During the 17th and 18th century two philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, arose carving for themselves a trench in the philosophical world. We can see the biggest distinction between the two in their theories of how we know things exist. The traditions of Plato and Aristotle have been dubbed rationalism and empiricism respectively. Under these traditions many well known philosophers have formed their own theories of God, existence and the material world. Through these individual theories I will show how each fits into the category of either Rationalist or Imperialist.
The Plutonian philosophers to be discussed will include Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. And the Aristotelian philosophers will include Locke, Berkeley and Hume. Plato, a philosopher of the 17th century, contended that “Opinion at its best is a matter of probability, and knowledge at its least is entirely sure (Lamprecht, 1955, p. 43)” For Plato, knowledge starts with ones senses, nothing can be thought without first being sensed. He then contended that we live in an inferior world of particulars parallel to a world where all objects are perfect, where reality stems forms ideas or ideals.
For Plato’s culture this was particularly important because they needed a way to distinguish between justice as it was practiced by their government, and the ideal justice that could be thought and hoped for (Rogers & Baird 1981, p. 3). In Plato’s search to clarify this problem he used what is now commonly referred to as Rationalism. Rationalism can be defined as “the epistemological theory that significant knowledge of the world can best be achieved by a prior means. ” Or in simplified terms, rationalism is when we come to a conclusion by deduction from abstract ideas (Rogers & Baird 1981, p. 3).
Juxtaposed to this way of thinking was Aristotle, a philosopher of the 17 century, who stated “Reality consists ultimately of many concrete, individual things and that nothing else is real except insofar as it in some way pertains to these things (Lamprecht, 1955, p. 57). ” For Aristotle reality was found in the particular things in this world. Each object was a substance composed of both matter and form (Rogers & Baird, 1981, p. 4). Aristotle compiled facts inductively as apposed to Plato’s deductive reasoning. His method was to observe and draw generalizations on the basis of patterns perceived in many particulars.
This method of problem solving has since become known as empiricism. “According to which general concepts are arrived by ascending inductively from sensory particulars (Lamprecht, 1955, p. 44-45). ” Simply stated knowing is based on experience. Though rationalism was started in the 17th century by Plato, it was further developed by three great thinkers. The three philosophers are: Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. Descartes’ most important contribution was his method. He decided to doubt everything he had ever been taught until he came to some clear and evident idea that could not be doubted.
He finally came to the conclusion that he was unable to doubt the fact that he was at that moment doubting. And if one was able to doubt then they were able to think, and if he was thinking then he existed. His first principal was “I think, there fore I am (Rogers & Baird, 1981, p. 69). ” Descartes started with this basic idea of his existence, and through his mathematical methods, he deduced that everything, including God and the world, existed. Baruch Spinoza continued on Descartes work. Spinoza saw that mind and body seemed like two separate substances.
He wanted to figure out how they functioned together. Spinoza accepted Descartes mathematical model for deducing knowledge. He defends, outside the intellect; there is nothing but substance and its modes or affections. Spinoza establishes the “Fact and manner of [a] divine causality” through careful mathematical deduction. Consequently, God’s essence exists through His own active power and necessity. For this Spinoza was considered an atheist (Collins, 1967, p. 83). Lastly Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was an educated mathematician, scientist, historian, diplomat, theologian and philosopher.
He had the same dream as Spinoza and Descartes, that is, “hope for a systematic organization of all conceivable knowledge. ” In order to achieve this dream he required first, to perfect a universal scientific language that would reduce all thoughts to mathematical symbols. Second, he succeeded in developing one of the first forms of calculus. With this reasoning tool Leibniz hoped to bring all thought under the reign of symbolic logic (Rogers & Baird, 1981, p. 70). By the 18th century in Great Britain a new philosophical movement was growing.
The observational and experimental was coming into focus. The interest of philosophers in the 18th century shifted from rationalism and deductive, to Empirical and inductive. A philosophy was sought that could conclude knowledge through since experience alone. The philosophers to do this were Rationalist Locke, Berkeley and Hume. John Locke took an approach that was contrary to that of Descartes. He contends that at birth our minds are blank tablets. As our senses receive information from the outside ideas originate. The mind has purely empirical origin.
Lock says it is “Inductively constructed with the aid of the operations of a sensation and reflection which provide the mind with the ideas of sensation and reflection (Collins, 1967, p. 13). ” Anglican bishop George Berkeley did not particularly agree with Locke’s theory. Though he did not reject it, he instead argued on the basis of our experience. Berkeley contended that “we know no ideas exist as perceived by some mind (Collins, 1967, p. 73). ” In fact, Berkeley said the only mind capable of causing all the beauty, richness, and diversity that we experience is that of Gods.
Thus Berkeley had an alternate empirical solution to Lock’s question, “What causes our sensations? ” His answer, God. “Only God was a sufficient source and cause of all sensations and ideas everywhere (Rogers & Baird, 1981, p. 71). ” David Hume also asked the question “What causes our sensations? ” He agreed with Locke that all the ideas in our mind come originally from sense experience. But that is as far as he agreed with either Locke or Berkeley. Hume admitted that he did not know what the causes of our sensations were based on the sense experience alone.
He conceded that “One could not know with certainty that cause and effect were necessarily connected, or that there was an external world, a self, or a God. ” Hume said, “We may retain our beliefs for practical purposes if we wish (Rogers & Baird,1981, p. 72). ” But in the end he had to say that empirically we know nothing. In the 17th century Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz expanded in Platonic thinking using rationalist traditions. Each of these philosophers used plutonian thinking, that is, deduction from abstract ideas, to come to their final conclusion.
For Descartes, everything in the world, including God and the world existed. For Spinoza, the mind and body worked together because of a divine substance which he identified as God or nature. And For Leibniz, all thought could be reasoned through symbolic logic. Likewise, the philosophers in the 18th century, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, expanded in Aristotelian thinking using empiricist traditions to come to their conclusions. That is, inductively proving that knowledge is acquired through sensory particulars. For Locke, he concluded that we gain knowledge through our senses.
Berkeley concluded that God is the only way we are able to experience knowledge. And Spinoza concluded that we know nothing. References Collins, J. (1967). The British Empiricists: St. Louis. The Bruce Publishing Company. Collins, J. (1967). The Continental Rationalists: St. Louis. The Bruce Publishing Company. Lamprecht, S. (1955). Our Philosophical Traditions: A Brief History of Philosophy in Western Civilization. New York. Appleton Century Crofts. Rogers, J. B. (1981). Introduction to Philosophy: A Case Study Approach. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.
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