Philosophy, History of

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The history of philosophy is a special branch of the general history of culture whose object is the critical study of the formation and development of philosophy

and its associated concepts from their first appearance to the present. This article surveys some general notions associated with the history of philosophy and then summarizes its chronological development through the ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary periods.


The history of philosophy is a composite concept; to attempt to define it one must first take account of the concepts of philosophy and history upon which it obviously depends.

Philosophy. In ancient times and during the Middle Ages, the term philosophy had a broad meaning identical

with that of science (scientia). In conformity with this classical notion, the history of philosophy would be the same as the history of scientific thought. Yet from I. Kant and 19th-century positivism onward, the sciences came to be separated from philosophy; they ceased to be regarded as a whole and were set in mutual contraposition as though they constituted two distinct fields of knowledge. This division was aggravated by the fact that there was hardly a modern philosopher who did not propose a distinct notion of philosophy, attributing to it various functions in conformity with what he deemed to be the basic principle of reality. This limitation and diversity in the concept of philosophy had its necessary repercussions in the concept of the history of philosophy. For purposes here it is convenient to adopt the classical notion of philosophy, regarding it as synonymous with science and attributing to the history of philosophy a material object broad enough to embrace the formation and development of all human sciences. This does not prevent this history, once provided with a breadth and diversity of materials, from being subdivided into a multitude of particular histories corresponding to the development of each of the branches into which science can be divided. (see sciences, classification of; philosophy and science.)

History. The term history can be taken in two ways, namely, as an ontological reality and as a science

(the German distinction between Historie and Geschichte ).

In the ontological sense, the problem about the essence of historical being, or historicity, is a partial aspect of the general problem concerning being. All real things have duration, but not all of them have a history. God, the absolute and immutable Being, has duration (eternity), but not history. However, all contingent and changeable beings, such as minerals, plants, and animals, have a history. Historicity is a property of man, not as regards his essence, which is immutable, but in reference to the accidental result of some of his actions. Historicity does not constitute the essence of man, as taught by W. dilthey and the historicist school, but consists in an accidental modality acquired by some individual or collective human actions achieved in time. Historical reality is the result of a past action that is not completely past, since some virtuality of it remains to continue actuating into the future.

History as a science consists of the critical study and explanation of historical facts considered in their chronological succession, through the investigation of their mutual relations, their antecedents and consequents, their connections and affinities, and their influences and reactions. This is done in search for a meaning and interpretation, so that these facts are presented in a total or partial view of the whole. History is a true science, although historical facts, which constitute its material object, are particular; this is possible since, once they have occurred, such facts acquire a type of absolute necessity (what has been done cannot not have been done). At times one can arrive at an absolute certitude in the knowledge of historical facts, and, at others, at a probability sufficient to establish certain and true knowledge, and therefore scientific knowledge.

Historicity of Philosophy. Philosophy is historical and has a history, since it is a product that men have elaborated by their intellectual activity in the course of time. Achieved philosophy (in facto esse ) is a present and actual reality. It is the term at which the human intellect has arrived in the process of investigating the truth. Yet truth is absolute, unchangeable, and timeless. From the moment wherein philosophy arrives at the possession of truth, scientific knowledge remains beyond change and temporality and therefore outside of history. Nevertheless, in the process of its becoming or formation, philosophy consists in the temporal process of its formation and in the stages that man's mind must follow until it arrives at the truth. In this second meaning, it is as though philosophy constitutes the object with which the history of philosophy is concerned. For this reason the attention of the historian of philosophy must be focused more upon vicissitudes that have been encountered in the formation of philosophy throughout a temporal development than upon philosophy itself.

Philosophy is a historical reality and has a history, but it is not identified with history. G. W. F. hegel converts history into philosophy, whereas Dilthey converts philosophy into history. However, philosophy, once accomplished, is one thing; quite distinctly other is the process throughout the centuries by which it has come to be what it is presently. Historicity is not an ontological property of philosophy in itself, but affects only the process of philosophy's formation and the vicissitudes of its development in the course of time. One can indicate the following as differences: (1) Pure philosophy is concerned with the truth, which is unchangeable and timeless. The history of philosophy is concerned with the formation or becoming of philosophy and the changeable and temporal process pursued by the human mind until it arrives at the knowledge of the truth. (2) Pure philosophy aims at unity, which is identical for all men and for all times; this unity is achieved when one attains the truth. The history of philosophy attains the unity of a science when it succeeds in establishing the truth of historical facts; yet it should reflect the diversity and dynamism of the process through which men have arrived at the unity of science in the possession of the truth. (3) Pure philosophy moves in a region of abstract, universal, and necessary concepts, of absolute truths, independent of time and space. The field of historical research comprises concrete, particular, free, contingent, and variable facts. (4) The philosopher himself studies the scientific problems corresponding to distinct parts of philosophy, and can prescind from the past as well as from the opinions of other thinkers. The historian studies facts as they have occurred in the past, and cannot prescind from the opinions and distinct solutions proposed by philosophers. (5) The philosopher studies the essences of things, which are immutable; the historian considers existences, which are contingent. (6) Pure philosophy seeks, not what men have said, but what the truth is. The history of philosophy seeks the truth of what men have said and done in their efforts to attain the possession of the truth.

Philosophical problems. The problems that philosophers attempt to solve are as numerous and varied as reality itself. They can be reduced to three great themes, corresponding to the three great orders of being: God, the world, and man; or, again, being, knowledge, and function. However, each of these great themes for investigation unfolds, in turn, into almost an infinite number of particular problems within each branch of science. These include (1) ontological problems concerning being in itself; (2) logical problems concerning the order and relationships among concepts; (3) mathematical problems concerning the nature of quantity and number; (4) physical or cosmological problems concerning the nature of changeable beings in the material world; (5) biological problems concerning the nature of living things; (6) anthropological problems concerning the nature of man; (7) psychological problems concerning the nature and functions of the human soul; (8) epistemological problems concerning the nature and value of human knowledge as representative of reality; (9) social problems concerning the relations of man with his fellow creatures; (10) political problems concerning the relations between citizens and civil authority; (11) juridical problems concerning law, justice, and right; (12) theological problems concerning the existence and nature of God; (13) moral problems concerning human actions as these are viewed in their order to an ultimate end or to the perfection of man;(14) religious problems concerning man's relations with God; and (15) aesthetic problems concerning beauty and art.

The consideration of philosophical problems in themselves corresponds to the various branches of philosophy. What pertains to the history of philosophy is the study of the answers that philosophers have offered in their attempts to solve them. The historian of philosophy should take account of the temporal preponderance of determinate themes of thought in various eras. Philosophical

problems did not arise simultaneously, nor have all branches of science appeared at one time nor have they had an equal development. One of the distinctive characteristics of philosophical eras and currents is precisely the predominance of interest in some particular problem. For example, theological and moral problems were prevalent in Neoplatonism and medieval scholasticism; political themes, during the 17th century; physical and biological questions, during the 19th century; and human and social problems, during the 20th.

Philosophy and philosophies. Reality is one, and the problems it poses are the same at all times and for all men. Nor is there more than one truth, which consists in the adequation of human concepts with things as they are in themselves. Scientific knowledge should be an exact mental representation of reality. For this reason there should be only one philosophy and only one system that is representative of reality. In fact, however, not only is there no one system, but there are many distinct and even contradictory systems (see pluralism, philosophical).

There are many causes for this diversity, both subjective and objective.

Among the subjective causes may be enumerated:(1) the basic limitation of man's knowing faculties with respect to their proper object, and much more so with respect to transcendent objects; (2) the nature of his intellect, which is rational and discursive; (3) the incapacity of his mind to have an intuitive perception of the essences of things; (4) the influence of environment and of historical, social, and political circumstances peculiar to each era; and (5) the influence of philosophers upon each other. Frequently, philosophy has not developed by making a direct investigation of reality itself, but has been elaborated by discourse on the books and opinions of philosophers. Various systems give rise to others, sometimes by way of reaction, sometimes as attempts at reconciliation or advancement.

Objective causes of philosophical pluralism include (1) the very nature of reality and the intrinsic difficulty of the problems it presents to the human mind, and (2) the difficulty of acquiring the means and instruments needed for their investigation. Many beings fall within the scope of the proper object of the human mind, but others, such as God, are beyond the direct reach of human means of perception, and man can know them only by analogy. Even in the realm of the directly knowable, moreover, there are many questions that can be answered only with the help of costly and complicated instruments, and these were unavailable.

Nevertheless, there are also causes of philosophical unity, such as the nature of reality, which is one and the same and presents the same problems at all times to the minds of all men. There is, for example, the identity of human nature, which is essentially the same despite accidental differences. From the conjunction of the causes of unity with those of diversity there results a historical process that is not rectilinear but rather exhibits advances and backward movements, as well as fluctuations and oscillations. The final result, however, has been real and positive progress in most branches of philosophy.

Philosophical Systems. From the diversity of attitudes among philosophers in the presence of problems posed by reality, as well as from the multitude of their solutions, there arises a great variety of philosophical systems.

Being. As regards the basic problem of being, upon which all other problems depend, the following systems may be enumerated. realism holds that beings really exist and that man's faculties are able to know them. idealism distrusts the veracity of the senses, breaks the contact with external reality, and imprisons itself within its own interiority, elaborating logical systems based upon combinations of mental concepts. According to monism, reality consists in one sole finite, spherical, compact, undifferentiated, and immovable being, or in one sole infinite being, of which all other beings are nothing more than emanations or modalities that do not alter its essential unity. According to pluralism, on the other hand, reality is constituted by a multitude of existent, individual, and distinct beings (aristotelianism, thomism). materialism deems matter to be the sole reality. spiritualism holds that, in addition to sensible, bodily realities, there are spiritual realities that cannot be perceived by the senses. Essentialism limits itself to necessary and immutable essences, whereas existentialism focuses its attention upon existences or on concrete and particular existing things.

Truth. Positions concerning the problem of truth can be classified as positive or negative. The positive positions include realism, eclecticism, and dogmatism. According to realism, truth really exists. It is one, identical, absolute, and unchangeable, and all minds can attain it in a complete or partial way. eclecticism holds that each philosophy succeeds in attaining only one part or some aspect of the truth; purged of their errors, these aspects can be coordinated into a single system. dogmatism locks itself within systems expressed in absolute formulas of pretended universal value. Among negative positions may be enumerated skepticism and relativism. skepticism, complete or partial, holds that the truth does not exist, or at least that it cannot be discovered by the human mind. According to relativism, there are no immutable essences. The truth is partial, relative, and changeable; it depends upon the way in which the subject perceives it, and it varies according to the circumstances of place and time.

Knowledge. As regards the problem of knowledge, there are the positions of sensism, empiricism, intellectualism, etc. (see knowledge, theories of).

