Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous is a book written by George Berkeley in 1713. Three important concepts discussed in the Three Dialogues are perceptual relativity, the conceivability/master argument, and Berkeley’s phenomenalism. Perceptual relativity argues that the same object can appear to have different characteristics (e.g. shape) depending on the observer’s perspective. Since objective features of objects cannot change without an inherent change in the object itself, shape must not be an objective feature.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is present to hear it, does it make a sound? It does not, according to George Berkeley. Originally published in 1710, this landmark of Western philosophy introduced a revolutionary concept: immaterialism, which asserts that to be is to perceive or be perceived. An Irish clergyman who spent his entire philosophical career as a churchman, Berkeley linked his investigations to his religious interests. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge opens with an assault on Locke’s theory of abstract ideas and proceeds with arguments that sensible qualities exist only when perceived as ideas. Physical objects, he claims, are no more than collections of qualities, and these sensible objects, too, are merely ideas. Berkeley relates his position to the achievements of eighteenth-century science, and proclaims the compatibility of immaterialism with traditional religion. The fullest expression of Berkeley’s doctrine of immaterialism, this classic work influenced British philosophers from David Hume to Bertrand Russell and the other logical positivists. It is essential reading for all students of philosophy.
Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (1798 – 1857) was a French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is often regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. Comte’s ideas were also fundamental to the development of sociology; indeed, he invented the term and treated that discipline as the crowning achievement of the sciences.
Influenced by the utopian socialist Henri de Saint-Simon, Comte developed positive philosophy in an attempt to remedy the social disorder caused by the French Revolution, which he believed indicated imminent transition to a new form of society. He sought to establish a new social doctrine based on science, which he labelled ‘positivism’. He had a major impact on 19th-century thought, influencing the work of social thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and George Eliot. His concept of Sociologie and social evolutionism set the tone for early social theorists and anthropologists such as Harriet Martineau and Herbert Spencer, evolving into modern academic sociology presented by Émile Durkheim as practical and objective social research.
Comte’s social theories culminated in his “Religion of Humanity”, which presaged the development of non-theistic religious humanist and secular humanist organizations in the 19th century. He may also have coined the word altruisme (altruism).
The Discourse on the Method is a philosophical and mathematical treatise published by René Descartes in 1637. This work is best known as the source of the famous quotation “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”), which occurs in Part IV of the work. The Discourse on the Method is one of the most influential works in the history of modern science. It is a method which gives a solid platform from which all modern natural sciences could evolve. In this work, Descartes tackles the problem of skepticism which had been revived from the ancients such as Sextus Empiricus by authors such as Algazel and Michel de Montaigne. Descartes modified it to account for a truth that he found to be incontrovertible. Descartes started his line of reasoning by doubting everything, so as to assess the world from a fresh perspective, clear of any preconceived notions.
Meditations on First Philosophy, in which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are demonstrated, is a philosophical treatise by René Descartes first published in Latin in 1641. The book is made up of six meditations, in which Descartes first discards all belief in things that are not absolutely certain, and then tries to establish what can be known for sure. He wrote the meditations as if he had meditated for six days: each meditation refers to the last one as “yesterday”. One of the most influential philosophical texts ever written, it is widely read to this day. The book consists of the presentation of Descartes’ metaphysical system in its most detailed level and in the expanding of his philosophical system, first introduced in the fourth part of his Discourse on Method (1637). Descartes’ metaphysical thought is also found in the Principles of Philosophy (1644), which the author intended to be a philosophy guidebook.
John Dewey’s Democracy and Education addresses the challenge of providing quality public education in a democratic society. In this classic work, Dewey calls for the complete renewal of public education, arguing for the fusion of vocational and contemplative studies in education and for the necessity of universal education for the advancement of self and society. First published in 1916, Democracy and Education is regarded as the seminal work on public education by one of the most important scholars of the century.
Denis Diderot (1713 – 1784) was a French philosopher, art critic, and writer, best known for serving as co-founder, chief editor, and contributor to the Encyclopédie along with Jean le Rond d’Alembert. He was a prominent figure during the Enlightenment.
In this work, Diderot is at the zenith of his development of materialist theories. It is here that he introduces his theory on life and nature, indicating that matter is not fixed but that, on the contrary, subject to evolution. Each species in existence transforms itself and gives birth to a new species.
The Paradox of Acting (French: Paradoxe sur le comédien) is a dramatic essay by Denis Diderot elucidating a theory of acting in which it is argued that great actors do not experience the emotions they are displaying.
