From Socrates To Sartre; #30; ...And In Review
I think I've been here. Good luck. Thank you. reflected in the Are you a plateanist, or are you a Cartesian, or a Hegelian? Do you find that you are committed to the philosophy of one particular philosopher, such as Plato, or Descartes, or Hegel, or Satre, whom you regard as offering the most cogent view of the world? If you are a plateanist, are you ready to struggle unto death with any follower of the empiricist David Hume, who crosses your path, since Hume's philosophy is your arch-enemy, contemptuous and destructive of the platonic eternal essences?
But before you begin to struggle unto death, there is a preliminary question. How can you be a plateanist, twenty-four hundred years after Plato developed his philosophy? How can your enemy be a human, two hundred years after Hume? The difficulty is this. Have we not seen that every philosophy is anchored in history, is tied to its own time and its own culture? How can a philosophy which is responsive to the problems of its own time, be a meaningful philosophy for another time? Have we not seen that Plato's theory of knowledge is deliberately designed to attack the skepticism and relativism of the solpus of his own time? Have we not seen that Plato's political philosophy is designed to attack the Athenian democracy of his day? How then can Plato's theory of knowledge or his political philosophy, both of them rooted in and responsive to Plato's own cultural and historical situation, of Athens in 400 BC? How can these provide answers to the philosophical and political problems which you have
in the United States of America now in the late 20th century, is not every great philosophy and attempt to satisfy the intellectual and moral and political needs of its own time? What then, if anything, can it offer to another time? What can the ancient teachings of Plato offer to you? The answer is that philosophers have their astonishing power and influence in two ways for their own time and for all time. Each of our six philosophers is trying to understand and solve the fundamental problems in his own time, and so he speaks to the problems of his own time. But the other way in which each of our six philosophers has power and influence is that each provides concept theories, logical arguments which are timeless and eternal and which can speak to the problems of any time. So for example, Plato's theory of forms was Plato's own solution to the problems of
Athenian philosophy and politics in his own day. But the theory of forms can be separated from these problems as a timeless, eternal theory, which can be used to solve the problems of other times as well. So for example, St. Augustine used Plato's theory of forms to support Christian philosophy eight hundred years after Plato, and so you can use Plato's theory of forms to fight your empiricist enemies today twenty four hundred years after Plato. Let us review our six philosophers by looking at the timeless concept theories, logical arguments, which they have contributed to the great branches of philosophy, to metaphysics theory of knowledge, ethics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of history. We turn first to metaphysics, the branch of philosophy which asks, what is real? What are the enduring traits of reality? What do we mean when we call something real? Among our six philosophers, Plato, Descartes, and Hegel have made the most influential
contributions to metaphysics. Plato's metaphysical theory belongs to that type of theory of reality, which is called idealism, and which claims that what is real has the traits of ideas or of the mental or illogical or rational or spiritual. Plato's theory of reality is usually called platonic idealism. Platonic idealism is the theory that the forms or essences of the intelligible world constitute reality, the pure unchanging, eternal, and immutable forms or essences are the very substance of reality. The forms or essences are objects of thought. They are eternal, universal, immutable truths, such as the form or essence of a triangle and its properties, including the truth that the sum of its internal angles is 180 degrees. Plato offers a theory of a great hierarchical structure of immutable truths of eternally true forms or essences, from the most concrete like mud and dirt to the most abstract and universal
like identity and difference, and Plato also offers his vision of the idea of the good as the source of the reality and truth and value of all of the forms. Plato's metaphysics contrasts the intelligible world, the world of the forms, with the visible world, the changing world of concrete particular things in flux, things which are coming into being, developing, and decaying. The concrete object of the visible world are real, only to the degree that they copy the perfect reality of the forms. Their reality is like that of shadow to substance. We turn next to Descartes' metaphysics, which is the classic statement of what is called metaphysical dualism. Descartes contributes the theory of reality as having a twofold or dualistic nature. What according to Descartes' metaphysics is dualistic in the sense that it has two kinds
