Sunday, 17 October 2010

The History of Western Philosophy - Chapters 10-17 Raw Notes


Spinoza is the noblest and most lovable of the great philosophers. Intellectually, some others have surpassed him, but ethically he is supreme.

The Dutch government, with its usual liberalism, tolerated his opinions on theological matters, though at one time he was bad odour politically because he sided with the DeWitts against the House of Orange. At the early age of forty-three he died of a lung condition.

Spinoza's political theory is, in the main, derived from Hobbes, in spite of the enormous temperamental difference between the two men. He holds that in a state of nature there is no right or wrong, for wrong consists in disobeying the law.

Hobbes is opposed to all rebellion, even against a bad government

Descartes was a many-sided man, full of intellectual curiosity, but not burdened with moral earnestness.

The metaphysical system of Spinoza is of the type inaugurated by Parmenides. There is only one substance, 'God or Nature'. Descartes admitted three substances – God, mind and matter. Spinoza would have none of this. For him, thought and extension were both attributes of God.

Everything, according to Spinoza, is ruled by an absolute logical necessity. There is no such thing as free will in the mental sphere or chance in the physical world. Everything that happens is a manifestation of God's inscrutable nature, and it it logically impossible that events should be other than they are.

In God, who alone is completely real, there is no negation, and therefore the evil in what to us seem sins does not exist when they are viewed as parts of the whole.

Spinoza's theory of emotion – The human mind has an adequate knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of god.

Spinoza, like Socrates and Plato, believes that all wrong action is due to intellectual error. The man who adequately understands his own circumstances will act wisely, and will even be happy in the face of what to another world would be misfortune.

According to Spinoza, whatever happens is part of the eternal timeless world as God sees it; to Him, the date is irrelevant. His outlook is intended to liberate men from the tyranny of fear.

Spinoza does not, like the Stoics, object to all emotions. He objects only to those that are 'passions' I.e. those in which we appear to ourselves to be passive in the power of outside forces. He also says that God is not affected by any emotion of pleasure or pain, and also says that 'the intellectual love of the mind towards God is part of the infinite love wherewith God loves himself'

Wrote The Ethics

Spinoza's metaphysic is the best example of what may be called 'logical monism'. He thought that the nature of the world and human life could be logically deduced from self-evident axioms; we ought to be as resigned to events as to the fact that 2 and 2 are 4, since they are equally the outcome of logical necessity.



An individual who was somewhat mean about money

Leibniz based his philosophy on the notion of substance, but he differed radically from them as regards the relation of mind and matter, and as regards the number of substances

He also held that extension cannot be an attribute of substance. This was because he felt extension involves plurality, and can therefore only belong to an aggregate of substances

Leibniz was led to deny the reality of matter, and to substitute an infinite family of souls

In contrast with Spinoza, Leibniz made much of the free will allowed in his system. He had a 'principle of sufficient reason', according to which nothing happens without a reason; but when we are concerned with free agents, the reasons for their actions 'incline without necessitating'

Leibniz brought into their final form the metaphysical proofs of God's existence.

Leibniz has 4 arguments that support the existence of God:

1 – The ontological argument
2 – The cosmological argument
3 – The argument from eternal truths
4 – The argument from the pre-established harmony, which may be generalized into the argument from design, or the physico-theological argument (as Kant calls it)

Leibniz argues that every particular thing in the world is 'contingent' – It would be logically possible for it not to exist; and this is true; not only of each particular thing, but of the whole universe

He was a firm believer in the importance of logic, not only in its own sphere, but as the basis of metaphysics. He also based his philosophy on two logical premisses, the law of contradiction and the law of sufficient reason.

There is a general belief that it is better to exist than to not exist. Leibniz clearly held this view, and thought it part of God's goodness to create as full a universe as possible.

Leibniz is the best example of a philosopher who uses logic as a key to metaphysics

He rejected mononism largely due to his interest in dynamics, and to his argument that extension involved repetition, and therefore cannot be an attribute of a single substance.

Philosophical Liberalism

Men who are far more familiar with books than with affairs are apt to over-estimate the influence of philosophers
A new error has arisen by reaction against the old one, and this new error consists in regarding theorists as almost passive products of their circumstances, and as hardly having any influence at all upon the course of events

Early liberalism was a product of England and Holland

It stood for religious toleration; it was protestant.

It valued commerce and industry, and favoured the rising middle class rather than the monarchy and the aristocracy; it had an immense respect for the rights of property.

Early liberalism was optimistic, energetic, and philosophic, because it represented growing forces which appeared likely to become victorious without great difficulty

The general pattern of the liberal movements from 17th to 19th century – The philosophers of Greece were not individualists. They thought of a man as essentially a member of the community. Plato's Republic, for example, is concerned to define the good community, not the good individual.

