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The new school of thought based on science and rationality in the modern industrial age

Science, Epistemology and Metaphysics in the Enlightenment In this era dedicated to human progress, the advancement of the natural sciences is regarded as the main exemplification of, and fuel for, such progress. It belongs centrally to the agenda of Enlightenment philosophy to contribute to the new knowledge of nature, and to provide a metaphysical framework within which to place and interpret this new knowledge.

Descartes 1596—1650 undertakes to establish the sciences upon a secure metaphysical foundation. The famous method of doubt Descartes employs for this purpose exemplifies in part through exaggerating an attitude characteristic of the Enlightenment. According to Descartes, the investigator in foundational philosophical research ought to doubt all propositions that can be doubted.

The investigator determines whether a proposition is dubitable by attempting to construct a possible scenario under which it is false.

With his method, Descartes casts doubt upon the senses as authoritative source of knowledge. He finds that God and the immaterial soul are both better known, on the basis of innate ideas, than objects of the senses.

  • These manuscripts were taken to have been written by or to report almost at first hand the activities of the legendary priest, prophet, and sage Hermes Trismegistos;
  • Like the princes of Serendip, researchers often find different, sometimes greater, riches than the ones they are seeking;
  • In terms of basic materials, modern industry began to exploit many natural and synthetic resources not hitherto utilized:

If our evidence for the truth of propositions about extra-mental material reality is always restricted to mental content, content before the mind, how can we ever be certain that the extra-mental reality is not other than we represent it as being?

In fact, Descartes argues that all human knowledge not only knowledge of the material world through the senses depends on metaphysical knowledge of God. He attacks the long-standing assumptions of the scholastic-aristotelians whose intellectual dominance stood in the way of the development of the new science; he developed a conception of matter that enabled mechanical explanation of physical phenomena; and he developed some of the fundamental mathematical resources — in particular, a way to employ algebraic equations to solve geometrical problems — that enabled the physical domain to be explained with precise, simple mathematical formulae.

Furthermore, his grounding of physics, and all knowledge, in a relatively simple and elegant rationalist metaphysics provides a model of a rigorous and complete secular system of knowledge. Cartesian philosophy also ignites various controversies in the latter decades of the seventeenth century that provide the context of intellectual tumult out of which the Enlightenment springs.

Among these controversies are the following: If matter is inert as Descartes claimswhat can be the source of motion and the nature of causality in the physical world?

And of course the various epistemological problems: Spinoza develops, in contrast to Cartesian dualism, an ontological monism according to which there is only one substance, God or nature, with two attributes, corresponding to mind and body.

Industrial Revolution

Leibniz articulates, and places at the head of metaphysics, the great rationalist principle, the principle of sufficient reason, which states that everything that exists has a sufficient reason for its existence.

This principle exemplifies the characteristic conviction of the Enlightenment that the universe is thoroughly rationally intelligible. The question arises of how this principle itself can be known or grounded.

Wolff attempts to derive it from the logical principle of non-contradiction in his First Philosophy or Ontology, 1730. Criticism of this alleged derivation gives rise to the general question of how formal principles of logic can possibly serve to ground substantive knowledge of reality.

Whereas Leibniz exerts his influence through scattered writings on various topics, some of which elaborate plans for a systematic metaphysics which are never executed by Leibniz himself, Wolff exerts his influence on the German Enlightenment through his development of a rationalist system of knowledge in which he attempts to demonstrate all the propositions of science from first principles, known a priori.

Much the same could be said of the great rationalist philosophers of the seventeenth century. Through their articulation of the ideal of scientia, of a complete science of reality, composed of propositions derived demonstratively from a priori first principles, these philosophers exert great influence on the Enlightenment.

But they fail, rather spectacularly, to realize this ideal. The enthusiasm for reason in the Enlightenment is primarily not for the faculty of reason as an independent source of knowledge, which is embattled in the period, but rather for the human cognitive faculties generally; the Age of Reason contrasts with an age of religious faith, not with an age of sense experience.

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If the founder of the rationalist strain of the Enlightenment is Descartes, then the founder of the empiricist strain is Francis Bacon 1561—1626. The tendency of natural science toward progressive independence from metaphysics in the eighteenth century is correlated with this point about method.