of attributes, mental and physical, and neither of these can be shown to be a form of or reducible to the other. Cartesian dualism is called psychophysical dualism to indicate that the duality of reality consists of the psychological mental conscious kind of substance, and on the other hand of the physical material spatially extended kind of substance. Cartesian psychophysical dualism confronts us with two kinds of reality. On the one hand, spatially extended mechanically moving substances, which are scientifically measurable, but which have no consciousness, no mental or spiritual capacities such as thinking or willing. But on the other hand, mental conscious spiritual thinking substances which have free will, and are not part of the necessary causal determinism of physical substance. But these thinking substances occupy no space, are not in motion, and cannot be scientifically
measured or explained. Descartes' dualistic metaphysics is the most extreme example of psychophysical dualism in the history of philosophy. But it contributes the insurmountable problem of the duality of my mind as a mental substance and my body as physical substance and the impossibility of ever explaining their interaction. Hegel contributes the third great theory of reality which we have discussed. Hegel's metaphysics is monistic in contrast to Descartes' dualistic metaphysics. Hegel presents a theory of reality as consisting in only one rather than two kinds of attributes. Hegel's metaphysics, like Plato's, is a subtype of idealism. Hegel's metaphysics is called absolute idealism since it presents reality as absolute mind as the totality of all true concepts in human experience and knowledge, in art,
religion and philosophy, in the sciences and politics and history. What is real in all these areas are the true rational concepts which they embody. This is the point of Hegel's statement that the real is the rational. But although Hegel's idealism seems to be agreeing with Plato that reality consists in the truth of concepts or ideas, there are very great differences. For Plato, the forms are abstract, unchanging and fixed, not part of the visible world of time and change. But for Hegel, the concepts are not abstractions but reflect concrete changing reality. They are not unchanging but rather, are influx in the dialectical process of change. Hegel's concepts do not belong to the pure, intelligible world of Plato's forms. That intelligible world which transcends humanity.
Instead, Hegel's concepts represent the rational truth to be found within the human world. Hegel's rational concepts express the variety of human experiences and kinds of knowledge, and how profoundly they are influenced by changing historical times and by different human cultures. A further point of difference. Plato's Essences form an immutable hierarchy ranked according to the universality, from the least general to the most general. In contrast to Plato, Hegel views concepts as growing, developing, changing as a living organism does. But this raised an embarrassing problem for Hegel's metaphysics. If Hegel means by the absolute, or absolute mind, or God, only these growing, developing, changing concepts in human experience and knowledge, then how can Hegel legitimately call this development of human conceptual truth,
God, or the absolute? It is human truth, not the divine truth of God. It is not absolute and total truth, but limited, partial truth. Plato and Hegel have contrasting metaphysical problems. Hegel's metaphysics focuses upon reality as changing conceptual truth, and thus cannot show how any truth can be absolute. Plato's metaphysics has the opposite problem. It focuses upon reality as the absolute immutable truth of essences, and it cannot show how truth can ever change. We turn now to the branch of philosophy called Theory of Knowledge, and its central question, what can we know? Any philosopher who offers a metaphysics, a theory about the traits of reality, has the responsibility of offering also a theory of knowledge,
which will show how he has the knowledge that reality has these traits. Plato laid the foundation of Theory of Knowledge by his diagram of the latter of knowledge, and its identification of four different ways of knowing, each with its own type of object. Plato's divided line of knowledge established a distinction between opinion and knowledge. Opinion is the lower level of thought. It has its source in sense perception, and it knows only the changing particular things of the visible world. But Plato establishes the criteria of true knowledge, the higher level of thought. True knowledge has its source in intellect or reason, and it must be about objects which are immutable and real, namely the forms. Plato has here established the viewpoint in theory of knowledge called rationalism. Rationalism in theory of knowledge is the claim that human reason
is the only adequate means for achieving certainty or absolute truth for our knowledge. Rationalism claims specifically that in order to achieve certainty in our knowledge, reason must be the exclusive or the principal source and the proof of what we know. Rationalism characteristically follows Plato in regarding knowledge gained by the senses as an inferior level of knowledge. Descartes, like Plato, is a rationalist in his theory of knowledge. But Descartes presents a more highly developed rationalism than Plato. Descartes' rationalism is the rationalism of a modern mathematician. Descartes presents the argument that philosophy can achieve the absolute certainty of geometry. By using the rationalistic methods of mathematics, intuition and deduction. Intuition is our rational understanding of self-evident principles such as the axioms of geometry.