God. Concerning the problem of God, the most important positions may be listed as atheism, theism, and pantheism. atheism denies the existence of a personal God distinct from the world. theism can be divided into two positions. One holds that there is an eternal, infinite, and intelligent God, but that He is not a creator, nor does He exercise providence over the world; at the same time, there is an eternal and finite world (Aristotle). The other position is that there is an infinite, eternal, intelligent, and free God, Creator and Ruler of the world, and that there is a created, finite, and temporal world that is dependent upon God (St. thomas aquinas). pantheism holds that there exists only one being, the universal principle of all things, and that the world is identical with this principle. Pantheism can be partial or total. According to partial pantheism, God is either the soul of the world, primary matter, or the existence of the world. Total pantheism can be distinguished into various forms: the static, introdynamic, emanationistic, and evolutionistic. The static form holds that there exists only one finite, spherical, undifferentiated, and immovable being (see parmenides). The introdynamic form teaches that there is only one substance having infinite attributes and modes (B. spinoza). According to the emanationistic view, beings flow as descending emanations from the One (plotinus). Evolutionistic forms teach that particular beings are the products of evolution from one sole principle, whether this be the Absolute (F. W. J. schelling), the idea (Hegel), the will (A. schopenhauer), matter (K. marx), life (H. bergson), or some similar principle.

Method. The history of philosophy must be preeminently history. It is a branch of the historical sciences, and its particular method is essentially that of historical investigation. A priori dialectical methods that make the history of philosophy a branch of logic (Hegel) or an exercise of pure reason are inadmissible. History is not concerned with possible, abstract, or universal essences, but with concrete facts and particular and real events. The historian's mission does not lie in imagining how matters should have occurred but in investigating and reporting how and why they did occur. The historical method embraces two functions, namely, the heuristic and the hermeneutical.

The heuristic function serves to investigate the facts and to reconstruct these as they happened. First, the historian of philosophy should reconstruct the authentic thought of philosophers by studying their writings, with the help of direct and indirect sources and auxiliary sciences. Second, he should state this thought faithfully, without alteration or falsification. He should classify thinkers and their systems in conformity with an order based upon reality itself. He should establish them in their coordinates of place and time, and take account of their relations of dependence to other philosophers and their thought.

The hermeneutical function is necessary since the statement of the facts should be completed by their explanation and interpretation. The historian should investigate not only the facts themselves but also the reasons for the facts, and explain one by the other without recourse to nonhistorical elements. Furthermore, he may rightfully pass judgment on the intrinsic value of the systems. However, he may not attribute a sapiential mission to history, as though it were a super philosophy coordinating the divergencies of the systems and unifying their plurality. Even less acceptable are the Hegelian asides of Dilthey, who uses history to explain the relativity of systems, as a sort of reflection of spirit upon itself that includes the partial philosophies developed in the course of time.

Division. A priori divisions based upon determinate concepts of philosophies of history are inadmissible. Hegel adjusts the development of philosophy to the stages in the evolution of the Absolute Spirit. Influenced by the historical progressionism of condorcet and Turgot, A. comte establishes three stages, namely, the theological, the metaphysical, and the positive, but these have no basis in the reality of history. G. santayana indicates three great peaks in thought: naturalism, supernaturalism, and romanticism, which culminate in three great poets, namely, Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe.

The best division is one resulting from the reality of the facts. It can be made in conformity with various criteria. The first of these is chronology. Taking account of the temporal succession of the facts is basic and indispensable. In the history of philosophy, however, it is not enough merely to pursue the horizontal line of development in time. Thought has not followed one straight and ascending line of homogeneous progress; rather the many sources of diversity have dispersed the efforts of philosophers into different directions. From this there results a complicated process wherein some systems influence others, at times over many centuries and in quite distinct geographical localities. It is necessary to make the relation and connection among currents of thought evident. For example, Aristotelianism (4th century b.c.) and Neeplatonism (3rd century a.d.) had an influence on Persian Islam (10th century), and this, in turn, had an influence in Spain (12th century) and on scholasticism (13th century). The currently accepted division of philosophy into ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary is based upon Western history, but is defective since it does not coincide with the development of Oriental cultures, nor does it suit the effective development of philosophy itself.

The second criterion is geography. The development of philosophy can be manifested as it occurred in Greece, Rome, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, etc. Yet philosophy is supranational. Speaking of Greek, Roman, Italian, French, or German philosophy is less exact than saying that there are Greek, Roman, Italian, French, and German philosophers.

The third criterion is the enumeration of problems. To clarify philosophical problems, it is useful to group the systems and opinions of philosophers around some concrete problem, as, for example, some ontological, epistemological, or theological problem. Yet this procedure fails to offer a panoramic and articulate view of the whole development of philosophy. Associated with it are divisions according to schools and attitudes. Platonism, Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, Thomism, Scotism, etc., can be presented, each one separately from the others; or, pursuing basic options, one can follow the lines of realism, empiricism, idealism, skepticism, etc.

Metahistory of philosophy. The history of philosophy, too, has its own history, which may be referred to as a metahistory of philosophy. The recognition of history as scientific knowledge is rather recent. Among the Greeks, the anecdotal had a predominance over the doctrinal. Aristotle, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, and Sextus Empiricus expounded the "opinions" of the various sects (doxography) without establishing a relation among them and without a perspective of integration within a universal process. These are documents of inestimable value, but they do not properly constitute histories of philosophy. During the Middle Ages, there was no intention of producing a history of philosophy. The scholastics expounded, criticized, and used the opinions of philosophers, but without trying to order and systematize them within a unified panorama. During the Renaissance, there appeared numerous monographic studies on the life and teaching of ancient philosophers, all based upon references in the Greek and Latin doxographies, but having the same deficiency of information and historical perspective. Something like this occurred during the 17th century in works dominated by the eclectic preoccupation of reconciling distinct philosophical "sects." During the 18th century and the early part of the 19th, preoccupation with criticism was reflected in plans to apply it to the history of philosophy, and yet there was wanting a solid basis of information. The encyclopedists contributed the concept of unity, continuity, and progress in the process of historical development. Despite his apriorism, Hegel took a very important step toward presenting philosophical systems as included within the framework of universal history, as stages in the dialectical development of the absolute spirit.

The greatest step, however, in the scientific study of history in all its branches started during the middle of the 19th century and was based upon a critical and objective investigation of facts and documents, upon attaining an ever greater freedom from fantasies and a priori interpretations. From this period date the great general histories of philosophy, completed with innumerable monographic studies on personages and schools. The result bas been a moving revelation of the process involved in the formation and development of philosophy, itself a magnificent conquest attained by the efforts of the human mind as these efforts have been multiplied over the span of centuries.

See Also: history, philosophy of; history, theology of.

Bibliography: f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy, (Westminster, Md. 1946). f. ueberweg, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, ed. k. praechter et al., 5 v. (12th ed. Berlin 192328). n. petruzzellis, Enciclopedia filosofica 2:415419; 4:982993. g. fraile, Historia de la filosofía (Biblioteca de autores cristianos 160, 190; 1956), esp. v.1. w. windelband, History of Philosophy, 2 v. (Torchbks; New York 1958). e. von aster, Geschichte der Philosophie (11th ed. Stuttgart 1956), Fr. (Paris 1952).

[g. fraile]


By ancient philosophy is meant primarily ancient Western philosophy from its beginnings among the Greeks on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor to its last manifestation in Neoplatonism. At the same time, ancient philosophy rightly includes those forms of Chinese and Indian thought that contain elements of philosophical thinking under a moralistic or religious exterior.

Origins of philosophy. The desire to know, begotten by wonder at the marvels of nature, said Plato (Theaet. 155) and Aristotle (Meta. 980a 22), led men to philosophize. Not all human thought is by its very nature philosophical; but as men began to penetrate into the deeper nature of things and to seek by reason the most basic causes of what they knew by experience, they became philosophers. Thus philosophy, at least among the Greeks, stood in marked contrast to credulous acceptance of the theogonies and mythological cosmologies, the time-worn traditions of the race embodied in the poets Homer and Hesiod. These ancient teachers of Greece often spoke the truth, but they used the language of belief, not of proof (cf. Aristotle, Meta. 1000a 19). greek philosophy emerged as a conscious reaction to such dogmatism, when men took experience, rather than tradition, as the starting point of their thought.

Only with the Greeks did ancient philosophy reach consciousness of its nature as a rational investigation of things. In contrast, the philosophical thought of the East remained hidden in religious beliefs or in the traditions of national culture. The "Great Master" of chinese philosophy, K'ung or confucius, was content to "transmit and comment on the teachings of the ancients," without inventing anything new in his ethical reform. laozi, perhaps, was more metaphysical in his Way (daoism), yet even this was primarily a mystical-philosophical exposition of the principles that should govern one's moral life. Much more rational was the indian philosophy of the Brahmans, since the Upanishads formulate a speculative system that is essentially metaphysical. But it was elaborated by the priestly caste primarily as a wisdom of salvation, a quest for union with a higher being; and as such, endowed with the attributes of a religion. Like Brahmanism, of which it is a corruption, buddhism proposed an anthropocentric philosophy of self-salvation. The Persian dualism of zoroaster was a mixture of religion, mythology, and reason in a non-philosophical form. One can well agree with Diogenes Laertius, an ancient collector of facts and fables on the philosophers: "Thus it was from the Greeks that philosophy took its rise; its very name refuses to be translated into foreign speech" (1:4).

Early Greek philosophy. If the Greek quest for philosophical wisdom showed a marked reaction to myth and uncritical tradition, it did not thereby represent a break with the general culture of the race. The Greek regard for the individual and his personal freedom and for the ideals of παιδεία, i.e., the shaping and educating of man to his true form, was constantly reflected in the philosophers. Of equal and even greater importance, perhaps, was the Greek feeling for the whole, an architectonic sense that looked for the bond that integrates individuals and events into a greater unity: the ρμονία, the "golden chains" (Iliad 8:1826) that bind all things together. For Plato, the philosopher must be synoptic, since he is to see particulars together in one Idea; for Aristotle, even the study of man is to show how he is a part in relation to the whole (Pol. 1252a 241253a38).

In different degrees this ideal pervaded Greek philosophy in all its history. In what is called the pre-Socratic period, for all their lisping thought (Aristotle, Meta. 993a 16), the early thinkers were searching for the one source; the φύσις or nature, whence come the scattered particulars of everyday experience. The first to do this were the "physicists" of Ionia, in the 7th and 6th centuries b.c., viz, Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. Though each gave a different answerThales, water; Anaximander, the boundless or unlimited; and Anaximenes, airall held to one principle, a φύσις, from which things evolve. More obscure, perhaps, was the thought of pythagoras and his followers, who studied the φύσις in terms of number. Yet this, too, was a search for the harmony and inner unity of the cosmos.

Two later thinkers, heraclitus and parmenides, were inclined to brush this earlier thinking aside as failing to penetrate by reason (λόγος) behind the world of ceaseless change to discover that which truly is. Not the philosopher of pure becoming (despite the judgment of Plato and Aristotle), Heraclitus was primarily a teacher of moral wisdom who discerned behind the physical world and human life an all-abiding, all-ruling law or λόγος as the principle of unity amidst universal change and opposition. The physical world process interested Heraclitus chiefly as an illustration of this law, that men might learn from the order of the cosmos to order their own lives. In contrast, Parmenides was exclusively the physicist whose epic poem concentrated on the reality, the being ("that which is"), of the physical world, in opposition to current illusions on the nature of the universe. Reason alone, not sense knowledge or the traditions and "opinions of mortals," must be man's instrument in penetrating nature. Though a physical philosopher, Parmenides had insight into the basic problem of philosophy, the problem of being: λόγος or reason proves the existent cannot be what one's senses reveal to him, something manifold and in motion; it is rather something whole and indivisible, motionless and perfect. Hence zeno of elea, his follower, sought to prove that "there is no many."

