Modern philosophy is philosophy developed in the modern era and
associated with modernity. It is not a specific doctrine or school
(and thus should not be confused with Modernism), although there are
certain assumptions common to much of it, which helps to distinguish
it from earlier philosophy.
The 17th and early 20th centuries roughly mark the beginning and the
end of modern philosophy. How much of the
Renaissance should be
included is a matter for dispute; likewise modernity may or may not
have ended in the twentieth century and been replaced by
postmodernity. How one decides these questions will determine the
scope of one's use of "modern philosophy."
1 Modern Western philosophy
1.4 Political philosophy
1.4.1 By country
1.5.1 Idealist philosophers
1.6.1 Existential philosophers
1.7.1 Phenomenological philosophers
1.8.1 Pragmatist philosophers
1.9 Analytic philosophy
1.9.1 Analytic philosophers
2 Modern Asian philosophy
4 External links
Modern Western philosophy
How much of
Renaissance intellectual history is part of modern
philosophy is disputed: the Early
Renaissance is often considered less
modern and more medieval compared to the later High Renaissance. By
the 17th and 18th centuries the major figures in philosophy of mind,
epistemology, and metaphysics were roughly divided into two main
groups. The "Rationalists," mostly in
France and Germany, argued all
knowledge must begin from certain "innate ideas" in the mind. Major
rationalists were Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and
Nicolas Malebranche. The "Empiricists," by contrast, held that
knowledge must begin with sensory experience. Major figures in this
line of thought are John Locke, George Berkeley, and
David Hume (These
are retrospective categories, for which Kant is largely responsible.)
Ethics and political philosophy are usually not subsumed under these
categories, though all these philosophers worked in ethics, in their
own distinctive styles. Other important figures in political
Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
In the late eighteenth century
Immanuel Kant set forth a
groundbreaking philosophical system which claimed to bring unity to
rationalism and empiricism. Whether or not he was right, he did not
entirely succeed in ending philosophical dispute. Kant sparked a storm
of philosophical work in
Germany in the early nineteenth century,
beginning with German idealism. The characteristic theme of idealism
was that the world and the mind equally must be understood according
to the same categories; it culminated in the work of Georg Wilhelm
Friedrich Hegel, who among many other things said that "The real is
rational; the rational is real."
Hegel's work was carried in many directions by his followers and
Karl Marx appropriated both Hegel's philosophy of history and
the empirical ethics dominant in Britain, transforming Hegel's ideas
into a strictly materialist form, setting the grounds for the
development of a science of society. Søren Kierkegaard, in contrast,
dismissed all systematic philosophy as an inadequate guide to life and
meaning. For Kierkegaard, life is meant to be lived, not a mystery to
Arthur Schopenhauer took idealism to the conclusion that
the world was nothing but the futile endless interplay of images and
desires, and advocated atheism and pessimism. Schopenhauer's ideas
were taken up and transformed by Nietzsche, who seized upon their
various dismissals of the world to proclaim "
God is dead" and to
reject all systematic philosophy and all striving for a fixed truth
transcending the individual.
Nietzsche found in this not grounds for
pessimism, but the possibility of a new kind of freedom.
British philosophy came increasingly to be dominated by
strands of neo-Hegelian thought, and as a reaction against this,
figures such as
Bertrand Russell and
George Edward Moore
George Edward Moore began moving
in the direction of analytic philosophy, which was essentially an
updating of traditional empiricism to accommodate the new developments
in logic of the German mathematician Gottlob Frege.
Humanism emphasized the value of human beings (see Oration
on the Dignity of Man) and opposed dogma and scholasticism. This new
interest in human activities led to the development of political
The Prince of Niccolò Macchiavelli. Humanists differed
from Medieval scholars also because they saw the natural world as
mathematically ordered and pluralistic, instead of thinking of it in
terms of purposes and goals.