The rise of modern science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries proceeds through its separation from the presuppositions, doctrines and methodology of theology; natural science in the eighteenth century proceeds to separate itself from metaphysics as well. Newton proves the capacity of natural science to succeed independently of a priori, clear and certain first principles.

  1. Ptolemy, the great astronomer and geographer, had insisted that only the three continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia could exist, and Christian scholars from St. An example of priority-setting by public officials was the vote in the House of Representatives against further construction of the high energy accelerator known as the superconducting super collider.
  2. Conformity of observation to prediction was taken as evidence for the essential truth of the theory. Liberalism is perhaps the most characteristic political philosophy of the Enlightenment, and Spinoza, in this text primarily, is one of its originators.
  3. This work was followed by that of James Prescott Joule , Robert Mayer, and Hermann von Helmholtz , each of whom arrived at a generalization of basic importance to all science, the principle of the conservation of energy. The investigator determines whether a proposition is dubitable by attempting to construct a possible scenario under which it is false.
  4. The tendency of natural science toward progressive independence from metaphysics in the eighteenth century is correlated with this point about method. Kuhn remained at Harvard until 1956 and, having failed to get tenure, moved to the University of California at Berkeley where he wrote Structure… and was promoted to a professorship in 1961.

The characteristic Enlightenment suspicion of all allegedly authoritative claims the validity of which is obscure, which is directed first of all against religious dogmas, extends to the claims of metaphysics as well.

While there are significant Enlightenment thinkers who are metaphysicians — again, one thinks of Christian Wolff — the general thrust of Enlightenment thought is anti-metaphysical. A main source of its influence is the epistemological rigor that it displays, which is at least implicitly anti-metaphysical. Locke undertakes in this work to examine the human understanding in order to determine the limits of human knowledge; he thereby institutes a prominent the new school of thought based on science and rationality in the modern industrial age of Enlightenment epistemology.

In the Treatise on Sensations 1754Condillac attempts to explain how all human knowledge arises out of sense experience. Locke and Descartes both pursue a method in epistemology that brings with it the epistemological problem of objectivity.

Both examine our knowledge by way of examining the ideas we encounter directly in our consciousness. Though neither for Locke nor for Descartes do all of our ideas represent their objects by way of resembling them e. The way of ideas implies the epistemological problem of how we can know that these ideas do in fact resemble their objects. How can we be sure that these objects do not appear one way before the mind and exist in another way or not at all in reality outside the mind?

George Berkeley, an empiricist philosopher influenced by John Locke, avoids the problem by asserting the metaphysics of idealism: Thomas Reid, a prominent member of the Scottish Enlightenment, attacks the way of ideas and argues that the immediate objects of our sense perception are the common material objects in our environment, not ideas in our mind. The defense of common sense, and the related idea that the results of philosophy ought to be of use to common people, are characteristic ideas of the Enlightenment, particularly pronounced in the Scottish Enlightenment.

This oddity is at least softened by the point that much skepticism in the Enlightenment is merely methodological, a tool meant to serve science, rather than a position embraced on its own account. Given the negative, critical, suspicious attitude of the Enlightenment towards doctrines traditionally regarded as well founded, it is not surprising that Enlightenment thinkers employ skeptical tropes drawn from the ancient skeptical tradition to attack traditional dogmas in science, metaphysics and religion.

However, skepticism is not merely a methodological tool in the hands of Enlightenment thinkers. The skeptical cast of mind is one prominent manifestation of the Enlightenment spirit.

The influence of Pierre Bayle, another founding figure of the Enlightenment, testifies to this.

Enlightenment

Bayle was a French Protestant, who, like many European philosophers of his time, was forced to live and work in politically liberal and tolerant Holland in order to avoid censorship and prison. The form of the book is intimidating: Rarely has a work with such intimidating scholarly pretentions exerted such radical and liberating influence in the culture.

It exerts this influence through its skeptical questioning of religious, metaphysical, and scientific dogmas.

