Western Philosophy Explained

Introduction

The history of contemporary Western philosophy seeks its roots in the works and philosophies presented by Thales (ca. 640-546 B.C.), Anaximander (ca. 610-546 B.C.) and Anaxagoras (488?-428 B.C.) Thales is stated as the founder of naturalistic orientation in logic as well as the first person to introduce mathematics, geometry and astronomy as the systematic disciplines of study. Thales declares both these disciplines above-mentioned as an essential thing for the mental and intellectual growth of individuals. It is Thales, who contemplated on every object of nature minutely and viewed water as the most necessary element for the perpetuation of life, and everything, according to him contains water in its formation. The modern science also proves the same fact that everything has large amount of water in its composition. He also invented the method of measuring an object on the basis of its shadow.

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Thales’s views got popularity everywhere in the world of knowledge and his famous student Anaximander continued his theories on naturalistic orientation and expanded the notion of elements. Anaximander had imperative command on Geography and Astronomy. He is said to be the first geographer to prepare the map of the world. It is boundless space of the universe, according to him, that contains multiple elements in its fold. He saw eye to eye with the Thales’s proposition that the sun, the moon and the stars revolve round the earth. He is said to be made a valid prediction of solar eclipse around 528 B.C. without using mechanical devices and technology which is in vogue at present day. The theories articulated by the seven sages of Greece provide guideline to the future generations of philosophers, logicians and thinkers for centuries. The element of morality and religion came in the Roman philosophy with the teachings of renowned philosopher and ethical moralist Zeno. It is Zeno, who drew out a complete code of social and moral values to the ancient Rome through his ideas and logic. He considered the implication of morality an essential matter to keep a social set up in perfect order.

The philosophical theories of different philosophers

The martyr of philosophy i.e. Socrates (470-399 B.C.) is thought to be one of the greatest scholar the world has ever produced. Father of western philosophy and sign of vigilance and wisdom, has erected the foundation of his theories on the principles of truth, justice, knowledge and wisdom. The great Athenian philosopher derived his inspiration within the framework of conflicting ideas prevailing in the society of his times. He always laid stress upon the significance of seeking wisdom and knowledge. The gist of his theory lies in the fact, that everyone must submit that he knows nothing, because countless pearls of vigilance, exist under deep ocean of knowledge, are concealed from his superficial thoughtfulness and ordinary vision. Like Zeno, Socrates also regards moral values as the symbol of survival for humans. He considers moral values as debased ones without applying transcendent principles by the humans living in a society. Socrates developed inductive method of logic, and generalized his ideas according to the natural phenomena by keenly observing the structure and functions of these objects on daily basis and predicting the outcomes out of his observation and perception.

Like Thales’s students, Socrates’s pupils including Plato, Xenophon, Chairephon and others. Plato made further development in the philosophical ideas of his teacher. Plato was always eager to discover the cause, effect, nature and formation of each and every thing existing in his environment. He extended the naturalistic orientation on the footings of the ideas presented by Socrates and promoted his ideas regarding the reformation and construction of human society son the principles of equality, justice and egalitarianism. Plato looks for the standardization, objectivity, universality and utility of knowledge, without which, according to him, the structure of the whole society including moral values and social norms, would be in serious jeopardy. Furthermore, Plato also presented his Theory regarding the Immortality of Human Soul, according to which human soul does not contain permanence; rather, it is the product of the chemical formation of different organs of human body.

Plato’s renowned student Aristotle has worked on almost all the living disciplines and subjects; it is therefore he is called the father of all disciplines including natural and social sciences. Aristotle is the very first thinker to organize and administer the laws of logic in a systematic way, and presented logic as a methodical science. Not only this, but also he used abstract symbols in place of words to draw out relationship between variables within propositions. Aristotle declares logic as the science based on the true principles of thought, and submits induction and deduction as two ways of acquiring knowledge. He also invented the term syllogism while describing deductive methodology of logic. The thought, according to Aristotle, is dependent of scientific demonstration and observation of natural as well as human phenomena. Aristotle also invented the principles of metaphysics, poetry, politics and many other social, physical and natural sciences and provided the future generations with complete and comprehensive guide-line for imitation and discovery of new horizons in the field of knowledge and wisdom.

