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Modern Western Philosophy
Transcript of Modern Western Philosophy
Analytic philosophy refers to the style of philosophical thought originating with the British logical positivists in the mid 19th century. The Analytics emphasize clarity of thought and analysis through the use of formal logic. Some early examples include Russell, Boole, Frege, and Wittgenstein.
Continental philosophy refers to the style of philosophical thought originating in the mid 19th century with philosophers from mainland Europe. Examples include Sartre, DeBeauvoir, Camus, Foucault, and Nietzsche. Continental style makes use of narrative and metaphor.
German Idealism was a 19th century philosophical reaction to Immanuel Kant's system of thought emphasizing the objective nature of "things in themselves." German idealists rejected this idea, and instead emphasized how the subject interacts and perceives objects. Morality, metaphysics, and epistemology, thus, are all subjective to the perception of the individual.
Critical theory is a broad range of philosophical contributions that focus on the role of ideology in human liberation. Tracing its routes back to the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School of the 1930s, Critical Theorists focus on the role of ideology in influencing and government human decisions and interactions.
Existentialism is a broad school of philosophical thought that emphasizes starting with the existence of the subject as the primary question of inquiry. In particular, existentialists emphasize the _apparent_ meaninglessness of life. The subject must first grapple with the apparent meaninglessness of existence before moving to further analysis.
Structuralism is a philosophical direction of thought that emphasizes the constructed and interrelated nature of systems. Human systems such as language and natural systems per the natural sciences all contain meaning because of the linguistic way in which we understand and interpret them.
Postmodernism is a philosophical direction of thought that emphasizes the role of power relations and questions the foundational assumptions of modern Western philosophy (hence, postmodernism, meaning after modernism, is a departure to Classical philosophy's question of deconstructing basic concepts and assumptions).
Poststructuralism and deconstructionism are 20th century literary and philosophical movements which oppose structuralism and focus on the role of the self in literature. While difficult to define, they emphasize the importance of understanding a variety of perspectives in literature outside of the author's intended meaning, with the reader's meaning being paramount, and the nature of power relations in the text.
Religious existentialism primarily traces its routes back to Danish Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, whose works Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death ask us how we must deal with the issue of responsibility when faced with free will.
Atheist existentialism asks us how we will deal with life in light of no objective meaning. No God and no objective morals means no meaning imposed onto life without it being created. Jean-Paul Sartre challenges us to create meaning in light of "radical freedom," and Albert Camus calls this realization of no meaning "the Absurd."
Absurdism is a school of philosophical thought which denies the human possibility of inherent meaning in the world. Albert Camus argues humans should embrace this impossibility, while continuing to search and create their own meaning in life.
"We must imagine Sisyphus happy." - Camus
Influential thinkers: Søren Kierkegaard, CS Lewis
Influential thinkers: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone DeBeauvoir, Albert Camus
Influential thinkers: Albert Camus
Value theory is primarily concerned with what things people value and why they value them. These include questions of good (ethics), questions of justice (political philosophy), and questions of interpretive value (aesthetics/philosophy of art).
Value theory is sometimes called "axiology," and focuses on using analytic tools to rank, compare, and contrast different stated and revealed values.
Aesthetics (Philosophy of Art)
Aesthetics deals with the nature of beauty, art, and good taste. It is a subset of value theory because it compares and contrasts different conceptions and concepts of what is considered "the beautiful."
Aesthetics can therefore deal with questions such as, "is beauty objective?" "Are some tastes in art inherently better than others?" "Is some art inherently better than others?"
Influential thinkers: Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone DeBeauvoir, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Albert Camus, Friedrich Nietzsche
Influential thinkers: Erich Fromm, Juergen Habermas, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida
Influential thinkers: Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault
Influential thinkers: Noam Chomsky, Jacques Lacan
Influential Thinkers: Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler
Post-structuralist gender theory emphasizes the constructionist nature of gender roles and the norms and expectations which govern them. Objects can be "gendered" based on the language and norms used around them.
The influence of different power structures based on the gendering of language and society is a primary issue of study for gender theorists.
