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Philosophy has always been a major preoccupation of virtually all cultures since the
beginnings of recorded history. No matter the civilization, it seems that humanity is endlessly
determined to identify actual reasons for existence. Many of the most esteemed Western
philosophers focus on the role of God in dictating how mankind functions, perceives, and seeks
to elevate itself. At the same time, such thinkers also trace human development, and in all ways,
to the mechanical and logical processes of how thought and feeling themselves are acquired.
Often, one line of thought leads to the need to turn to another, and the philosophy itself becomes
self-validating because the philosopher “creates” the reasoning necessary to support their ideas.
There is no question that humanity benefits from the concepts presented by thinkers such as
Plato, Descartes, and Locke.
However, each philosophy inevitably offers opportunities to be challenged, and because of the thinker’s reliance on certain ideas in place only to justify the beliefs.
Ultimately, the great Western philosophers are of value only as they are accepted as such, because each form of thinking is inherently subject to doubt.
To begin with, it must be reiterated that philosophy has a value no matter any flaws
perceived in it, as the great thinkers encourage the seeking of awareness and wisdom. It is a
subject that leads human beings to question on the most profound levels, and this must be
beneficial to humanity as a whole.
At the same time, it is arguable that each Western philosopher of great standing presents thinking which completely relies on the specific reasoning held to be true by the philosopher, and which is inherently subjective.
For example, Plato’s Apology would seem to be pragmatic and fully logical. It is Socrates’s defense of himself against charges of corrupting Athenian youths, and complex arguments are set out to deny the charges.
Nonetheless, and perfectly supporting how even a practical argument in philosophy depends on the thinker’s convictions in his assumptions, the Apology offers supposition as fact. As Socrates
addresses his accusers, for example, he turns to an interesting and questionable logic: “If I for my
part am corrupting some of the young, and have already corrupted others then now, no doubt,
they should have come forward to accuse me and take their vengeance” (Plato).
This is a reasonable possibility, but it is by no means necessarily true. It ignores the likely reality of the “corrupted” as being unaware of the negative influence, and/or choosing to believe that it is right and good. It also neglects that “corrupted” youth may not blame the influence, and take
responsibility themselves for being misled. In a sense, this specific argument is basically holding
that Socrates must be innocent only because no victim has come forward, and this is at best a
It is also interesting that Plato’s defense of Socrates in the Apology directly refers to a
lack of responsibility in the philosopher, in that he cannot help being admired by his followers:
“The young who follow me of their own accord…enjoy hearing human beings examined” (Plato).
This is as questionable as the relying on the lack of vengeance taken, and because the admiration
of the young may easily be generated by unethical or impure motives. Certainly, a man of
Socrates’s stature must realize this and understand that it involves greater responsibility on his
part. Plato’s turning to this rationale is then suspect at best. It seems wrong for a philosopher to
defend himself by claiming that he is a “passive” element in the circumstances, and cannot be
held accountable for how others value his thinking.
What Plato then presents is an argument that is strong only when the underlying concepts of it are accepted as reality or fact. Socrates insists that he is virtuous and this insistence, which is subjective, is used as the foundation for proving his innocence. Here, then, philosophy is created to validate the thinking of the accused, the thinking depends on the philosophy, and a questionable and self-serving argument is the result.
Turning to John Locke, the same self-validating processes of philosophy may be seen.
Locke does rely very much on logic as he traces the development of human understanding. He
places great emphasis on how, from birth onward, the human being experiences sensations and
then translates these into complex ideas and beliefs. This is how in fact the individual
consciousness is formed: “In time the mind comes to reflect on its own operations about the
ideas got by sensation, and thereby stores itself with a new set of ideas” (Locke).
What inevitably occurs, according to Locke, is that reflection arises from the experiences of sensation; as our senses provide information, we internally process this in ways formulating ideas (Banach). This is attractive logic, but it is also subject to doubt, and essentially because it is so absolutely formulaic. In Locke’s thinking, it seems, there is a natural and orderly progression from
experience to ideas, and this process is held as creating all ways in which human beings perceive
reality and determine their actions.
