God. Thus, 'I can be certain of the knowledge that God exists, because existence is a perfection that belongs to


Two philosophers of genius carried on the tradition of continental rationalism: the Dutch Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) and his younger contemporary Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646­1716).

Spinoza borrowed much of the basic apparatus of Descartes: aim at rational understanding of principles, terminology of 'substance' and of 'clear and distinct ideas', and mathematical method that seeks to convert philosophical knowledge into a complete deductive system.


Spinoza often uses the term 'God or Nature', and this identification of God with Nature is at the heart of his metaphysics. Because of this identification, his philosophy is often regarded as a version of pantheism and/or naturalism. But although philosophy begins with metaphysics for Spinoza, his metaphysics is ultimately in the service of his ethics. Because his naturalized God has no desires or purposes, human ethics cannot properly be derived from divine command. Rather, Spinozistic ethics seeks to demonstrate, from an adequate understanding of the divine nature and its expression in human nature, the way in which human beings can maximize their advantage. Central to the successful pursuit of this advantage is adequate knowledge, which leads to increasing control of the passions and to cooperative action.

Spinoza's ontology, like that of Descartes, consists of substances, their attributes (which Descartes called ' principal attributes') and their modes. In the 'Ethics', Spinoza defines 'substance' as what is 'in itself, and is conceived through itself; 'attribute' as that which 'the intellect perceives of a substance as constituting its essence'; and 'mode' as 'the affections of a substance or that which is in another through which also it is conceived'. While Descartes had recognized a strict sense in which only God is a substance, he also recognized a second sense in which there are two kinds of created substances, each with its own principal attribute: extended substances, whose only principal attribute is extension; and minds, whose only principal attribute is thought. Spinoza, in contrast, consistently maintains that there is only one substance. His

metaphysics is thus a form of substantial monism. This one substance is God, which Spinoza defines as 'a being absolutely infinite, i.e., a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each expresses an eternal and infinite essence'. Thus, whereas Descartes limited each created substance to one principal attribute, Spinoza claims that the one substance has infinite attributes, each expressing the divine nature without limitation in its own way. Of these infinite attributes, however, humans can comprehend only two: extension and thought. Within each attribute, the modes of God are of two kinds: infinite modes, which are pervasive features of each attribute, such as the laws of nature; and finite modes, which are local and limited modifications of substance. There is an infinite sequence of finite modes.

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