Renaissance philosophy is perhaps best
explained by two propositions made by
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci in his
All of our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions
There is no certainty where one can neither apply any of the
mathematical sciences nor any of those which are based upon the
In a similar way, Galieo based his scientific method on experiments
but also developed mathematical methods for application to problems in
physics. These two ways to conceive human knowledge formed the
background for the principle of
Empiricism and Rationalism
Pico della Mirandola
Nicolas of Cusa
Main article: Rationalism
Modern philosophy traditionally begins with René
Descartes and his
dictum "I think, therefore I am". In the early seventeenth century the
bulk of philosophy was dominated by Scholasticism, written by
theologians and drawing upon Plato, Aristotle, and early Church
Descartes argued that many predominant Scholastic
metaphysical doctrines were meaningless or false. In short, he
proposed to begin philosophy from scratch. In his most important work,
Meditations on First Philosophy, he attempts just this, over six brief
essays. He tries to set aside as much as he possibly can of all his
beliefs, to determine what if anything he knows for certain. He finds
that he can doubt nearly everything: the reality of physical objects,
God, his memories, history, science, even mathematics, but he cannot
doubt that he is, in fact, doubting. He knows what he is thinking
about, even if it is not true, and he knows that he is there thinking
about it. From this basis he builds his knowledge back up again. He
finds that some of the ideas he has could not have originated from him
alone, but only from God; he proves that
God exists. He then
God would not allow him to be systematically
deceived about everything; in essence, he vindicates ordinary methods
of science and reasoning, as fallible but not false.
Main article: Empiricism
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge which opposes other theories of
knowledge, such as rationalism, idealism and historicism. Empiricism
asserts that knowledge comes (only or primarily) via sensory
experience as opposed to rationalism, which asserts that knowledge
comes (also) from pure thinking. Both empiricism and rationalism are
individualist theories of knowledge, whereas historicism is a social
epistemology. While historicism also acknowledges the role of
experience, it differs from empiricism by assuming that sensory data
cannot be understood without considering the historical and cultural
circumstances in which observations are made.
Empiricism should not be
mixed up with empirical research because different epistemologies
should be considered competing views on how best to do studies, and
there is near consensus among researchers that studies should be
empirical. Today empiricism should therefore be understood as one
among competing ideals of getting knowledge or how to do studies. As
such empiricism is first and foremost characterized by the ideal to
let observational data "speak for themselves", while the competing
views are opposed to this ideal. The term empiricism should thus not
just be understood in relation to how this term has been used in the
history of philosophy. It should also be constructed in a way which
makes it possible to distinguish empiricism among other
epistemological positions in contemporary science and scholarship. In
Empiricism as a concept has to be constructed along with
other concepts, which together make it possible to make important
discriminations between different ideals underlying contemporary
Empiricism is one of several competing views that predominate in the
study of human knowledge, known as epistemology.
the role of experience and evidence, especially sensory perception, in
the formation of ideas, over the notion of innate ideas or
tradition in contrast to, for example, rationalism which relies
upon reason and can incorporate innate knowledge.
Main article: Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as politics, liberty,
justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by
authority: what they are, why (or even if) they are needed, what, if
anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it
should protect and why, what form it should take and why, what the law
is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any,
and when it may be legitimately overthrown—if ever. In a vernacular
sense, the term "political philosophy" often refers to a general view,
or specific ethic, political belief or attitude, about politics that
does not necessarily belong to the technical discipline of
John Stuart Mill
Main article: Idealism
Idealism refers to the group of philosophies which assert that
reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally a construct of
the mind or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism
manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any
mind-independent thing. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes
how human ideas—especially beliefs and values—shape society. As
an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all
entities are composed of mind or spirit.
Idealism thus rejects
physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the
mind. An extreme version of this idealism can exist in the
philosophical notion of solipsism.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Francis Herbert Bradley
Main article: Existentialism
Existentialism is generally considered to be the philosophical and
cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical
thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual.
Building on that, existentialists hold that moral thinking and
scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human
existence, and, therefore, a further set of categories, governed by
the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human
Simone de Beauvoir
Phenomenology (philosophy) and Existential
Phenomenology is the study of the structure of experience. It is a
broad philosophical movement founded in the early years of the 20th
century by Edmund Husserl, expanded upon by a circle of his followers
at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. The
philosophy then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere,
often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.
Main article: Pragmatism
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of
practice and theory. It describes a process where theory is extracted
from practice, and applied back to practice to form what is called
intelligent practice. Important positions
characteristic of pragmatism include instrumentalism, radical
empiricism, verificationism, conceptual relativity, and
fallibilism. There is general consensus among
pragmatists that philosophy should take the methods and insights of
modern science into account.