Influential Thinkers: Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, Harvey Mansfield
Questions of "What is?" or "How?"
Several branches of philosophy are concerned with the nature of things -- ontology -- and primarily ask the questions "What is the nature of reality?" (metaphysics), "What is the nature of knowledge?" (epistemology), and "What is the nature of relationships?" (logic).
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerning the nature of reality. Metaphysicians deal with questions concerning free will, moral responsibility, cosmology, the nature of reality, and the nature of objects and their reality.
Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge and belief. Epistemologists are primarily concerned with what truth, belief, and knowledge are, as well as the process by which knowledge is acquired.
Analytic epistemologists are going to primarily employ the tools of logical positivism to answer these questions.
Logic is the study of reasoning, or the relationship between statements, conclusions, and beliefs.
Logicians are interested in distinguishing good reasoning from poor reasoning.
Logic can be deductive, modal, predicate, and inductive.
Logic can be studied in formal logic, mathematical logic, symbolic logic, and informal logic.
Philosophical analysis and questions can have implications in other disciplines. Philosophers will train to apply their analytic tools and analysis to these fields.
Using the tools of logic, epistemology, and metaphysics, we can ask questions about the nature of language, religion, mind, and science
Philosophy of Religion
Not to be confused with religious philosophy, philosophy of religion asks questions like the nature and existence of God, the nature of religious language, miracles, the afterlife, and the importance of religion to other studies.
Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of mind is primarily concerned with the nature of the mind (as consciousness) and its relationship to the body.
Philosophers of mind will concern themselves with the nature of personal identity, the nature of consciousness, and its implications for psychology, medical ethics, and computer science.
Philosophy of Science
Philosophy of science concerns the assumptions, foundations, and implications of the study of the natural sciences.
Philosophy of Science therefore deals with questions like, "what is the end of science?" "What IS science?" "How ought we to go about studying science?"
Philosophers of science are oftentimes, though not always, also trained in a field of the natural sciences.
Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of language concerns the origins, nature, meaning, and cognition of language.
"How does language affect or control how we think?" "How does language arise?" "What is the intentionality of language?" and similar questions control philosophy of language.
Ethics deals with questions of what is right and what is wrong. The motivating answer to these questions is usually a question of what is to be valued in the realm of morality, so ethics is a subset of value theory.
Normative ethics: "What is right?"
Metaethics: "What does 'right' even mean?"
Descriptive ethics: "What do people think is right?"
Applied ethics: "How do we apply what we know is right?"
Applied ethics takes tools and questions of analysis from ethics (usually normative ethics) and applies it to other fields, such as medicine, law, business, and the military.
Metaethics is a subset of ethics concerned with the nature of statements, judgements, and attitudes about values. As such, metaethics largely concerns itself with the ways in which people make decisions, feel emotions, and manifest their values and attitudes in the world.
At its core, metaethics is concerned with the meaning & nature of moral judgements and statements, and how people arrive at these judgements and statements.
While normative ethics is primarily concerned with what ought to be right, or what the inherent nature of rightness is, descriptive ethics asks "what do people THINK is right?"
Descriptive ethics may involve breaking down the nature of evaluative statements people make "X should do Y," "A is better than B," or it may involve polling and experimental philosophy to answer the question of what people think is right.
Normative ethics is concerned with the question of what is right, or, in other words, "what is the good?"
Normative ethicists oftentimes use broad systems of analysis to approach these questions. These systems can be broken down into three primary schools:
Political Philosophy is the application of ethics to groups of people and societies at large. While ethics is concerned with interpersonal relationships, political philosophy is concerned with societal relationship. The primary motivating question for political philosophy is "What is justice?"
Marxism is a broad philosophical school of thought that holds that egalitarianism and equality of outcome are the primary duties of the political institutions that people set up. According to Marxist theorists, failure to maintain this egalitarian distribution of goods leads to class struggle, and eventually the creation of a proletarian and capitalist division of society.
Communitarianism is a broad school of political philosophy that emphasizes the importance of the community over that of the individual.
It contrasts with liberalism insofar as liberalism emphasizes the importance of liberty for individuals in a society, and communitarianism emphasizes the protection and proliferation of the community.