Early Liberalism was individualistic in intellectual matters, and also in economics, but was not emotionally or ethically self-assertive

The conflict between King and Parliament in the Civil War gave English-men, once for all, a love of compromise and moderation, and a fear of pushing any theory to its logical conclusion

Locke's Theory of Knowledge

The apostle of the Revolution in 1688, the most moderate and the most successful of all revolutions

His chief work in theoretical philosophy, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was finished in 1687. Published 1690.

Locke's father was a puritan, who fought on the side of the Government

Locke himself disliked both Scholasticism and the fanaticism of the Independents

He completed his work in theoretical philosophy just at the moment when the government of his country fell into the hands of men who shared his political opinions

Locke's philosophy in Russell's opinion – Locke is always sensible, and always willing to sacrifice logic rather than become paradoxical

A characteristic of Locke, which descended from his to the whole Liberal movement, is lack of dogmatism. Love of truth, which Locke considers essential, is a very different thing from love of some particular doctrine which is proclaimed as truth

Reason, as Locke uses the term, consists of two parts
  • An inquiry as to what things we know with certainty
  • An investigation of propositions which it is wise to accept in practice, although they have only probability and not certainty in their favour
Locke, as a rule, is contemptuous of metaphysics
The conception of substance, which was dominant in the metaphysics of his time, he considers vague and not useful, but he does not reject it wholly. He allows the validity of metaphysical arguments for the existence of God, but he does not dwell on them, and seems somewhat uncomfortable about them.

Locke thinks in terms of concrete detail rather than of large abstractions.

He may be regarded as the founder of empiricism, which is the doctrine that all our knowledge is derived from experience.

The first book of The Essay is concerned in arguing that there are no innate ideas or principles. In the second book he sets to work to show, in detail, how experience gives rise to various kinds of ideas

Our ideas are derived from 2 source:
  • Sensation
  • Perception
of the operation of our own mind, which may be called 'internal sense'. Since we can only think by means of ideas, and since all ideas come from experience, it is evident than none of our knowledge can antedate experience

Perception, Locke states, is 'the first step and degree towards knowledge, and the inlet of all the materials in it'

The third book of the Essay is concerned to show that what metaphysicians present as knowledge about the world is purely verbal. All things that exist are particulars, but we can frame general ideas, such as 'man', that are applicable to many particulars, and to these general ideas we give names

Chapter VI of book 3 is concerned to refute the scholastic doctrine of essence. Things may have a real essence, which will consist of their physical constitution but this is in the main unknown to us, and is not the essence of which scholastics speak. Essence, as we can know it, is purely verbal; it consists merely in the definition of a general term

Locke tells us we have 3 kinds of knowledge of real existence:
  • Knowledge of our own existence is intuitive
  • Our knowledge of God's existence is demonstrative
  • Our knowledge of things present to sense is sensitive
Essentially, we have no knowledge except by intuition, reason and sensation

Locke aimed at credibility, and achieved it at the expense of consistency. He admits that devout believers often commit sins which, by their own creed, put them in danger of hell.

He also states that liberty depends upon the necessity of pursuing true happiness and upon the government of our passions. He says repeatedly that morality is capable of demonstration

Locke's Political Philosophy

A – The Hereditary Principle

In the years 1689 and 1690, Locke wrote his two Treatises on Government, of which the second especially is very important in the history of political ideas

The first of these is a criticism of the doctrine of hereditary power. It is a reply to Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha.

Patriarcha begins by combating the 'common opinion' that 'mankind is naturally endowed and born with freedom from all subjection'.

The truth, according to him, is quite different; it is, that originally God bestowed the kingly power upon Adam, from whom it is descended to his heirs, and ultimately reached the various monarchs of modern times.

Filmer derives political power, not from any contract, nor yet from any consideration of the public good, but entirely from the authority of a father over his children

Locke had no difficulty in demolishing Filmer's arguments. Locke points out that if parental power is what is concerned, the mother's power should be equal to the father's.

According to Locke, hereditary cannot be accepted as the basis of legitimate political power.

B – The State of Nature and Natural Law

Locke begins his second Treatise on Government by saying that, having shown the impossibility of deriving the authority of government from that of a father, he will not set forth what he conceives to be the true origin of government

Locke beings by supposing what he calls 'the state of nature'. In this state, there is a law of nature, but the law of nature consists of nine divine commands, and is not imposed by an human legislator.

What Locke has to say about the state of nature and the law of nature is, in the main, not original, but a repetition of medieval scholastic doctrines

Throughout the Middle Ages, the law of nature was held to condemn 'usury', i.e. lending money at interest. Church property was almost entirely in land, and lawnmowers have always been borrowers rather than lenders

In Locke's theory of government, there is little that is original.

In regard to the state of nature, Locke was less original than Hobbes, who regarded it as one in which there was war of all against all, and life was nasty, brutish, and short.