Charles Sanders Peirce
Charles Sanders Peirce (and his
pragmatic maxim) deserves most of the credit for pragmatism, along
with later twentieth century contributors
William James and John
Charles Sanders Peirce
Main article: Analytic philosophy
Analytic philosophy came to dominate
English-speaking countries in the
20th century. In the United States, United Kingdom, Canada,
Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand, the overwhelming majority of
university philosophy departments identify themselves as "analytic"
departments. The term generally refers to a broad philosophical
tradition characterized by an emphasis on clarity and argument
(often achieved via modern formal logic and analysis of language) and
a respect for the natural sciences.
George Edward Moore
Modern Asian philosophy
Various philosophical movements in Asia arose in the modern period
^ Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). From
Plato to Derrida.
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
^ Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008). From
Plato to Derrida.
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
^ Hampton, Jean (1997). Political philosophy. p. xiii.
ISBN 9780813308586. Charles Blattberg, who defines politics
as "responding to conflict with dialogue," suggests that political
philosophies offer philosophical accounts of that dialogue. See his
"Political Philosophies and Political Ideologies".
SSRN 1755117 . in Patriotic Elaborations: Essays in
Practical Philosophy, Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University
^ Macionis, John J. (2012). Sociology 14th Edition. Boston: Pearson.
p. 88. ISBN 978-0-205-11671-3.
^ Daniel Sommer Robinson, "Idealism", Encyclopædia Britannica,
^ Mullarkey, John, and Beth Lord (eds.). The Continuum Companion to
Continental Philosophy. London, 2009, p. 309
^ Stewart, Jon. Kierkegaard and Existentialism. Farnham, England,
2010, p. ix
^ Crowell, Steven (October 2010). "Existentialism". Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2012-04-12.
^ Zahavi, Dan (2003), Husserl's Phenomenology, Stanford: Stanford
^ a b Biesta, G.J.J. & Burbules, N. (2003).
educational research. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
^ Susan Haack; Robert Edwin Lane (11 April 2006). Pragmatism, old
& new: selected writings. Prometheus Books. pp. 18–67.
ISBN 978-1-59102-359-3. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
^ "Without exception, the best philosophy departments in the United
States are dominated by analytic philosophy, and among the leading
philosophers in the United States, all but a tiny handful would be
classified as analytic philosophers. Practitioners of types of
philosophizing that are not in the analytic tradition—such as
phenomenology, classical pragmatism, existentialism, or Marxism—feel
it necessary to define their position in relation to analytic
John Searle (2003) Contemporary
Philosophy in the United
States in N. Bunnin and E.P. Tsui-James (eds.), The Blackwell
Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., (Blackwell, 2003), p. 1.
^ See, e.g., Avrum Stroll, Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy
(Columbia University Press, 2000), p. 5: "[I]t is difficult to give a
precise definition of 'analytic philosophy' since it is not so much a
specific doctrine as a loose concatenation of approaches to problems."
Also, see ibid., p. 7: "I think Sluga is right in saying 'it may be
hopeless to try to determine the essence of analytic philosophy.'
Nearly every proposed definition has been challenged by some scholar.
[...] [W]e are dealing with a family resemblance concept."
^ See Hans-Johann Glock, What Is Analytic
University Press, 2008), p. 205: "The answer to the title question,
then, is that analytic philosophy is a tradition held together both by
ties of mutual influence and by family resemblances."
Brian Leiter (2006) webpage “Analytic” and “Continental”
Philosophy. Quote on the definition: "'Analytic' philosophy today
names a style of doing philosophy, not a philosophical program or a
set of substantive views. Analytic philosophers, crudely speaking, aim
for argumentative clarity and precision; draw freely on the tools of
logic; and often identify, professionally and intellectually, more
closely with the sciences and mathematics, than with the humanities."
^ H. Glock, "Was Wittgenstein an Analytic Philosopher?",
Metaphilosophy, 35:4 (2004), pp. 419–444.
^ Colin McGinn, The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey through
Philosophy (HarperCollins, 2002), p. xi.:
"analytical philosophy [is] too narrow a label, since [it] is not
generally a matter of taking a word or concept and analyzing it
(whatever exactly that might be). [...] This tradition emphasizes
clarity, rigor, argument, theory, truth. It is not a tradition that
aims primarily for inspiration or consolation or ideology. Nor is it
particularly concerned with 'philosophy of life,' though parts of it
are. This kind of philosophy is more like science than religion, more
like mathematics than poetry – though it is neither science nor
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