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When, during the French Revolution, the steel blade of the guillotine began to descend, cutting off the heads of the king, Louis XVI, and his queen Marie Antoinette, and the heads of thousands of priests, nuns, men and women of the aristocracy, the managerial staffs of the great feudal estates, and anyone suspected of being an enemy of the people. It is a certainty that by the time this violence was happening, the age of enlightenment, the age of reason was dead. The French Revolution had been the third great revolution inspired by the philosophy of the age of enlightenment, the age of enlightenment, which we have dated here, from the death of Descartes in 1650 to the death of Hume in 1776, provided the philosophy for the three great revolutions of the modern world prior to the 20th century. The English, bloodless, glorious revolution of 1688, the American Revolution of 1776, and the French Revolution of 1789.
It was in France, where the last of these revolutions occurred that the philosophic ideas of the age of enlightenment were most fully and radically developed in all their glorious and shattering significance. To develop these philosophic ideas, which inspired the French Revolution, strangely, no one who ever made the list of the world's greatest philosophers, such as Hume or Hegel. The significance of the philosophy of the age of the enlightenment was spelled out by a group who came to be called in France, the Philosoth, by which the French meant that they were not professional academic philosophers, such as my teach at the Sorbonne in Paris, but rather that they were intellectual types of pinion makers, activists in the sciences or the arts, journalists, cafe philosophers. These were the people who popularized and disseminated the ideas of enlightenment to large and varied audiences throughout France.
Best known among them is Voltaire, poet, dramatist, essayist, famous for his satire, indeed. There was also Dietelow, a poet, essayist, novelist, perhaps the greatest genius of the French enlightenment, editor as he was of the famous encyclopedia, which slyly propagandaized for revolution. And there were Holbach and Lamotry, who were essayist, philosophers, and critics, and there were the mathematician philosophers, Dalon Bea and Condose. By now, in the middle of the 18th century, Descartes and Newton were only bygone symbols of the rapidly advancing age of science, which was revealing the order, the harmony, and lawfulness of all of nature, physical, and human. By now, a truce had ended the battle between the church and the new sciences. The French intellectuals did not fight the battle of rationalism versus empiricism, the battle of Descartes versus Hume.
Other than fighting over the differences between rationalism and empiricism, the Philosoph were eclectic and capitalized on both of them. They saw the advantages of each side, and they put each to use for their own purposes, which were to reform or bring down the dominance of the Catholic Church and the absolute monarchy over France, and to establish a new order, based on the truths of science and of natural rights of life, liberty, and property. Why have these truths of physical nature and human nature, of science and natural rights been so long and becoming known to us? It is because reason has been in chains, say the French Philosoph, reason has been fettered by the greed and the lust for power of certain identifiable historical groups. One is only now breaking free from the chains placed upon it by the institutionalized power of the King of France and of the Church of Rome.
The French intellectuals charge these two institutions, the absoluteist monarchy and the absoluteist church, with monopolizing education, which is the means to enlightenment. They charge King and Church with conspiring to keep the great mass of people illiterate and ignorant and impoverished, moreover they charge them with indoctrinating the public with false beliefs, which the Philosoph called prejudices, which served to protect the interests of these ruling institutions. They indoctrinated the public with false beliefs such as that the ordinary people are inferior in intelligence and morality to royalty and to the clergy. It was clear to the Philosoph that powerful groups, such as this church and this state, use Philosophic and religious ideas to promote their own interests. The French Philosoph had come close here to hitting upon the concept of ideology, which
Karl Marx was soon to develop. In its simplest form, for Marx, ideology signifies the set of seemingly true but deceptive ideas by which one social class dominates the thinking of another in order to exploit it. But to the Philosoph, now for the first time in history, human beings through the power of their reason are grasping truth, the expanding truth of science and natural rights, and these truths will make men free. The new man of the age of science is now equipped by reason, with a theory which he can put into practice. The institutions which are based upon false ideas, superstitions, prejudices, which are contrary to the truths of physical nature or human nature must be reformed or eliminated. And the human world must be reconstructed with institutions which will serve the natural law of progress.
A cause la en fé was Voltaire's cry against the church of Rome, crushed the infamous thing. So also, the rule of the absolute his king must be destroyed and replaced by a republic. Since human beings are oppressed, victimized, exploited by these evil institutions, by priests and kings, and their treacherous tools, as Kondorsay put it, the church and state must be brought to an end, along with the false beliefs which defend and protect them. Let us destroy, says le métri, the belief in God, the soul, immortality, and all church dogma. Never before had human beings been so confident in their knowledge of physical nature, human nature, morality, and politics. They believed they were or would be soon in command of all the knowledge necessary to improve the world.
