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History of Philosophy
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)

The History of Philosophy is the exposition of philosophical opinions and of systems and schools of philosophy. It includes the study of the lives of philosophers, the inquiry into the mutual connection of schools and systems of thought, and the attempt to trace the course of philosophical progress or retrogression. The nature and scope of philosophy furnish reasons for the study of its history. Philosophy does not confine its investigation to one or to several departments of knowledge; it is concerned with the ultimate principles and laws of all things. Every science has for its aim to find the causes of phenomena; philosophy seeks to discover ultimate causes, thus carrying to a higher plane the unifying process begun in the lower sciences. The vastness of the field of inquiry, the difficulty of synthesizing the results of scientific investigation, and the constantly increasing complexity of these results necessitated the gradual development of philosophy. To each generation and to each individual the problems of philosophy present themselves anew, and the influences, personal, racial, climatic, social, and religious, which bear on the generation or on the individual must be studied in order that the meaning and value of each doctrine and system be understood and appreciated. Such influences are more than a matter of mere erudition; they have their place in the praenotanda to the solution of every important question in philosophy; for, as Coleridge says, "the very fact that any doctrine has been believed by thoughtful men is part of the problem to be solved, is one of the phenomena to be accounted for." Moreover, philosophical doctrines, while they are to be regarded primarily as contributions to truth, are also to be studied as vital forces which have determined to a large extent the literary, artistic, political, and industrial life of the world. To-day, more than ever, it is clearly understood that without a knowledge of these forces it is impossible to comprehend the inner movements of thought which alone explain the outer actions of men and nations.

The dangers to be avoided in the study of the history of philosophy are Eclecticism, which teaches that all systems are equally true, and Scepticism, which teaches that all systems are equally false. A careful study of the course of philosophical speculation will result in the conviction that, while no single school can lay claim to the entire truth, certain schools of thought have adopted that world-concept which can be most consistently applied to every department of knowledge. False systems of philosophy may stumble on many important truths, but a right concept of the ultimate meaning of reality and a correct notion of philosophic method are the essentials for which we must look in every system; these constitute a legitimate standard of valuation by which the student of the history of philosophy may judge each successive contribution to philosophical science.

The method to be followed in this study is the empirical, or a posteriori, method, which is employed in all historical research. The speculative, or a priori, method consists in laying down a principle, such as the Hegelian principle that the succession of schools and systems corresponds to the succession of logical categories, and deducing from such a principle the actual succession of schools and systems. But, apart from the danger of misstating facts for the sake of methodic symmetry, such a procedure must be judged to be philosophically unsound; for systems of philosophy, like facts of general history, are contingent events. There are, indeed, laws of historical development; but such laws are to be established subsequently, not anteriorly, to the study of the facts of history.

The historian of philosophy, therefore, has for his task: (1) To set forth the lives and doctrines of philosophers and systems and schools of philosophy in their historical relation. This, the recitative or narrative portion of the historian's task, includes the critical examination of sources. (2) To trace the genetic connection between systems, schools, and doctrines, and to estimate the value of each successive contribution to philosophy. This, the philosophical portion of the historian's task, is by far the most important of his duties: Potius de rebus ipsis judicare debemus, quam pro magno de hominibus quid quisque senserit scire.(1)

The sources of the history of philosophy are: (1) Primary sources, namely, the works, complete or fragmentary, of philosophers. It is part of the historian's task to establish, whenever necessary, the authenticity and integrity of these works. (2) Secondary sources, that is, the narration or testimony of other persons concerning the lives, opinions, and doctrines of philosophers. In dealing with secondary sources the rules of historical criticism must be applied, in order to determine the reliability of witnesses.

The division of the history of philosophy will always be more or less arbitrary in matters of detail. This is owing to the continuity of historical development: the stream of human thought flows continuously from one generation to another; like all human institutions, systems and schools of philosophy never break entirely with the past; they arise and succeed one another without abrupt transition and merge into one another so imperceptibly that it is rarely possible to decide where one ends and another begins. The more general divisions, however, are determined by great historical events and by obvious national and geographical distinctions. Thus, the coming of Christ divides the History of Philosophy into two parts, each of which may be subdivided as follows:




  1. St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, XIX, 3.

General Bibliography. -- The following works treat of the History of Philosophy as a whole: Erdmann, History of Philosophy, trans. by Hough (3 vols., London, 1890); Ueberweg, History of Philosophy, trans. by Morris (2 vols., New York, 1872); Weber, History of Philosophy, trans. by Thilly (New York, 1896); Windelband, History of Philosophy, trans. by Tufts (second edition, New York, 1901); Stöckl, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Philosophie (2 Bde., 3. Aufl., Mainz, 1888), trans. in part from the second edition by Finlay (Dublin, 1887).

For the history of parts of philosophy, consult Prantl, Geschichte der Logik im Abendlande (4 Bde., Leipzig, 1855 ff.); Siebeck, Geschichte der Psychologie (Gotha, 1880-1884); Sidgwick, History of Ethics (third edition, London, 1892); Bosanquet, History of AEsthetics (London, 1892).

Consult also Willmann, Geschichte des Idealismus (3 Bde., Braunschweig, 1894-1897), and Lange, History of Materialism, trans. by Thomas (3 vols., London, 1878-1881).

For complete bibliography, cf. Weber, op. cit., pp. 13 ff.


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