Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Ridiculously Brief History of Western Philosophy

A history of Western thought, designed to be read in a few minutes. WARNING: This is a work in progress!


What is the world made of? One kind of stuff, or different kinds of stuff? And it looks like things change, such as birds flying and rivers flowing, but remain the same, such as birds remaining birds (at least for a time) and rivers staying on course (at least for a time). Is either change or permanence more fundamental? Maybe the world is made of water, or fire. Maybe change is the true way reality is, or maybe permanence is.


Gah! All these various theories! Who can tell what is correct?! Let's just get paid to argue. Nobody is right.


That's ridiculous. Ethical concerns are real, and they require somebody to be right. There are such things as justice, mercy, goodness, and so on. We just need to work out what they are so that we can know what is right.


Following from Socrates: justice, goodness, and even dogs and cats and so on are real. But when they occur, they are not as perfect as their perfect archetypes. This indicates that any particular instance of good or justice or objects, etc, that we can observe is not the real thing, but only an approximation of it. That means that the real world is pure knowledge, and the physical world is only an imperfect copy of it.


Plato is nuts! If he is right, then that means there is at least double as much stuff as we think there is! But he is also correct in a way. There are such things as justice, dogs, etc, but they are not immaterial floating things. Rather, they are found in the particular manifestations in which we see them.

Rationalism: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz

All this previous knowledge that's been handed down to us is shaky at best. Forms? What? We ought instead to start from scratch. First, we notice that our senses are unreliable. A straw in a glass looks bent even though it's not. Dreams can often be as realistic as real life. Senses are unreliable. But mathematics is certain! We should focus on the mathematically quantifiable stuff in the world, and shove all that messy stuff (forms, sensations, etc) aside.

Empiricism: Locke, Berkeley, Hume

No no no. You guys are wrong. When we are born, we are blank slates. All information comes to us in the form of sensations, right? So knowledge must be based on sensory information. For example, we can't see any such things as "causes". All we see is one event, then another event. So causation is nothing more than one event following another event.

Bridging Empiricism and Rationalism: Kant

Guess what? You're both right! We do indeed get information from our senses. But we can know before we get that information that...


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