Here in the United States, we used to think so too about ourselves. But today we are becoming painfully aware that we lack the knowledge to solve the problems of the energy crisis, the chemical pollution of food, air, and water, economic inflation, unemployment, the decay of our cities, the continuing racial problems, the world population explosion, or the growth of communism in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The most moving and dramatic appeal of the French Enlightenment was the call for the natural rights of life, equality, and fraternity. They appealed also to the right future of progress for all humanity. Progress, they said, was guaranteed by a necessary natural law. The law of progress is this. It is the natural law of reason to discover scientific truths about nature, and to turn these truths into practice in the form of technology for the benefit of humanity.
And it is the natural law of reason also to discover truths about human nature, and to turn these into practice in the form of reforming or overturning all social institutions. In this heady, exhilarating concept that human beings now have truth by which they can change the world, the French Enlightenment was a forerunner, again, of the political thought of the German philosopher Karl Marx, that we now have the theory, as he said, which is sufficient to determine practice, to change the shape of the human world. Already to the fetal self-inference, philosophy is no longer a mere reflection on eternal forms, or even a reflection on the problems of the present time. But philosophy is itself a force, a power which can transform the world. By 1793, the French revolution had already moved into the phase called the reign of terror.
As the revolution had intensified, it quickly passed into the control of the radical party of the extreme left, the Jacobin, and a revolutionary mob ruled rather than the truths of reason. The voice of the people became the sole source of truth. The enemy to be destroyed was not false beliefs and the institutions which they supported, not prejudices, but any individual persons who seemed to oppose the will of the people. This was the reign of terror, one of the bloodiest scenes of horror and violence in European history. To the French intellectuals, the reign of terror would have appeared as the very heart of darkness. And so we can see that the French revolution, which has become the supreme example of revolution in the modern world, is riddled with paradoxes and gives out conflicting messages. Its guiding philosophy is the philosophy of light of reason, of the rational order and harmony
of nature, discovered by science, and of natural right. But its unintended outcome is a reversal, the very opposite of reason, the reign of terror, and its irrational passions and mob violence. The political goals of the revolution, again, are paradoxical. The political goals are those of overthrowing the regime of Louis XVI and replacing it with the republic. But the revolution ends with another reversal, the unintended consequence of the rise of Napoleon to power, as the emperor of France, whose iron rule was a far more efficient absolutism than that of the beheaded king. Moreover, the French revolution stands forth as a glorious spectacle of the human struggle for freedom. But also it stands forth as the very opposite, as the spectacle of the shameful human capacity for becoming swept up into self-righteous mob frenzy and for becoming dehumanized
murderers. None of these paradoxes will be lost on the German philosopher Hegel, who will build reversals ironies and paradoxes into the very structure of his philosophy. We shift the scene now to Germany, where the next major philosophical development takes place. In Germany, the Enlightenment was a quiet backwater, which scarcely felt the distant stormy seas of the English and French Enlightenment. What then was the German Enlightenment the Alf Kleung like? Unlike England and France, Germany did not have an Enlightenment revolution, in which the rising middle class struck for autonomy and power against a king. Germany had not taken part in the powerful new commercial and industrial developments that had transformed the socio-economic and political structures of England and France, and had culminated in their revolutions of 1688 and 1789.
Germany had no financially powerful upper middle class, with the political power to strike for independence from the ruling powers. No flourishing economic interests demanded in Germany a voice in the government, as they had in England and in France. Germany had remained futile, agricultural and rural, while England and France had become industrialized and urban. Political beliefs remained futile and absolutist in Germany. Moreover, Germany had no national unity. It was a collection of dupedums, bironial estates, imperial cities, principalities, and small states. The Lutheran Protestant religion, which had a risen in Germany, remained strong in its influence, especially in the north. Metaphysics was taken seriously in the intellectual world. Metaphysics and technology had not developed sufficiently in Germany to have social or philosophical importance.
The new science of Newton, as it had become known during the 18th century, was seen as of limited significance, incapable of explaining anything more than material and mechanical matters, and by no means the sole method for arriving at true knowledge. Nor were the German philosophers greatly impressed by the radical empiricism of David Hume. Most German philosophers of the 18th century regarded Hume as dissolving all rational truths and all scientific laws and leaving only animal faith in their place. This philosophical outcome was totally unacceptable to them. Germany was to find another path in philosophy. Out of this provincial German cultural and intellectual background came the towering genius in manual Kant, who provided for the first time an answer to Hume's skepticism. But Kant's answer to Hume accomplished something else as well.
