Tuesday, 28 September 2010

HCJ - Semester One - Lecture One

Having missed my first lecture back I have not got the notes, however from my own knowledge and reading, I have typed up some notes that will hopefully help!

The move away from the authority of the Church to the increasing belief of science is a key factor when discussing the periods of 'medieval' history and 'modern' history. Churches were the dominant force in medieval history, however the States began to replace them. Even though this is the case, it was mainly the Church and religion that had an influence on philosophers during the middle ages. The rejection of the Church was seen as a negative move, whereas the acceptance and move towards science was seen as a positive one. There was a huge difference between the authority of the Church and that of science in that the Church, or religion, set aside certain rules concerning morality, human hopes, and the past and future of the World. On the contrary, science was based on probability and was open to change. The move away from the Church meant a growth in individualism, this was seen as a bad thing in some cases as too much individualism led to anarchy. Even though those of the Church did not want to relinquish control, it seemed as though they were fighting a losing battle, as it was the result of practical science that led to certain advancements including that of machinery.

Bertrand Russell seemed to have a strong liking for Niccolo Machiavelli and goes as far as to describe him as a 'man of supreme eminence in political philosophy'. Machiavelli's philosophy is that of a scientific one and claims based on his own experience and evidence, thus making him an empiricist. At the time when Machiavelli's interest in politics was growing Girolamo Savonarola was in charge, and he obviously had a great impact on Machiavelli as they shared some of the same views. Both were very hostile towards the renaissance and the blatant corruption within the government. Machiavelli had two important works, 'The Prince' and 'Discourses'. The Prince was written in an attempt to give advice on how a Prince may gain and retain power, reasoning for this may be because Machiavelli believed that most of the rulers or people of power had not gained their positions in a fair way, and were therefore corrupt. In Discourses Machiavelli's belief in religion is shown in that he creates an ethical hierarchy, or a list of people, from important to not. His most favoured and important people are the founders of religion and his least favoured are the destroyers. Machiavelli believed that the closer you were to the main Churches in Italy, the less religious you actually were, and he also believed that the 'evil conduct has undermined religious belief'.

During the 17th century there were many advances in science thanks to four important figures of that time:
1) Copernicus - He was a religious man, and it was this reason that he was reluctant to publish a lot of his findings, although he did not make them a secret. He was devoted to astronomy and he believed that the Sun was the centre of the universe, and that the Earth has a 'twofold motion' - diurnal, so it moves in its own circle, and annual revolution about the Sun. This was known as the heliocentric theory (Copernican theory)
2) Kepler - He was also a religious man and carried on the works of Copernicus regarding the heliocentric theory. Kepler was influenced not only by Copernican, but by Pythagoras as well. His great achievement however, was that of his three laws of planetary: The planets describe elliptic orbits, of which the sun occupies one focus; the line joining a planet to the sun sweeps out equal areas in equal times; and the square of the period of revolution of a planet is proportional to the cube of its average distance from the Sun.
3) Galileo - 'Acceleration' was his main achievement. The Law of the falling bodies: no matter what the shape or size of an object the acceleration is constant and it will not change.
4) Newton - proved Kepler's three laws are equivalent the the proposition that every planet, at every moment, has an acceleration towards the Sun. He also concluded that 'force' is the cause of change of motion. Newton could be described as the man who tied up all the loose ends (if any) for the three previous mentioned Philosophers.

Francis Bacon is seen as an important figure during the European Enlightenment, such is true that Bertrand Russell feels it important to dedicate a chapter in his book. Bacon grew up around the Parliament and State affairs due to his family being heavily involved. Bacon himself entered Parliament at the age of twenty-three and in 1618 became Lord Chancellor. After two years he got into trouble for taking bribes and was forced to live the remainder of his days as a book writer. One of his most famous books was 'The Advancement of Learning', from which it is said the saying 'knowledge is power' was originated from. Bacon's philosophy was practical in that he wanted to give man the power over the forces of nature by the means of scientific discoveries and inventions. He did accept religion, and he would not argue with the government over it. He believed that reason could show God's existence, but everything else in theology could only be proven by revelation. Bacon rejected the Copernican theory, and he also did not see the importance of mathematics.

Mathematics was an important part of the European Enlightenment, and unlike Bacon, Hobbes was an admirer of this method. Hobbes was a very well educated man, such proof can be taken from the fact that he translated 'The Medea of Euripides' into Latin iambics at the age of fourteen, and by fifteen he went to Oxford University where he was taught scholastic knowledge. Hobbes was most famous for his Leviathan - one of the publications of this was the way he felt about democracy, describing it as evil. At the time of its publication it was widely rejected and it was seen to offend refugees, and being that Hobbes was living in France, it done him no favours that it attacked the Catholic Church; this extremely offending the government, forcing him to flee back to London. It was not long that Hobbes' writings were being investigated for atheism in London, mainly due to superstitious fears being aroused at the time due to the Plague and the Great Fire. The main content of the writings included ideas such as 'imagination is a decaying sense, both being motions', and 'imagination when asleep is dreaming'. He also goes on to discuss the importance of speech, in that without words we could not conceive any general idea, and without language there would be no truth or false. He also goes on to discuss the way in which our lives are governed, and how all men come into communities to each with a central authority. He believes that the supreme power of a community, be it a single man or a group of people is called the Sovereign, and they have unlimited rights and powers.

René Descartes is often considered the founder of modern philosophy. Bertrand Russell explains, I think, importantly how the use of Holland in the seventeenth century was key. Holland was the only country where there was freedom of speculation, with most philosophers having to have their books printed there. Descartes was a sincere Catholic although he was supportive of the advancements of science, and it is for this reason he tried to persuade the Church to be less hostile towards the new findings. Descartes' most important contribution to mathematics was that of co-ordinates. He has two very important books: 'Discourse on Method' and 'Meditations'. It was in these that Descartes most famous passage was written. Descartes spoke of 'Cartesian doubt', by which he made himself doubt everything that he could manage to doubt. So for instance me sitting here typing up a blog on Western Philosophy, might actually not be what I am doing. It could be a dream and I could be in bed asleep, or in fact I could be insane and imagining the whole thing through hallucinations. The only thing that Descartes did not doubt was his mind: 'I think, therefore I am', makes mind more certain over matter, and my mind more certain than minds of others.

I have done a previous blog on Sir Thomas More and Utopia, so thought it would be a waste of time re-typing my notes so instead I will just post a link below:


To any first years I hope this helps, I have been here and done this before, the first time not being so successful, but hopefully this time around will be different.

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