The essay consists of a dialogue between two speakers in which the first speaker espouses the views of Diderot on acting. The first speaker argues that the great actor is characterized by a complete absence of any feeling; and that the art of the great actor consists of displaying the illusion of feeling. The reason is that if the great actor were to become emotional he would not be able to play the same part in the theater in repeat performances with the same success. Also, those actors who depend on feeling when performing usually give unpredictable or uneven performances. The great actor is thus guided by his intelligence, and not by his emotion. Once the great actor has studied and conceptualized his part through intelligence, he will be able to give repeat performances successfully irrespective of what is going on in his personal life.
Rameau’s Nephew, or the Second Satire is an imaginary philosophical conversation by Denis Diderot, written predominantly in 1761-2 and revised in 1773-4. It was first published in 1805 in German translation by Goethe, but the French manuscript used had subsequently disappeared.
The dialogue form allows Diderot to examine issues from widely different perspectives. The character of Rameau’s nephew is presented as extremely unreliable, ironical and self-contradicting, so that the reader may never know whether he is being sincere or provocative. The impression is that of nuggets of truth artfully embedded in trivia.
A parasite in a well-to-do family, Rameau’s nephew has recently been kicked out because he refused to compromise with the truth. Now he will not humble himself by apologizing. And yet, rather than starve, shouldn’t one live at the expense of rich fools and knaves as he once did, pimping for a lord? Society does not allow the talented to support themselves because it does not value them, leaving them to beg while the rich, the powerful and stupid poke fun at men like Buffon, Duclos, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Voltaire, D’Alembert, Diderot. The poor genius is left with but two options: to crawl and flatter or to dupe and cheat, either being repugnant to the sensitive mind. If virtue had led the way to fortune, I would either have been virtuous or pretended to be so like others; I was expected to play the fool, and a fool I turned myself into.
Ideas and Opinions contains essays by eminent scientist Albert Einstein on subjects ranging from atomic energy, relativity, and religion to human rights, government, and economics. Previously published articles, speeches, and letters are gathered here to create a fascinating collection of meditations by one of the world’s greatest minds.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist, lecturer, philosopher, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism and a prescient critic of the countervailing pressures of society, and he disseminated his thoughts through dozens of published essays and more than 1,500 public lectures across the United States. Emerson gradually moved away from the religious and social beliefs of his contemporaries, formulating and expressing the philosophy of transcendentalism in his 1836 essay “Nature“. Following this work, he gave a speech entitled “The American Scholar” in 1837, which Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. considered to be America’s “intellectual Declaration of Independence.”
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (May 19, 1762 – January 27, 1814), was a German philosopher who became a founding figure of the philosophical movement known as German Idealism, which developed from the theoretical and ethical writings of Immanuel Kant. Recently, philosophers and scholars have begun to appreciate Fichte as an important philosopher in his own right due to his original insights into the nature of self-consciousness or self-awareness. Fichte was also the originator of thesis–antithesis–synthesis, an idea that is often erroneously attributed to Hegel. Like Descartes and Kant before him, Fichte was motivated by the problem of subjectivity and consciousness.
The Foundations of the Science of Knowledge is a 1795 book by the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, which contributed to the development of 19th-century German Idealism from Kant’s critical philosophy. Based on lectures Fichte had delivered as a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Jena, it was later reworked in various versions.
In the philosophy of language, the distinction between sense and reference was an innovation of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege in 1892, reflecting the two ways he believed a singular term may have meaning. The reference (or “referent”) of a proper name is the object it means or indicates, its sense is what the name expresses. The reference of a sentence is its truth value, its sense is the thought that it expresses. Frege justified the distinction in a number of ways. Much of analytic philosophy is traceable to Frege’s philosophy of language. Frege’s views on logic (i.e., his idea that some parts of speech are complete by themselves, and are analogous to the arguments of a mathematical function) led to his views on a theory of reference.
Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He is understood by many to be the father of analytic philosophy, concentrating on the philosophy of language and mathematics. Though largely ignored during his lifetime, Giuseppe Peano (1858–1932) and Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) introduced his work to later generations of logicians and philosophers.
His contributions include the development of modern logic in the Begriffsschrift and work in the foundations of mathematics. His book the Foundations of Arithmetic is the seminal text of the logicist project, and is cited by Michael Dummett as where to pinpoint the linguistic turn. His philosophical papers “On Sense and Reference” and “The Thought” are widely cited.
