A somewhat long, but hopefully useful, philosophy crib list

Pre-Socratics (6th-5th cent BC)  Interested in the natural world

          –Thales: 1st philosopher; “everything comes from water”

            –Anaximander:  “Our world is one of many and what comes before and after all created things is boundless.” 

            –Parmenides:  “Everything that exists has always existed and nothing changes.”  He was the first rationalist.

            –Heraclitus:  “The basic characteristic of nature is constant change, or flow.  The world is characterized by opposites.  He is the first empiricist.  He says God is logosor “universal reason”.

            –Empedocles:  “All things are made of air, water, earth and fire–which don’t change but are recombined.  He distinguishes between substance (the 4 elements) and force (love and strife).

            -Anaxagoras:  “Nature is built up of an infinite number of minute particles invisible to the eye, e.g. skin and bone are made of minute skin and bone seeds”.

            –Democritus:  The building blocks of nature are different eternal and immutable atoms.  He was the first materialist.  Things happen due to natural causes, not due to an external force or soul.

            –Hippocrates:  Founder of Greek medicine, influenced later philosophers..  “The road to health is through moderation, harmony, and sound mind and sound body..

 Athenians:  Interested in man and his place in society

            Sophists (e.g. Protagoras):  Taught for money and pretended to know a lot.  “Man is the measure of all things.”  About the gods, “The question is complex and life is short.”  (He was the first agnostic.)  He distinguished between what is natural and what is socially induced.  He believed there were no absolute norms for right and wrong.

            Socrates:  A rationalist,he believed in the art of discourse.  He believed in absolute and universally valid norms and that right insight leads to right action and happiness.

            –Plato:  Established an Academy and wrote down much of Socrates and his own thoughts.  Was a rationalistbut also a dualist, since “everything in the material world flows but the soul is immortal.”  Myth of the cave:  what we see is just a reflection of the true eternal set of ideas.  He distinguishes between the natural world and the world of ideas which only a few men and women see.  These are the philosophers, who should govern the state.  Like the Hindu caste system, everything has its place.

            –Aristotle:  Spent 20 years at Plato’s Academy.  Believed in using our senses as well as our reason, and unlike Plato, that the chicken comes before the idea of the chicken.  Distinguishes between “substance”, or what things are made of, and “form”, their particular characteristics and what they do.  When a chicken dies, only the substance remains. Form governs a thing’s potential and limitation.  He classified everything in to animal, vegetable, and mineral.  He distinguished 4 different causes, including the “first” or “final” cause, which was God.  Ethics:  There are 3 forms of happiness: pleasure; as a free, responsible citizen; and as a thinker/philosopher.  He believed in balance and moderation in all things, echoing the Golden Mean and Greek medicine.  He believed women are incomplete, and all of a child’s characteristics come from the sperm.

            –Stoics:  Believed in a universal natural law, like Socrates.  Believed in one nature (monism), and the importance of politics.  Believed in enduring pain and accepting destiny.

            –Epicurus:  He believed in creating one’s own “garden” and avoiding politics.

His basic guide to living:

1) Don’t fear God.

2) Don’t worry about death.

3) Don’t fear pain.

4) Live simply.

5) Pursue pleasure wisely.

6) Make friends and be a good friend.

7) Be honest in your business and private life.

8) Avoid fame and political ambition.

I would add: think of others; be polite and considerate; try to see the other point of view; meet others half way, if possible. Take the smooth and pleasant road, as free from stress and conflict as possible. But don’t be put upon!

            –Mysticism:  Western mysticism involves communication with a personal god; eastern mysticism involves merging with the cosmos.

            –Neo-platonism:  Plotinusbelieved that the world is a span between 2 poles: the devine light (the “one”) and absolute darkness

Middle Ages  Were interested in God and mind and body relationships

            -St. Augustine:  4th/5th cent.  Saw no conflict between Christianity and the philosopy of Plato.  Believed God created the world, which was in his mind as a devine idea.  Within each person is a struggle between Kingdom of the World and the Kingdom of God (or City of God) and the way to God is thru faith.

            –St. Thomas Acquinas:  13th cent.  Like Aristotle, believed that God was the first cause, or prime mover.  There are two paths to God, one through reason, one through faith.

The Enlightenment  Were interested in rationality, etc.

            -Descartes:  A rationalist, like Plato, believes the proof of God is that humans have an idea of a “supreme being”.

