Tuesday, November 30, 2010

David Hume

David Hume (7 May 1711 [26 April O.S.] – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment. Hume is often grouped with John Locke, George Berkeley, and a handful of others as a British Empiricist.

Beginning with his A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Hume strove to create a total naturalistic "science of man" that examined the psychological basis of human nature. In stark opposition to the rationalists that preceded him, most notably Descartes, he concluded that belief rather than reason governed human behavior, saying famously: "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." A prominent figure in the skeptical philosophical tradition and a strong empiricist, he argued against the existence of innate ideas, concluding instead that humans have knowledge only of things they directly experience. Thus he divides perceptions between strong and lively "impressions" or direct sensations and fainter "ideas," which are copied from impressions. He developed the position that mental behavior is governed by "custom"; our use of induction, for example, is justified only by our idea of the "constant conjunction" of causes and effects. Without direct impressions of a metaphysical "self," he concluded that humans have no actual conception of the self, only of a bundle of sensations associated with the self. Hume advocated a compatibilist theory of free will that proved extremely influential on subsequent moral philosophy. He was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on feelings rather than abstract moral principles. Hume also examined the normative is–ought problem. He held notoriously ambiguous views of Christianity,but famously challenged the argument from design in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779).

Kant credited Hume with waking him up from his "dogmatic slumbers" and Hume has proved extremely influential on subsequent philosophy, especially on utilitarianism, logical positivism, William James, philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive philosophy, and other movements and thinkers. The philosopher Jerry Fodor proclaimed Hume's Treatise "the founding document of cognitive science." Also famous as a prose stylist, Hume pioneered the essay as a literary genre and engaged with contemporary intellectual luminaries such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith (who acknowledged Hume's influence on his economics and political philosophy), James Boswell, Joseph Butler, and Thomas Reid. Hume remains one of the giants of Western philosophy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

René Descartes

René Descartes (French pronunciation: [ʁəne dekaʁt]; 31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650)

(Latinized form: Renatus Cartesius; adjectival form: "Cartesian")was a French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the "Father of Modern Philosophy", and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day. In particular, his Meditations on First Philosophy continues to be a standard text at most university philosophy departments. Descartes' influence in mathematics is also apparent; the Cartesian coordinate system—allowing geometric shapes to be expressed in algebraic equations—was named after him. He is credited as the father of analytical geometry. Descartes was also one of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution.

Descartes frequently sets his views apart from those of his predecessors. In the opening section of the Passions of the Soul, a treatise on the Early Modern version of what are now commonly called emotions, Descartes goes so far as to assert that he will write on this topic "as if no one had written on these matters before". Many elements of his philosophy have precedents in late Aristotelianism, the revived Stoicism of the 16th century, or in earlier philosophers like St. Augustine. In his natural philosophy, he differs from the Schools on two major points: First, he rejects the analysis of corporeal substance into matter and form; second, he rejects any appeal to ends—divine or natural—in explaining natural phenomena. In his theology, he insists on the absolute freedom of God’s act of creation.

Descartes was a major figure in 17th-century continental rationalism, later advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Hume. Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes were all well versed in mathematics as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well. As the inventor of the Cartesian coordinate system, Descartes founded analytic geometry, the bridge between algebra and geometry, crucial to the discovery of infinitesimal calculus and analysis. He is perhaps best known for the philosophical statement "Cogito ergo sum" (French: Je pense, donc je suis; English: I think, therefore I am; or I am thinking, therefore I exist or I do think, therefore I do exist), found in part IV of Discourse on the Method (1637 – written in French but with inclusion of "Cogito ergo sum") and §7 of part I of Principles of Philosophy (1644 – written in Latin).

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

Immanuel Kant started as a traditional rationalist, having studied the rationalists Leibniz and Wolff, but after studying David Hume's works, which "awoke [him] from [his] dogmatic slumbers", he developed a distinctive and very influential rationalism of his own, which attempted to synthesise the traditional rationalist and empiricist traditions.