Perhaps one of the most revolutionary works of philosophy ever presented, The Phenomenology of Spirit is Hegel’s 1807 work that is in numerous ways extraordinary. It begins with a Preface, created after the rest of the manuscript was completed, that explains the core of his method and what sets it apart from any preceding philosophy. The Introduction, written before the rest of the work, summarizes and completes Kant’s ideas on skepticism by rendering it moot and encouraging idealism and self-realization. The body of the work is divided into six sections of varying length, entitled “Consciousness,” “Self-Consciousness,” “Reason,” “Spirit,” “Religion,” and “Absolute Knowledge.” A myriad of topics are discussed, and explained in such a harmoniously complex way that the method has been termed Hegelian dialectic. Ultimately, the work as a whole is a remarkable study of the mind’s growth from its direct awareness to scientific philosophy, proving to be a difficult yet highly influential and enduring work.
The Philosophy of History is a major work by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), originally given as lectures at the University of Berlin in 1822, 1828, and 1830. It presents world history in terms of the Hegelian philosophy in order to show that history follows the dictates of reason and that the natural progress of history is due to the outworking of Absolute Spirit.
From the Introduction: “The knowledge of Mind is the highest and hardest, just because it is the most ‘concrete’ of sciences. The significance of that ‘absolute’ commandment, Know thyself – whether we look at it in itself or under the historical circumstances of its first utterance – is not to promote mere selfknowledge in respect of the particular capacities, character, propensities, and foibles of the single self. The knowledge it commands means that of man’s genuine reality – of what is essentially and ultimately true and real – of mind as the true and essential being.”
Being and Time is a 1927 book by the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in which the author seeks to analyse the concept of Being. Heidegger maintains that this has fundamental importance for philosophy and that, since the time of the Ancient Greeks, philosophy has avoided the question, turning instead to the analysis of particular beings. Heidegger attempts to revive ontology through a reawakening of the question of the meaning of Being. He approaches this through a fundamental ontology that is a preliminary analysis of the Being of the being to whom the question of Being is important, i.e., Dasein.
Heidegger wrote that Being and Time was made possible by his study of Edmund Husserl’s Logical Investigations (1900–1901), and it is dedicated to Husserl “in friendship and admiration”. It was immediately recognized as an original and groundbreaking philosophical work, and later became a focus of debates and controversy, and a profound influence on 20th-century philosophy, particularly existentialism, hermeneutics, deconstruction, and the enactivist approach to cognition. Being and Time has been described as the most influential version of existential philosophy, and Heidegger’s achievements in the work have been compared to those of Immanuel Kant in the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and Science of Logic (1812–1816). The work influenced philosophical treatises such as Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (1943).
The first pages of The Question Concerning Technology set the terms of Heidegger’s discussion. The first paragraph establishes the essay’s objective: to investigate technology in order to prepare us for a “free relationship” to it. One of the fundamental questions of the essay has to do with how we currently relate to technology, how we think about it, what we imagine it to be.
The problem for Heidegger is not so much the existence of technology or the forms it takes, but rather our orientation to technology. If we accept this formulation of the problem, then it becomes clear that our response to the various problems brought about by technology cannot be solved simply by making the technology better. It is also impossible to ignore these difficulties simply by “opting out” of technology.
According to Heidegger, the fundamental question of metaphysics is “why are there beings at all instead of nothing?” From this fundamental question Heidegger extracts a prior question about the relation to Being; or “How does it stand with Being?” This is to be answered through an analysis of Greek poetry, the etymology of the word being and of the answers given by philosophers such as Parmenides, Heraclitus, Aristotle, and Immanuel Kant. To Heidegger, this question is not purely an academic endeavour, for metaphysics grounds an age, by giving “that age the basis upon which it is essentially formed”. The question thus inherently implicates the totality of human Dasein, and is asked so as to “restore the historical Dasein of human beings … back to the power of Being that is to be opened up originally”. This opens up the discussion of socio-political entanglements of Dasein and Heidegger’s notion of the “inner truth and greatness” of National Socialism.
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a philosophical work by the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Through dialogue, three philosophers named Demea, Philo, and Cleanthes debate the nature of God’s existence. Whether or not these names reference specific philosophers, ancient or otherwise, remains a topic of scholarly dispute. While all three agree that a god exists, they differ sharply in opinion on God’s nature or attributes and how, or if, humankind can come to knowledge of a deity.