The last of the physicists, empedocles, anaxagoras, and democritus, turned from the search for the principle of the universe to study nature as found in ordinary things. To retain Parmenides's position that being alone is, and yet explain obvious motion and change, these thinkers, each in his own way, posited basic unchanging elements whose combination would give rise to the things of experience. Empedocles adopted four basic elements; Anaxagoras, an infinite number of principles; and Democritus and the school of Abdera, unchanging atoms (see atomism; materialism).

Classical period. None of these early philosophers, save Anaxagoras and those of Abdera, lived on the mainland of Greece, much less in Athens. The scene shifted with the coming of the classical period of Greek philosophy, even as philosophy itself passed from concentration on the physical world to the truly metaphysical and universal thought of Plato and Aristotle. In this change the sophists provided the transition, since they focused attention on man and the city-state. Not philosophers but teachers, whose aim was to prepare men for public life and political activity in the new democracies, the Sophists revitalized παιδεία through a comprehensive cultural program, the beginnings of the liberal arts. Unfortunately, they often emphasized rhetoric and eloquence at the expense of truth. In reaction to their ideal of speaking well, socrates professed a new σοφία, the wisdom of thinking well, a wisdom of the inner man who lived what he thought: the true philosopher. In this he set the pattern for Plato and Aristotle, who as true Socratics and lovers of wisdom sought to penetrate reality and human life to the fullest.

For plato, the philosopher is not primarily the metaphysician, though the doctrine of the Ideas is at the heart of his philosophy. He is rather the man liberated by right παιδεία from slavery to the senses, whose life is formed and guided by true knowledge of true being (which is found only in the Ideas). His life is his philosophy, since he has built within himself a city that he rules in peace. He alone is thus fit to rule others: the philosopher-king. To build this inner city, he must pursue true virtue and wisdom: his conduct must not be based on his own opinions but modeled on what is the transcendent "form" of virtue, the Idea of justice, temperance, and the other virtues. Thus does the "man within man," the rational part of the soul, achieve mastery over the less noble elements within him. True knowledge, man soon realizes, is not found in sense experience, since this sense world does not contain true being. Hence he strives for a knowledge derived from the stable and fixed being of things beyond transient phenomena: the world of Forms or Ideas, and comes at last to the best and highest of the Ideas, the Good itself. Philosophy is thus for Plato essentially the life of the spirit, "the culture of the soul," the guide of human life. Of its very nature, it does not give final answers even to the deepest questions, but spurs the philosopher ever upward to a more perfect vision of the absolute.

aristotle, "the Philosopher," as he has long been known, lacked the lyrical quality that pervades the doctrine of Plato, and was more scientific and coldly logical in the pursuit of knowledge. Yet as a true Socratic, he too did not separate philosophy and life, since philosophy and virtue are means to the well-being of the soul and steps to happiness. As the disciple of Plato, he was convinced that philosophical knowledge is not concerned with the particular sensible, but with the essence of things and their ultimate causes and principles. Against Plato, however, he refused to have recourse to a separate world of Ideas to answer the problem. Man does not start with things only to push them aside as empty of being and intelligibility. Since one says of things that they are, one should rather analyze the very being he attributes to them. This is the first step in a new science of being, which later came to be called metaphysics. But since even the form (ε[symbol omitted]δος) of sensibles, which is the primary instance of being within them, is subject to potency and change, one must postulate the existence of suprasensible beings that are actual and imperishable, the heavenly bodies, and find beyond them one perfect principle whose very entity is perfect act. The god of Aristotle is thus an entity "which moves without being moved, being eternal, sub-stance, and actuality," the final cause that produces motion by being desired (Meta. 1072a 25). But such a god, whose inner life is self-subsistent thought, has no knowledge of, or care for, the world, which he did not produce and does not govern. It is in terms of such a doctrine on being that Aristotle studies man and soul in his "On the Soul," a treatise that created many problems and spawned a host of commentaries. Since he is not sure that soul or mind survives the body, Aristotle's ethics and politics are earth-bound, pagan, and centered on the perfection of the individual within the city-state. Despite its limitations, however, the doctrine of Aristotle represents the peak of Greek thought. All succeeding philosophers, Greek, Arabian, Christian, and modern, stand in some debt to him (see aristotelianism).

Post-Aristotelian developments. Greek philosophy after Aristotle reflected, and to some extent caused, a change in Greek political outlook. With the conquests of Alexander the Great, human thought burst the confining limits of the city-state to emphasize the world as a commonwealth and men as members of a world society.

The cynics, lesser followers of Socrates, had professed to be cosmopolitans, citizens of the world rather than of a particular city-state. Directly influenced by them, Zeno of Citium (the founder of stoicism), Cleanthes, and later Chrysippus elaborated a physics whose monistic materialism made of the world a harmonious whole, a city of gods and men. The active principle of this universe, called god, fire, mind, fate, is above all law or λόγος. If such a doctrine recalls Heraclitus, the Stoics gave his teachings some new interpretations. The ethical ideal is a life in agreement with nature, that is, the inexorable law of nature and of the individual. The virtuous man thus conforms his will to the divine reason, in a passionless and calm detachment from all self-love and worldly interests. Even as it sought to answer ethical questions untouched by earlier philosophers, Stoicism attracted many by the nobility of its ideals. Less appealing because more individualistic, epicureanism resembles Stoicism as an ethics based on a monistic physics. Pleasure, less in the hedonist sense of the cyrenaics than in peace of mind and freedom from pain, formed the goal of epicurus. To rid men of fear of the gods and fear of death, he adopted a form of atomism in which the gods have nothing to do with the world or with men, wherein death brings dissolution of soul as well as of body. The skepticism that marked other Greek thinkers of this period was itself intended to be a step toward happiness.

Further witnesses to the spread of Hellenistic culture are to be found in the jewish philosophy of philo judaeus and in the smattering of philosophy that appeared in the Roman republic and empire. Jewish tradition was marked by a general distrust of reason and philosophy, so that Philo appears as an exception. Not properly a philosopher, he nonetheless sought to develop his religious belief by elements taken from Plato and the Stoics. After him there is little or no speculative thought among the Jews until avicebron, whose Fons vitae was manifestly Neoplatonic in inspiration; and Moses maimonides, whose Guide for the Perplexed, written to solve apparent conflicts of faith and reason, is preeminently Aristotelian in spirit. Among the Romans, philosophy was hardly more than a reflection of Greek thought tempered and shaped by the Roman spirit. Stoicism as expounded by seneca, epictetus, and marcus aurelius had a special appeal for its rugged moral tone, as a help in forming the good citizen.

Neoplatonism. The last great philosophical movement of pagan antiquity was a revival of platonism reaching its climax in what is now known as neoplatonism. In many instances, the movement was marked by a deeply religious coloring as philosophy came to be used as a medium for union with the divine. Middle Platonism (in Plutarch, Celsus, and others) accented the transcendence of God, multiplied intermediaries between God and the world, contrasted to an extreme the dualism of matter and spirit, and laid great force on revelation, mysticism, and ecstasy. These characteristics carried over into the teachings of plotinus, the first of the Neoplatonists. At the same time, Plotinus drew from Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics to construct a synthesis that was the last stand of intellectual paganism against the growing appeal of Christianity. His map of the intelligible world, derived from an analysis of human knowledge, was designed to point the way to union with the One, the first principle of all. The school of Plotinus thrived in such disciples as porphyry and proclus; through them, if not through the works of Plotinus himself, it left its mark on patristic culture, in nemesius of emesa, pseudo-dionysius, and St. augustine. The direct descendants, however, of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus were the proponents of arabian philosophy.

Ancient philosophy came to a kind of official end in 529, when Justinian banished the philosophers from Athens and confiscated their schools. By that time, however, it had left its mark on Christian thinkers and had produced the new movement of Christian philosophy.

Bibliography: f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy, v.1. (Westminster, Md. 1946). f. ueberweg, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, ed. k. praechter et al., 5 v. (12th ed. Berlin 192328). i. c. brady, A History of Ancient Philosophy (Milwaukee 1959). j. owens. A History of Ancient Western Philosophy (New York 1959), a. h. armstrong, An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy (3rd ed. London 1957). e. zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen , 3 v. in 6 (5th7th eds. Leipzig 192023), w. k. c. guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge, Eng. 1962) v.1.


Christianity is not a philosophy, but a revealed religion, a means of salvation. Yet because it answers many of the same questions asked by philosophy, dialogue and even conflict between these two forms of knowledge was almost inevitable from the beginning of the Christian Erawhether in the early centuries, the period of patristic culture, or later, in the Middle Ages, in what has come to be called scholasticism. Under medieval philosophy, then, we shall consider both periods, that of patristic philosophy and that of scholastic philosophy.

Patristic philosophy. The first dialogue between Christianity and philosophy, held by St. Paul in the Areopagus of Athens (Acts 17.1734), was an apparent failure, as this new wisdom was ridiculed by the philosophers as foolishness (1 Cor 1.23), an old wives' tale. In succeeding centuries, many philosophers continued to regard Christianity as a specious doctrine of little or no value; some bluntly opposed or attacked it. On their part, many Christians refused to have anything to do with philosophy. For some, as Clement of Alexandria remarks, it was the invention of the devil for the ruin of man. For Tertullian, it was the source of error and heresy: what then has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Did not the blasphemous errors of gnosticism arise from overconfidence in philosophy? Or again, it represented purely human wisdom incapable of teaching the truth; faith alone and the wisdom of Christ were sufficient for the Christian. Perhaps in many this attitude was but part of their wider opposition to secular learning or to anything that savored of the pagan life they had abandoned in accepting Christ.

Greek Fathers. On the other hand, those philosophers and rhetoricians who had been converted to Christianity were not inclined to abandon entirely the wisdom they had acquired by rational methods, but proposed to put it to use in the service of Christianity. An early instance of this new attitude is found in the Greek apologists of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, who employed the techniques of rhetoric, law, and philosophy to defend their new-found faith. At the same time, they came to see, as did St. justin martyr and clement of alexandria, that whatever truth is found in the philosophers is but a fragmentary sharing in divine wisdom; while, in the providence of God, as Clement and eusebius of caesarea held, Greek philosophy itself is intended to be a preparation for the gospel and a pedagogue to Christ. For Clement, it not only retained this role, as a "preparatory discipline" for those still to be converted; it also had actual value for Christianity itself, in defending the faith from assault and presenting it in such fashion as to win a hearing. Properly used, it perfected the Christian, helping him to understand what he believed and to grow in virtue, thus making him a true Gnostic, a learned and holy man.

Once secular learning had thus been brought into the service of Christ (however poorly Clement may have accomplished this in specific details), the way was open to a greater collaboration of philosophy and Christianity. Yet the approach of origen was not that of Clement, his master in the School of Alexandria. He was primarily a theologian, one of the most penetrating if daring minds in the history of the Church. He had no use for philosophy for its own sake; rather, he felt the need to know it and use it that he might meet the philosophers of his day on their own grounds and expound Christian dogma to them in their own terms and in relation to current philosophical problems. Often at fault because he went too far in many of his speculations, and the center of a long controversy after his death, Origen nonetheless paved the way for others, who followed his ideals in more orthodox form. Even his adversaries, such as St. methodius of olympus, an admirer of Plato, owed him more than they admitted (see origen and origenism).

