Important Events in Philosophy

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in Philosophy

1596René Descartes, who will try to raise philosophy into a science, is born near Tours, France.
1601The French thinker Pierre Charron publishes his De la sagesse (On Wisdom), a work that argues, like Montaigne's Renaissance essays, that absolute knowledge of God cannot be established from human reason. It is an example of the skepticism in philosophy prevalent in early seventeenth-century Europe.
1609The German astronomer Johannes Kepler publishes his Astronomia Nova. The work modifies Copernicus's heliocentric or sun-centered theory of the universe by showing that the planets move in elliptical, rather than circular orbits.
1610Galileo's The Starry Messenger is published. The work tells of his recent observations of the heavens made with the aid of a telescope.
1620Sir Francis Bacon's Novum Organum (The New Organon) defends inductive reasoning and empirical observation against the methods of traditional scholasticism. One year later Bacon will be exiled from his positions at the English court and forced to retire; from this vantage point he continues to conduct experiments and to write on scientific matters.
1625The Dutch legal theorist and humanistic philosopher Hugo Grotius completes his Three Books on the Law of War and Peace, one of the first seventeenth-century treatises to rely on the concept of "natural law" to explain relationships between human beings. The work will influence the later writings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
1633The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei is condemned to house arrest for the rest of his life for his defense of a sun-centered universe.
1637René Descartes' Discourse on Method defends reason as the basis for progress and expansion of human knowledge.
1641Descartes' Meditations on the First Philosophy appears. It includes the famous dictum, "I think, therefore I am."
1645Baron Herbert of Cherbury's The Layman's Religion defends innate knowledge of God derived from nature. Later in the century, Cherbury's works will inspire English Deists to develop a religion that blends scientific and natural knowledge with traditional Christianity.
1651Thomas Hobbes publishes Leviathan, a work that relies on a dismal view of human psychology to support the strong central authority of a sovereign over his subjects.
1655Pierre Gassendi, a philosopher who has worked to revive Epicurean and skeptical ideas, dies.
1656Baruch Spinoza is excommunicated by his Amsterdam synagogue.
1660In England, Charles II is restored to the throne, and two years later he charters the Royal Society, an institution that will have great impact on British science and philosophy in the centuries to come.
1666The French Academy of Sciences is founded in Paris.
1677Spinoza dies in Holland, and his treatise Ethics is published by friends in the months following his death.
1679The political philosopher Thomas Hobbes dies.
1680The Cartesian philosopher Nicholas Malebranche publishes his Treatise of Nature and Grace to harmonize the notion of a benevolent God with the presence of evil in the world. The work also attempts to defend his previously published ideas, which conservatives find theologically unorthodox.
1687Isaac Newton's Principia establishes a mathematical foundation for the theory of gravity.
1690John Locke's Two Treatises on Government is published for the first time in England. The work sets out its author's philosophy of limited government.
1696John Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious defends early Deist principles that God can be ascertained through the natural world.
1702Pierre Bayle's vast Historical and Critical Dictionary is published for the first time. Although its author differs in many respects from later Enlightenment philosophers, his critical and searching intelligence will often be identified as one of the movement's sources of inspiration.
1714Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz's Monadologia appears. The work outlines its author's complex metaphysical philosophy that everything in nature is comprised of irreducible things called monads.
1722The Baron de Montesquieu's Persian Letters holds a mirror up to European society, criticizing its government and conventions and sparking debates that lead to the deepening influence of the Enlightenment in France.
1734George Berkeley is appointed Anglican bishop of Cloyne in Ireland. From this vantage point, he will try to stop the erosion in Christian belief in Great Britain.
Voltaire publishes his Philosophical Letters, observations on English customs and government gleaned while in exile there in the late 1720s.
1748David Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding denies the possibility of supernatural events since they would be violations of natural laws.
The Baron de Montesquieu publishes The Spirit of Laws, a treatise that illuminates the contrasting governments of states by examining their climate, history, and culture. The work sets forth a notion of the separation of the powers that will be influential in the later French and American revolutions.
1751Denis Diderot and Jean d'Alembert begin compilation of their massive Encylopédie, a milestone of the French Enlightenment. When completed almost thirty years later, it will number 28 volumes of articles and illustrations.
1754Étienne Bonnot de Condillac's Treatise on Sensations defends Lockian empiricism in France.
1762Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract defends constitutional government by strengthening a theory of the state of nature that is more pessimistic than his previous assessments.
1776Thomas Paine's political tract, Common Sense, defends the developing American Revolution's campaign against Great Britain.
1781Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason demonstrates that reality is ultimately unknowable on strictly rationalistic grounds.
1786Moses Mendelssohn, a lifelong promoter of secularization and Enlightenment among the Jews of Central Europe, dies.
1787The English historian and philosopher Edward Gibbon completes his monumental The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a work that traces Rome's collapse to the rise of Christianity.
1789Paul-Henri Thiry, more commonly known as the Baron d'Holbach, dies. He was an enthusiastic promoter of atheism.
In France, the Declaration of the Rights of Man assures many civil rights, achieving the goals of many French Enlightenment philosophers.
1792Jeremy Bentham, an English utilitarian philosopher and social critic, is naturalized as a French citizen.
1793The Reign of Terror, an effort on the part of radical leaders of the French Revolution to eliminate opposition, begins in Paris.