In the Dialogues, Hume’s characters debate a number of arguments for the existence of God, and arguments whose proponents believe through which we may come to know the nature of God. Such topics debated include the argument from design—for which Hume uses a house—and whether there is more suffering or good in the world (the argument from evil).
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is a revision of an earlier effort, Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, published anonymously in London in 1739–40. Hume was disappointed with the reception of the Treatise, which “fell dead-born from the press,” as he put it, and so tried again to disseminate his more developed ideas to the public by writing a shorter and more polemical work.
The end product of his labours was the Enquiry. The Enquiry dispensed with much of the material from the Treatise, in favor of clarifying and emphasizing its most important aspects. For example, Hume’s views on personal identity do not appear. However, more vital propositions, such as Hume’s argument for the role of habit in a theory of knowledge, are retained.
This book has proven highly influential, both in the years that would immediately follow and today. Immanuel Kant points to it as the book which woke him from his self-described “dogmatic slumber.” The Enquiry is widely regarded as a classic in modern philosophical literature.
In An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, Hume argues (among other things) that the foundations of morals lie with sentiment, not reason.
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals is the enquiry subsequent to the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Thus, it is often referred to as “the second Enquiry”. It was originally published in 1751, three years after the first Enquiry. Hume first discusses ethics in A Treatise of Human Nature (in Book 3 – “Of Morals”). He later extracted and expounded upon the ideas he proposed there in his second Enquiry. In his short autobiographical work, My Own Life (1776), Hume states that his second Enquiry is “of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best.”
Considered by many to be Hume’s most important work and one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy, The Treatise is a classic statement of philosophical empiricism, skepticism, and naturalism. In the introduction, Hume presents the idea of placing all science and philosophy on a novel foundation: namely, an empirical investigation into human nature. Impressed by Isaac Newton’s achievements in the physical sciences, Hume sought to introduce the same experimental method of reasoning into the study of human psychology, with the aim of discovering the “extent and force of human understanding”. Against the philosophical rationalists, Hume argues that passion rather than reason governs human behaviour. He introduces the famous problem of induction, arguing that inductive reasoning and our beliefs regarding cause and effect cannot be justified by reason; instead, our faith in induction and causation is the result of mental habit and custom. Hume defends a sentimentalist account of morality, arguing that ethics is based on sentiment and passion rather than reason, and famously declaring that “reason is, and ought only to be the slave to the passions”. Hume also offers a skeptical theory of personal identity and a compatibilist account of free will.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825 – 1895) was an English biologist and anthropologist specializing in comparative anatomy. He has become known as “Darwin’s Bulldog” for his advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Huxley was also an ardent supporter of social reform, particularly in his call for quality education at all levels. Evolution and Ethics, widely considered to be his greatest lecture, distilled a lifetime’s wisdom and sensitive understanding of the nature and needs of humankind. Arguing that the human psyche is at war with itself, that humans are alienated in the cosmos, and that moral societies are necessarily in conflict with the natural conditions of their existence, Huxley nevertheless saw moral dictates as the key to future human happiness and success.
This is the first English translation of all of Kant’s writings on moral and political philosophy collected in a single volume. No other collection competes with the comprehensiveness of this one. As well as Kant’s most famous moral and political writings, the Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals, the Critique of Practical Reason, the Metaphysics of Morals, and Toward Perpetual Peace, the volume includes shorter essays and reviews, some of which have never been translated before. The volume has been furnished with a substantial editorial apparatus including translator’s introductions and explanatory notes to each text by Mary Gregor, and a general introduction to Kant’s moral and political philosophy by Allen Wood. There is also an English-German and German-English glossary of key terms.
The Critique of Pure Reason is a 1781 book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, in which the author seeks to determine the limits and scope of metaphysics. A heavily-revised second edition was published in 1787. Also referred to as Kant’s “First Critique,” it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgment (1790). In the preface to the first edition, Kant explains that by a “critique of pure reason” he means not “a critique of books and systems, but of the faculty of reason in general, in respect of all knowledge after which it may strive independently of all experience” and that he aims to reach a decision about “the possibility or impossibility of metaphysics”. The First Critique is often viewed as culminating several centuries of early-modern philosophy, and inaugurating modern philosophy.
The Critique of Practical Reason is the second of Immanuel Kant’s three critiques, published in 1788. It follows on from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and deals with his moral philosophy. The second Critique exercised a decisive influence over the subsequent development of the field of ethics and moral philosophy, beginning with Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s Doctrine of Science and becoming, during the 20th century, the principal reference point for deontological moral philosophy.
