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Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

1.10 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

November 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Philosophy day again, and late at night again, anyways, though, Hegel, another interesting philosopher.
Hegel was one of the first people since ancient Greece to take the study of history seriously, up until his time it had just been a vague idea of some things that once happened, and of people that once lived, and left mostly at that. Hegel, though, dedicated quite a bit of effort to the subject, trying to understand how cultures and traditons and systems of governance had been different in the past, and then moved in the even more interesting direction of trying to see patterns in the subject, to see where things were going and thus what was going to happen next.
From this, he developed theories loosely based on those of Kant, in which the universe became a thing known as the Geist (as in Zeitgeist) a general consciousness that was moving ever forwards towards some vague aim. Change was inherent in all things, always striving towards this future, but unlike with Schopenhauer’s ‘Will’, there was purpose and intent to this movement, and that intent was self realisation, understanding and the development of perfection.
Meanwhile, he was also working on a similar theory, the idea of the synthesis. Linking this back to the concept of change and development, he declared the ideas of ‘being’ and ‘not being’ two opposing realities, which could be merged into a synthesis, that of becoming, of changing and moving forwards with the Geist. This synthesis was soon extended outwards, all of existance was a series of ideas and facts, each of which was opposed, thesis to antitheis, and all of which could be then merged into a synthesis, a compomise of the two opposing positions, which would then become the new thesis, and move one step further along in its development.
This was of particular interest in the field of politics, where opposing ideologies held opposing ideas, which could in theory be merged to create new political theories, and thus bring society one step closer to perfection. From this came the Hegelian theory of political development, though, whilst Hegel himself never chose a side, his supporters were soon divided into opposing camps. The Right Hegelians believed that society as they lived in was approaching perfection and needed only a little refining to smooth out the bugs. The Left Hegelians, though, thought that the whole of society was wrong, outdated, and that a whole new one was needed, in fact many amongst them attempted to design the perfect society right there and then, rather than waiting for it to develop step by step. these opposing factions would later form the basis of the Fascist and Socialist movements that would shape much of the history of the 20th century. Meanwhile, the same idea of development towards perfection was to prove a great inspiration to the ongoing efforts to explain evolution, alongside Schopenhauer’s ideas of the brutality and competitiveness of nature.
Hegel, though, argued that each of us was a part of the time in which we lived, that noone could be outside of the world as tey knew it then, noone could live or think as though they were in a past age or a future one, however much they tried. Those that tried to bring the future in right then were doomed to failure, everything had to be undertaken in its own time, step by step. Meanwhile, though, something was always left behind, as he saw it, some remnant of past civilizations, old traditions, and also reminders of each individual’s past as they change through their lives.

So that is old philosophers in ages past thinking and trying to understand how we see the world, how we understand what goes on around us, how the universe works. From there they influenced generations of scientists and philosophers. Perhaps one day I will go on to discuss science of the era, but next week, political and moral theories developed out of these ideas, the suppression of the working class, revolution and change, the welfare state, and Marxism.

10.9 Empiricism

November 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Philosophy day, part two, a little late, but it has been a rather busy day.

Anyway, last time, a quick introduction to Rationalism, to the idea that nothing can be trusted outside of our own minds, and that all has to be deduced logically. the Empiricists, the name being related to the study of how knowledge and understanding works, directly opposed that. Their theory was that though there was no evidence that the information from our senses was accurate, given that we have nothing to back up that one source, they are really all we have to understand the world, and we might as well work to consider the world as it seems to us, rather than wasting time reminding ourselves that reality might be different to what we think it is.
From this, they developed theories regarding the importance of senses, and also regarding how the mind works. As well as leading to the developing importance of such things as gardening, creating aesthetically pleasing and sensorially exciting scenes of trees and rivers and waterfalls and birds and so on, they also revolutionised our ideas of what people were.

If, as they suggested, everything we knew of the world came from our senses, and where else might it come from? then surely everything we knew must come to us during our lives, rather than before. That is, everyone is born with no knowledge, and all they learn is picked up through experience. If that is the case, then, why are children treated differently based on who their parents are? why is it that the children of wealthy and successful parents get to go to good schools and get taught, whilst the children of less well off families get sent to work at a young age? In fact, if all people are equal other than the experiences live throws at them and that their parents can buy for them, why should any one person be considered any more important than any other, outside of their own personal achievements and abilities?
This proved to be one of the most radical and influential ideas of the 18th century, revolutionising both education and politics. It was this more than anything else that started the new trend towards republicanism in the Americas, Corsica, France, and elsewhere, and towards liberal politics in other, less radical countries.