It brought about one of the great terms in philosophy, a switch to a new way of looking at the entire enterprise of philosophy. Kant's greatest work is called the critique of pure reason, and it was published in 1781, eight years before the French Revolution. Kant recognized the force of Hume's empiricist arguments, but Kant saw that the logical outcome of Hume's radical empiricism, claiming as it does that the basis of all knowledge lies in experience leads to the conclusion that there isn't any knowledge, there is only association of ideas through habit and through psychological expectancy and a gentle compulsion. Finally, on Hume's empiricist view, there is nothing but animal faith to rely upon for assurance that the regularities of experience and science will continue, that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that water will begin to freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Kant urged that the cure for this disaster into which Hume had led philosophy lies in not taking the first step, and that is the step of radical empiricism, which claims that knowledge comes to us solely from sensory experience. In opposition to this radical empiricism, which seeks to derive all knowledge solely from sense perception, Kant introduces a new conception of knowledge. Knowledge he says does indeed have, as a source, the human element of sensory impressions, the sensory element in relationship to which the mind is passive, merely receiving sensory impressions, which it then copies as images in thought. But Kant continues, there is another element in our knowledge, which is not derived from sensory experience, nor is this other element derived from independent reality. This second element he says comes from the human mind itself.
The human mind he says is not a blank tablet, or an empty cupboard as the empiricist Locke and Hume had claimed. The human mind he says is equipped with its own concepts by means of which it organizes the flux of sensory impressions into substances, into things with qualities, and into causes and effects. In opposition to Hume, the mind says Kant is not empty, but furnished with twelve pure concepts or categories. Secondly, the mind is not passive, as Hume and the other empiricist also claimed. The mind does not merely receive, as on a screen or in a theatre, as Hume had said, a string of sense impressions. It is not a blank sheet of paper on which nature writes. Rather says Kant, mind is itself active, mind actively interprets the world, rather than passively receiving and recording in memory what comes to it, from the external world through
the senses. It is our own mind that organizes the sensory flux, and gives it meaning as substances things with qualities and quantities, or related as causes and effects, or in reciprocal causation. The pure concept of the human mind, which Kant calls frequently the pure concept of the understanding, he considers to be a priori. By this he means one, that they are present in mind prior to are having any experiences at all, and two, that they are independent of experience. Experience can never change them, they give us the kind of experience and knowledge that we have, because they are our ways of understanding anything. Moreover, Kant shows, the pure concepts of the mind are three, universal, they form the structure of any mind, of any consciousness.
A further aspect of these concepts is Kant's fourth point. They are necessary, that is, they are a necessary condition of experience. Without these concepts there is no knowledge, there is not even any experience. They furnish the necessary element, which Kant said that knowledge lacked. It is mine that supplies the concept of substance, which is necessary in order to organize and unify the flux of sensation. Without the universal concept of substance, to organize the flux of sense impressions, you could not experience a substance, a thing. Without the concept of cause, which is present in all minds, and organizes the flow of sense impressions into causes and effects, you would never experience causality. Hume had attacked the causal laws of science by denying that we have any knowledge of necessary connection between causes and effects.