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment completes the Critical project begun in the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Practical Reason (the First and Second Critiques, respectively). The book is divided into two main sections: the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment and the Critique of Teleological Judgment, and also includes a large overview of the entirety of Kant’s Critical system, arranged in its final form.
The Critical project, that of exploring the limits and conditions of knowledge, had already produced the Critique of Pure Reason, in which Kant argued for a Transcendental Aesthetic, an approach to the problems of perception in which space and time are argued not to be objects but ways in which the observing subject’s mind organizes and structures the sensory world. The end result of this inquiry is that there are certain fundamental antinomies in human Reason, most particularly that there is a complete inability to favor on the one hand the argument that all behavior and thought is determined by external causes, and on the other that there is an actual “spontaneous” causal principle at work in human behavior.
The Metaphysics of Morals is Kant’s major work in applied moral philosophy in which he deals with the basic principles of rights and of virtues. It comprises two parts: the ‘Doctrine of Right’, which deals with the rights which people have or can acquire, and the ‘Doctrine of Virtue’, which deals with the virtues they ought to acquire.
The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals is the first of Immanuel Kant’s mature works on moral philosophy and remains one of the most influential in the field. Kant conceives his investigation as a work of foundational ethics—one that clears the ground for future research by explaining the core concepts and principles of moral theory and showing that they are normative for rational agents. Kant aspires to nothing less than this: to lay bare the fundamental principle of morality and show that it applies to us. In the text, Kant provides a groundbreaking argument that the rightness of an action is determined by the character of the principle that a person chooses to act upon. Kant thus stands in stark contrast to the moral sense theories and teleological moral theories that dominated moral philosophy at the time he was writing. Central to the work is the role of what Kant refers to as the categorical imperative, the concept that one must act only according to that precept which he or she would will to become a universal law.
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Science is a book by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, published in 1783, two years after the first edition of his Critique of Pure Reason. One of Kant’s shorter works, it contains a summary of the Critique‘s main conclusions, sometimes by arguments Kant had not used in the Critique. Kant characterizes his more accessible approach here as an “analytic” one, as opposed to the Critique‘s “synthetic” examination of successive faculties of the mind and their principles.
The book is also intended as a polemic. Kant was disappointed by the poor reception of the Critique of Pure Reason, and here he repeatedly emphasizes the importance of its critical project for the very existence of metaphysics as a science. The final appendix contains a detailed rebuttal to an unfavorable review of the Critique.
Fear and Trembling is a philosophical work by Søren Kierkegaard, published in 1843 under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio (John of the Silence). The title is a reference to a line from Philippians 2:12, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” — itself a probable reference to Psalms 55:5, “Fear and trembling came upon me…”
Kierkegaard wanted to understand the anxiety that must have been present in Abraham when “God tested [him] and said to him, take Isaac, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him as a burnt offering on the mountain that I shall show you.” Abraham had a choice to complete the task or to refuse to comply with God’s orders. He resigned himself to the three-and-a-half-day journey and to the loss of his son. “He said nothing to Sarah, nothing to Eliezer. Who, after all, could understand him, for did not the nature of temptation extract from him a pledge of silence? He split the firewood, he bound Isaac, he lit the fire, he drew the knife.” Because he kept everything to himself and chose not to reveal his feelings he “isolated himself as higher than the universal.” Kierkegaard envisions two types of people in Fear and Trembling and Repetition. One lives in hope, Abraham, the other lives in memory, The Young Man and Constantin Constantius.
The Sickness Unto Death is a book written by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in 1849 under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus. A work of Christian existentialism, the book is about Kierkegaard’s concept of despair, which he equates with the Christian concept of sin, particularly original sin. The Sickness Unto Death has strong existentialist themes. For example, the concept of the finite and infinite parts of the human self translate to Heidegger’s concept of ‘facticity’ and Sartre’s concept of ‘transcendence’ in Being and Nothingness. Kierkegaard’s thesis is, of course, in other ways profoundly different from Sartre, most obviously because of Kierkegaard’s belief that only religious faith can save the soul from despair.
Philosophical Fragments is a Christian philosophical work written by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in 1844. It was the second of three works written under the pseudonym Johannes Climacus. Kierkegaardian scholars D. Anthony Storm and Walter Lowrie believe Kierkegaard could be referring to Johannes Climacus, a 7th-century Christian monk, who believed that an individual is converted to Christianity by way of a ladder, one rung (virtue) at a time. Kierkegaard believes the individual comes to an understanding with Christ by a leap. Kierkegaard wrote his books in reaction to both Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel as well as the philosophic-historical use of speculation in regard to Christianity.
