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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.

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17.9 Immanuel Kant

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Philosophy day part 3 shall deal with arguably the most influential single philosopher in some centuries. Certainly in philosophical history, the subject is often divided into two parts, before Kant and after Kant. Though he worked in a number of different areas and attracted a great deal of interest from scientists, mathematicians and philosophers, his most famous single contribution was the effective union of the seemingly opposing ideals of Empiricism and Rationalism.

Growing up in Germany in the 18th century, Kant read quite a bit about many topics. Though he stayed in the same city of Konigsburg almost his entire life, the world effectively came to him through books, and over the first part of his life he made quite a name for himself writing popular essays and books on a very wide variety of topics. Then, however, all this suddenly stopped, he dedicated ever more of his time to trying to understand how the human mind actually worked, beyond the point where data from the outside world had passed through the sense organs. He effectively disappeared, shutting himself away just to read and write and think, and when he emerged from this isolation, it was with a huge, incredibly difficult book that hardly anyone even bothered trying to read.
Writing more, and attempting to write short, easy to read guides to his longer works, Kant gradually developed a new theory of philosophy, in which he attempted to apply the scientific method to the study of thought.
From this, he developed a sequence of ideas, to start with, simply that we can only know and understand that which we can actually sense. But, he suggested, there was no way of proving that things we could not sense did not exist. there was, however, no way of proving that they did, and so he proposed to set all such thoughts, particularly religious debates, aside as being impossible to decide one way or another, and to focus entirely on things that could be understood.
Effectively, he argued, all of what we see and hear and feel around us comes to us from our senses, meaning that we are, though a part of the universe around us, in some way separate from it, in that we can only know what our minds can process for us. What we see may not be what is really there, there is no way of telling what the real world outside out mind looks like.
In fact, one of his most important and influential arguments was that, this being the case, the mind imposes some sort of structure on the otherwise random and meaningless data that pours in continuously. we understand objects and events as being within space and within time, but we cannot actually see these things in the world around us, only understand them through the things that exist within them. Therefore, surely space and time exist only in our minds, they are patterns imposed upon reality by our minds to help us understand what is going on around us.
As well, our minds impose some idea of order, of cause and effect, even though there is no physical connection between two events, we see them happening together often enough that we learn that one always leads to another, and assume it to be so, and an integral part of the way the world works, even though we cannot know what will happen next time.
Space and time may not exist outside of our minds, what of beauty? That is not a physical thing in itself, not an integral part of an object, it can be understood not by what it is but only by the response it creates within our own minds, the same as with, for example, comedy, which can only be known as what it is because it is anything that makes people laugh, but there is no comedy atom inherent within certain things.
Even within the mind, that is always changing, how we feel about one thing can affect how we then feel about something else, different things can invoke different responses at different times, for different reasons, nothing can be considered absolute in that way. Indeed, it began to seem that people like Hume were right, that all our actions were goverened by emotion and passion rather than rules and logic and so on. Indeed, the entirety of our existance is controled by our feelings, which are always there, though there is one way to escape them, momentarily all other cares disappear in the presence of great beauty, a piece of art, architecture or music, for example.
Meanwhile, however, Kant’s interest in combining science and philosophy led him to the absolute laws of science, those rules that structure reality and are the same everywhere. Are, Kant wondered, there absolute laws on how the mind works? In particular, are there laws outside of ourselves governing morality? This led to the creation of the Categorical Imperative, a rule that states that, though there may well not be absolute laws of morality, we should act as though there are, that is, any moral we create for ourselves, we should assume applies to everyone else as well.

So, in summary, things we cannot sense may or may not exist, there is no point trying to prove one way or another. We cannot understand the world around us, only the data that comes to us from our senses (as in Empiricism). Time and space may or may not exist outside of our own minds, it could be that we are imagining them, and the ideas of cause and effect, just to impose order on the random data coming to us from the world around (this links back to Rationalism’s ideas of all understanding of reality being a part of the mind). Beauty, comedy, morality and other abstract ideas are only a part of our minds, but yet we should act as though everything we do was a rule that applied equally to everyone. All our actions are dictated by emotions, and the only way to escape these momentarily is to experience great art or music.

Next week, then, Arthur Schopenhaur takes these ideas and extends them, coming to some interesting realisations about the reality of existance and the existance of reality.