The Origenist controversy was prolonged perhaps because it was related to a deeper problem that faced Christian thought in the 4th century. As the Church gained her freedom and her belief and worship became the state religion, she confronted the problem of absorbing or being absorbed by the culture of hellenism: would the empire be Christianized or the Church Hellenized? More than one heresy, e.g., Arianism and Apollinarism, was closely connected with Greek philosophy; more than one churchman, as was said of synesius of cyrene, was more Platonist than Christian. Yet others, such as epiphanius of constantia, were deadly enemies of all classical culture and Greek philosophy.

A happy balance is to be found in three great thinkers of Cappadocia who share a common love and admiration for Origen: St. gregory of nazianzus, who gave attention to man's knowledge of God in a series of sermons admired by St. Augustine; St. basil, who synthesized the cosmological and scientific knowledge of his day, and in a famous letter to his nephews showed how Christians could profitably use the classics; and St. gregory of nyssa, the best philosopher of the three, who continued his brother Basil's work with a study on man, De hominis opificio, the first of its kind among Christian philosophers, and another on death and the Resurrection in manifest imitation of Plato's Phaedo. Gregory's influence is apparent in the "On the Nature of Man" of nemesius of emesa. A century later (between 500 and 528) the works of the enigmatic pseudo-dionysius the Areopagite made their appearance in Syria, presenting a curious blending of Christian teaching and Neoplatonic thought. The unknown author apparently sought to convert the Neoplatonists and turn their philosophy into a Christian one. Instead, his writings, with the scholia of John of Scythopolis and maximus the confessor, had greater influence among Christians of both East and West. The last of the Greek Fathers to enter the scene, St. john damascene, summarized Greek patristic thought in his "On the True Faith" and made ample use of Dionysius's doctrines.

Latin Fathers. Among the Latin Fathers before Augustine, one can trace no set pattern. minucius felix composed his Octavius in imitation of Cicero, with some dependence on Seneca. tertullian relied on Soranus the Stoic to explain the nature of the soul and thus fell into materialism. marius victorinus remained a Neo-platonist even after his conversion, since he used that philosophy to help explain the Trinity. On the other hand, St. jerome forbade Christians even to read the philosophers or poets [Patrologia Latina 22 (ed. 1859):385]. Yet without the help derived from the Neoplatonists, St. augustine would hardly have achieved a concept of the spiritual, so deeply had he fallen into Manichaean materialism. When he came to the Church, it was not to abandon whatever good he had found in philosophy, but to vindicate its use for the Christian. Whatever truth the philosophers have discovered must be taken away from them by the Christian, to be used in the structure of Christian wisdom (Doctr. christ. 2:40:60). Philosophy thus became for Augustine a step in the structure of Christian knowledgenot an independent discipline, but a means of penetrating the truths of the faith. Philosophy was a part of his search for God: "What do I love when I love Thee?" (Conf. 10:6); and every branch of philosophy was made to contribute to that search (Conf. 10:67; In psalm. 41:68).

After Augustine, in the period marked by the migration of nations, there was little philosophical thought beyond that of Boethius and Cassiodorus. Preeminently the mediator between ancient culture and the Middle Ages, boethius left his mark on logic, the problem of universals, liberal arts, and theology; while cassiodorus, author of a De anima, introduced learning and intellectual culture into monastic life. St. isidore of seville and St. bede deserve mention as encyclopedists. In addition, Bede marks a transition to the Middle Ages, since from his monastic tradition came those who would achieve a rebirth of learning in the Carolingian renaissance. (see patristic philosophy.)

Scholastic philosophy. Patristic philosophy in almost every instance is the philosophy of men who were Christian in all their thinking, who did not cut philosophy off from faith or seek it for itself and in itself. This tradition was not abandoned in the revival of learning under Charlemagne. alcuin and his pupil rabanus maurus continued the ideal of Augustine, making philosophy and secular knowledge the handmaids of faith. At the same time, the court of Charles the Bald witnessed a philosophical controversy on the nature of the soul carried on by ratramnus of corbie and hincmar of reims, and was intrigued if not scandalized by the bold thinking and writing of john scotus erigena. Possessed of some knowledge of Greek and widely read in Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus, and Gregory of Nyssa, as well as in Ambrose and Augustine, John undertook a daring and powerful synthesis of philosophy and theology in his De divisione naturae, to show how the multiplicity of things proceeds from the oneness of God and is in turn brought back to Him. Even here, however, philosophy was a meditation on Holy Scripture and the faith, not the exercise of pure reason for its own sake.

Early Scholasticism. Only after Erigena, and partly under his influence, did Western thinkers make any real distinction between philosophy and revealed doctrine, to the extent that they began to cultivate logic or dialectics for its own sake. Called by John Scotus "the mother of the arts" and "the science of disputing well," and yet regarded as the science of being (Patrologia Latina 122:869870), dialectics attracted fresh interest in the 11th and 12th centuries and often intruded itself in areas where it had no place (see dialectics in the middle ages). Yet it is here that one finds the real beginnings of the movement known as scholasticism, which reached its high point in the 13th century. Often indeed this early scholasticism, as in Peter abelard, thought it could answer such metaphysical questions as the nature of universals by the doctrine and method proper to logic, or explain the mysteries of the faith by pure dialectics. At the same time, the sound use of reasoning in lanfranc of Bec and St. anselm of canterbury opened the way to a wholesome flowering of doctrine in the 12th century. From the school directed by Anselm's pupil, anselm of laon, came many theologians who by the middle of the century had done much to systematize theology in numerous Summae and Sententiae, often in imitation and rivalry of Peter Abelard's theological synthesis. The same tendency to summarize theology marked the work of the Parisian School of Saint-Victor, under Masters hugh of saint-victor and richard of saint-victor, who at the same time were much interested in philosophy and in mysticism. The most complete and most influential of such books of Sentences was that of Master peter lombard, composed at Paris about 1155 to 1158. Finally, though Paris was gradually becoming the intellectual center of the West, in the early part of the 12th century it was rivaled as a center of philosophy and surpassed as a seat of classical humanism by the School of Chartres. The last and greatest of the pre-university cathedral schools of Europe, under bernard of chartres, gilbert de la porrÉe, and others, it became known for its feeling for antiquity, its Platonism, and its growing interest in science. Its most perfect representative was perhaps john of salisbury, who at the same time mirrored the learning of Paris and was a witness to the growing importance of its schools.

High Scholasticism. Those schools, organized about 1200 as the guild or "university of the masters and scholars of Paris," prepared the way for the flowering of scholasticism proper in the 13th century. Yet without the influx of new literature and ideas, through the translation of hitherto unknown works of Aristotle and of the Arabian and Jewish philosophers and scientists, the intellectual horizon of the West would never have been broadened beyond the narrow limits of earlier centuries. Nurtured in the Augustinian tradition of Christian wisdom, the schoolmen were suddenly faced with another wisdom that proposed itself to them as the complete embodiment of rational thought. Hesitant at firstsometimes victims of their own enthusiasm as they labored, as said robert grosseteste, to make Aristotle Catholic; sometimes content, with siger of brabant, to "recite" the opinions of the philosophers whether or not they agreed with the faiththe scholastics came gradually to sift truth from error and to incorporate and integrate these newfound treasures into the body of Christian thought. In this, the lead was often taken by the teachers of the mendicant orders at the direction of the papacy: the dominicans under St. albert the great and St. thomas aquinas meeting the problem directly; the franciscans under St. bonaventure inclining more perhaps to the older tradition, yet ready to accept the truth wherever found. It is the merit and glory of St. Thomas above all that he produced a new synthesis of Christian wisdom in which Aristotle and Arabians alike were brought into captivity to Christ. Not all were willing to accept his work; some bogged down in criticism and correctives; others, such as John duns scotus, tried to build a new and stronger synthesis after a reexamination of the problems involved.

Late Scholasticism. With the 14th century, which brought so many religious and political changes and upheavals, scholastic thought became even more critical in character. Metaphysics and its integration into Christian theology no longer occupied the center of attention. Logic received a fresh emphasis and almost usurped the role of metaphysics, as william of ockham initiated what came to be called the "modern way" of nominalism. The beginnings of modern physics appeared at Oxford, always most receptive to science, and somewhat at Paris. Yet among the theologians, thought began to crystallize into schools: thomism, followers of giles of rome, scotism, and even nominalism. Paris became a city of conflict and confusion, as its intellectual life lost its vitality and degenerated into a mere commentary on the great syntheses of the 13th century.

Yet, while the failings and weaknesses of the scholastics are often much in evidence, they should not obscure the real and solid accomplishments of the movement itself and its effect on European culture. Paris and the many universities modeled upon it contributed to the transformation of Western education and the formation of an intellectual elite that was henceforth to dominate Western culture. From these schools, marked by rigorous use of the art of logical thinking, even more than from the Renaissance, Europe and the West derived the critical intelligence and restless spirit of scientific inquiry that sets Western culture off from the East, and even from other forms of Christian culture, and is the ultimate source of modern science. To label scholasticism a barren system, to call it "one of the greatest plagues of the human mind" (Diderot), is to fabricate a calumny that has no foundation in history.

See Also: augustinianism; ockhamism; science (in the middle ages).

Bibliography: É. h. gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955). f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy, v. 34 (Westminster, Md. 1953, 1958). f. ueberweg, Grundriss der Geschichte der Philosophie, ed. k. praechter et al., 5 v. (11th, 12th ed. Berlin 192328). p. delhaye, Medieval Christian Philosophy, tr. s. j. tester (New York 1960). a. a. maurer, Medieval Philosophy (New York 1962). d. knowles, The Evolution of Medieval Thought (Baltimore 1962).

[i. c. brady]


The time span of modern philosophy reaches from about 1400 to 1900, although there is no sharp division setting it off from either its medieval roots or its contemporary fruits. The whole development includes three main phases: the Renaissance transition (14001600), the classical modern methods and systematic explanations (16001800), and the 19th-century attempts at philosophical reconstruction. Each period makes a distinctive contribution to the process. The painful work of producing fresh ideas and attitudes begins in the Renaissance age, whose transitional character is marked by the intermingling of old and new elements and by the tentative nature of the philosophies. There follows a two-century spurt of great creativity in all parts of philosophy, with the emphasis placed upon new methodologies and systematic unifications of knowledge. Many deep divisions kept recurring, however, thus provoking the 19th century to search for broader bases of synthesis between evolving nature and historical man.

Modern philosophy does not grow in isolation from the other modern cultural factors. The national context is seen in the widespread use of vernacular languages, with a technical vocabulary being forged for philosophy in each linguistic area. Modern philosophy is unusually sensitive also to the methods, concepts, and problems evolved in the physical and biological sciences. Another mark of philosophical modernity is its dissociation from any particular theological framework, even though religious faith and its attendant questions continue to have a definite bearing on philosophical inquiries. Moreover, the modern growth in historical awareness leads to a special philosophical interest in genetic questions and human historicity.

Renaissance philosophy. Cardinal nicholas of cusa embodied the early Renaissance disenchantment with the medieval systems, its epistemological uneasiness, and its special concern to rethink man's relations with God and the world. Although religious faith held firm his conviction in God's reality and creative power, he shifted the inquiry about God from a causal basis to a symbolical use of concepts similar to the mathematical way of dealing with infinite figures. Thus Nicholas heralded the appeal of modern philosophical methodology to the procedures in mathematics and physics, as well as the modern dialectical correlation between God and a world regarded as His expressive image and locus for constant social reforms.