This work is a poignant attack against Hegelianism, the philosophy of Hegel, especially Hegel’s Science of Logic. The work is also famous for its dictum, Subjectivity is Truth. It was an attack on what Kierkegaard saw as Hegel’s deterministic philosophy. Against Hegel’s system, Kierkegaard is often interpreted as taking the side of metaphysical libertarianism or free will, though it has been argued that an incompatibilist conception of free will is not essential to Kierkegaard’s formulation of existentialism.
As the title suggests, the Postscript is a sequel to the earlier Philosophical Fragments. The title of the work is ironic because the Postscript is almost five times larger than the Fragments. The Postscript credits “Johannes Climacus” as the author and Kierkegaard as its editor. Like his other pseudonymous works, the Postscript is not a reflection of Kierkegaard’s own beliefs. However, unlike his other pseudonymous works, Kierkegaard attaches his name as editor to this work, showing the importance of the Postscript to Kierkegaard’s overall authorship.
The Monadology (1714) is one of Gottfried Leibniz’s best-known works representing his later philosophy. It is a short text which sketches in some 90 paragraphs a metaphysics of simple substances, or monads. The monad, the word and the idea, belongs to the Western philosophical tradition and has been used by various authors. Leibniz, who was exceptionally well read, could not have ignored this, but he did not use it himself until mid-1696 when he was sending for print his New System. Apparently, he found with it a convenient way to expose his own philosophy as it was elaborated in this period. What he proposed can be seen as a modification of occasionalism developed by latter-day Cartesians. Leibniz surmised that there are indefinitely many substances individually ‘programmed’ to act in a predetermined way, each substance being coordinated with all the others. This is the pre-established harmony which solved the mind-body problem, but at the cost of declaring any interaction between substances a mere appearance.
Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz (1646 – 1716) was a prominent German polymath and one of the most important logicians, mathematicians and natural philosophers of the Enlightenment. As a representative of the seventeenth-century tradition of rationalism, Leibniz developed, as his most prominent accomplishment, the ideas of differential and integral calculus, independently of Isaac Newton’s contemporaneous developments.
In philosophy, Leibniz is most noted for his optimism, i.e. his conclusion that our universe is, in a restricted sense, the best possible one that God could have created, an idea that was often lampooned by others such as Voltaire. Leibniz, along with René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza, was one of the three great 17th-century advocates of rationalism. The work of Leibniz anticipated modern logic and analytic philosophy, but his philosophy also assimilates elements of the scholastic tradition, notably that conclusions are produced by applying reason to first principles or prior definitions rather than to empirical evidence.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) is a work by John Locke concerning the foundation of human knowledge and understanding. He describes the mind at birth as a blank slate (tabula rasa, although he did not use those actual words) filled later through experience. The essay was one of the principal sources of empiricism in modern philosophy and influenced many enlightenment philosophers, such as David Hume and George Berkeley.
Book I of the Essay is Locke’s attempt to refute the rationalist notion of innate ideas. Book II sets out Locke’s theory of ideas, including his distinction between passively acquired simple ideas, such as “red,” “sweet,” “round,” etc., and actively built complex ideas, such as numbers, causes and effects, abstract ideas, ideas of substances, identity, and diversity. Locke also distinguishes between the truly existing primary qualities of bodies, like shape, motion and the arrangement of minute particles, and the secondary qualities that are “powers to produce various sensations in us” such as “red” and “sweet.” These secondary qualities, Locke claims, are dependent on the primary qualities. He also offers a theory of personal identity, offering a largely psychological criterion. Book III is concerned with language, and Book IV with knowledge, including intuition, mathematics, moral philosophy, natural philosophy (“science”), faith, and opinion.
Jerusalem, or on Religious Power and Judaism is a book written by Moses Mendelssohn, which was first published in 1783 – the same year, when the Prussian officer Christian Wilhelm von Dohm published the second part of his Mémoire Concerning the amelioration of the civil status of the Jews. Moses Mendelssohn was one of the key figures of Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) and his philosophical treatise, dealing with social contract and political theory (especially concerning the question of the separation between religion and state), can be regarded as his most important contribution to Haskalah. The book which was written in Prussia on the eve of the French Revolution consisted of two parts and each one was paged separately. The first part discusses “religious power” and the freedom of conscience in the context of the political theory (Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes), and the second part discusses Mendelssohn’s personal conception of Judaism concerning the new secular role of any religion within an enlightened state. In his publication, Moses Mendelssohn combined a defense of the Jewish population against public accusations with contemporary criticism of the present conditions of the Prussian Monarchy.