The modern philosophy seeks its root in ancient times and takes after Aristotelian school of thought as its foundation. Modern philosophers include Machiavelli, Kant, Hobbes, Marx, Hegel, Locke, Voltaire, Rousseau, Mill, Strauss and others, who illumined the world by their valuable works and significant contributions. All these philosophers and thinkers have focused their attention on human liberty, freedom and equality, and strived for individual respect and equal chances of growth for all members of a society.

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The famous Prussian philosopher and thinker Immanuel Kant is considered as the most brilliant philosopher of modern times. He has presented his theory of Perpetual Peace in 1795, in which he has described the causes of war and consequent peace settlements. He stands for the eradication of the major causes of hostilities among sovereign states rather entering into temporary armistice, in order to perpetuate peace by bringing an end to the wars and aggressions from the world. He takes the rule of law as most significant thing to combat conflicts and lays stress on the permanent implication of rule of law to avoid any aggression and wars between the countries. Kant had recognized a challenge that went to the very foundations of his political philosophy. “He believed” Solomon (2003, p.106) submits, “that a social life under a rule of law was a prerequisite for the rational and moral capabilities and the achievement of maximum human autonomy and freedom.” Similarly English philosopher of seventeenth century Thomas Hobbes and American theorist John Locke of the same era have also advocated for the need of an authority for the smooth running of a government.

Both these philosophers worked on the concept of Social Contract Theory which was also adopted by French philosopher Rousseau and played decisive role in awakening the French nation and bringing about French Revolution of 1789. Social Contract Theory submits that man is free by nature and if there is no authority to determine the limitations of human beings, they will start harming and hurting one another leading towards anarchy and chaos in the whole society. In his wonderful “The Leviathan”, Hobbes has presented the concept of laws of nature as well as commonwealth, religious and political laws revealing the requirements necessary for the maintenance of peace and evasion from war. Defining peace, Hobbes means to state that nature always guides humanity to seek peace in the first hand. On not complying with this law and revolting from peace, disintegration and chaos are created in a society, which may cause civil war within the state.

“The first law of nature”, according to him, “is to seek peace and follow it. But if the advice does not prove advantageous for mankind, the second law of nature says that by any means necessary, mankind must defend ourselves from the rest of the population through violence.” (Quoted in Esscort.com) He also views that there remain a situation of competition and jealousy in the individuals, intensity of which may turn into serious conflict among them. Hence, there must be not only laws in a sovereign state, but also a statute body to implement such laws. Absence of a regulatory authority, according to Hobbes, results in civil war. Wars have always brought destruction, disappointment, unemployment and turmoil in societies. There are many examples of deterioration and disturbances in the aftermath of war in various states of the world. “During the thirty years from 1883 to 1913”, Arnstein views, “only one man in twenty had been unemployed in England; during the post war years of 1921-1938, unemployment was the fate of one man in seven.” (1988, p 274) Nevertheless, Hobbes declares laws of nature as immortal and eternal ones.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian philosopher and politician, has also concentrated on political philosophy in his book under the title “The Prince.” He looks for controlled liberty under a powerful regime to make society as a peaceful place of living. As unchecked liberalism gives birth to excesses in society, there is always a need of implementation of policies by force in a political set up. The force may be the political, militarily or republic. “If one wants”, Machiavelli opines, “to preserve a city that is accustomed to being independent and having free institutions, it is more easily held by using its citizens to govern it than in any other way.” (Quoted in Porter, 1997: p 226) Machiavelli declares use of force an essential element to maintain order in society. He suggests to the new ruler three ways of holding a sovereign state, which include destroying of the existing institutions, living in the same area of rule, and let the population continue to live according to their prevailing rules of law.