            Spinoza:  A materialist, like Democritus, believes that everything happens through natural causes and questions man’s freedom.

            Locke:  17th cent. empiricist–believed everything we know comes from our senses and distinguishes between primary and secondary qualities.  But also a rationalistwho believed in the idea of a natural right and the ability of man to “know” God exists.  A forerunner of liberal ideas including equality of sexes (influenced Mill) and division of powers of state.

            Hume:  18th cent.  qualified empiricistand agnostic, distinguished between impressions (immediate sensations) and ideas (reflection on experience), which can be simple or complex (like our idea of Heaven).  He said complex ideas are not trustworthy.  The sense of self is just a collection of “simple” impressions; we don’t really have an unalterable ego, or immortal soul.  Buddha said the same thing 2,500 years ago.  What we see as “laws of nature” are only things we are in the habit of seeing.  They don’t prove anything.  He thinks right and wrong are based on sentiment, not reason.  Distinguishes between descriptive and normative statements.

            Berkeley:  18th cent. Irish bishop.  Did not believe in the reality of the material world.  The cause of our perceptions is spiritual, the effect of God’s power.

            Enlightenment philosophers (Montesquieu, Voltaire, Rousseau):   Were interested in the following ideas (which moved from England (early 18th cent) to France (mid-18th cent) to Germany (late 18th cent.):

            -Opposition to authority (Locke)

            -Rationalism (Montesquieu, Voltaire)

            -the Enlightenment movement (writing of the 1st encyclopedia)

            -Cultural optimism

            -the Return to Nature (Rousseau)

            -Natural religion (Deism:  God is the prime mover but has not revealed himself since except thru nature and natural laws)

            -Human rights (Locke, later Mill)

            –Kant:  18th cent.  Said time and space are our 2 forms of intuition and things adapt themselves to this perception, distorting reality.  Believes we use both senses and reason to know.  The law of causality is in our minds: he distinguishes between “the thing for me” or the formof knowledge and “the thing in itself”, or the materialof knowledge.  The Existence of God, the Immortality of the Sourl, and Free Will are practical postulates; they can be known only by faith, not reason (he’s a Protestant).  The ability to tell right from wrong is part of our practical reason.  He tried to reconcile the rationalists and empiricists.

            –Hegel;  He united and developed many of the ideas developed by the Romantic movement but confined the definition of “world spirit” or “world reason”  to humans.  He said that all knowledge is human knowledge and truth is subjective.  He believed there are no eternal truths; knowledge evolves over time.  The history of thought follows a dialectic process; thesis, antithesis, and symthesis.  The synthesis then becomes the point of departure for the next thesis.  In contrast to the romantic thesis of individualism (subjective spirit) , Hegel emphasized the importance of the family, civil society and the state (objective spririt).  Beyond this, there is the “absolute spirit” represented by art, religion, and philosophy.

            –Kierkegard:  A Dane, who reacted against Hegel by emphasizing the individual’s responsibility for his own life.  e,g, deciding whether Christianity is true for you (not in general).  The 3 stages of life are:  aesthetic (enjoyment of life, may also lead to angst); ethical (characterized by seriousness and consistency of moral choices) and religious (characterized by the leap of faith that dominates both the search for pleasure and reasoned behaviour).  He became significant to existentialists as well as Christians.

            –Marx:  Known as an historical materialist (i.e. it is the material factors in society that have been decisive for historical development, not “world reason”), Marx also rejected Hegel’s idealism, or system. He believed that the purpose of philosophy was not to interpret the world but to change it.  His thinking therefore had a practical, political objective.  In particular, he claimed that it is the economic forces in society that create change, i.e. the basis of society creates the superstructure (political ideas and institutions, etc.)  The interaction between these two is known as dialectical materialism; the superstructure does not have any life of its own.

            –Nietsche:  Said “God is dead” and don’t listen to those who offer you supernatural expectations.  Believed the life force of the strongest should not be hampered by the weakest.

            –Existentialism:  Sartre said “existentialism is humanism”, and we must create our own essence because it is not fixed in advance.   Man feels alien in a world without meaning, hence feelings of the absurd, of despair, boredom.  Man’s freedom is a curse.

(I would like to thank Jostein Gaarder, the author of “Sophie’s World” (1991) for both the idea and for the foreshortened summing ups)

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