Voltaire, Kant, & Hegel

 (Based on Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy)

Voltaire (1694-1778) François Marie Arouet

-French skeptic

-advocated freedom of thought

-literary, as distinct from technical, philosopher

-natural religion: belief in a righteous God & universal morality-but not confined to any particular code: "True prayer lies not in asking for a violation of natural law but in acceptance of natural law as the unchangeable will of God."

-poet, playwright, philosopher

-Essai sur les Moeurs

-philosophy of history

-focused on movements rather than kings & forces rather than masses

-abandoned supernatural explanations & theology

-blamed Rome's fall on Christianity

-adopted Spinoza's higher criticism of Bible

-gave less space to Judea & Christianity and more to China, India, Persia & their religions

-consigned every dogma to relativity

-enraged clergy & French king

-helped spark democratic uprising (French Revolution), though Voltaire himself opposed Rousseau's egalitarian emphasis as unrealistic and destructive

-Candide (novel)

-attack on Leibnitz's optimism

-irreverent response to "best of all possible worlds" argument

-Philosophic Dictionary

Will Durant: ". . . every article a model of brevity, clarity, and wit" "Here at last Voltaire proves that he is a philosopher."

John Locke (1632-1704)

-English empirical psychologist

-Essay on Human Understanding

-Everyone is a tabulasa rasa (blank sheet) when born. All knowledge comes to the mind as sensation from the experience of the senses.

George Berkeley (1684-1753)

-Irish Bishop

-Idealist philosopher: All matter, so far as we know, is a mental condition; thus, Berkeley destroyed the body & material world.


David Hume (1711-1776)

-Scottish skeptic

-Treatise on Human Nature

-The mind is nothing more than perceptions, memories, and feelings; thus, Hume destroyed the mind.

-Since there was no soul, there could be no religion.

-Causation was simply inferred: thus, Hume destroyed natural law.

-Since there was no natural law, there could be no science.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

-Prussian born; Scottish ancestry

-Transcendental Idealist

-sought to save religion from reason & science from skepticism

-Critique of Pure Reason

-Though all knowledge comes with experience, it does not follow that it comes from experience.

-Space & time= a priori forms of experience, i.e., the mind has innate categories of space and time by which it purposefully organizes all knowledge coming through the sensations.

-Critique of Practical Reason

-Man has an innate categorical imperative (sense of moral "oughtness") by which he makes duty, as distinct from pleasure, the key to right and wrong, judging the goodness of an act in terms of its fitness as an axiom when universally applied as the standard for all men.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

-German Idealist philosopher

-Hegelian Dialectic: 3-step process: (1) Thesis; (2) Antithesis; (3) Synthesis (Synthesis becomes a new Thesis for the process to move forward..)

-History is a dialectical movement mothered by the Zeitgeist (the Spirit of the Age)

-struggle is the law of growth

-life is not about happiness but achievement

-opposites are resolved into unity via the Absolute Spirit resulting in a dialectical progression from unity through diversity to diversity in unity

-Reason=substance of universe, but Passion also plays a role

-Hegelian dialectic easily lends itself to violent political movements, e.g., Naziism, Communism (Dialectical Materialism).