Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner



During the seventeenth century Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694), who aimed at mediating between Grotius and Hobbes, and Christian Thomasius (1655-1728), who is considered the first of the German Illuminati, appeared as representatives of a new philosophy of law. They investigated the foundations of natural right, and formulated theories in accordance with the changed political conditions of Europe.


It was the aim of many of the philosophical writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to free philosophy from the technical difficulties which rendered it inaccessible to the generality of readers, and in this way to reach the people, as the French authors of the Encyclopaedia were doing. Walther von Tschirnhausen (1651-1708), Johann Nicolas Tetens (1736-1805), and Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) represent different phases of this movement in different departments of thought, -- physical science, mental science, and religious philosophy. To the same period belongs the so-called Pietistic movement which aimed at counteracting the rationalistic tendency by quickening religious feeling.

During the storm and stress movement of the last decades of the eighteenth century, when rationalism was at its height, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781), the philosopher-poet, expounded a system of religio-philosophical thought which may be said to be a system of natural religion, based partly on the pantheism of Spinoza's Ethica, and partly on the theism of Leibniz' Théodicée. To the same period belongs Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), whose Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit{2} marks an epoch in the history of the philosophy of history. In this work Herder interprets history from the point of view of the organic unity of the human race.

Christian von Wolff (1679-1754) is of special importance on account of the influence which he exercised on Kant's early training. He attempted to reduce Leibniz' philosophy to a systematic form, but in doing so he modified the essential tenets of his predecessor, restricting the doctrine of preëstablished harmony to the explanation of the relations of soul and body, and so changing the doctrine of the dualism of the monad as practically to restore the Cartesian antithesis of mind and matter. He devoted special attention to philosophic method. Indeed, he sometimes carried method to the extent of formalism. Wolff is the author of the well-known division of metaphysics into ontology, cosmology, psychology, and rational theology.

Retrospect. The period from Descartes to Hume was dominated by the influence of Cartesian thought, and more particularly by the doctrine of the antithesis of mind and matter. It was the attempt to solve the problem of this antithesis that gave rise to the pantheistic monism of Spinoza, to the materialistic monism of the thoroughgoing empiricists, to the idealistic monism of Berkeley, to the partially idealistic monadism of Leibniz, and to the pan-phenomenalism of Hume, which, -- most astounding solution of all -- solves the problem of the antithesis by denying the substantial nature of both mind and matter. Here the first act ends. Kant next appears, and, appalled at the sight of the ruin which Hume has wrought, fearing for the spirituality of the soul, the freedom of the will, the existence of God, and the obligation of the moral law, opens a new scene by proposing once more the question, What are the conditions of knowledge? and prepares the way for the philosophy of the nineteenth century by his attempt at constructive synthesis on the basis of moral consciousness.

We cannot fail to remark, also, in the development of philosophy from Descartes to Kant, a struggle between the purely scientific view and the aesthetic religious view of the world. Wherever empiricism held full sway, there the scientific view prevailed, and enlightenment, as it was called, was sought, rather than a deeper sense of the aesthetic and spiritual significance of things. Wherever, on the contrary, the idealistic movement prevailed, there greater value was attached to the spiritual and aesthetic solution than to the scientific solution of the problems of philosophy. But in spite of idealistic reactions, the principles of deism continued to pervade English thought, the illumination continued to flourish in France and Germany, and Empiricism culminated in the philosophy of Hume, which expresses the last and most violent form of antagonism between the scientific and the religious aesthetic view of life. It was left for Kant to undo the work of the Illuminati and of Hume, and to lay the foundation for the constructive systems which were to give to the religious and aesthetic interests of human life a place beside the merely scientific elements of thought in a complete synthesis of philosophical knowledge.

Finally, we must observe in the eighteenth century a gradual increase in the importance attached to the study of man in his social and political relations, and the growth and development of the idea of an antithesis between the individual and the state. But while Rousseau was giving expression to the doctrine of individualism in its most extreme form, Herder, by his doctrine of the organic union of the human race, was preparing the way for the political philosophy of the nineteenth century. For the new century was to discard the notion of antithesis between the individual and the state, and, adopting an organic instead of a mechanical concept of society, was to substitute for the individualism of the eighteenth century a collectivism, which not only the great speculative systems such as Hegel's, but all the other important movements of the nineteenth century -- the evolution hypothesis, the rise of romanticism in literature, the Oxford movement, and the great industrial and commercial centralization of recent years -- were to exemplify and confirm in theory or in practice.

{1} Cf. Falckenberg, op. cit.; also Zeller, Die deutsche Philosophie seit Leibniz especially pp. 195-273.

{2} Translated by T. Churchill, Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man, London, 1800. Herder's complete works were published at Stuttgart in 60 vols., 1827-1830. cf. Francke, Social Forces in German Literature (New York, 1897), pp. 318ff.

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