He considers the first one as the most favourable one in order to run a powerful system of government and maintain peace and harmony within the republic as well as citizenship. The renowned German philosopher Karl Marx maintains some different view in this regards. He considers conflict as the solution of political and social turmoil and predicts the evidence of a revolution in case of anarchical situation in a society, where unequal distribution of wealth and resources create a socio-political turmoil. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels are of the view that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. (Quoted in Adams and Sydies, 133). According to this view, Coser states, ever since human society emerged from its primitive and relatively undifferentiated state it has remained fundamentally divided between classes which clash in the pursuit of class. When a political order based on class is found that seems to lack class conflict, special attention should be paid. Marxism is particularly suited to ferreting out the hidden resistance present in religion and ideology. Marxism is of course dedicated to examining the modes of production present in any society, and there may be more than one present. The dialectical method is also an important concept in Marxism, which is built on the examination of contradictions between classes, ideas, etc.

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Kant had recognized a challenge that went to the very foundations of his political philosophy. “He believed” Solomon (2003, p.106) submits, “that a social life under a rule of law was a prerequisite for the rational and moral capabilities and the achievement of maximum human autonomy and freedom.” Similarly English philosopher of seventeenth century Thomas Hobbes and American theorist John Locke of the same era have also advocated for the need of an authority for the smooth running of a government. Both these philosophers worked on the concept of Social Contract Theory which was also adopted by French philosopher Rousseau and played decisive role in awakening the French nation and bringing about French Revolution of 1789.

Social Contract Theory submits that man is free by nature and if there is no authority to determine the limitations of human beings, they will start harming and hurting one another leading towards anarchy and chaos in the whole society. In his wonderful “The Leviathan”, Hobbes has presented the concept of laws of nature as well as commonwealth, religious and political laws revealing the requirements necessary for the maintenance of peace and evasion from war. Defining peace, Hobbes means to state that nature always guides humanity to seek peace in the first hand. On not complying with this law and revolting from peace, disintegration and chaos are created in a society, which may cause civil war within the state. “The first law of nature”, according to him, “is to seek peace and follow it. But if the advice does not prove advantageous for mankind, the second law of nature says that by any means necessary, mankind must defend ourselves from the rest of the population through violence.” (Quoted in Esscort.com) He also views that there remain a situation of competition and jealousy in the individuals, intensity of which may turn into serious conflict among them. Hence, there must be not only laws in a sovereign state, but also a statute body to implement such laws.

Absence of a regulatory authority, according to Hobbes, results in civil war. Conflict and clashes, according to him, have always brought destruction, disappointment, unemployment and turmoil in societies. There are many examples of deterioration and disturbances in the aftermath of war in various states of the world. “During the thirty years from 1883 to 1913”, Arnstein views, “only one man in twenty had been unemployed in England; during the post war years of 1921-1938, unemployment was the fate of one man in seven.” (1988, p 274) Nevertheless, Hobbes declares laws of nature as immortal and eternal ones.

John Locke maintains difference with Hobbes while describing international relations as well as the prevailing law of nature, in his theories. He lays stress in complete and unconditional freedom of mankind. He goes against any restrictions on man that could minimize his liberty. It is liberty and freedom that brings the message of peace and happiness, Locke views. “Man being born”, Locke views, “as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, an uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of Nature, equally with any other man.” (Porter, 2003 p. 372)

Locke argues in favour of unconditional freedom and free consent which ultimately lead to perpetual and continuous and interference in one’s freedom and actions costing his free consent cause revolts, chaos and war in the end. Lack or freedom, according to him, may disrupt economic activities and free trade, which can put the cities and countries into war. The political philosophy of John Locke carries weight while looking into causes of war and peace in different states and societies. In ancient times though trade was brisk, yet there were many restrictions in the mobilisation of different goods from one part to the other. It is therefore, the governments belonging to one city attacked the other in order to acquire the command over trade and other economic activities. In the same way, the basic cause of wars and conflict between Florence and Venice in the Renaissance times.

Kant looks for permanent state of peace rather temporary ceasefire between two or more independent countries and maintains that any peace accord has been made by force or without the will of any of the rival countries serves as a constant sword of imminent war hanging on the very head of the warring countries. A peace settlement made under war threat always causes another war in near future, because the invaded and defeated country always seeks for revenge from the aggressor. It creates a permanent state of confrontation and disturbances in the region. Kant aims to state that ‘no treaty of peace could be held valid in which there is tacitly reserved matter for a future war.’ To make an end of the war, there must be a regularity authority to check the advances of the states and eradicate hostilities among the nations.