John Stuart Mill’s book Utilitarianism is a classic exposition and defense of utilitarianism in ethics. The essay first appeared as a series of three articles published in Fraser’s Magazine in 1861; the articles were collected and reprinted as a single book in 1863. Mill’s aim in the book is to explain what utilitarianism is, to show why it is the best theory of ethics, and to defend it against a wide range of criticisms and misunderstandings. Though heavily criticized both in Mill’s lifetime and in the years since, Utilitarianism did a great deal to popularize utilitarian ethics and has been considered “the most influential philosophical articulation of a liberal humanistic morality that was produced in the nineteenth century.”
Principia Ethica is a 1903 book by the British philosopher G. E. Moore, in which the author insists on the indefinability of “good” and provides an exposition of the naturalistic fallacy. Principia Ethica was influential, and Moore’s arguments were long regarded as path-breaking advances in moral philosophy, though they have been seen as less impressive and durable than his contributions in other fields.
Moore insists that “good” is indefinable, and provides an exposition of what he calls the “naturalistic fallacy.” He defends the objectivity and multiplicity of values, arguing that knowledge of values cannot be derived from knowledge of facts, but only from intuition of the goodness of such states of affairs as beauty, pleasure, friendship and knowledge. In Moore’s view, right acts are those producing the most good.
On the Genealogy of Morals is an 1887 book by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It consists of a preface and three interrelated essays that expand and follow through on concepts Nietzsche sketched out in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). The three essays trace episodes in the evolution of moral concepts with a view to confronting “moral prejudices”, specifically those of Christianity and Judaism. Some Nietzsche scholars consider Genealogy to be a work of sustained brilliance and power as well as his masterpiece. Since its publication, it has influenced many authors and philosophers.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was born in Prussia in 1844. After the death of his father, a Lutheran minister, Nietzsche was raised from the age of five by his mother in a household of women. In 1869 he was appointed Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Basel, where he taught until 1879 when poor health forced him to retire. He never recovered from a nervous breakdown in 1889 and died eleven years later. Known for saying that “God is dead,” Nietzsche propounded his metaphysical construct of the superiority of the disciplined individual (Super-man) living in the present over traditional values derived from Christianity and its emphasis on heavenly rewards. His ideas were appropriated by the Fascists, who turned his theories into social realities that he had never intended.
As Walter Kaufmann, one of the world’s leading authorities on Nietzsche, notes in his introduction, “Few writers in any age were so full of ideas,” and few writers have been so consistently misinterpreted. The Portable Nietzsche includes Kaufmann’s definitive translations of the complete and unabridged texts of Nietzsche’s four major works: Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, Nietzsche Contra Wagner and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. In addition, Kaufmann brings together selections from his other books, notes, and letters, to give a full picture of Nietzsche’s development, versatility, and inexhaustibility.
Thus Spake Zarathustra is incomplete, but it is the first thorough statement of Nietzsche’s mature philosophy and the masterpiece of his career. It received little attention during his lifetime but its influence since his death has been considerable, in the arts as well as philosophy. Written in the form of a prose narrative, Thus Spake Zarathustra offers the philosophy of its author through the voice of Zarathustra (based on the Persian prophet Zoroaster) who, after years of meditation, has come down from a mountain to offer his wisdom to the world. It is this work in which Nietzsche made his famous (and much misconstrued) statement that “God is dead” and in which he presented some of the most influential and well-known (and likewise misunderstood) ideas of his philosophy, including those of the Ubermensch (“overman” or “superman”) and the “will to power.” Though this is essentially a work of philosophy, it is also a masterpiece of literature. The book is a combination of prose and poetry, including epigrams, dithyrambs, and parodies as well as sections of pure poetry.
The Age of Reason is an influential work by Thomas Paine that follows in the tradition of eighteenth-century British deism, and challenges institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of the Bible. It presents common deistic arguments; for example, it highlights what Paine saw as corruption of the Christian Church and criticizes its efforts to acquire political power. Paine advocates reason in the place of revelation, leading him to reject miracles and to view the Bible as “an ordinary piece of literature rather than as a divinely inspired text”. It promotes natural religion and argues for the existence of a creator-God. The Age of Reason is divided into three sections. In Part I, Paine outlines his major arguments and personal creed. In Parts II and III he analyzes specific portions of the Bible in order to demonstrate that it is not the revealed word of God. Most of Paine’s arguments had long been available to the educated elite, but by presenting them in an engaging and irreverent style, he made deism appealing and accessible to a mass audience.