A form of Christian humanism was developed by the Florentine humanists M. ficino and pico della mirandola. They strongly defended man's freedom, personal immortality, and ordination to beatitude in God, against the attacks of the Aristotelians at Padua. P. pomponazzi and other Renaissance Aristotelians removed the Christian interpretation of Aristotle's view of man, nature, and the prime mover, thus hastening the separation of philosophy from theology. Their strongest work was done in the fields of logic and the philosophy of nature, where they influenced Galileo on method.

Renaissance Stoicism and skepticism arose from a continued dissatisfaction with all current accounts of human knowledge and conduct. J. lipsius urged that Platonism was too cabalistic; that pure Aristotelianism ran counter to faith in a personal, free, transcendent God and beatitude; and that a sounder view was obtainable from Stoic logic, physics, and ethics. The really radical challenge came, however, from the reformulation of Greek skepticism by montaigne and P. charron. They produced a crisis by regarding man's knowing powers as unreliable, by pointing out the large mixture of fantasy and wish in human speculations, and by pitting one philosophical school against another. Right down to P. bayle, the skeptical attitude remained strong, thus providing a spur for the great systematic thinkers in the 17th century.

Three other facets of the Renaissance mind are captured in the thought of N. machiavelli, G. bruno, and the philosophers of nature. Machiavelli placed brackets around the social precepts of Christianity and took the attitude of the inquiring scientist toward the realities of political life. His stark findings on the drive toward power and the political management of men pointed up the need for a relevant and yet morally disciplined political philosophy. Bruno's pantheism expressed a passionate desire to comprehend and unite oneself with total cosmic reality, but it was hampered by taking the substance-and-mode relationship as regulative for explaining the relation between God and the world. Although B. telesio and T. campanella took a qualitative and quasi-magical approach to nature, they testified to the need to understand it better and to reorder social life in new ways.

The counterpoint to all these movements was the steady current of Renaissance scholasticism, which continued to achieve new forms. This was the period of the great commentaries on St. Thomas Aquinas, the new developments in the law of nations and colonial moral problems, and eventually the shift to the teaching manual as the main instrument of tradition. (see renaissance philosophy.)

Systematic philosophies. The impetus for the great 17th-century systems came largely from the effort of the mechanical philosophers and Descartes to counterbalance skepticism with a positive theory of nature and man. A modest role was played by F. bacon, even though he did not appreciate the primary lead of mathematics in the study of nature. He gave a new rhetoric to the age by codifying the criticism of scholastic philosophy of nature, by directing attention to the moving efficient causes, and by raising doubts about whether philosophy can say anything about God and the spiritual principle in man. But it was galileo himself who regarded nature as a divinely grounded system of mathematical intelligibilities and who bifurcated the primary qualities in nature and the secondary qualities in the perceiver. And although Sir Isaac newton was less confident about the ontological import of mathematical rules, he worked out their explanatory functions with unsurpassed thoroughness.

But how does man fare in the mechanically ordered universe? Divergent responses were given to this leading question by T. hobbes and R. descartes. The English-man's importance lay as much in his presuppositions as in his particular doctrines. For he developed the always attractive procedure of generalizing the dominant scientific outlook and, at least in principle, confining the philosophical analysis of man to what is attainable through this generalized method. Descartes agreed that man can fare very well indeed in the mechanically constituted universe, but only on condition that the mechanical conception of nature be integrated with an adequate theory of method, knowing, and being. By "adequate," he meant one that can meet the skeptical challenge better than do either the older realism or the newer mechanism. Descartes sought to combine mechanism with a reflective metaphysics of the self and God in so firmly grounded and closely knit a system that skepticism would be eliminated and the Christian faith would be liberated from an outmoded philosophy of nature.

During the second half of the 17th century, the Cartesian school was plagued by the breakdown of the unity of man, by the recrudescence of skeptical doubts over the relation between evidential reality and clear and distinct ideas, and by the eventual substitution of the Newtonian for the Cartesian physics (see cartesianism). The great rationalistsB. spinoza, N. malebranche, and G. W. leibnizfound it necessary to begin all over again with fresh principles of metaphysical speculation adapted to life's moral ends. Spinoza laid stress on the purgative and reforming functions of the theory of method, which had to bring the finite human intelligence to the point of regarding man as a composite modal modification and dynamic expression of the unique and powerful divine substance. The other side of the modern debate between monistic naturalism and pluralistic theism was taken by Malebranche and Leibniz, who defended the reality of many finite substances and volitional centers as being related to the personal God. All three thinkers agreed, however, that man can attain to metaphysical principles of certitude, that the crux of systematic explanation lies in the theory of human unity, and that the entire speculative effort deeply affects the moral reordering of human life and the search for happiness.

Historians of philosophy rightly caution against making a rigid contrast between Continental rationalism and British empiricism. The two groups share many problems and presuppositions, especially on the direct ordering of the mind to its ideas and mental states and on the basic use of the method of analysis. Each group strives in its own way to blend experience and reason, the scientific view of nature and the life of reflective mind. Still, some characteristic emphases distinguish them on how to achieve this blending of the components in human life. The empiricists are much less confident about metaphysical principles and the dependence of moral judgment upon a metaphysical account of the God-man relationship.

Another salutary warning from the historians is to respect J. locke, G. berkeley, and D. hume in their quite distinct intellectual configurations, rather than to blur them together in a close series. The important thing about Locke is that he tempered all claims made for the human understanding with a caution born from his training as a physician and his observation of the nonmathematical methods of R. Boyle and T. Sydenham. Berkeley's immaterialism combined a delicate sensitivity to the skeptical objections on man's knowledge of the world with a reflective personal grasp of the relations between God and participant minds. Hume cut out his own path between skepticism and Newtonian science by making the study of human nature and associative beliefs the central theme for theoretical and moral philosophy.

The minor philosophical movements in the 17th and 18th centuries constituted an influential cultural background for the main endeavors. Among the lesser British thinkers must be counted the cambridge platonists with their rational theology, the Deists ranging from mild minimalists in religion to virulent opponents of revelation (see deism), and the scottish school of commonsense, which tried to break out of the skeptical impasse and the Humean restriction of knowledge to perceptual objects and associative beliefs. The French and German Enlightenment embraced a broad spectrum of positions, ranging from the minimal rational theism of Voltaire and Mendelssohn to the naturalistic atheism of Holbach and Diderot, and on to Rousseau's plan for educating man through the moral sentiments (see enlightenment, philosophy of).

The great genius of I. kant was to transcend these Enlightenment divisions and renew the main philosophical task of integrating experience and reason. Unconvinced by metaphysics in the dogmatic form proposed by C. wolff, Kant worked out a critical method for inspecting the structure of human judgments and the a priori principles involved in the several domains of human activity: Newtonian science of nature, moral rules, biological research, aesthetic appreciation, religious belief, and the taming of political power. Kant reserved knowledge in the strictest sense for man's scientific grasp of phenomenal objects and for a metaphysical reflection upon the structure and principles of the mind. But he looked upon man as the active unifier of knowledge with the other uses of the mind in areas of belief and reflective judgment. (see kantianism.)

19th century. Kant's synthesis of freedom and nature was too precarious to last, since it rested upon a dualism of self and appearances that provoked the search for a closer kind of unity in human experience. Philosophical romanticism flourished in Germany upon the demand for a principle of synthesis drawn from the inner life of the self and an imaginative view of nature. The drive of men such as F. von baader and F. schlegel was to expand the scope of vital intuition and to give greater play to the wisdom of the imagination and the passions, as aids in mastering the sharp contrasts in life. On the theological side, F. D. E. schleiermacher emphasized man's basic feeling of dependence upon a superior power as furnishing the very springs of religious belief.

The German idealists were then confronted with the need to join Kant's methodic control over concepts with the romantics' feel for the unity and divinity of life. J. G. fichte made the fruitful suggestion that all phases of reality and thought respond to a common pattern of positional thesis, counter positional antithesis, and resolving synthesis, and that they do so respond because this threefold pattern is the graven law of the absolute ego and its activity. F. W. J. schelling tested this hypothesis from two sides, starting first from nature in order to reach spirit, and then proceeding in reverse from spirit to nature. But it required the surpassing mind of G. W. F. hegel to work out the dialectical development of spirit in all modes of experience. He interpreted all oppositions as expressing the tragic life of spirit. The creative travail of spirit shapes the logical sphere, the domain of nature, and especially the human world of psychic life and morality, history and art, religion and philosophy, as the encompassing system of knowledge. (see idealism.)

Hegel's awesome synthesis seemed to be suffocating, however, to S. A. kierkegaard as a religious critic and to L. feuerbach and K. marx as naturalistic critics. They all agreed upon the need to deflate the theory of absolute spirit by referring it back to the human exister and agent. Where a new parting of the ways occurred was over how best to describe the existence and agency of man. Kierkegaard located these perfections primarily in the free individual, taken in his search for happiness, his moral responsibility, and his religious faith in the transcendent personal God. The other aspect of the human situation was explored by Feuerbach and Marx, for whom man is not fully real except in his social relations with other men and the natural world. Marx and F. engels laid special stress upon the activity of work, the historical law of class struggle, and the vision of a classless societythe main tenets of communism or dialectical and historical materialism.

Two varieties of positivism were advanced by A. comte and J. S. mill. Comte aimed at joining the search for the unity of knowledge with the social aspirations aroused by the French Revolution. Hence his objective synthesis ordered all the positive sciences, whereas his subjective synthesis placed these sciences at the disposal of man's moral aims and the positivist religion. Mill was soberly critical of this latter phase, since he was prolonging the empiricist analysis of knowledge and the utilitarian calculus of social happiness. Hence he allied positivism with his logic of science and his defense of human liberty in the democratic society.

Throughout the century, there was a strong attraction toward the philosophy of life. Its early version was advanced by A. schopenhauer, who taught the universal presence of a relentless will to live. He sought surcease from this drive partly in aesthetic contemplation and partly in ascetic denial of self. After Darwin's work on evolution appeared, the philosophy of life became expressly evolutionary. Whether it should merely echo biology or become a general cosmology and new morality was a disturbing question for F. W. nietzsche. Within his conception of the will to power and the eternal cycle of becoming, there was no room left for God and an absolute standard of truth and morality. A paradoxical split opened between this philosophy and the religious view of God as the source of all life and truth.

Minor currents during the first part of the century included traditionalism and ontologism, which based certitude on social transmission and a concept of being. In the latter part, there was a revival of Kantianism and a spread of idealism beyond Germany (see neokantianism).

Bibliography: g. boas, Dominant Themes of Modern Philosophy (New York 1957). É. brÉhier, La Philosophie moderne, v.2 of Histoire de la philosophie, 2 v. (Paris 192632). a. r. caponigri, Renaissance to the Romantic Age (A History of Western Philosophy 3; Chicago 1963); j. d. collins, A History of Modern European Philosophy (Milwaukee 1954). f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy v.37 (Westminster, Md. 1953, 1958, 1959, 1963). b. a. g. fuller, A History of Modern Philosophy, v.2 of A History of Philosophy, ed. s. m. mcmurrin, 2 v. (3rd ed. New York 1955). É. gilson and t. langan, Modern Philosophy: Descartes to Kant (New York 1963); Recent Philosophy: Hegel to the Present (New York 1966). h. hØffding, A History of Modern Philosophy, tr. r.e. meyer, 2 v. (New York 1950). r. kroner, Speculation and Revelation in Modern Philosophy (Philadelphia 1961). j. h. randall, The Career of Philosophy: From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment (New York 1962); From the Enlightenment to the Nineteenth Century (New York 1965).