“When one or both parties to a treaty of peace”, he views, “being too exhausted to continue warring to each other, make a tacit reservation (reservatio mentalis) in regard to old claims to be elaborated at some more favourable opportunity in future, the treaty is made in bad faith.” (A Philosophical Sketch of the Kant’s Perpetual Peace) As soon as either of them feels itself in a better military position, it started targeting the weaker nation. Kantian theory especially condemns monarchical and dictatorship government systems which have designed no particular rules of law to avoid conflict with other nations. Democratic nations, on the other hand, seldom wage wars against other powers for the governments elected by the people cannot afford it altogether. Absence of rule of law projects irrationality among the masses, whereas its presence makes them vigilant and wise. Franceschet (2000, p 280) asserts the Kantian thesis that democracies do not fight each other. Social life, according to Kant, under a rule of law was a prerequisite for the flourishing of rational and moral capabilities and the achievement of maximum individual autonomy and freedom. (Solomon, 2003 p 107)

In addition, Kant is of the view that no hostile country can make another sovereign state under its dominion for long. The political situation, economic conditions and social movements force the invader forces leave the country has been captured forcibly without the will of the local population. Moreover, the continuous war situation and endless fighting weakens the conflicting states so much that their existence looks in serious jeopardy. A country can neither be inherited nor can be sold out t another on the basis of either war or peace. On the other hand, the solidarity and independence of a defeated state is restored with the passage of time. Kant strongly believes in the implementation and observing of the rule of law for the maintenance of peace in the world. He refutes the utopian idea altogether that submits that the continuous and steadfast warring may pave the way of permanent rule of the invader country over the invaded one without any resistance or protest.

While examining the history of different states from the most primitive to the most modern one, it becomes evident that Kant’s theory keeps validity in its very essence. Headley Bull has also reiterated Kant’s theoretical framework while discussing state system in his book “The Anarchical Society.” Doyle (1983) emphatically affirms Kantian theory of perpetual peace which declares he democratic governments sand proper application of rule of law will eliminate the concept of conflict from the society. In the same way, he admits that the democratic and liberal states seldom observe good and peaceful relations with the non democratic ones. Hobbes, in his Second Treatise of Government, states that the law of nature offers to all and sundry one and the same opportunities which gave the idea of common ownership. It ultimately creates a situation among different social strata. The same was the case with the Greek cities of ancient times.

There existed two schools of thoughts that influenced the promotion of government interventions in social conditions included the Evangelicals and the Utilitarians. Utilitarianism is sociological school of thought where works and ideas of renowned political scientist and lawyer Jeremy Bentham maintain lion’s share. British philosopher J.S. Mill has discussed the wide range of philosophical thoughts regarding utilitarianism in his famous “Autobiography.” A comprehensive theory of government responsibility regarding systematic awareness in respect of the difficulties in the field of public administration was provided by a small group of highly educated British individuals out of the philosophical ideas of Jeremy Bentham. Mill was one among those individuals who saw eye to eye with the Benthamian idea that utility can not only be measured, but also meaningfully summed over people. Bentham argued for an artificial rather than a natural identity of interests. “He maintained”, Arnstein states, “that human beings, in following their own interests, promote the interests of their fellows only if the laws of their fellows are so arranged that their self-regarding actions will be channeled in the direction of the common good.” (1988:48).

French philosopher Voltaire is of the opinion that levels of satisfaction as well as mode of feeling happy vary from one individual to the other. Since human societies have been divided into countless categories including caste, class, creed, community, clan, tribe, region, religion, race, age-group and socioeconomic status, their views, habits and thinking are also differ from one another. Some of the individuals seek happiness and contentment in simple and plain way of leading life within the set up of their personal little worries, little knowledge and commitment to their everyday tasks and routine life. On the contrary, another stratum of society declares knowledge and wisdom as the first and foremost thing, and struggles hard to seek more and more wisdom and foresight. The desire for acquiring for more knowledge realizes the individuals regarding the realities of life, death, soul and universe. The deeper one meditates the more his thirst increases regarding revealing the secrets of his personality as well as the natural phenomena. It not only wide opens new horizons of thoughtfulness and orientation with the objects of nature before him, but also makes him acquainted with the fact that all wisdom and knowledge he maintains is mere an eye-wash to judge and assess his environment, surroundings and society on the one hand, and the whole world and objects existing in the universe on the other.