Self-described communitarians claim to be radical centrists. The European Union is an example of a communitarian political institution.
Classical Liberalism is a school of political thought that emphasizes the importance of individual liberty and prioritizes it as the primary end of political institutions. For Classical Liberals, governments are formed to protect individual liberty, and ought to be limited so that they do not threaten individual liberty.
As such, Classical Liberal regimes have incredibly small -- if any -- welfare states.
The justifications for Classical Liberalism can be categorized into three schools: neoclassical liberalism, classical liberalism, and libertarianism.
Influential Thinkers: John Rawls, Samuel Freeman
Neoclassical Liberalism emphasizes the role of government in relation to the social contract, and uses public choice political analysis to justify the limiting of government power over time.
Classical Liberalism primarily uses a consequentialist reasoning for limiting government's power. Governments are rarely better than markets at producing socially beneficial outcomes -- and oftentimes makes markets worse-off through interference -- so it makes sense to limit government's action in the marketplace.
Libertarians take a rights-based approach to limiting the power of government. Governments are created to protect rights, so when they violate the rights of individuals to carry out actions for others, they contradict their reason for existence.
"Individuals have rights and there are things no person or group may do to them without violating those rights."
-- Robert Nozick
Influential Thinkers: Johann Fichte, Friedrich Schilling, Georg W.F. Hegel
Georg W.F. Hegel
Influential thinkers: David K. Lewis, David Armstrong, Galen Strawson
Influential Thinkers: Karl Popper, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam
Influential Thinkers: David Hume, Stephen Cahn, Michael Novak
Influential Thinkers: Galen Strawson, Derek Parfit
Pacifism holds that violence is never justified, even in cases of self-defense. Pacifist theorists point towards the inherent value of human life and the contradictory nature of self-defense in relation to this value.
Military Ethics is primarily concerned with questions of right action in times of war towards both combatants and non-combatants. How prisoners of war are treated, which weapons ought to be off-limits, and what the proper conditions for starting and ending wars are are proper questions of inquiry.
Influential Thinkers: Martin Luther King, Jr., Elizabeth Anscombe, Mahatma Gandhi
Realism holds that it ethical judgements and questions of morality are largely incommensurable with questions of right action in wartime. As such, realists hold that the primary goal of war for political leaders is to do whatever promotes the interests of their people, and that they are not bound to promote the welfare of opponents' combatants or noncombatants.
Influential Thinkers: Otto von Bismarck, Niccolo Machiavelli, Charles Krauthammer, Yaron Brook
Just War Theory holds that there are just and unjust reasons to wage war, ways to conduct war, and (for some thinkers) ways to conclude war. Tracing its roots back to St. Thomas Aquinas, Just War Theorists are interested in jus ad bellum (justice in starting war), jus in bello (justice in conducting the war), and jus post bellum (justice in concluding the war).
Just War Theorists hold that it is never justified to initiate a war, unless in self-defense or in defense of other peoples (armed humanitarian intervention is therefore on the table). Combatants and non-combatants must be treated per certain moral standards, some weapons are totally off-limits (Weapons of Mass Destruction), and torture is never justifiable. When initiating a war, there must be clear objectives that define victory.
Just War Theory
Influential Thinkers: St. Thomas Aquinas, Michael Walzer, Brian Orend
Business ethics is primarily concerned with the question of what the responsibilities of businesses are, and to whom those responsibilities are owed.
How should businesses act? Should businesses act in the public interests, or should they look to maximize profits? If looking to maximize profits, over what time-frame (short vs. long)? How should employees be treated? How should non-consumers be treated? These are all relevant questions to the field of business ethics.
Medical ethics, also known as bioethics, is a broad field of study that is what is and is not permissible for medical professionals.
Medical ethics concerns the following fields:
Influential Thinkers: Milton Friedman
Stakeholder theory holds that business has responsibility to "stakeholders" outside of the shareholders. A stakeholder is any person who is affected by the operations of the business, and can include those living in proximity to the businesses' operations, employees who are not shareholders, the families of employees, competitors, customers, creditors, debtors, suppliers, and the community as a whole.
