Lecture 11

Starts with a recap on previous lectures.

In the nineteenth century Pope Leo XIII ascended the papal throne in 1878.

In 1879 he issued a Papal Encyclical Aeterni Patris

He declared that Thomas of Aquinas should be the basis for all instruction.

Descartes – put modern philosophy on a new direction.

He is called ‘The father of modern philosophy’

The ideas which Locke thinks are dangerous.

Descartes was a mathematical-physicist and a pioneer of analytical geometry.

Read: Descartes in Edwards (ed) Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

He asked what ideas are indubitable – not capable of doubt.

dubito = to doubt cogito = to think.

Doubting is a form of thinking.

A figure of a giant deceiver – to cause him to analyse critically beliefs he has in his head. Interested in finding out what can’t be doubted anymore.

One of the characteristics of Descartes philosophy is his egocentrism.

Think out own individual internal life – a form of subjectivism.

(1) I have within my head the notion of a most perfect being

(2) Must posses every conceivable attribute

(3) Existence is an attribute

(4) Therefore, God exists

(Evil is the absence of god – so not a positive characteristic – hence not an attribute.)

From inside his head jumps to existence of God out there.

(Idea of $1000 is not the same as $1000!; Kant existence is not an attribute.)

Descartes establishes certain realities.

I know certain things a priori = Latin: from prior knowledge; knowledge posses before any experience of the world – knowledge innate as opposed to aposteriori .

How do I get my ideas? – ideas born in us, that we didn’t come by from experiencing the world, part of the soul.

a posteriori ideas gained from experience.

Everything must come from ideas. The principle that God is good comes with the soul, not accepted through experience.

John Locke

Two men were influential for the eighteenth century ‘Enlightenment’ Locke and Isaac Newton.

‘Enlightenment’ ‘Man come of age’, an anti-Christian term. We are free to think for ourselves. Christianity is a primitive myth, fable.

Locke and Newton were the two chief framers of this Enlightenment position.

Isaac Newton Principia Mathematica 1687

Locke Essay Concerning Human Understanding 1689 – despite 1690 on front cover

Locke Treatise on Government 1689

Locke ECHU book 1 attacks Descartes ‘Of innate ideas’, by this he means people who believe the soul brings ideas, when it enters into the body, they have a governing influence on how we marshal, acquire, empirical knowledge.

Book 2 he presents his own ideas – idea is the object of thinking.

Bk 2 Ch 1 section 1

For the Greeks ontology is first, but all modern philosophy makes epistemology the starting point. John Locke is no different.

What is it in the outside world that comes in and becomes an idea?

He’s talking about sense impressions – it’s being registered on the tabula rasa

How does he get from the sense organ to the tabula rasa? he doesn’t he jumps – a logical mistake.

Dualism with respect to man – the mind in the first stage is passive, the body with its senses is working.

A split between body and mind – he sees mind as the essential human being. Mind is a passive spectator, just take sit in, then the mind begins to work.


2. August Comte (1789-1857) and Positivism

Locke had an influence on the French Encyclopaedists (eg Voltaire and Diderot). It was the encyclopaedia of the eighteenth century.

French revolution 1789 many looked at it as a glorious event. It was a religious watershed in European history.

There were budgetary difficulties and imbalances, but behind it were the Encyclopaedists ideas – an autonomous physical universe that was causally determined.

Comte as born a few years after the revolution into a catholic family. At 14 he declared he didn’t believe in God and would live life without gods. He became part of the modern French society. He attended school at the Ecole Polytechnique – founded after the revolution in 1794ish. He spent two years of his life there (1814-1816).

The dominant view at the Ecole Polytechnique was that science and technology were the hopes of modern Europe – they could provide genuine abiding knowledge and would change the environment to create utopia.

Comte was kicked out of the Ecole in 1816, when the monarchy was re-established in France, together with all the revolutionary students.

At the heart of positivism was Comte’s laws of three stages:

1. Mythical, Religious, Theological stage

2. Metaphysical stage

3. Positive Scientific stage

He was not the first to state these laws, but he gave them their fullest statement.

Comte was secretary for the Count Henri Saint-Simon and he gave them a brief formulation.

Before this Jacques Gurgot

Jeremy Rikin Entropy: towards a modern worldview quote

Jacques Gurgot history at the Sorbone 2 lectures in Latin 1750 – presented a new concept of world history; an outline of the new idea of progress.

J. D. Bury Idea of Progress

Should ask yourself: three stages of what? How man explains his experience in the world himself.

They are three successive stages – ways of explanation.

Methids uses his mind in certain methods.

How do our minds explain the world? Method is the big thing in Positivism.

Mythical is inadequate, advance to the second stage to metaphysical (hence idea of progress), another way of explaining the world, inadequate way of employing mental powers finally we have found the adequate way, the ultimate way, the final stage of historical understanding.

Cassier a German philosopher The Myth of the State

[tape jumps]

Descartes – knowledge of the wax; mind as reasoning process that goes on.

His epistemological account is wrapped up in his view of rational creatures, use sense organs to get understanding of the world outside.

This is different to empiricism.

A point of criticism: Locke doesn’t take into account how he jumps from sense organ to talking about mind. He doesn’t even mention he has made a jump.

Physical world -> sense organ -> tabula rasa – wax tablet

sense data

There is a jump here



He bridges it, but not mentioning it – a logical error, he jumps from one category to another. It is a covert operation!

Second criticism – (Empiricism is broader than Locke)

Locke broke the belief in innate ideas of the seventeenth Cartesian school; Locke’s alternative has so many inconsistencies and yet it appealed to the Royal Society, of which Francis Bacon was a member, and the rise of empirical science in England, France and the Low lands. Empirical science starts with observation.


The scientific method is the proper way to explain it all.


Natural law theories are based on the idea that there is a in the moral conscience imprinted a universal natural law – innate conceptions imputed on the mind, inneat knowledge, a priori.


In ECHU Locke – there is no a priori – it all comes from experience, remains appealing to the modern world. Science is the only way to knowledge.


Empiricism is an epistemological view. In Descartes we saw how important epistemology was. Modern philosophy projected epistemology to be the primary philosophical discipline. This was not true of classical Greek philosophy.


Hellenistic philosophy was view about the nature of things, it was ontological. There was no revelation from God – it was a pagan civilization. They had to think it up, they had to be dogmatical. This led to scepticism – all the pronouncements were dogmatical assertions.



Tabula rasa – a wax tablet; rasa is where we get out term eraser. The mind is perfectly blank, a screen on which nothing has been written.


The phrase is a rejection of the idea that the mind comes possessed of ideas.


Reading from ECHU Book 11 ch 1 section 2


How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store …. from EXPERIENCE …

It comes a posterori from two sources. From sensations and from thinking/ reflecting on what is observed. Reason reflecting on its own function.


Definition of empiricism

Empiricism is an epistemological theory, which asserts man comes by his knowledge in two distinct and successive phases. In the first stage, the mind is passive.





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