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French Philosophers Essay


Montaigne is both a literary writer and a philosopher > a humanist. Montaigne’s essays: cover a loto f topics without claiming to provide a definitive or an absolute truth about these topics: “We have no communication with being”, Essays, II, 12 The Problem of Truth

Being is not accessible for a finite being as we (men) are. Senses or reason are not criteria of truth. Sense is no criteria since its always changing and reason is no criteria also because we only have access to appeareances, which also change. Things are always changing. They are in a perpetual movement : – The only “thing” we are directly in relation with is ourselves. The “I” is constantly changing, is in a perpetual movement and it is not self-centred or an egocentric character it is the first step to explore the whole world. He is emblematic of the rebirth of SCEPTICISM.

Scepticism is the position that says that it is impossible to know anything because all the propositions are equal. For skeptics there’s no criteria for thruth.

3 Main Principles
A) Epoche = “suspending judgement” – when you are not sure of what you are saying. The Greek word epoche means to check, cease, suspend, stop, or pause in some activity that otherwise or normally occurs. The sceptic suspends his judgment for default of a good reason for exercising it. The dogmatist asserts that something is true. B) Relativism = all points of view are equally valid.

C) Isosthenia = the equality of strength of two opposing arguments. Sceptism is more a process than a result, is more a methodology.

Dogmatism, Rationalism and Dualism

1. Dogmatism – comes from the greek word “dogma”(opinion or belief) – Common and pejorative sense: the tendency to lay down principles as undeniably true, without consideration of evidence or the opinion of others. – Philosophical meaning: doctrine that asserts that man is able to get to the truth or, in other words, that man is able to attain absolute truths and certainty of knowing (Opposite of Skepticism). Descartes is dogmatic since he believes that we can get to absolute certainty, what he calls evidence or clear perceptions(intelectual perception, the one you can get through the eyes of mind, not the eyes of body). We can reach the truth. Reason is unique and ultimate source of truth.

2.Rationalism: REASON versus senses. Reason is the chief source and test of knowledge. Rationalism is based on deduction (versus induction). ln that sense, it is opposed to empiricism: the theory of knowledge which states that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience

Knowledge is an activity of our mind that applies itself to identify the figures and the properties that essentially constitutes one thing (Text 3 – Wax argument)

Dream argument: ln our dreams our sensations are sometimes so strong that everything is going as if we were awake (whereas in fact we are not) Our senses are deceitful: we can’t trust them ; only reason can be trusted Wax argument: Knowledge ≠ observing its empirical qualities. Knowledge is an activity of our mind that applies itself to identify the figures and the properties that essentially constitute one thing.

Cogito, ergo sum: essential link between thought and humanity.Thinking is the only proof of my existence and it is also my essence; both are simultaneous. I prove my existence by my essence (versus accidental qualities). Moreover, thinking is a property that only men possess. animals are not able to think and that’s also why they are not able to speak (text 5).

3. Dualism: In philosophy of mind, dualism is a view about the relationship between mind and matter which claims that mind and matter are two ontologically separate categories. It is opposed to monism: philosophical view according to which everything can be explained in terms of a single reality or substance. “I am not only lodged in my body as a pilot in a vessel”

This sentence shows that Descartes also tries to think the union and the connection of mind and body in the human being that we are

Rousseau (Enlightment)

Rousseau has a contractualist or contractarian approach of society: he conceives it as an invention or as an artifice. Legitimate authority of government must derive from the consent of the governed Society doesn’t exist by nature. contractualism is opposed to naturalism,

The state of nature: the one that exists before the invention of society. Rousseau does not think that this state really existed. It is methodological: the state of nature aims to understand and to evaluate the civil state we are actually living in.

Why is the state of nature so good?

State of nature is defined by pity and self-loved. Considers that man in the state of nature are not leaving together and are independent. According to Rousseau, the state of nature is a state of self-sufficiency in which every man is equal.

On the contrary, civil state introduces:
– property,
– inequality,
– love of self
That’s why it is a perversion and a degradation of our natural condition

Different from Hobbes: Hobbes argues that all humans are by nature equal in faculties of body and mind. From this equality, everyone is naturally in competition with one another (copiar resto)

Love of self: always comparing yourself to the other and trying to see what you can do to be better
 Self Love: you always give your 100%

He is not saying we should return to the state of nature. He considers the state of nature as a moral value in order to evaluate society.

Human Nature
2 essential properties:

1) PERFECTIBILITY or faculty of improvement (Text 2) Perfectibility draws men out of this original condition and gives him adaptability. At the same time, perfectibility is responsible for the evill. 2) FREEDOM (Text 1). Nature and instinct (beast) are here opposed to freedom. Nature and instinct are here opposed to freedom. Dog cant go against his instinct, if he is hungry for example. freedom is the equivalent of what we call “autonomy”

If society perverts humankind, but if, at the same time, man doesn’t have to return to a state of nature, this is because his essential properties (freedom and perfectibility) imply to divorce from nature

Difference of DEGREE between men and beast. Men, like animals, are also able to form ideas but they are more complex than the ones animals could form. There is a difference in terms of nature since men are free and animals follow their instinct.

Freedom is the ability of choice. We are able to determine ourselves to act and not to be passive in front of each situation. Freedom is the equivalent to what we call “autonomy”

4. The Social Contract

This legitimate political authority comes from a social contract agreed upon by all citizens for their mutual preservation.

(1) The collective grouping of all citizens = the “sovereign” (it is like an individual person). As the sovereign entirely proceeds from our will: “each man, in giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody” (text 4). Obeying the contract coincides with obeying ourselves and that’s precisely what Rousseau calls « autonomy » The concept of “general will”

End of Text 4
The general will is the common interest.
Even if it proceeds from the particular wills of every citizens, it is more than the collection of particular wills
The general will finds its clearest expression in the general and abstract laws of the state

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