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History of Modern Philosophy

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Nathalie Morasch

on 21 January 2017

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Transcript of History of Modern Philosophy

History of Modern Philosophy
Rise of mechanical philosophy
Natural wholes are like complicated machines.
The Scientific "Revolution"
The Scientific Revolution was a
slow transition
away from the entrenched assumptions about the world and how to acquire knowledge of it.
History of Early Modern Philosophy, really is the history of Western European Philosophy.
The term 'Scientific Revolution' was not in common use before Alexandre Koyré (Historian) gave it currency in 1939. So, the modern philosophers didn't conceive themselves as undergoing a scientific revolution.
The early modern period begins with...
Philosophers consider the early modern period to begin roughly with the birth of Galileo (1564).
For our purposes:
The early modern period ends with the French Revolution.
What came before?
Early modern philosophers reacted against what?
Scholastic Aristotelianism
There was no universal support for the idea that philosophy had to move in a new direction!

Scholastic philosophy dominated at medieval universities until roughly the 1700s.
Continued consensus:
We live in an orderly universe, ruled by an omnipotent and provident deity.
Aristotle's natural philosophy
17th century alchemy emblem
Irreducible components of the universe: air, fire, earth, water, sulphur (combustability), mercury (metallic properties) and aether.

14th century French scholastic class
La liberté guidant le peuple
Eugene Delacroix 1830
world map 1700ce
Aristotelian natural philosophy employed biological
explanatory categories
The acorn seeks to fulfill its potential by growing into an oak tree. Similarly, a falling stone actualizes its "nature".
Attributes a
to the stone.
Early modern philosophers rejected "occult powers"
Occult powers (substantial forms) were
not observable
(although their effects could be observed) and could act upon bodies from a
the sun's ability to bleach fabrics
astrological influences of celestial bodies on earthly affairs
Hobbes writes in
Early Modern Women Philosophers
Most of their work is inaccessible to us today
Limitted access to education
Women were educated at home (if at all)
The 16th century tradition of giving daughters of the aristocracy an extensive intellectual education died out (Puritanism)
Access to formal education systems (universities) was mediated through brothers and fathers -- most women were self-taught.
For more read:
Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia

Nicknamed "La Grecque"

Famous for questioning Descartes' dualism
"And yet it moves!"
by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury (19th century)
Slack CEO
If you want to
Scholastic consensus
Aristotle's texts and the bible contain the whole truth about the world
Knowledge doesn't progress
Criterion for reliable truth: deference to Catholic authority (only the Catholic church is entitled to interpret scripture)
With the exception of Spinoza, all the philosophers we will cover this semester were self-proclaimed Christians.
Le Malade Imaginaire (1673), Act III, sc. iii.
The Imaginary Invalid by Molière

Why does opium make one sleep?: …
Answer: Because it contains a dormitive virtue, whose nature it is to make the senses soporific.

Molière collapsed during his 4th performance and died soon after.
Aristotelian philosophy merely elegantly redescribes the phenomenon to be explained.
Why do stones fall?
It is their essence to fall.
... Well, they do!
By Margreet de Heer
Margreet de Heer
In order to further our understanding of the world, we want to
an occurence in nature and explain how or why it came about.
A good
(what does the explaining) is not identical to the
(the thing to be explained). It must be
Why were (almost) all Early Modern philosophers white, male, upper-class Christians?
Let me highlight some important happenings...
Greek was essentially a dead language in the West after the fall of the Roman Empire
While the Latin West was suspicious of pagan ideas, Muslims were busy translating Greek texts into Arabic.
Fragile nature of papyrus
Paper was invented during the Han dynasty (roughly 200 ce); 1000 years later it reached mainland Europe...
Reintroduction of Classic Greek philosophy
Crusades (limitted)
Trade relations with the East
The Fall of Constantinople 1453
(fueled the Renaissance)
1450 Invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg (Korea had this technology roughly 200 years earlier)
Why is that important?
What are the main tenets of Aristotelian Scholastcism?
Hylmorphism & teleology

Deference to authority
The Copernican Revolution
Note on terminology
Up until 18th century, the term 'science' denotes
Inquiries into the causal structure of the natural world were named 'natural philosophy'.

