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History of Philosophy
Age of Enlightenment - Retrospect
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


The period from Descartes to Hume was dominated by the influence of Cartesian thought, and more particularly by the doctrine of the antithesis of mind and matter. It was the attempt to solve the problem of this antithesis that gave rise to the pantheistic monism of Spinoza, to the materialistic monism of the thoroughgoing empiricists, to the idealistic monism of Berkeley, to the partially idealistic monadism of Leibniz, and to the pan-phenomenalism of Hume, which, -- most astounding solution of all -- solves the problem of the antithesis by denying the substantial nature of both mind and matter. Here the first act ends. Kant next appears, and, appalled at the sight of the ruin which Hume has wrought, fearing for the spirituality of the soul, the freedom of the will, the existence of God, and the obligation of the moral law, opens a new scene by proposing once more the question, What are the conditions of knowledge? and prepares the way for the philosophy of the nineteenth century by his attempt at constructive synthesis on the basis of moral consciousness.

We cannot fail to remark, also, in the development of philosophy from Descartes to Kant, a struggle between the purely scientific view and the aesthetic religious view of the world. Wherever empiricism held full sway, there the scientific view prevailed, and enlightenment, as it was called, was sought, rather than a deeper sense of the aesthetic and spiritual significance of things. Wherever, on the contrary, the idealistic movement prevailed, there greater value was attached to the spiritual and aesthetic solution than to the scientific solution of the problems of philosophy. But in spite of idealistic reactions, the principles of deism continued to pervade English thought, the illumination continued to flourish in France and Germany, and Empiricism culminated in the philosophy of Hume, which expresses the last and most violent form of antagonism between the scientific and the religious aesthetic view of life. It was left for Kant to undo the work of the Illuminati and of Hume, and to lay the foundation for the constructive systems which were to give to the religious and aesthetic interests of human life a place beside the merely scientific elements of thought in a complete synthesis of philosophical knowledge.

Finally, we must observe in the eighteenth century a gradual increase in the importance attached to the study of man in his social and political relations, and the growth and development of the idea of an antithesis between the individual and the state. But while Rousseau was giving expression to the doctrine of individualism in its most extreme form, Herder, by his doctrine of the organic union of the human race, was preparing the way for the political philosophy of the nineteenth century. For the new century was to discard the notion of antithesis between the individual and the state, and, adopting an organic instead of a mechanical concept of society, was to substitute for the individualism of the eighteenth century a collectivism, which not only the great speculative systems such as Hegel's, but all the other important movements of the nineteenth century -- the evolution hypothesis, the rise of romanticism in literature, the Oxford movement, and the great industrial and commercial centralization of recent years -- were to exemplify and confirm in theory or in practice.

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