To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider what state men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they see fit, within the bounds of the law of nature; without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man”

The state of nature, according to Locke, was evaded by a compact to create a government

Some parts of Locke's natural law are surprising. For example, he says that captives in a just war are slaves by the law of nature. He says also that by nature every man has a right to punish attacks on himself or his property, even by death. Property is very prominent in Locke's political philosophy, and is, according to him, the chief reason for the institution of civil government.

In a state of nature – so, at least, Locke holds – if a man has succeeded in killing your brother, you have a right to kill him. But where Law exists, you lose this right, which is taken over by the state. We may then identify 'natural law' with moral rules in so far as they are independent of positive legal enactments.

C – The Social Contract

By nature, Locke says every man has the right to punish attacks on himself or his property, even by death.

There is political society there, and there only, where men have surrended this right to the community or to the law.

Absolute monarchy is not a form of civil government, because there is no neutral authority to decide disputes between the monarch and a subject; in fact the monarch, in relation to his subjects, is still in a state of nature. It is useless to hope that being a king will make a naturally violent man virtuous.

Absolute monarchy is as if men protected themselves against pole-cats and foxes, 'but are content, nay think it safety, to be devoured by lions'.

D – Property

Locke's principle dicta on the subject of property:

We are told first that every man has private property in the produce of his own labour – or, at least, should have.

He states that a man may own as much land as he can till, but not more

In Locke's days, the position of the rural labourer was mitigated by the existence of commons, on which he had important rights, which enabled him to raise a considerable part of his food himself.

Gradually, owing to the growth of the industry, the position of agricultural labourers improved, since otherwise they could not be prevented from migrating to the towns

According to Locke, nine tenths of value is due to labour. It is labour, he says, that puts the difference of value on everything. He instanced land in America occupied by Indians, which has almost no value because the Indians do not cultivate it. The principle that a man has a right to the produce of his own labour is useless in an industrial civilization.

E – Checks and Balances

In all well-framed governments, Locke says, the legislative and executive are separate. The question therefore arises: what is to be done when they conflict?

To some degree, though in veiled language, Locke recognises this fact. In a dispute between legislative and executive, he says there is, in certain cases, no judge under Heaven. Since Heaven does not make explicit pronouncements, this means, in effect, that a decision can only be reached by fighting, since it is assumed that Heaven will give the victory to the better cause.

Locke's political philosophy was on the whole, adequate and useful under the Industrial revolution. Since then, it has been increasingly unable to tackle the important problems. The power of property, as embodied in vast corporations, grew beyond anything imagined by Locke.

Locke's Influence

In Locke's own day, his chief philosophical opponents were the Cartesians and Leibniz. Quite illogically, the victory of Locke's philosophy in England and France was largely due to the prestige of Newton

In England, the philosophical followers of Locke, until the French Revolution, took no interest in his political doctrines.

England was potentially quiescent in their time, and a philosopher could be content to theorize without troubling himself about the state of the world. The French Revolution changed this, and forced the best minds into opposition to the status quo.

Locke believed pleasure to be good, and this was the prevalent view among empiricists throughout the 18th and 19th century. Locke, as we saw, is tentative in his beliefs, not at all authoritarian, and willing to leave every question to be decided by free discussion. The result was a belief in reform, but of a gradual sort.

The great political defect of Locke and his disciples, from a modern point of view, was their worship of property. But those who criticized them on his account often did so in the interest of classes that were more harmful than the capitalists, such as monarchs, aristocrats and militarists.


Is important in philosophy through his denial of the existence of matter

Berkeley was an Irishman. Presented at court by Swift, and Swift's Vanessa left him half her property. He formed a scheme for a college in the Bermudas, with a view to which he went to America; but after spending three years in Rhode Island, he came home and relinquished the project.

In later life he abandoned philosophy for tar-water, to which he attributed marvellous medicinal properties.

All his best work was done while he was still quite young. His writings after the age of 28 were of less importance.
Berkeley's argument:
  • One one hand, he argues that we do not perceive material things, but only colours, sound, etc., and that these are 'mental' or 'in the mind'
  • His reasoning is completely content as to the first point, but as to the second it suffers from the absence of any definition of the word 'mental'
  • He relies, in fact, upon the received view that everything must be either material or mental, and that nothing is both
He discusses the view that we must distinguish the act of perceiving from the object perceived, and that the formed is mental while the latter is not

Sensible objects must be sensible. A is a sensible object. Therefore A must be sensible.”.

But if 'must' indicates logical necessity, the argument is only valid if A must be a sensible object. The argument does not prove that, from the properties of A other than its being sensible, it can be deduced A is sensible.

Berkeley's empirical argument – Heat cannot be in the object, because 'the most vehement and intense degree of heat is a very great pain' and we cannot suppose 'any unperceived thing capable of pain or pleasure'

He thinks there are logical reasons proving only minds and mental events can exist. This view, on other grounds, is also held by Hegel and his followers


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