Influential Thinkers: Edward Freeman
Shareholder Theory of the firm states that the prime responsibility of business is to maximize profits for shareholders. Company management is "hired" by shareholders -- investors, founders, employees with stock in the company -- to create a positive ROI for the money shareholders invest in the company.
Influential Thinkers: Judith Jarvis Thomson, Peter Singer, Ezekiel Emanuel
Deontological systems of ethics are concerned with duties and responsibilities owed to moral agents (those who act with morality) and moral subjects (those to whom morality can be applied, e.g., animals).
Historically, deontological thought has been associated with Kantian ethics and divine command theory ("God commands X").
Contemporary deontological theorists concern themselves with what we owe each other. As such, deontologists oftentimes speak and analyze in terms of duties, responsibilities, and obligations. Rights therefore follow from duties.
Importantly, outcomes are not what determine the morality of decisions on a deontological account. Reasons and processes matter for deontologists.
Influential Thinkers: TM Scanlon, Robert Nagel
In its most basic form, Consequentialism is simply the system of right action through which the right action is the one that creates the best consequences. What defines "best" is up to different theories of consequentialism. For example, a system that creates the most rights (or fewest rights-violations) can be called "rights consequentialism."
The most prominent and diverse subcategory of conseuqentialism is utilitarianism, which holds that the best decisions are those which create the most good for the most people.
Influential Thinkers: Peter Singer
Virtue Ethics is concerned with what traits, decisions, and characters are required to be virtuous. As such, it differs slightly from deontology and consequentialism insofar as it is more concerned with the nature of the character of the person acting than it is with the morality of the specific action. An action may be virtuous or vicious, depending on how it relates to the working conception of virtue.
Rooted in Aristotelian thought, virtue ethics has classically held that happiness (eudaimonia) is the end towards which all decisions are made. Fostering a character and traits which are conducive to this end, in line with mankind's unique capacity for rationality, is what it means to be virtuous.
Contemporary subsets of virtue ethics include Neoaristotelian thought and Objectivist thought.
Influential Thinkers: Philippa Foot, Rosalind Hursthouse, Martha Nussbaum, Ayn Rand
Rule Utilitarianism holds that the RULES which create the most good for the most people over time are the standards of right action.
So, if violating a rule that creates good over time will create more good in this act, then it is unethical to violate the rule.
Example: Truth-telling creates good over time and is necessary for the function of contracts, promises, and other social expectations. To lie is to violate the rule, and is unethical on the Rule Utilitarian account.
Influential Thinkers: Brad Hooker
Act Utilitarianism holds that the ACTION which creates the most good is the ethically-obligated action.
So, if acting in a certain way violates a societal norm or rule, but creates the most good in this instance, it is obligatory to act in accordance with the outcome which brings the most good on the Act Utilitarian account.
Example: Lying is generally regarded as wrong, but to lie to a murder at the door creates more good (or prevents more harm) than telling him the truth.
Influential Thinkers: Peter Singer
Liberalism is a broad philosophical school that maintains that preservation of equal liberty is the primary duty of political institutions which persons establish. How this is achieved and which values are prioritized as trade-offs appear are the questions that differentiate Classical Liberals from High Liberals.
Influential Thinkers: Adam Smith, John Locke, John Rawls, Robert Nozick
High liberalism is a form of contractarian liberalism (meaning that the role of political institutions is defined by the social contract) that emphasizes the importance of equal liberty for all rational persons in the social contract.
If physical inequality detrimentally affects the ability of persons to act on their equal liberty, High Liberals argue a redistributive regime may be justified. As such, High Liberal regimes oftentimes make use of extensive welfare states to preserve the equality of opportunity of their citizens.
The primary political value of High Liberal regimes is fairness.
Influential Thinkers: Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, FA Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick, James Buchanan
Influential Thinkers: James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, John Tomasi
Influential Thinkers: Milton Friedman, FA Hayek
Influential Thinkers: Robert Nozick, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard
Influential Thinkers: Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel, Michael Walzer, Alasdair MacIntyre
Influential Thinkers: Bertrand Russell, Saul Kripke