Kant named his branch of epistemology Transcendental Idealism, and he first laid out these views in his famous work The Critique of Pure Reason. In it he argued that there were fundamental problems with both rationalist and empiricist dogma. To the rationalists he argued, broadly, that pure reason is flawed when it goes beyond its limits and claims to know those things that are necessarily beyond the realm of all possible experience: the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the human soul. Kant referred to these objects as "The Thing in Itself" and goes on to argue that their status as objects beyond all possible experience by definition means we cannot know them. To the empiricist he argued that while it is correct that experience is fundamentally necessary for human knowledge, reason is necessary for processing that experience into coherent thought. He therefore concludes that both reason and experience are necessary for human knowledge.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Since the Enlightenment, rationalism is usually associated with the introduction of mathematical methods into philosophy, as in Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza. This is commonly called continental rationalism, because it was predominant in the continental schools of Europe, whereas in Britain empiricism dominated.
Rationalism is often contrasted with empiricism. Taken very broadly these views are not mutually exclusive, since a philosopher can be both rationalist and empiricist. Taken to extremes the empiricist view holds that all ideas come to us through experience, either through the five external senses or through such inner sensations as pain and pleasure, and thus that knowledge is essentially based on or derived from experience. At issue is the fundamental source of human knowledge, and the proper techniques for verifying what we think we know (see Epistemology).

Proponents of some varieties of rationalism argue that, starting with foundational basic principles, like the axioms of geometry, one could deductively derive the rest of all possible knowledge. The philosophers who held this view most clearly were Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, whose attempts to grapple with the epistemological and metaphysical problems raised by Descartes led to a development of the fundamental approach of rationalism. Both Spinoza and Leibniz asserted that, in principle, all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, could be gained through the use of reason alone, though they both observed that this was not possible in practice for human beings except in specific areas such as mathematics. On the other hand, Leibniz admitted that "we are all mere Empirics in three fourths of our actions" Rationalism is predicting and explaining behavior based on logics.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


The term "empirical" was originally used to refer to certain ancient Greek practitioners of medicine (Empiric school) who rejected adherence to the dogmatic doctrines of the day (Dogmatic school), preferring instead to rely on the observation of phenomena as perceived in experience. The notion of tabula rasa ("clean slate" or "blank tablet") dates back to Aristotle, and was developed into an elaborate theory by Avicenna and demonstrated as a thought experiment by Ibn Tufail. The doctrine of empiricism was later explicitly formulated by John Locke in the 17th century. He argued that the mind is a tabula rasa (Locke used the words "white paper") on which experiences leave their marks. Such empiricism denies that humans have innate ideas or that anything is knowable without reference to experience.

According to the empiricist view, for any knowledge to be properly inferred or deduced, it is to be gained ultimately from one's sense-based experience. As a historical matter, philosophical empiricism is commonly contrasted with the philosophical school of thought known as "rationalism" which, in very broad terms, asserts that much knowledge is attributable to reason independently of the senses. However, this contrast is today considered to be an oversimplification of the issues involved, because the main continental rationalists (Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz) were also advocates of the empirical "scientific method" of their day. Furthermore, Locke, held that some knowledge (e.g. knowledge of God's existence) could be arrived at through intuition and reasoning alone. Similarly, Robert Boyle, a prominent advocate of the experimental method, held that we have innate ideas.

Some important philosophers commonly associated with empiricism include Aristotle, Alhazen, Avicenna, Ibn Tufail, Robert Grosseteste, William of Ockham, Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, Robert Boyle, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

Jung's Analytical Psychology

A 37 year old Carl Jung in 1912.

In Carl Jung's analytical psychology, he contrasted a rational, decisive logos with an emotional mythos. Jung contrasted the critical and rational faculties of logos and with the emotional, non-reason oriented and mythical elements of mythos. In Jung's approach logos vs mythos can be represented as "science vs mysticism", or "reason vs imagination" or "conscious activity vs the unconscious".

For Jung, logos represented the masculine principle of rationality, in contrast to its female counterpart, eros:

Woman’s psychology is founded on the principle of Eros, the great binder and loosener, whereas from ancient times the ruling principle ascribed to man is Logos. The concept of Eros could be expressed in modern terms as psychic relatedness, and that of Logos as objective interest.
Jung attempted to equate logos and eros, his intuitive conceptions of masculine and feminine consciousness with the alchemical Sol and Luna. Jung commented that in a man the lunar anima and in a woman the solar animus has the greatest influence on consciousness. Jung often proceeded to analyze situations in terms of "paired opposites", e.g. by using the analogy with the eastern yin and yang and was also influenced by the Neoplatonics.

In his book Mysterium Coniunctionis Jung made some important final remarks about anima and animus:

In so far as the spirit is also a kind of "window on eternity"... it conveys to the soul a certain influx divinus... and the knowledge of a higher system of the world, wherein consists precisely its supposed animation of the soul.

And in this book Jung again emphasized that the animus compensates eros, while the anima compensates logos