Reviewed in the United States on November 30, 2019
“This course organized around three abiding problems: the problem of knowledge (epistemology and metaphysics), the problem of conduct (ethics and moral philosophy), and the problem of governance (political science and law).’’
Robinson sticks to these themes. Helps draw the people, ideas and debates into a pleasing panorama.
“More than a series of lectures on the great philosophers, this course is designed to acquaint the student with broader cultural and historical conditions that favored or opposed a given philosophical perspective. Attention is paid to the influence that scientific developments had on the very conception of philosophy and on the scientific rejection of “metaphysics” that took place when the “two cultures” began to take separate paths.’’
Therefore, this is closer to a historical description of intellectual ideas than an explanation of philosophy (which I prefer).
Nevertheless, the significance (importance) of ideas explained . . .
“Philosophy tests the most fundamental beliefs, convictions, and values that we have. Central to this process is criticism—of society, of received wisdom, of oneself. Philosophy’s purpose is not to solve practical problems or to solidify civic bonds. Philosophy is the love of wisdom—not for its consolation or its finality but for the possibility of getting it right, even if that means bad news.’’
Thinking is foundation of history. Events follow belief.
“Many of our most significant claims are actually beliefs rather than knowledge. The word metaphysics derives from the writings of Aristotle and means, “after the physics,” or “after the study of natural science.” It asks, essentially, two questions: “What is there?” and “How do I know?” The first question is ontological, that is, concerned with questions regarding the constituents of reality. For example, do minds exist, or thoughts? How do we go about answering such questions? Observation alone is insufficient. There is far more to reality than what is accessible to our senses. Pythagoras had an abstract, rationalistic method for answering ontological questions that was largely intuitive and in which observation played no part.’’
Pythagoras ideas on significance of mathematics still impacts present.
However . . .
“What is this method of discovery for registering the truth of the world? Logic? Mathematics? Science? Religion? These are questions of epistemology, meaning the study, criticism, and refinement of our very modes of knowing, the study of our knowledge as such.’’
This is vital question disturbing modern life. Politics, religion, science, education, Hollywood, you tube, etc, are all frantically searching for the answer. What they don’t grasp, is that Plato and Socrates also searched.
What source does modernity trust? Newton . . .
“Though Newton’s methods were utterly secular, forward-looking, and analytically rigorous, the idolized Newton was rather more interested in Scripture and the teachings of the Christian Church than in the laws of gravity. Newton formulated the law of universal gravitation. He provided mathematical solutions to problems involving the motion of heavenly bodies. He showed how to quantify the density of the Earth, the trajectory of comets, and the mass of the Sun. He explained the motion of the tides. He developed and named the concept of centripetal force, by which an object could, in principle, be made to orbit the Earth. He was the first to develop a new method of mathematics for the express purpose of solving problems in physics. Newton’s invention (along with Leibniz) of the calculus and its application to dynamics and astronomy is not prefigured in the works of Kepler or Copernicus.’’
Robinson’s clear explanation of Newton’s intellectual, political, cultural, religious and scientific impact is fantastic!
Also, includes . . .
“A lifelong student of the Bible, Newton never lost faith in the central proposition that the harmony and lawfulness he discovered was a reflection of God’s plan for the universe.’’
Ironic than Newton, used as basis for atheism, was devout Christian.
Another excellent presentation . . .
“Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a Swiss-French philosopher and author whose work largely decried the harmful effects of modern civilization.’’
Many think that Rousseau is ‘high priest’ of modern world.
Another key (overwhelming) idea . . .
“The systematic development of truth in scientific form can alone be the true shape in which truth exists. To help to bring philosophy nearer to the form of science—that goal where it can lay aside the name of love of knowledge and be actual knowledge—that is what I have set before me”.- Hegel
Hegel’s influence cannot be overestimated. Even if now almost unknown.
“Hegel, a product of both the German Enlightenment and Romantic thought, accepted the essential Romantic critique of science as one-sided, narrow, and largely incapable of explaining the natural world.’’
Anti-science feelings continue.
Another overwhelming thinker . . .
“As a result of the Darwinian perspective, the traditional problems of knowledge, of conduct and of governance, refer not to abstract principles, but to various modes of adaptation, to environmental pressures that work on us to adapt. With change now the dominating principle, the search for absolutes comes to seem anachronistic and naïve.’’
Notice Robinson connects Darwin’s work to broader, philosophical, cultural forces.
“Charles Darwin revolutionized modern thought and, in the process, revolutionized much in the traditional subject matter of philosophy. His influence stretches across the humanities and the social sciences, biology and genetics, ethics and political theory. As a result of the Darwinian perspective, the traditional problems of knowledge, conduct, and governance refer not to abstract principles but to various modes of adaptation to environmental pressures.’’
One philosophical impact was on Karl Marx . . .
“Karl Marx wrote that “Darwin’s work ... serves me as a natural scientific basis for the class-struggle in history.” He went so far as to dedicate Das Capital to Darwin. It is difficult to bring a balanced, neutral perspective to bear on Karl Marx (1818–1883) or Marxism. We associate much of the second half of the the 20th century, politically, with his writings and teachings. Marx was quite assiduous in declaring that he was not a philosopher.’’
Well . . . Marx and his ideas dominate world thought.
Why? Since Marx said his doctrines were ‘scientific’. Why was this claim so influential?
“The 20th century is marked by the widespread conviction that the last word on the composition of reality and the principles that give it its character is finally drawn from the vocabulary and methods of science. The modern world is radically and qualitatively different from any preceding age, and the differences are largely the bequest of science.’’
Science is trusted (worshiped) like no other time in history.
Nevertheless, science has limits. What limits?
“If two people were having a dispute in ancient Athens, we would have expressed the point of the dispute as its logos. Thus, the biblical phrase might not have been translated as “In the beginning was the word,” but as, “In the beginning was the point of it all.” There are good arguments for assuming that the whole thing has a point, and that that point points ultimately to a divine and providential source.’’
And this ends Robinson’s series. Philosophy can indicate answers, provide conclusions, anchor ideas, that other disciplines cannot.
Robinson reads his own work in this presentation. Easy listening.
Excellent overview of western intellectual history.