European Philosophy

A Historical Introduction

Gerd Van Riel and Guy Claessens

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Analysis of the main thinkers who shaped European philosophy, in their historical context

Philosophy is essentially historical. The element of wonder that drives philosophical inquiry, as well as the timeless nature of questions about humanity and the world, are both intertwined with their specific contexts of origin. The answers to these questions are historically situated interpretations of reality.

Moreover, historicity itself is part of philosophical reflection. Any engagement with history (including this book) is inherently situated within a historical framework. A comprehensive understanding of the history of philosophy is, therefore, indispensable if one wishes to function as a philosopher.

This historical introduction to European philosophy addresses the historicity of philosophy in its twofold sense. The first part provides insight into the vicissitudes of philosophical rationality from antiquity to the present day, with an emphasis on the relation between philosophical reflection and other domains of European intellectual history, such as science, politics, art, and literature. The second part deals with philosophy as a “historical-hermeneutical” discipline.

The book functions both as a handbook for introductory philosophy courses and as a monograph on European philosophy and intellectual history for a non-specialist audience.

INTRODUCTION 1. Plato’s cave 2. Philosophy and ideology 3. The historicity of philosophy

Part 1. THE FORTUNES OF PHILOSOPHICAL RATIONALITY

Chapter 1. PHILOSOPHY IN ANTIQUITY (6th c. BC - 6th c. AD) 1. The origins of philosophical rationality
1.1 From mythos to logos
1.2 The natural philosophers: the development of a cosmology
Heraclitus: ‘everything flows’
Parmenides: ‘being is’
1.3 The emergence of ethics
The relativism of the Sophists
Socrates (469-399 BC)
2. Philosophy becomes a system 2.1 Plato (428-347 BC)
Under the spell of Socrates
The soul
The intelligible
The problem of moral education
The moral order of the state
Knowledge
Participation
The Good
Detaching the soul from the body
2.2 Aristotle (384-322 BC)
A systematic science
The categories
Four causes
Form and purpose: teleology
Soul as form
Form and matter: hylomorphism
Change: act and potency
Ethics
The divine
3. Later Antiquity: Philosophy as a way of life
An increase in scale: Hellenism (323-30 BC) and the Roman Empire (c. 200 BC-475 AD)
The Stoics
Epicureanism
Neoplatonism

Chapter 2. THE MEDIEVAL PERSPECTIVE (5th-15th Centuries)
Christianity 1. The Early Middle Ages: Augustine (354-430)
The will and reason
The enlightenment of the mind (illumination)
Philosophia Christiana
Early medieval intellectual life
2. The High Middle Ages: The rediscovery of Aristotle
Medieval (Aristotelian) natural philosophy 3. The Integration of Aristotle
Aristotelian sources of conflict
3.1 The Synthesis of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Reason and faith
Knowledge
Universals
God
The human soul
Ethics
3.2 The Nominalism of William of Ockham (c. 1285–c. 1348)
Reaction against realism
Particulars, not universals
Ockham’s razor
...cuts both ways

Chapter 3. THE CRISIS OF MODERNITY (15th-19th Centuries)
1. Violence
The crisis
2. The New Science
Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Science and philosophy drift apart
Nature as an enemy to conquer
3. The rise of the subject
4. Modern philosophy at the service of science and subject
4.1 The rationalism of René Descartes (1596-1650)
Doubt
First certainty: ‘I think, therefore I am’
Dualism
The problem of the bridge
Second certainty: the existence of God
Third certainty: the existence of the external world
The mathematical structure of reality
4.2 The empiricism of John Locke (1632-1704) and David Hume (1711-1776)
‘No innate ideas!’
Skepticism
Mind, substances and causality
Science in crisis?
4.3 The critical idealism of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Rationalism and empiricism
A Copernican revolution
The transcendental point of view
Analysis of cognition: Phase 1. Transcendental aesthetic
Phase 2. Transcendental analytic
Phase 3. Transcendental dialectic
Traditional metaphysics as an impossible science
Critique of practical reason
4.4 The absolute idealism of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770- 1831)
The starting point: the French Revolution
The project: thinking the absolute
The enemy to conquer: the understanding
Hegel’s reaction to Kant
Idealism
The dialectical method
Spirit
4.5 Philosophy as a social practice: Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Historical materialism
Against Hegel
Labor
Division of labor, private property and exploitation
Self-alienation
Class struggle
Philosophy as a social practice