However, it is equally easy to argue that human nature by no means necessarily follows
this pattern, and Locke himself introduces an element working against any such progression. He
believes in the human soul, which is a far more abstract concept than his insisting of the reality
of the senses. In fact, Locke perceives the soul as a kind of consequence of experience generating
To his mind, the soul’s creation depends on how the human being develops in these ways,
and he attributes a consciousness to the soul itself: “I see no reason, therefore, to believe that the
soul thinks before the senses have furnished it with ideas to think on” (Locke). This is perfectly
reasonable, but it also translates to a sense of the soul as a construction, and this is a viewpoint
calling for debate. For many, philosophers and otherwise, the soul is an innate element within the
human being, and in place before any forms of knowledge are created.
It is simply too visceral to be traced to logical development, as it may influence how experience is reacted to from the earliest years of life. In plain terms, it is easily argued that the soul is removed from human experience of the senses going to orderly development of thought and ideas of the world. The essence of the human soul, as well as the reality of its existence, have always been intensely debated possibilities.
If there is a soul, it is certainly reasonable to argue that it is not developed, but is instead an inherent core of the individual guiding how development occurs. This is not in keeping with Locke, however. Once again, a philosopher asserts a “truth” that is wholly dependent on the acceptance of his basic thinking as true. Lastly, the great Descartes offers philosophy that is both rooted in reason and supportive of faith, if not reliant upon belief in God.
Descartes in fact very strongly represents Western thinking, in that he combines the human ambition to understand human nature at its most basic levels and the generally Western adherence to Christian belief. All philosophers are to extent guided by the eras and cultures in which they live, and Descartes is no exception. This then presents thinking that is confident and appealing to the Western mind. At the same time, the larger reality remains that, in Descartes’ Meditations, it is necessary that the individual fully accepts truth as defined by the philosopher, which in turn equates to an absolute faith in God.
This is in place apart from Descartes’ usage of logic. For example, he speculates and formulates
ideas on human reasoning, but he consistently holds to a higher power as enabling the thinking:
“Is there not some God, or some other being by whatever name we call it, who puts these
reflections into my mind?” (Descartes). He phrases the question rhetorically, but it is clear that
he himself has no doubt as to the reality of God.
Interestingly, in fact, Descartes’ philosophy may be seen as viewing the soul in a way
contrary to John Locke. He holds that there must be a visceral and absolute awareness in human
beings that transcends how knowledge is created in the individual, and because knowledge of God exists at the deepest levels.
Then, Descartes goes so far as to dismiss any other possibility, as in a rejection of the reality of God: “Knowledge about Him is much clearer than that which we have of many created things, and, as a matter of fact, is so easy to acquire, that those who have it not are culpable in their ignorance” (Descartes). In plain terms, a lack of faith is for him a lack of the most basic intelligence. This foundation of God underlying the philosophy then allows for support that may not be challenged.
While, again, this has strong appeal for Christians, it is thinking that is not actually reflective of pure logic. More exactly, it is philosophy of a very specific kind, in that it is dependent on belief and consequently removed from focuses on how human beings may exist without divine influence. More to the point, and as with Plato and Locke, the thinking demands that the individual accepts as truth the fundamental beliefs of the philosopher. This being the case, the thinking is inherently subjective and open to questioning.
As noted, there can be no question that philosophy promotes necessary and valuable
reflections in untold numbers of individuals. Even when the philosophy may be questioned, the
process of it alone goes to enhancing awareness and entertaining important possibilities of
existence. However, it is equally important to recognize how many philosophers rely on “faith”
in their perspectives. It may be that this in itself is an inevitable quality of all philosophy.
Nonetheless, the reality remains that this quality generates argument or doubt. As seen in Plato,
Locke, and Descartes, Western philosophy is marked by reasons to be challenged, and because of
the philosopher’s dependence on certain ideas in place only to justify the beliefs. Ultimately, the
great Western philosophers are of value only as they are accepted as such, because these ways of
thinking are inherently subject to doubt.
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