The term 'scientist' was not in use until the 19th century.
A material body is comprised of both
an inert
property-less substratum
(primary matter)
Plenism: space is completely filled with matter; nature abhores a vacuum. A void would be nothing; by definition nothing can't exist.
quality-bearing essence
(substantial form) -- provides the body's causal capacities
A quantity of matter, for example, possesses weight, color, and all the other bodily properties, only in virtue of being conjoined with a determinate form (of a billiard ball, chair, etc.).
Descartes admits of having held a teleological view of gravity:
"what makes it especially clear that my idea of gravity was taken largely from
the idea I had of the mind
is the fact that I thought that gravity carried bodies towards the centre of the earth as if it had some
knowledge of the centre within itself
. For this surely could not happen without knowledge, and there can be any knowledge except in a mind"
Descartes writes
Descartes, as well as other proponents of the mechanical theory, aim to reduce all properties of bodies to properties of extension:
arrangements of parts
Result: Aristotelian primary explanatory categories (hot, cold, wet, dry...) are degraded to secondary qualities.
Heliocentrism required a new natural philosophy!
Galileo improved upon the telescope...
and turned it towards the sky and saw...
Dark spots on the sun's surface and
their appearance changes from one day to the next.
So what?
According to the Scholastic world-view the sun is immaculate and immutably perfect.
What reliable method of knowledge acquisition did Galileo employ?
Repeatable observations with the help of artificial instruments.
... the final arbiter of truth in matters of everything is supposed to be THE AUTHORITY.
New phenomena are presenting themselves about which the ancient texts are silent.
While at the same time attempting (for the most part) to preserve the main tenets of (Roman Catholic) Christianity.
Early modern philosophers tried to maintain the theology portion of 17th century science and modify (radically) the natural philosophy portion.
The red apple is not metaphysically simple, but comprised of prime matter and substantial form.
[Metaphysics is the study of what is ultimately real].
When change occurs, something has to persist throughout the change: prime matter.
what remains is matter, what is gained is form.
all natural substances are composites of form and matter
matter is pure potentiality
form gives a substance its characteristics
form determines what
(intrinsic goal) the substance's natural motions strive towards (inherent functions -- not necessarily by design)

what is the substantial form of an individual human being?
The organization of the body
Classical element theory
Empedocles: Terrestrial sphere is composed of fire, air, earth and water; Subject to change and decomposition; linear motion.

The universe above is made of aether; not subject to change; circular motion.
A new model of change
Aristotle: changes in the properties of a given object were accounted for by primary matter itself
acquiring or losing qualities
Mechanical philosophers: change is accounted for by
change in the arrangements of its parts
... note: this is a revival of
Epicurean atomism.
All physical phenomena can be explained in terms of matter in motion, as opposed to...?
...nature acting for the sake of a telos.
[nature is goal directed]
Allows for rapid dissemination of new (anti-Scholastic) ideas to the wider public.
The church is much less in control of the flow of information.
Galileo Galilei
Life: 1564-1642
Father of observational astronomy
Moon has mountains and craters
Moons of Jupiter (Medicean Stars)
Phases of Venus
Law of free fall
1633 Convicted for heresy
Galileo observed that Venus went through a complete set of phases.
Animation of the complete phases of Venus
Law of free fall
a) What happens?
b) What ought to happen according to Aristotle's physics?
Galileo drops a canon
ball and a marble from
the tower of Pisa.
[Historians dispute this]
a) the canon ball and the marble hit the earth at (almost) the same time
b) the canon ball should hit the earth first. Why?
The canon ball has greater mass (more matter), hence there is a greater gravitational pull on the canon ball than the marble.
But why doesn't the canon ball hit the ground first then?
Newton's second law of acceleration:
acceleration is inversely related to its mass.
The greater mass of the canon ball resists acceleration more than the marble's mass and hence offsets the greater gravitational pull.
Back to Galileo, (Newton lived almost 100 years later):
Galileo proposed that a falling body would fall with a
uniform acceleration
, as long as the resistance from the medium through which it was falling could be neglected (e.g. air resistance).
Biblical Objections to Copernicanism
“The sun rises and the sun sets; then it presses on to the place where it rises.”
JOSHUA 10:13-14.
“The sun stood still, the moon stayed, while the nation took vengeance
on its foes. This is recorded in the Book of Jashar. The sun halted halfway across the heavens; not for an entire day did it press on. Never before or since was there a day like this, when the LORD obeyed the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.”

Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1615)
Two truths can't contradict one another
Copernicanism is true
The Bible is true

... so what gives?
The current interpretation of scripture is false (violates the 1546 Council of Trent)
The Bible is true but obscure.

BUT why would the Bible be misleading about matters of nature?
The goal of the Bible is not to illuminate us about physics
Truths of physics are grasped through reason and sense-experience
That's why God gave us senses and reason
So, science and religion don't conflict!



Unified (mathematical) theory of matter
"[The universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word" (The Assayer)
Copernicanism is correct
Restriction of possible causes to mechanically intelligible ones
Matter is inert
Recap of Scholastic natural philosophy
The matter (stuff) of the universe is of 2 types
1) Sublunar: divides into 2 types
a) heavy: water & earth
b) light: air & fire
2) Celestial: aether
There are 5 different types of matter (stuff) that all obey different principles of motion, since each is marked by a distinct essence (substantial form).
Galileo's goal:
Offer a unified theory of matter.
The moon is not a crystalline, perfect sphere.

Instead, its surface is marked by mountains and crevices.
Galileo likens the mountains on the moon to mountains in Bohemia.

Galileo dismantles the terrestrial/celestial distinction
... brings us one step closer to a unified theory of matter.
Commander Scott's experiment
during the Apollo15 mission
Galileo presents the following thought experiment (Dialogues on the Two Chief World Systems):
According to the Scholastics, what would happen if you
the canon ball and the marble and then drop them off the tower?
Galileo's new natural philosophy
What does Galileo leave unexplained?
According to Galileo some claims of the Bible are false.
True or false?
Galileo divides the domain of science into nature of philosophy and theology.
"That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven not how heaven goes"
Where would Venus have to be located (relative to the Earth) so that we can see it fully lit.
Question from student:

Why were the phases of the moon not a challenge to the Ptolemaic model?
Galileo the mechanist philosopher
"[A]s soon as I conceive of a material or corporeal substance, I feel drawn by the necessity of also conceiving that it is
and has ...
, that it is
large or small
..., that it is in this or that
and exists as this or that
; that it
moves or stands still
; that it touches or does not touch another body; and that it is one, a few, or
. Nor can I, by any stretch of the imagination, separate it from these conditions" (The Assayer 1623).
Galileo reduces the explanatory categories to those of extension: size, shape, motion and arrangements of parts.
Both Newton and Galileo believe that a unless acted upon by a net unbalanced force, an object will maintain a constant speed in a straight line.
Galileo: a straight line is parallel to the surface of the Earth.
Newton: a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.
According to Aristotelians earth matter strives towards the center of the Earth.
Under what conditions is a chair at rest?
Under what conditions is a chair moving against its natural motion?
Artificial motion can act against the natural motion.
The chair is at rest, because matter is inert.
The curling stone keeps moving on the slick ice, because matter acted upon by a (single) force, will continue to move at constant speed in a straight** line.
Galileo's circular law of inertia is a precursor to Newton's rectilinear law of inertia: unless acted upon by a net force, the body will continue to move at constant speed and constant direction.
"all external impediments removed, a heavy body on a spherical surface concentric with the earth will maintain itself in that state in which it has been; if placed in movement towards the west (for example), it will maintain itself in that movement."
Why doesn't the curling stone fly off the Earth?
** 'straight' for Galileo means parallel to the surface of the earth.
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