Chapter 4. THE END OF MODERNITY? (19th-20th Centuries)
1. Revolution
2. Limits of the belief in science
The belief in progress debated
3. Dethroning the subject
The ‘masters of suspicion’
4. A philosophical revolution
New emphases in contemporary philosophy
4.1 Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), philosophizing with a hammer
Mummified Concepts
Rejection of ‘the’ truth
Rejection of ‘Platonism’ and the Judeo-Christian tradition
Rejection of morality
Rejection of religion
Where do we go from here?
4.2 Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and phenomenology
The crisis of scientific rationality
A transcendental standpoint
Phenomenology
Intentionality
The lifeworld as (re)construction
Objectivity
4.3 Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and existential phenomenology
Dasein
Existentials
Our dealings with things in the world
Mit-sein and Mit-Dasein
The ‘They’ (das Man)
Openness (Entschlossenheit)
Temporality
Thrownness, projection and fallenness
Anxiety
Death
Being and time – and beyond
4.4 Hannah Arendt (1906-1975): The active life
Vita activa
The banality of evil
4.5 Existentialism: freedom at its peak
‘Pour soi’ and ‘en soi’
‘L’être et le néant’
Condemned to be free
4.6 The deconstruction of Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
Structuralism
Language
Writing
Deprecation of writing
‘La différance’
The world as text
Deconstruction
Time and the ‘undeconstructible’
5. A new voice in an old debate: Analytic philosophy
5.1 Philosophy of language
‘Continental’ and ‘analytic’ philosophy
5.2 The scientific nature of the language of logic: L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (‘Wittgenstein I’)
The program: to avoid ‘chatter’
Meaning, reference and truth
Only empirical statements are meaningful
Philosophy as clarification of language
The mystical
The separation of factuality and values
5.3 The reality of ‘ordinary’ language: L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (‘Wittgenstein II’)
5 Language-game
‘Meaning is use’
Language as a tool-box
Forms of life

Part 2. PHILOSOPHY AS A HISTORICAL-HERMENEUTICAL SCIENCE
Introduction
1. Historicism
2. History repeats itself – or doesn’t it? Oswald Spengler and Karl Popper
Patterns in history
Karl Popper’s criticism
3. The question of ‘meaning’ in the humanities and social sciences
Positivism in the social sciences

Chapter 1. THE BIRTH OF HERMENEUTICS AS A SCIENCE
1. The emergence of a general hermeneutics
2. The reproductive hermeneutics of F. Schleiermacher (1768-1834)
Universal hermeneutics
Reproductive hermeneutics
The hermeneutical circle

Chapter 2. HISTORICAL UNDERSTANDING IN THE HUMANITIES
1. Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911): Verstehen
Objective Spirit
Nacherleben
2. Martin Heidegger on understanding and interpretation
Fore-structures
Sinn
3. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s historicization of understanding
Historically-effected consciousness
Prejudices
Tradition
Fusion of horizons
Three criticisms of Gadamer. 1. Emilio Betti
Criticism 2. Jürgen Habermas
Criticism 3. Jacques Derrida
New Historicism

EPILOGUE: IS THIS THE END?
Postmodernism
The end of history?

Bibliography of quoted works
Name index

Format: Textbook - ebook - ePUB

276 pages

ISBN: 9789461665485

Publication: January 30, 2024

Languages: English: United States

Gerd Van Riel is professor of ancient philosophy at the KU Leuven Institute of Philosophy.
Guy Claessens is postdoctoral researcher at the KU Leuven Institute of Philosophy.