[j. d. collins]


There is a narrower and a broader meaning for the expression "contemporary philosophy." In the narrower and highly fluid sense, it signifies those problems and positions that are at the center of interest and discussion in a specific situation at present. In a broader way, contemporary philosophy includes the major currents active in the 20th century and relevant for its continued inquiries. The latter is the working historical meaning, being comprehensive enough to include the significant prolongations of previous philosophies as well as the basically new approaches developed in the 20th century. There are some special difficulties in studying contemporary philosophy: the sifting process has not gone on long enough to distinguish clearly between the weight of argument and cultural influences; the perspective is not fully attained for setting off the major from the minor, but temporarily impressive, contributions; and not all the systematic consequences have been worked out sufficiently to measure a philosophy in the round. However, the main lines of 20th-century development can be charted and the most prominent landmarks indicated.

Life philosophies. The theme of life was prolonged in the direction of man's interior activities by H. bergson, and in the direction of cultural unities by W. dilthey. In order to countervail the positivistic reduction of life processes to physical laws, Bergson cited the difference between the physicalist meaning of time as discrete movements along a spatial line and the reflective human meaning of time as interior duration. This opened up a metaphysical view of evolution as a striving toward freedom, and of human social life as a tension between the closed system of morality and religion and the open attitude best exhibited by the Christian mystics. Thereafter, P. teilhard de chardin gave a theistic and personalistic interpretation of the evolutionary character of life. The surge of life is at once from God in a creative outpouring and toward God in function of man's ability to concentrate the streams of life in order to advance, in community form, to the divine spiritual goal of the entire universe.

What impressed Dilthey was that human life finds its expression not solely in the individual's spiritual striving but also in the various modes of cultural activity. In a given historical period, these cultural modes of artistic, scientific, religious, and political life unite in a pattern, sometimes called the tone or spirit or characteristic outlook of the age. Dilthey made two methodological findings: the cultural pattern in history discloses itself better to the procedure of sympathetic understanding than to either the positivist sort of physical-causal explanation or the Hegelian dialectic of absolute spirit; and the great differences between one cultural outlook and another can be studied in terms of a common set of humane categories. The method of sympathetic understanding and categorical analysis of the expressive cultural forms was applied to the areas of language, myth, and science by E. cassirer. And it was related to the individual existent's free interpretation of his destiny by J. ortega y gasset. (see life philosophies; history, philosophy of).

Idealism. During the first part of the century, idealism flourished in England, the U.S., and Italy. Among the British idealists, B. Bosanquet wrote persuasively about the ideal and absolute factor in art and the tension in practical life between absolute standards and particular situations. The most powerful mind was F. H. bradley, who used the principle that the absolute is the totality of experience to argue for the ultimate internality of all relations, the constant breakdown of perceptual objects and empirical facts in the field of appearance, and the reality of the one undivided life of the absolute. Nevertheless, he denied any direct knowledge of the absolute reality as the union of all differences, and stressed the relative nature of the particular theoretical and practical standards that men do determine in experience.

In the U.S., J. royce strove to accommodate evolutionary science and modern logic within idealism by exploring the dynamic, intentional relationship between an idea and its fulfilling meaning. He compared the bond between finite individuals and the absolute self to that between the living components in an interpreting system and the whole system or community of interpretation itself. On the moot question of preserving the reality of the human selves, Royce was criticized by such personal idealists as G. H. Howison and E. S. brightman (see personalism). Personal idealism emphasized the distinction between the personal God and finite persons, although it added that the divine nature itself contains both infinite and finite aspects to account for the presence of evil.

The leading Italian idealists were B. croce and G. gentile. Croce identified philosophy with history, because the former is a reflection upon the very process of spirit that internally constitutes the latter. He also revived the systematic claims of idealism by following the course of spirit through the theoretical realms of aesthetic and logical expression and the practical realms of economic and moral activity. Act was the key to reality for Gentile, who worked out a theory of actualism extending from logic to education.

Philosophy of the spirit. There was a loose association between several French and Italian thinkers who examined the life of the spirit apart from the Hegelian framework, in order to preserve unequivocally the integrity of the human person and his religious relation to the personal God. M. blondel accepted from the philosophy of life a stress upon striving interior action, and from the idealists a respect for the interrelatedness of all domains of thought and reality. In his own synthesis, the philosophical inquiry remained open to the initiative of divine revelation. This inductive spiritual notion of Christian philosophy exerted an appeal upon M. F. Sciacca. But the renewed need to consider the fundamental philosophical issues in knowledge, metaphysics, and the growing theory of values was felt strongly by L. Lavelle and R. Le Senne. They exhibited the resources of the spiritualist position in penetrating downward into human experience at the levels of perception, ontological participation, and moral activity. (see spirit)

American philosophy. American philosophy came of age with the impact of evolutionary thought, the interest it aroused in scientific method, and the questions left unanswered by the idealistic interpretation of evolution, science, and morality. C. S. peirce emphasized the role of the idea of consequences in determining a particular scientific concept. He also examined the scientific attitude of unrestricted fallibilism, as well as the abductive method whereby the scientific mind develops fruitful new hypotheses. Against the anti-metaphysical bias of positivism, he proposed a theory of the categories and a description of reality in terms of chance, continuity, and love. pragmatism as a theory of meaning and truth was popularized by William james. He argued that a pluralistic and melioristic universe, complete with a developing God, is not only more stimulating to man's moral fiber but also closer to the truth about being. The test of practice remained ambiguous in his hands, however, because of the difficulty of distinguishing between the satisfaction and the validation of ideas.

naturalism arose as a way of meeting this difficulty without returning to the idealistic absolute. The version proposed by G. santayana rested on the dictum that everything ideal has a real basis in the natural material world, and everything real has an ideal mode of fulfillment in the order of imagination. Santayana viewed the human spirit as a constant act of transition from matter to imagination and back again, and reduced religion to a refined filtering of aspirations by the play of imagination. Even so, the verdict of J. Dewey was that Santayana flirted so perilously with transcendence that he ended with a broken-backed dualism. Dewey's own naturalism aimed at being antidualistic in respect to the soul-body and God-world distinctions, and yet antireductionist in respect to the evolutionary levels of experience. He identified the knowable real with the totality of nature that can be investigated by the scientific method. This placed considerable weight upon the logic of scientific inquiry, which Dewey patterned after the biological relation of organism to environment and which he applied to man's artistic, social, and moral experience.

Since his main philosophical work was done in the U.S., A. N. whitehead belongs in American philosophy. He mounted a sustained attack upon the empiricist bifurcation of nature into causal factors and those that appear in the mind, as well as upon the empiricist disruption of causal relations in experience. His own philosophy of process and of organism was a speculative theory combining cosmological and metaphysical features. It revolved around the concrescence of "actual entities" and their dynamic togetherness in weaving "eternal objects" and achieving constant novelty. The systematic consequences of Whitehead's process philosophy were worked out for the various domains of experience in the metaphysical realism of P. Weiss.

Logical positivism. As originally propounded in the Vienna Circle consisting of M. Schlick, R. Carnap, and O. Neurath, logical positivism had the threefold task of analyzing the basic kinds of propositions that give knowledge, of determining a criterion of verification for these basic types, and of achieving the unification of the sciences. The first task resolved itself into a rigid distinction between the analytic, a priori propositions found in logic and mathematics and the synthetic or empirical propositions expressing sense data. The second step was to reduce all cognitive meaning to what can be verified through a formal test or a purely empirical test. And the third step was to use the language of physics as the basis of unification of the sciences, regarding every proposition that resisted such reduction as being metaphysical, in the pejorative sense of having neither formal nor empirical cognitive meaning.

Although this plan was simplicity itself, it ran into trouble when A. J. Ayer popularized it in England. The sharp contrast between the analytic and the empirical was attacked, the verification principle was weakened to several modes of verifiability in principle, and the physical language was discovered to contain unexpected contributions of mind. Both Ayer and H. Feigl moved on to broader conceptions of empiricism.

Analytical philosophy. The British school of analysis built upon the pioneer work of G. E. Moore and B. russell. What counted most in Moore's refutation of idealism was his method of moving from metaphysical justification to clarification of what is already known. His positive analysis of perceptual and moral problems took of piecemeal approach, fastened upon ordinary modes of discourse, and ferreted out the logical kinds of questions and reasons involved in commonsense talk. Russell's collaboration with Whitehead not only led to modern mathematical logic but also suggested ways of overcoming misleading expressions. His theory of types and descriptions led Russell to distinguish between the apparent and the real logical form of a proposition, to construct ideal languages out of known entities, and thus to devise a metaphysically neutral method of handling the traditional puzzles.

wittgenstein, the leading analyst, regarded philosophy as an activity of elucidation rather than as a theory. He proposed to dissolve rather than solve metaphysical theories about the world by showing that they arose from a misunderstanding of the structure and limits of language or from an attempt to express that which cannot be expressed in language but only shown by contrast with what is sayable. Eventually, Wittgenstein concentrated on the rules for particular language games and the particular meanings determined by such uses. J. Wisdom and the Cambridge school took a therapeutic approach to metaphysical conflicts, whereas G. Ryle and J. L. Austin at Oxford stressed plural usages, category mistakes, and good reasons.

Phenomenology. E. husserl took the first step toward founding phenomenology with his critique of psychologism, or the attempt of J. S. Mill and C. Sigwart to reduce logical meanings to psychic occurrences and their conditions. He distinguished between the act of judging as a psychic phenomenon and the judgmental content or structure of meaning itself. After also criticizing naturalism and historicism for failing to distinguish between the context and the validity of thought, Husserl sought to make philosophy a rigorous science. He put brackets around the natural attitude of unquestioning acceptance of the world, developed descriptive and reductional techniques for examining the essential structure of things (acts and objects), and traced meanings back to the transcendental ego and its constitution of self and world.

M. scheler and M. merleau-ponty developed phenomenology in the moral-religious and the psychological spheres respectively. Scheler found a corrective for ethical formalism in the careful study of actual states of soul and attitudes. He used the theory of intentionality to examine the religious believer's ordination to God, as well as his self-realization through prayer and love of neighbor. His research was distracted, however, by an evolutionary pantheism in which God and man evolve together in life. Such speculations were foreign to Merleau-Ponty, who made phenomenology speak the language of perception again, in order to locate reality in the mutual relation between man and the world. He used the theme of the living body and man's relation to his life world as a means of regulating the sciences and of vindicating the act of human interpretation of visible reality.

Existentialism. The existentialists made their own return to the existent reality of man, partly to liberate him from being a modalized phase of the idealistic absolute, partly to recover the sense of freedom and moral decision, and partly to gain orientation for the study of being. But each of them made a distinctive development and came eventually to resist classification along with the others.

K. jaspers and G. marcel maintained a threefold kinship. They were highly critical of the depersonalizing effect of technological civilization; they regarded the free human existent as being related to transcendence as well as to the world; and they recognized the limiting effect of life situations upon the project of reaching God. Marcel worked out a theory of recollection and participation in being whereby the human searcher is united to God, whereas Jaspers remained fundamentally ambiguous about this relationship. For J. P. sartre's part, both the social and the religious projects of man are unavoidable and yet doomed to frustration. Sartre based this conclusion on a sharply dualistic theory of matter and consciousness in man, reminiscent of the idealistic thesis and antithesis taken in isolation from any unifying principle. M. heidegger's route led him backward from things-that-are to being, from technology to the pre-Socratic grasp of nature, and from the long philosophical tradition to the act of thinking in which being can perhaps be enshrined. His analyses of being in the world, being along with others, and being related to instruments and to integral things, were clues to the metaphysics of being for which he sought. (see existentialism.)