The major part of this theory was put forwards by John Locke, who also proposed that everything had to be worked out through study and obersavtion, rather than just thought out entirely in the mind, and that, following Rationalism’s view on the unreliablility of senses, that there could be no absolute certainty that what we saw was real, and thus that what we thought was true, and that therefore we should always be ready to listen to new arguments and to change our mind if they seemed more right, indeed, the more different arguments we allow ourselves to be exposed to, the closer we can come to understanding the real truth.
He was followed by such men as David Hume, who studied the ideas of cause and effect, how do we know that one thing causes another, when we can see no physical connection between them. Sure, one always happens after another, so far, but how can we know what will happen next time? Science, another keen interest of the Empiricists, can never prove anything, indeed, the only certainty with science is that it will be proven wrong by some later theory, (as may have happened recently with this faster than light stuff). The human mind creates patterns from what we see around us, even without absolute proof that these things are connected, whilst at the same time, any rational thoughts we might have are overpowered by instinct and emotion, which are what control most of our actions, as in the famous phrase, ‘Reason is a slave to passion’.
Finally, meanwhile, Edmund Burke, working at the time of the American and French revolutions, looked at these Empiricist theories, and at the Rationalist, Utopian ideals of the revolutionaries and came up with an argument against such action. The unimaginable complexity of society, he claimed, was something that no single mind could replace, that a full revolution to remove all of the past and start again could never work in practice. All of society has had to build up layer on layer over thousands of years, an evolutionary rather than revolutionary system, where common sense prevails over logic and nothing can ever be absolutely perfect. He argued, then, that what really mattered was each person making their own slight difference in their turn, and that people should listen to each other and consider all opinions and arguments, whilst ignoring anyone that claimed to be absolutely right, to never absolutely believe any ideologies, dogma, theories, or other supposed experts.

In this, Burke may have slightly foreshadowed the later theories of Hegel, but first, a major problem appears in philosophy, there are two directly opposing theories, both of which seem in many ways to be right, but which are mutually exclusive, so how can they possibly be reconciled? Can a world exist in which both Rationalism and Empiricism are right, as they seem to be to those that follow their separate arguments?

3.9 Friday is philosophy day

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Every Friday afternoon I have one of what has been the most interesting and enjoyable series of lectures of my entire course, supposedly a study of the origins of various architectural theories and styles, but really just a run through of modern philosophy. I thought, why not share all of this with the world, after all, that is what a blog is for. Of course, you have missed the first four lectures so far, so I will start at the begining again and that should leave me enough to last all the way through Christmas as well.

Personally I think it gets more interesting later on, but for now, Cartesian Rationalism. So, during the middle ages, in Europe at least, people were intent on doing what they were told, the noble families owned the land and those that worked it, the guild system controlled all production and technology and the church told people how to think and act. Change was pretty much forbidden because the people in charge knew it would reduce their authority, or just simply didn’t think about it. Anyway, along comes the renaissance, a sudden inpouring of old art and books from the east and people start to realise how far they are behind the ancient Romans and Greeks, and the Arabs of their own time, successful businessmen start to buy up old works of art, which were better than the modern, and to collect old books, full of unusual ideas different to those indoctrinated by their society. Then, they start arranging for new works of art to be created, for themselves where before most art had been religious rather than personal, new styles were developed, and the importance and skill of the individual artist was recognised rather than them being seen as any other craftsman doing the job they were paid to do.

And along comes Rene Descartes, a French man who for some strange reason decided that books were not good enough and that as a part of the universe, he should be able to understand it as of himself or itself, without having to read anything else anyone else had written. Quite soon he came to realise that there was no absolute evidence that the things around him actually were as they seemed, that his senses were not playing tricks on him, that he was not living in some imaginary dream world or some such, and that therefore only ideas in his own mind could be trusted. In order to work out a proper single theory of philosophy, then, he turned to the new ideas of science and maths, the analysis of evidence and the careful arranging of known facts to deduce new ideas. He realised that if he could find one fact on which he could be absolutely certain, he could use that as the basis of the entire rest of his theory. But, how to find something so reliable when there was every chance all he saw and felt and knew was part of a dream world?
Eventually he realised that there was one thing that just by thinking he could be sure of, and that was simply that he was thinking. That, he could not be imagining, and so from that, he could deduce his own existance, hence the famous ‘cogito ergo sum’, I think, therefore I am. And from there, he developed the principles of logical rationalism, where every idea has to be built upon preceding ideas, with good reasons and evidence, and that no other thoughts or possibilities were worth entertaining. This theory proved quite popular in his native France and surrounding areas, where it led to ideas of the simple functionality of things that were being made, and even more so of the use of simple shapes, straight lines, squares, circles, nothing too complex or organic, because what would be the point? No, aesthetic perfection could be found in the use of clear simple shapes arranged in ways that could be calculated from careful thought and study, in as far as anything that came to us through our imperfect and unreliable senses mattered at all.

Except, over in England, and even more so in Scotland, ideas were being worked on that countered this in every way, and that would have unexpected consequences throughout society…