The Pensées (“Thoughts”) is a collection of fragments on theology and philosophy written by 17th-century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. Pascal’s religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism, and the Pensées was in many ways his life’s work. The Pensées represented Pascal’s defense of the Christian religion. The concept of “Pascal’s Wager” stems from a portion of this work.
Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914) was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician, and scientist who is sometimes known as “the father of pragmatism”. He was educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for 30 years. Today he is appreciated largely for his contributions to logic, mathematics, philosophy, scientific methodology, and semiotics, and for his founding of pragmatism.
Peirce argued that the aim of inquiry is the fixation of belief, and that the scientific method is the most effective way of so doing. The purpose of inquiry is to move from doubt to belief. Belief is a mental state in which there is no doubt. A belief may cease to be held and lead back to discomfort in the (former) believer, so the best kind of belief is the settled and stable kind. Inquiry itself is the struggle to attain belief. There are many methods used to attain belief and some are better than others.
How to Make Our Ideas Clear is the cornerstone for the philosophical school now known as pragmatism and began the formalization of the scientific method. It is justly regarded as one of the most important philosophical papers ever written.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a Genevan philosopher, writer and composer. Born in Geneva, his political philosophy influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution and the development of modern political and educational thought. His Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract are cornerstones in modern political and social thought.
The Confessions is an autobiographical book by Rousseau. In modern times, it is often published with the title The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in order to distinguish it from Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Covering the first fifty-three years of Rousseau’s life, up to 1765, it was completed in 1769, but not published until 1782, four years after Rousseau’s death.
Max Ferdinand Scheler (1874 – 1928) was a German philosopher known for his work in phenomenology, ethics, and philosophical anthropology. Considered in his lifetime one of the most prominent German philosophers, Scheler developed the philosophical method of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology. Given that school’s utopian ambitions of re-founding all of human knowledge, Scheler was nicknamed the “Adam of the philosophical paradise” by José Ortega y Gasset. After Scheler’s death in 1928, Martin Heidegger affirmed, with Ortega y Gasset, that all philosophers of the century were indebted to Scheler and praised him as “the strongest philosophical force in modern Germany, nay, in contemporary Europe and in contemporary philosophy as such.” Scheler was an important influence on the theology of Pope John Paul II, who wrote his 1954 doctoral thesis on “An Evaluation of the Possibility of Constructing a Christian Ethics on the Basis of the System of Max Scheler”, and later wrote many articles on Scheler’s philosophy. Thanks to John Paul II as well as to Scheler’s influence on his student Edith Stein, Scheler has exercised a notable influence on Catholic thought to this day.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation (expanded in 1844), wherein he characterizes the phenomenal world as the product of a blind and insatiable metaphysical will. Proceeding from the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer developed an atheistic metaphysical and ethical system that has been described as an exemplary manifestation of philosophical pessimism, rejecting the contemporaneous post-Kantian philosophies of German idealism. Schopenhauer was among the first thinkers in Western philosophy to share and affirm significant tenets of Eastern philosophy (e.g., asceticism, the world-as-appearance), having initially arrived at similar conclusions as the result of his own philosophical work.
Though his work failed to garner substantial attention during his life, Schopenhauer has had a posthumous impact across various disciplines, including philosophy, literature, and science. His writing on aesthetics, morality, and psychology influenced thinkers and artists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Those who cited his influence include Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Leo Tolstoy, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Otto Rank, Gustav Mahler, Joseph Campbell, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, Thomas Mann, Émile Zola, George Bernard Shaw, Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel Beckett.
The Basis of Morality is one of Arthur Schopenhauer’s major works in ethics, in which he argues that morality stems from compassion. Schopenhauer begins with a criticism of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, which Schopenhauer considered to be the clearest explanation of Kant’s foundation of ethics. On the Basis of Morality is divided into four sections. The first section is an introduction in which Schopenhauer provides his account of the question posed by the Royal Danish Society and his interpretation of the history of western ethics. In the second section, Schopenhauer embarks on a criticism of Kant’s foundation of ethics. The third section of the work is Schopenhauer’s positive construction of his own ethical theory. The final section of the work provides a brief description of the metaphysical foundations of ethics.