Scholasticism. In the wake of the papal recommendations after Leo XIII's Aeterni Parris, there was a quickening of traditional Christian philosophies. The historical labors of M. grabmann and M. de wulf restored knowledge of the medieval philosophies, a task carried on by É. gilson, who also gave special place to St. Thomas Aquinas. J. maritain's work was to bring thomism into living relation with modern problems in science, art, and society. The task of rethinking the scholastic heritage was continued in all areas of thought. (see scholasticism, 3.)

Bibliography: j. l. blau, Men and Movements in American Philosophy (New York 1952). i. m. bocheŃski, Contemporary European Philosophy, tr. d. nicholl and k. aschenbrenner (Berkeley 1956). j. d. collins, Three Paths in Philosophy (Chicago 1962). f. c. copleston, Contemporary Philosophy (Westminster, Md. 1956). a. dondeyne, Contemporary European Thought and Christian Faith, tr. e. mcmullin and j. burnheim (Pittsburgh 1958). j. ferrater mora, Philosophy Today (New York 1960). a. w. levi, Philosophy and the Modern World (Bloomington, Ind.1959). j. a. passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy (New York 1957). The Library of Living Philosophers, ed. p. a. schilpp (Evanston, Ill. 1939), separate volumes on Broad, Buber, Carnap, Cassirer, Dewey, Einstein, Jaspers, Lewis, Moore, Radhakrishnan, Russell, Santayana, and Whitehead. v. e. smith, Idea-Men of Today (Milwaukee 1950). h. spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction, 2 v. (The Hague 1960). m. f. sciacca, Philosophical Trends in the Contemporary World, 2 v. (Notre Dame, Ind. 1964).

[j. d. collins]

Philosophy, History of

views updated May 17 2018


A respected Princeton philosopher keeps a sign on his office door forbidding the discussion therein of any philosophy more than ten years old. At this late stage in his career the restriction includes a good deal of his own work. This may well be the limit case of the antihistorical attitude that prevailed throughout much academic philosophy of the twentieth century, motivated by the view that philosophy, as an academic discipline, need have no more connection to its past than does any other positive domain of inquiry. A physicist, for example, may be interested to know how exactly Newton came upon his discovery of the laws of gravity. But this interest is, as it were, extracurricular, not a necessary part of the specialized knowledge of a competent physicist. It will be enough that the physicist learn the relevant laws in a textbook; Newton's name need not appear at all, much less the details of his distinctly seventeenth-century concerns.

Can philosophy be understood in the same way? At the other end of the spectrum from our Princeton philosopher, we find some maintaining that philosophy is entirely constituted by its history, that the study of philosophy can never be anything but the study of the history of philosophy. Between these two extremes, there are a vast number of intermediate positions concerning the value of philosophy's history to its present practice. Among those who accept that this history is in some degree valuable, moreover, there are vastly different conceptions of the nature of this value. What follows is a review, with the help of some slightly cumbersome "-isms," of some of the possible perspectives on the history of philosophy from within philosophy at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with an eye toward the deeper understanding of the nature of philosophy itself that informs these perspectives.


Indifferentism is plainly summed up in the message on the Princeton office door. But this label does not tell all, for indifferentism's vociferous defenders are anything but indifferent about what philosophy (as an ahistorical discipline) is, and about what philosophers ought to be doing. Most likely, the indifferentist would like to see philosophy come forward as a science, to adapt a phrase of Immanuel Kant's (17241804), and believes that it can do so by simply focusing on an appropriate, rather narrow set of questions. In the twentieth century, these were questions arising in the analysis of language and the methodology of science, and so it has been with some justice that indifferentism has commonly been associated with analytic philosophy.

Around the turn of the twenty-first century, though, most philosophers working in this tradition had come to recognize the usefulness to their own work of the history of philosophy, and particularly of the history of analytic philosophy itself. It has become rare that a philosopher of science or language who does not also have some competence in the history of these subdisciplines will find a job. Some of the best contemporary analytic philosophers choose to congregate at meetings of the History of the Philosophy of Science group to discuss, among other things, the revision of our understanding of the very notion of "analysis" as it was understood in early analytic philosophy by, for example, Rudolph Carnap (18911970) or Otto Neurath (18821945). What is sometimes described as "post-analytic philosophy," then, might better be thought of as analytic philosophy after its historical turn, and is in any case a sure sign that strict indifferentism is on its way out.

Indifferentists tend to believe that philosophy, like any other discipline, has seen some progress over the past few millennia. One standard example is the resolution of the paradoxes of Zeno of Citium (c. 335c. 263 b.c.e.) with mathematical tools that had to wait until the nineteenth century to see the light of day. On another understanding, though, what happens when a philosophical question is "solved" is that it ipso facto ceases to be a philosophical question at all and becomes a mathematical or scientific one. Thus, any philosophical question is by definition unanswerable, and the history of philosophy becomes but the prehistory of science, the initial recognition that a problem exists without any clue as to how to render it scientifically tractable. It may be impossible to say which perspective is right; but those who believe that the mathematization of Zeno's paradoxes was an instance of philosophical progress will likely think that there is no reason to dwell too much in the past. Why waste our time on those who hadn't yet figured out as much as we have? We may be grateful to past philosophers for having discerned the problem and taken some initial stabs at solving it, as a twenty-first century astronomer might appreciate Claudius Ptolemy (c. 100c. 170), but there is no pressing need to figure out the details of their theories and how they came up with them.

Those who believe philosophy is cumulative and progressive, then, will likely incline toward indifferentism in some degree. Others, though, believe that what makes philosophy unique is that it never really gets anywhere. There may be personal progress that comes from studying it and learning how complex the problems it addresses are, but the discipline as a whole witnesses no real progress over the course of centuries. On this view, history will be of tremendous value, because it is only through the study of philosophy's history, the way it keeps circling back around the same challenges, always coming up with solutions from within a limited range of options, that one can experience personal progress out of an adolescent optimism, or even arrogance, about these problems' facile solvability.


Appropriationism may describe any approach to the history of philosophy that seeks to take from it tools that may be of service to one's ahistorical philosophical task. An appropriationist asks of the history of philosophy: What can it do for me? Representatives of different strains of appropriationism will have different answers to this question.


This breed of appropriationism searches philosophy's past for arguments that have stood the test of time and can still be of service in defense of some philosophical position advocated by the appropriator. For instance, a reconstructionist who believes that no better account of personal identity has been offered since the late seventeenth century than that presented by John Locke (16321704)who roots it in continuity of memorywill cite Locke's argument for this theory in support of his or her own, similar one. The same reconstructionist, though, will not feel obligated to adopt, or even take an interest in, Locke's support of, say, a cosmological argument for the existence of God. Reconstructionists take piecemeal from philosophy's past what is useful for their own projects, and will generally not feel obligated to consider whether the argument borrowed from a past figure was really offered in response to concerns similar to theirs. As Jonathan Bennett approvingly describes this approach to history, dead philosophers should be approached as colleagues, with the one minor but not insurmountable difference that they are, well, dead. In this spirit, twentieth-century scholars of the philosophy of René Descartes (15961650) have been able to portray him as engaged, to use Bernard Williams' phrase, in a "project of pure enquiry," without acknowledging that he was also engaged in a project of empirical physiology, and other areas of seventeenth-century philosophy that have since been outsourced to the appropriate science departments.


An absolutely dogmatic Marxist would be an entirely uninteresting character, not because Karl Marx (18181883) was wrong, but because a follower who adheres utterly to every aspect of his predecessor's thought is in essence only a relay station for that thought's dissemination, not a thinker in his own right. Any noteworthy Marxist thinker, other than Marx himself, will be in his or her unique way a neo- Marxist, even if the prefix remains only implicit. Thus V. I. Lenin (18701924), a Marxist if there ever was one, nonetheless modified some of Marx's central doctrines concerning the essential class-rootedness of conflict to account for the new phenomena of imperialism and the growing antagonism between the colonizing and the colonized parts of the world that at least the early Marx could not possibly have foreseen. Similarly, Jacques Lacan (19011981) adopts the basic categories developed by Sigmund Freud (18561939) for the analysis of the psyche but explicates them in terms of a poststructuralist philosophy of language. Lenin and Lacan are not reconstructionists; they do not pretend that Marx and Freud were concerned with the same problems they themselves face or even that their predecessors would approve of the way they are tackling these problems. But they are appropriationists of a different stripe, mastering and defending the ideas of a predecessor, while showing how these ideas can be of use in application to new and unforeseen problems.

Neo-x -ists will speak of working within a "broadly x -ian framework" while dealing with questions that admittedly did not concern x. Conversely, a reconstructionist will find and extract passages in which some predecessor x dealt with the same questions that interest him or her today, without, in performing this extraction, feeling obligated to confess to any broadly x -ian framework or world-view.


A contextualist will, to the extent possible, let philosophical predecessors speak for themselves through the texts they have left behind. If a great thinker from some bygone era turns out to have believed in ghosts or astrology, then so be it; these features of his or her thought need to be acknowledged and understood just as much as those that have stood the test of time. Facing up to these odd and sundry concerns of our predecessors, a contextualist thinks, has more than just the virtue of shocking our shockingly narrow colleagues. Contextualism, in its honesty about the distance between our concerns and those of our predecessors, reminds us that past philosophers were not just early models of ourselves, but were concerned with a largely different set of problems and saw their role and responsibility as thinkers very differently. In this way, contextualism can help overcome the tendency to see the past as a mere prelude to the present. And this benefit may be of more philosophical significance than it first appears.

Contextualism, understood as the "merely" historical study of the history of philosophy, helps history to be something more than history of the present, in the same way that the study of natural selection in now-extinct evolutionary lines can help to drive home the important point that evolution is not a teleological process that has as its end its crowning accomplishment, homo sapiens. The present state of philosophy is not the end toward which the past has been striving, just as human beings are not the end toward which evolution has been striving. Against this view, it might be pointed out that the tradition of philosophy has been a common project, whereas evolution has been a blind and stumbling affair. But the contextualist will remind us that, even if we might recruit the dead to help us with our philosophical tasks, this does not mean that they would recognize as much commonality with us as we claim with them if per impossibile they could have been given advance warning about their posthumous affiliations. Among the contextualists, we may mention, by way of example, the names of Dan Garber, Roger Ariew, Lloyd Gerson, and Michael Frede, each of whom seeks, to a greater or lesser extent, to reveal the circumstances of time and place that help to shine light on the philosophical thought of that time and place.


