17th century philosophy

17th century philosophy

17th century philosophy in the Western world is generally regarded as being the start of modern philosophy, and a departure from the medieval approach, especially Scholasticism.

Early 17th century philosophy is often called the Age of Reason or Age of Rationalism and is considered to succeed the Renaissance philosophy era and precede the Age of Enlightenment, but some consider it as the earliest part of the Enlightenment era in philosophy, extending that era to two centuries.

Meanwhile in Persia, early Islamic philosophy and Iranian philosophy witnessed their last major phase of development with the school of Transcendent Theosophy founded by Mulla Sadra.


to Western Philosophy, the period is usually taken to start in the seventeenth century with the work of René Descartes, who set much of the agenda as well as much of the methodology for those who came after him. The period is typified in Europe by the great system-builders — philosophers who present unified systems of epistemology, metaphysics, logic, and ethics, and often politics and the physical sciences too.
Immanuel Kant classified his predecessors into two schools: the Rationalists and the Empiricists [ [http://www.iep.utm.edu/k/kantmeta.htm#H1 Historical Background of Kent] ] , and Early Modern Philosophy (as seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophy is known) is sometimes characterised in terms of a supposed conflict between these schools. This division is a considerable oversimplification.

Although misleading in many ways, this simplification has continued to be used to this day, especially when writing about the 17th and 18th centuries. The three main Rationalists are normally taken to have been Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz. Building upon their English predecessors Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, the three main Empiricists were John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. The former were distinguished by the belief that, in principle (though not in practice), all knowledge can be gained by the power of our reason alone; the latter rejected this, believing that all knowledge has to come through the senses, from experience. Thus the Rationalists took mathematics as their model for knowledge, and the Empiricists took the physical sciences.

This emphasis on epistemology is at the root of Kant's distinction; looking at the various philosophers in terms of their metaphysical, moral, or linguistic theories, they divide up very differently. Even sticking to epistemology, though, the distinction is shaky: for example, most of the Rationalists accepted that in practice we had to rely on the sciences for knowledge of the external world, and many of them were involved in scientific research; the Empiricists, on the other hand, generally accepted that "a priori" knowledge was possible in the fields of mathematics and logic.

This period also saw the birth of some of the classics of political thought, especially Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan", and John Locke's "Two Treatises of Government".

The seventeenth century in Europe saw the culmination of the slow process of detachment of philosophy from theology. Thus, while philosophers still talked about – and even offered arguments for the existence of – a deity, this was done in the service of philosophical argument and thought. (In the Enlightenment, 18th-century philosophy was to go still further, leaving theology and religion behind altogether.)


Meanwhile in Persia, early Islamic philosophy and Iranian philosophy witnessed their last major phase of development with the rise of Transcendent Theosophy ("al-Hikmat al-Muta’liyah"). This school of thought was founded by Mulla Sadra (1571–1640), who was himself a student of another famous Persian Islamic philosopher at the time, Mir Damad.

A concept that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's philosophy is the idea of "existence precedes essence", a key foundational concept of existentialism, which was not known in the West until the 19th century. This was also the opposite of the idea of "essence precedes existence" previously supported by Avicenna and his school of Avicennism as well as Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and his school of Illuminationism. For Mulla Sadra, "existence precedes the essence and is thus principle since something has to exist first and then have an essence." This is primarily the argument that lies at the heart of Mulla Sadra's philosophy. [citation|title=Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination|first=Mehdi Amin|last=Razavi|year=1997|publisher=Routledge|isbn=0700704124|pages=129-30]

Another central concept of Mulla Sadra's philosophy is the theory of "substantial motion" ("al-harakat al-jawhariyyah"), which is "based on the premise that everything in the order of nature, including celestial spheres, undergoes substantial change and transformation as a result of the self-flow ("fayd") and penetration of being ("sarayan al-wujud") which gives every concrete individual entity its share of being. In contrast to Aristotle and Ibn Sina who had accepted change only in four categories, i.e., quantity ("kamm"), quality ("kayf"), ("wad’") and ("‘ayn"), Sadra defines change as an all-pervasive reality running through the entire cosmos including the category of substance ("jawhar")." [citation|first=Ibrahim|last=Kalin|contribution=Sadr al-Din Shirazi (Mulla Sadra) (b. 1571-1640)|url=http://www.cis-ca.org/voices/s/sadra.htm|title=Resources on Islam & Science|editor1-first=Muzaffar|editor1-last=Iqbal|editor1-link=Muzaffar Iqbal|editor2-first=Ibrahim|editor2-last=Kalin|date=March 2001|accessdate=2008-02-04] Gottfried Leibniz later described a similar concept several decades later. [citation|first1=Keven|last1=Brown|first2=Eberhard|last2=Von Kitzing|title=Evolution and Bahá'í Belief: ʻAbduʼl-Bahá's Response to Nineteenth-century Darwinism|publisher=Kalimat Press|isbn=1890688088|pages=222-3]

List of 17th century philosophers

* Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
* Mir Damad (d. 1631)
* Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
* Mulla Sadra (1571–1640)
* René Descartes (1596–1650)
* Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
* Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
* John Locke (1632–1704)
* Nicolas Malebranche (1638–1715)
* Isaac Newton (1642–1727)
* Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716)
* Pierre Bayle (1647–1706)
* Damaris Cudworth Masham (1659–1708)
* Mary Astell (1666–1731)
* Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

ee also

*Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns


External links

* [http://www2.sas.ac.uk/ies/events/seminars/Emphasis/index.htm EMPHASIS: Early Modern Philosophy and the Scientific Imagination Seminar]

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