  • Locke undertakes in this work to examine the human understanding in order to determine the limits of human knowledge; he thereby institutes a prominent pattern of Enlightenment epistemology;
  • Instead, Kant insisted, all that the human mind can know is forces;
  • Man began to embrace an exaggerated belief in the perfection of humanity based on reason and clear thinking; they happily abandoned reliance on biblical truth and lost their fear of God;
  • Given the negative, critical, suspicious attitude of the Enlightenment towards doctrines traditionally regarded as well founded, it is not surprising that Enlightenment thinkers employ skeptical tropes drawn from the ancient skeptical tradition to attack traditional dogmas in science, metaphysics and religion;
  • The burden of much of what I said is that we frequently simply do not know what new findings may turn out to be relevant, or to what particular realm of human activity that relevance may eventually apply;
  • Societies and academies were also the backbone of the maturation of the scientific profession.

It is the attitude of inquiry that Bayle displays, rather than any doctrine he espouses, that mark his as distinctively Enlightenment thought.

He is fearless and presumptuous in questioning all manner of dogma. While it is common to conceive of the Enlightenment as supplanting the authority of tradition and religious dogma with the authority of reason, in fact the Enlightenment is characterized by a crisis of authority regarding any belief. Hume articulates a variety of skepticisms.

Hume also articulates skepticism with regard to reason in an argument that is anticipated by Bayle. Hume begins this argument by noting that, though rules or principles in demonstrative sciences are certain or infallible, given the fallibility of our faculties, our applications of such rules or principles in demonstrative inferences yield conclusions that cannot be regarded as certain or infallible.

On reflection, our conviction in the conclusions of demonstrative reasoning must be qualified by an assessment of the likelihood that we made a mistake in our reasoning. Hume also famously questions the justification of inductive reasoning and causal reasoning. Hume concludes that we have no rational justification for our causal or inductive judgments. The Enlightenment begins by unleashing skepticism in attacking limited, circumscribed targets, but once the skeptical genie is out of the bottle, it becomes difficult to maintain conviction in any authority.

Thus, the despairing attitude that Hume famously expresses in the conclusion to Book One of the Treatise, as the consequence of his epistemological inquiry, while it clashes with the self-confident and optimistic attitude we associate with the Enlightenment, in fact reflects an essential possibility in a distinctive Enlightenment problematic regarding authority in belief.

The enthusiasm for the scientific study of humanity in the period incorporates a tension or paradox concerning the place of humanity in the cosmos, as the cosmos is re-conceived in the context of Enlightenment philosophy and science.

  1. The general philosophical problem emerges in the Enlightenment of how to understand the source and grounding of ethical duties, and how to conceive the highest good for human beings, within a secular, broadly naturalistic context, and within the context of a transformed understanding of the natural world.
  2. But as 1 Corinthians 3. For the microscopic world, Newton provided two methods.
  3. Instead of being represented as occupying a privileged place in nature, as made in the image of God, humanity is represented typically in the Enlightenment as a fully natural creature, devoid of free will, of an immortal soul, and of a non-natural faculty of intelligence or reason.

But if our conception of nature is of an exclusively material domain governed by deterministic, mechanical laws, and if we at the same time deny the place of the supernatural in the cosmos, then how does humanity itself fit into the cosmos? On the one hand, the achievements of the natural sciences in general are the great pride of the Enlightenment, manifesting the excellence of distinctively human capacities.

On the other hand, the study of humanity in the Enlightenment typically yields a portrait of us that is the opposite of flattering or elevating. Instead of being represented as occupying a privileged place in nature, as made in the image of God, humanity is represented typically in the Enlightenment as a fully natural creature, devoid of free will, of an immortal soul, and of a non-natural faculty of intelligence or reason.

The very title of J. The methodology of epistemology in the period reflects a similar tension. As noted, Hume means his work to comprise a science of the mind or of man. Immanuel Kant explicitly enacts a revolution in epistemology modeled on the Copernican in astronomy.

As characteristic of Enlightenment epistemology, Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason 1781, second edition 1787 undertakes both to determine the limits of our knowledge, and at the same time to provide a foundation of scientific knowledge of nature, and he attempts to do this by examining our human faculties of knowledge critically.