A constitutivist tends to believe that philosophy just is a particular tradition, fundamentally rooted in history and comprehensible only synchronically. For the constitutivist, it is our primary task today to investigate how we came to inherit the philosophical concerns we have, rather than to continue to seek answers to questions as though they were timelessly meaningful. Thus for Marx, each era's philosophy is one of the superstructural reflections, along with other outcroppings of culture, of the class relations that fundamentally define that era; for Michel Foucault (19261984), philosophy as the contemplation of timeless questions is in need of replacement by a genealogy of the concepts that came to predominate, mostly in only very recent history, in philosophical discourse. There is an air of subject-changing in these accounts of the history of philosophy: they want to reveal the true nature of philosophical discourse, rather than to continue to participate in it. For instance, when Frederic Jameson describes Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained (1991) as an allegory of late capitalismas outlined by Slavoj Zizek in the London Review of Books ("Bring Me My Phillips Mental Jacket," 22 May 2003)he is not engaging with Dennett's arguments in a way that could even permit the author to respond. He is explaining Dennett's concerns, his very conception of philosophy, as the product of a history of which Dennett need not be at all aware. Dennett may say this is unfair (though more likely he will not say anything at all); Jameson, for his part, could respond, true to his Marxist constitutivist convictions, that the deepest and most fundamental account of the philosophy of any era, including recent analytic philosophy, will be one that roots it in its time and place. Any account that does not do this will fail to grasp what the theory it is studying is really "all about." And any constitutivist would insist that such a failure is a philosophical failure, perhaps the cardinal one.


Most scholars working in the history of philosophy will combine in varying degrees some or all of these various approaches. Many scholars believe that, qua historian of philosophy, one is required to accomplish some serious historical research, preferably involving archives and manuscripts, in order to claim any expertise on the subject studied. A real historian must know at least a few languages, understand the basics of historiographical method, and know at least a bit about the social and political background of the era in question. But, qua philosopher, at the end of the day one must also prove able to do what other philosophers demand of their colleagues: namely, offer some insight into the essences of things, or show that what was thought to have an essence lacks one, or show, as the American philosopher Wilrid Sellars says, how things hang together in the broadest sense. This may be done simply through the discussion of what some past thinker thought on these topics, but the crucial thing is that essences, hangings-together, and other such philosophical staples be tackled directly or through the mediation of one who has gone before, rather than resting content with, say, a tally of the dates and recipients of some seventeenth-century philosopher's letters.

Some historians of philosophy might not be exactly sure what they're doing. While many of us know of no other way to talk or write about the history of philosophy than by purporting to explain what the philosopher in question actually meant, we are too sophisticated to believe that this is what we are really doing. We claim to be setting the record straight, but sense that at least to some extent we are pushing our own agendas. These need not be mutually exclusive tasks, however. A feminist historian of philosophy may wish to push her worthy agenda, for example, by setting the record straight concerning the great number of largely ignored women active in the central philosophical debates of the seventeenth century, such as Anne Conway (16311679) and Damaris Masham (16581708). And yet, even after this correction to the record is made and women gain their rightful place in the canon, it would be naïve to think that the record has been set straight once and for all. A future generation will undoubtedly discover something else that has remained sub-rosa in earlier generations' reception of our shared past. There are ever new and previously undetected angles from which to consider philosophy's past. So long as it interests us, we will never cease to find new ones. The ones we find, moreover, will always be at least partially a reflection of our own interests, even if we hold out just letting the texts speak for themselves as the soundest methodology. We might worry that this is to allow rather too much "as if" to enter into our understanding of our own projects: know that you can never do more than reflect your time and place in your reception of the past, but approach the past as if you had the power of discernment to say once and for all what it was all about. This and similar worries, far from indicating professional incompetence, might be better understood as proof that the study of the history of philosophy is a quintessentially philosophical endeavor, and carries with it all the aggravation and perplexity one might expect from any endeavor deserving of this label.

See also Historiography ; Ideas, History of ; Philosophy .


Bennett, Jonathan. Learning from Six Great Philosophers: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Collingwood, R. G. The Idea of History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1946. Reprint, edited by Jan Van Der Dussen, Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. London: Tavistock, 1970.

Gracia, Jorge J. E. Philosophy and Its History: Issues in Philosophical Historiography. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Hutton, Sarah. Anne Conway: A Woman Philosopher. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979.

Rorty, Richard, Jerome B. Schneewind, and Quentin Skinner, eds. Philosophy in History: Essays in the Historiography of Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Tully, James, ed. Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.

Williams, Bernard. Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1978.

Justin E. H. Smith

Ideas, History of

views updated May 21 2018


The "history of ideas," phrase and concept, goes back almost three centuries to the work of J. J. Brucker (16961770) and Giambattista Vico (16681744) in the early eighteenth century, followed in the nineteenth century by Victor Cousin (17921867) and his eclectic and "spiritualist" philosophy. The story begins with Brucker's Historia doctrina de ideis (1723), which surveyed the Platonic doctrine, and Vico's criticism, which rejected the idea of a Greek monopoly on ideas. For Vico philosophy was joined to religion in a larger and older tradition of wisdom and theology, "queen of the sciences," which, he wrote, "took its start not when the philosophers began to reflect [ riflettere ] on human ideas" (as, he added, in the "erudite and scholarly little book" recently published by Brucker) "but rather when the first men began to think humanly." Thus the history of ideas began not with Plato but with myth and poetry, and this poetic wisdom was the basis not only for Plato's theory of ideas but also for Vico's "history of ideas," which was one face of his "New Science." Victor Cousin and his followers also took a broad view of the history of ideas, from antiquity down to modern times.

The history of ideas was given new life in the twentieth century, especially under the guidance of Arthur O. Lovejoy (18731962), one of the leading American philosophers of this time. Even before Lovejoy the phrase had been applied to a series of volumes published by the philosophy department of Columbia University between 1918 and 1935, which were devoted to "a field in which it appears that ideas have a history and that their history is influenced by contact with lines of experience not commonly called philosophical." Lovejoy was more deliberate in applying the phrase to what he regarded as a new discipline distinct from the history of philosophy and the "new history," championed by James Harvey Robinson (18631936) and his followers. The History of Ideas Club at the Johns Hopkins University (where Lovejoy taught), which began meeting from 1923, was the scene of papers given by many distinguished scholars. The classic work in the field that since 1919 Lovejoy had been calling the "history of ideas" was his William James lectures in Harvard, which were published in 1936 as The Great Chain of Being.

In the history of philosophy, according to Lovejoy, "is to be found the common seed-plot, the locus of initial manifestation in writing, of the greater number of the more fundamental and pervasive ideas, and especially of the ruling preconceptions, which manifest themselves in other regions of intellectual history" (p. 8). Yet Lovejoy also aspired to make the history of ideas an interdisciplinary enterprise, accommodating also literature, the arts, and the natural and social sciences. Nor were Lovejoy's "unit-ideas" limited to formal concepts, for he also wanted to accommodate "implicit or incompletely explicit assumptions or more or less unconscious mental habits, operating in the thought of an individual or a generation"; "dialectical motives," or methodological assumptions (nominalist or "organismic," for example) also inexpressible in propositions; metaphysical pathos (which awakened particular moods, for example); and ideas associated with particular sacred words and phrases intelligible through semantic analysis. All of these "ideas," which were regarded as the expression of whole groups and ages, were interpreted mainly by literary texts, especially poetry, from several national traditions, in keeping with the international and interdisciplinary thrust of Lovejoy's agenda.

In Lovejoy's program the history of ideas extended its sway over no fewer than twelve fields of study, beginning with the history of philosophy and including the history of science, religion, the arts, language, literature, comparative literature, folklore, economic, political, and social history, and the sociology of knowledge. These fields were all disciplinary traditions in themselves; the novelty was treating them in an interdisciplinary and synthetic way for larger purposes. For Lovejoy (writing in the dark year 1940) the final task of the history of ideas was "the gravest and most fundamental of our questions, 'What's the matter with man?'"

Lovejoy's colleague George Boas (18911980) expanded on the idealist implications of his methods. For Boas ideas are basic meanings that lie behindand that evolve independently ofwords. "The history of ideas is not confined to historical semantics," he wrote and "a dictionary aims only to give the meaning of words, not of ideas, and sometimes a single idea may have two names" (1969, p. 11). Yet these are assumptions that cannot be expressed or communicated except through words and historical semanticsa paradox that neither Lovejoy nor Boas resolved, or chose to confront. As they acknowledged, "The history of any idea, or complex of ideas, is best presented through the citation of the ipsissima verba of the writers who have expressed it."

Lovejoy's agenda found an institutional basis when the Journal of the History of Ideas (JHI ) was founded in 1940, the first issue being prefaced by his "reflections," which suggested the orientation of this periodical more or less down to the present, especially in terms of "influences"classical on modern thought, philosophical ideas and scientific discoveries on all areas of study, other pervasive ideas such as evolution, progress, primitivism, and various ideas of human nature, on historical understanding. This program was also reflected in the old Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited in 1968 by Philip P. Wiener, first editor of the JHI (and succeeded, if not replaced, by the present work).

The history of ideas had counterparts in other European traditions, including German Ideengeschichte, Geistesgeschichte, and especially Begriffsgeschichte, and French mentalités. In the later twentieth century all of these approaches were affected by the "linguistic turn," which shifted attention from unproblematized "ideas" to language and discourse, since ideas, as Jorge Luis Borges (18891986) wrote, "are not, like marble, everlasting," and as Ludwig Wittgenstein (18891951) put it, "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world." Not that Lovejoy was unaware of such problems, for long before he had pointed out "the role of semantic shifts, ambiguities, and confusions, in the history of thought and taste," and he remarked that "nearly all of the great catchwords have been equivocalor rather, multivocal." For this reason Lovejoy took pains to distinguish the varied meanings behind keywords such as nature, progress, perfectibility, romanticism, and pragmatism, as well as more inflammatory terms of ideological debate.

In the later twentieth century the history of ideas was invaded and shaken by a number of intellectual movements, including hermeneutics, reception theory, psych-history (and -biography), deconstruction, poststructuralism, constructivism, the new historicism, cultural materialism, the new cultural history, Derridean textualism, and various efforts of the "social history of ideas." Following the Nietzschean notion of "the interpretive character of all that happens" and the impact of literary theory, the history of ideas in its classic, spiritualist form also entered into decline, being superseded (except among philosophers) by intellectual history and deeper concerns of language and historical context as well as material culture.

One line of post-Marxian criticism was launched by Michel Foucault, who rejected a number of unreflective rubrics such as tradition, influence, development and evolution, spirit, pre-given unities and links, and especially the notion of the self-conscious agent, the "sovereign subject," and "authorial presence," which underlie the imaginary vehicle of "ideas." In the course of his intellectual iteration Foucault shifted from ideas to "discourse," from history to "archaeology," then to Nietzschean "genealogy," from development to "rupture," and from spirit or mentality to "episteme" and so to dismantle the history of ideas and to unmask the ideological surface of past and present culture. In his "grammatology" Jacques Derrida carried the critique of ideas beyond language to the world of textuality and intertextuality as the ultimate context of historicity and civil society. In the wake of such "litero-philosophy" many recent intellectual historians, including Hayden White, Dominick LaCapra, Hans Kellner, Roger Chartier, and Frank Ankersmit have distanced themselves from the old tradition of the history of ideas, though without entirely abandoning it.

Intellectual history can no longer be studied without attention to these warnings about unexamined premises of the human sciences. Yet "ideas" remain an essential shorthand for history as well as philosophy and other human sciences, and the history of ideas continues in channels both new and old, with methodological debates recurring across the range of interdisciplinary studies. And the critical pursuit of the history of ideas, or intellectual history, continues not only among historians of culture but also among scholars in the history of philosophy, literature, art, science, and the human sciences.

See also Cultural History ; Enlightenment ; Historicism ; Humanism ; Language, Linguistics, and Literacy ; Philosophy: Relations to Other Intellectual Realms ; Science, History of ; Tradition .


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Donald R. Kelley

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