The principle of utilitarianism is one of the most significant works of J. S. Mill, which he has discussed in details in five chapters. Mill describes the differences of opinions between philosophers while expressing their views about morality. The idea offers for the first code of morality and is based on the belief that makes distinction between right and wrong. “The utilitarian candidate”, he views, “is the principle of utility, which holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.” (1863:3). Mill vehemently stresses on the principle that every man’s act must provide maximum pleasures for the others at large. He stands for the qualitative separation of happiness and considers moral and intellectual pleasure superior to physical pleasures. In addition, he makes a critical analysis of happiness and contentment, declaring the latter less significant and inferior one. Mill declares that man’s sentiments, both favourable and unfavourable, are influenced by the principle of utility, which earns happiness for him. “The greatest happiness principle”, according to him, “has had a large share in forming the moral doctrines even of those who even more scornfully reject its authority.” (1863:8).

Kant’s theory was equally significant in past as it is today. While making an analysis of the ancient Greek cities state system in the light of Kant’s theoretical framework, it comes to know that Greek cities very small in size and having less population contained monarchical state of government, which had established a war-loving aristocratic system in them. The warlords of these Greek cities started wars with the neighbouring cities to capture their lands. This warring situation existed for long and truce was only a break to have some rest from long term war days. Not only this that the ceasefire provided them with some respite to keep the forces restful, but also served as an ideal time to make war preparations against the opponent forces. The primitive Greek cities had been engaged in not only fighting against one another, but also had constant threats of Persian attacks that could cost their solidarity and integration. Greek and Persian states, in ancient times, had monarchical political systems and were unable to preserve peace for a long time and every peace settlement paved the way for another war in the region. The relations between the neighbouring cities were always bitter and none of the country ever tried to evade any chance of entering into war with the rival power existing at that time.

Mill stands for the complete and unconditional civil liberty for each and every individual provided it can harm the other. It is Mill who first time introduced the ‘principle of harm’ in his works. An individual must be given full freedom of thought to exercise best of his qualities within a social structure so that it can provide maximum benefit on individual and collective basis. The society can only intervene if an action taken by an individual is harmful to the other members of society, but should make no interferences if these actions harm the individual himself. “Mill’s teleological notion of man as a progressive being runs strongly through his economic thinking, as well as his political writings. Despite his views of man as a scraping, selfish player in an impersonal and unforgiving marketplace, Mill ultimately champions capitalism for reasons informed and guided by the same perfectionist ideals he holds in the political realm.” (Chiu, 2005).

Mill takes liberty in a vast sense, and does not see eye to eye with the notion that liberty stands for mere freedom from the tyranny of political government as it was considered in ancient times as well as medieval ages. Freedom of thought though is especially needed in a political set up, yet man must be free of unnecessary and unlimited social bindings too. The individuals should have been provided with enough freedom to celebrate their religious and cultural ceremonies as well as perform their religious and social obligations. He censures the interference of legislation and executive powers within a private conduct, which he thinks inappropriate. He laments on unavailability of any recognized principle to test the propriety of the interference of government into private affairs.

“Despotism is”, he writes, “a legitimate mode of government in dealing with the barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually affecting that end.” (1859: 17). Mill is the torch-bearer of the liberty of speech and writing. He was the pioneer to demand the freedom of press. He states this freedom a tool to combat the tyranny of a government. He strictly condemns restrictions on journalism and compares silencing the expression of an opinion equal to robbing the human race. He declares it strange when people object to the validity of free discussion by stating it an attempt towards extremism. He laments that people themselves create obstacles on the way of liberty of different kinds. He submits the example of great Socrates, who stood as firm as rock for the freedom of thought and liberty of action.

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