Even as he draws strict limits to rational knowledge, he attempts to defend reason as a faculty of knowledge, as playing a necessary role in natural science, in the face of skeptical challenges that reason faces in the period. According to Kant, scientific knowledge of nature is not merely knowledge of what in fact happens in nature, but knowledge of the causal laws of nature according to which what in fact happens must happen.

But how is knowledge of necessary causal connection in nature possible? The generalized epistemological problem Kant addresses in the Critique of Pure Reason is: Put in the terms Kant defines, the problem is: Certain cognitive forms lie ready in the human mind — prominent examples are the pure concepts of substance and cause and the forms of intuition, space and time; given sensible representations must conform themselves to these forms in order for human experience as empirical knowledge of nature to be possible at all.

We can acquire scientific knowledge of nature because we constitute it a priori according to certain cognitive forms; for example, we can know nature as a causally ordered domain because we originally synthesize a priori the given manifold of sensibility according to the category of causality, which has its source in the human mind.

Kant saves rational knowledge of nature by limiting rational knowledge to nature. Through the postulation of a realm of unknowable noumena things in themselves over against the realm of nature as a realm of appearances, Kant manages to make place for practical concepts that are central to our understanding of ourselves even while grounding our scientific knowledge of nature as a domain governed by deterministic causal laws. Many of the human and social sciences have their origins in the eighteenth century e.

The emergence of new sciences is aided by the development of new scientific tools, such as models for probabilistic reasoning, a kind of reasoning that gains new respect and application in the period.

Despite the multiplication of sciences in the period, the ideal remains to comprehend the diversity of our scientific knowledge as a unified system of science; however, this ideal of unity is generally taken as regulative, as an ideal to emerge in the ever-receding end-state of science, rather than as enforced from the beginning by regimenting science under a priori principles. As exemplifying these and other the new school of thought based on science and rationality in the modern industrial age of the Enlightenment, one work deserves special mention: The work aims to provide a compendium of existing human knowledge to be transmitted to subsequent generations, a transmission intended to contribute to the progress and dissemination of human knowledge and to a positive transformation of human society.

The orientation of the Encyclopedia is decidedly secular and implicitly anti-authoritarian. The collaborative nature of the project, especially in the context of state opposition, contributes significantly to the formation of a shared sense of purpose among the wide variety of intellectuals who belong to the French Enlightenment. It is a striking feature of the Encyclopedia, and one by virtue of which it exemplifies the Baconian conception of science characteristic of the period, that its entries cover the whole range and scope of knowledge, from the most abstract theoretical to the most practical, mechanical and technical.

The era is marked by three political revolutions, which together lay the basis for modern, republican, constitutional democracies: Enlightenment philosophers find that the existing social and political orders do not withstand critical scrutiny.

Existing political and social authority is shrouded in religious myth and mystery and founded on obscure traditions. The criticism of existing institutions is supplemented with the positive work of constructing in theory the model of institutions as they ought to be. We owe to this period the basic model of government founded upon the consent of the governed; the articulation of the political ideals of freedom and equality and the theory of their institutional realization; the articulation of a list of basic individual human rights to be respected and realized by any legitimate political system; the articulation and promotion of toleration of religious diversity as a virtue to be respected in a well ordered society; the conception of the basic political powers as organized in a system of checks and balances; and other now-familiar features of western democracies.

  • Close observation and careful generalization leading to practical utilization were characteristic of both industrialists and experimentalists alike in the 18th century;
  • Voltaire carries deism across the channel to France and advocates for it there over his long literary career;
  • If our evidence for the truth of propositions about extra-mental material reality is always restricted to mental content, content before the mind, how can we ever be certain that the extra-mental reality is not other than we represent it as being?
  • In his 1767 An Essay on the History of Civil Society , Ferguson uses the four stages of progress, a theory that was very popular in Scotland at the time, to explain how humans advance from a hunting and gathering society to a commercial and civil society without "signing" a social contract.

However, for all the enduring accomplishments of Enlightenment political philosophy, it is not clear that human reason proves powerful enough to put a concrete, positive authoritative ideal in place of the objects of its criticism. As in the epistemological domain, reason shows its power more convincingly in criticizing authorities than in establishing them. Here too the question of the limits of reason is one of the main philosophical legacies of the period.