Kant's answer to Hume is that there is and always will be a necessary connection between causes and effects, because the mind itself imposes the concept of necessary connection between causes and effects. This is the way we necessarily think. Cause and effect is a universal a priori and a necessary concept of the human mind. Notice that Kant's pure concept of the understanding are not the same as Descartes in eight ideas, for example, that everything has a cause, or that God exists. Descartes says that our innate ideas correspond to the structures of independent reality, and that these innate ideas are imprinted in us by God so that we can know the true nature of independent reality. But Kant does not claim that the categories, the pure concepts of the understanding,
correspond to independent reality. They are only forms of our own consciousness, he says. They are only the way in which we understand things. They do not tell us anything about what things are like in themselves, independently of our way of understanding them by these concepts. Nor are Kant's categories or pure concepts the same as Plato's ideas. Those Plato's ideas are themselves what is real. They are the ultimate structures of reality, which the world of the flux copies. But for Kant, the categories are not structure of reality. They are only the structures of our own consciousness, of our own minds. The categories, the concepts, are significant only epistemologically, that is, in relationship to our knowing, they have no significance ontologically, that is, in relationship to independent
reality itself. And so we can know that the laws of nature will continue to hold true, because the universal and necessary concepts of our own minds will always structure them to do so. But there is a price to be paid for this certainty that Kant provides. This certainty that the causal laws of science give us true knowledge and not mere association of ideas as Hume had claimed in his skepticism. And a price must also be paid for the certainty that Kant provides that the truth of the laws of nature will hold in the future. The price we must pay for the certainty that the concepts provide is that we are able to know only appearances, only phenomena, only things as they appear to us by means of these categories, things in themselves, things as they are, independent of our concepts, we
can never know. The new turn in philosophy, which Kant introduced, opposes Hume's reduction of knowledge to sense impressions. Knowledge is Kant is a composite affair. This is Kant's major argument against Hume. Knowledge consists not only of the sensory element in which the mind is passive, but also of a rational element, the twelve pure rational concept of the understanding, with which the mind actively synthesizes, unifies, organizes the sensory flow into things with qualities into causes with effects. With these two components of knowledge, Kant shows himself to have found a role for the empiricist element and a role for the rationalist element in his new view of knowledge. Kant emerges then as one of the great synthesizers in the history of philosophy, a synthesizer of rationalism and empiricism, the two great conflicting philosophies of the 17th and 18th
centuries. But notice that a strange thing has happened to Kant on the way to answering Hume. Kant has saved the scientific laws of nature, and most especially the Newtonian physics from the destructive skepticism of Hume. By showing that the necessary connections of Newton's causal laws have their foundation in the necessary causal concept of the human mind. Now what has Kant done, in order to save the truth of the sciences, Kant has had to make the laws of science dependent upon the mind and its concepts. He has had to say that the order which Newtonian laws establish is not in nature but comes from the universal and necessary concepts of the human mind. He has had to say that the independently real external world of nature does not give us its laws either through sense impressions as Hume and the empiricist said, or through corresponding with our clear and distinct rational ideas as Descartes and the rationalist
had said, nature does not give the human mind its laws, Kant has discovered, it is the other way around, it is the mind that gives its own laws to nature, its own laws in the form of, its own necessary pure concepts which organize all sensory materials, these are the concepts which give form, organize and structure all our experience, all our knowledge of nature. In Kant's famous words, mind is the law giver to nature. Then the laws of nature are dependent upon the concepts of the human mind. To the philosophy of Kant, the world order has become mind dependent. Here we have the most startling and influential significance of the new turn which Kant gave to philosophy, it is the turn away from the external world of independent nature to the inner world in which we discover the activity and powers of the mind which are the
key to whatever we experience and whatever we know. The new turn and philosophy has this significance, after Kant and under his influence whatever is experienced or known will be shown in part to be due to the mind itself, to the concepts by which the mind understands things. Are you familiar with the psychotherapist Maxim that we live in a world of our own making that if your world is cold and cruel that is the way your own mind is made the world appear and that if you learn how to change your thinking, your concepts and your attitudes, the world will begin to appear differently to you, no longer cold and cruel. When an historian speaks of the world of Thomas Jefferson or when an anthropologist speaks of the world of the Zuni Indians, they are saying that Jefferson's own mind made the world appear to him as it did, that the Zuni's own beliefs and values make the world appear
to them as it does. All this began with the Kantian turn and philosophy in which the object is always in some degree the creation of the subject. This Kantian turn opened wholly new horizons for philosophy and for many of the sciences as well. Hegel and Marx in the 19th century and Satra in the 20th century are all passionately committed to this new viewpoint in which what counts is the way our minds interpret or understand things not the way things are in themselves. We move on now to Hegel, the greatest genius of German philosophy after Kant and one of the greatest of the master builders in Western philosophy. Then recorded in the studios of the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.
From Socrates To Sartre
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#16: Hegel I: Conservative Nationalism. 19th Century German Philosophy - A Revolution in Thought As Descartes is the best representative of rationalism in 17th century France, so Hume is the best representative of 18th century British empiricism and Hegel is the best representative of the German philosophy which dominated the 19th century. Hegel's major works are written in Germany still recoiling from the terror of the French Revolution and from the Napoleonic invasion of Germany. The need for a strong, unified German nation. Philosophically the influence of Kant; the Kantian turn in philosophy; also of the German Romantics. Hegel's life. A powerful philosophy of conservatism, anti-individualistic nationalism. A sense of contradiction; paradox. Irony in human life. Rich, evocative religious, psychological, potent language.
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Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
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