Deduction is logical reasoning from self-evident axioms and postulates. Descartes' rationalism is evident in his bold attempt to construct a philosophic system which would have the mathematical certainty of geometry by finding a self-evident axiom from which to deduce his philosophy as a series of theorems. Like Plato and other rationalists, Descartes, regards as untrustworthy, all knowledge which has its source in sense perception. Descartes' theory of knowledge introduces two other important and influential conceptions. First, skepticism. The systematic use of doubt as a test of what we can know. Descartes' skepticism is methodological. It is the use of skepticism as a method by which to arrive at truth.
The other influential conception is subjectivism. The view that what I can know with certainty is only my own consciousness and its thoughts. Empiricism, as a theory of knowledge, rejects the claims of rationalism and consists in the argument that sensory observation, direct or indirect, and with or without the aid of instruments or experimentation, is the only reliable source and proof of our knowledge. Empiricism asks, how do you know and accept as knowledge only what can be shown to arise from sensory observation? And empiricism asks, what are the limits of our knowledge and empiricism answers that we are confined to knowing only what comes to us by sensory observations and by our abstract reasoning? The limitations which empiricism places on what we can know exclude the possibility of our knowing
the nature of reality, thus empiricism denies the legitimacy of metaphysics. Empiricism also rejects the rationalist's view that there are two levels of knowledge, the inferior knowledge of sense perception and the higher truths of reason. For empiricism there are no higher truths, there are only the truth that we gather from sense perception. Humes empiricism argues that our ideas arise from sensory impressions to which they correspond. Hume uses the rule that where no sensory impression can be shown, as the source of an idea, the idea is worthless, false, and meaningless. With this rule, no impression, no idea. Hume in empiricism demolishes the ideas of ultimate reality and independent external world, physical and mental substances, personal identity, and God.
For Hume, none of these ideas comes from, has its source in a sensory impression, thus all of these ideas are worthless, false, and meaningless. Humes' major work of analysis is his analysis of the idea of necessary causal laws, the idea that there is necessary connection between cause and effect. Hume demolishes Descartes' idea that science gives us necessary causal laws of the physical world. By using Hume's own rule, namely, no impression, no idea. Since we have no sensory impression of necessary connection, of necessary connection between causes and effect, the idea of necessary causal laws, of causal laws in which cause and effect are necessarily connected, that idea becomes worthless, meaningless, and false. Hume then argues that the source of this false belief, that there is necessary connection
between the causes and effects in our scientific laws, is only in the psychology of human minds, only in the psychological laws by which we associate ideas. Humes' radical empiricism leads to the conclusion that we cannot know that any scientific law will hold true in the future. We know only the sense impressions of constant conjunction of the past and present. The last major development in theory of knowledge, among our six philosophers, is what we have called the Kantian-Turn in Philosophy. The view that mind is neither passive nor empty, as empiricism says, but is equipped instead with its own concepts by which it imposes meaning upon the flux of sensations. Kant has asserted again, like Plato and Descartes, the importance of the mind's own rational concepts.
But there are differences. Kant's pure concepts differ from Descartes' theory of the innate ideas of the mind, such as the innate idea that everything has a cause. Whereas Descartes' innate ideas correspond to the structure of independent reality. Kant's pure concepts do not correspond to independent reality, but they are only our ways of understanding things. Kant's categories also differ from Plato's rational forms. Plato's forms or essences are the ultimate structures of reality which the world of flux copies, whereas Kant's concepts have no ultimate reality, they are only structures of our own consciousness. For Kant, as for Hume, ultimate reality is unknowable, and metaphysics is thus impossible. But Hegel denies that reality is unknowable. He argues that whatever is is rational, by which he means that everything has an intelligible rational structure.
Everything has a rational concept at its core, which human reason can grasp. Human reason is dialectically says in its movement, from a concept which is a thesis, to an opposing concept which is its antithesis, and to a synthesis in a third concept which resolves the opposition between them. But since for Hegel, reality itself is dialectical, dialectical human reason is perfectly well equipped to know dialectical reality. Here we see Hegel's theory of knowledge supporting his theory of reality. We turn now to the problems of ethics. What is ultimately good? What is the meaning of right and wrong? Plato rejects ethical relativism, the claim that moral standards are relative to history and society, and that there is no single absolute moral standard. Plato's position is that of moral absolutism, the claim that absolute moral standards exist and are universally true.
Man's essence, his tripartite nature, provides the absolute moral standard or good for man. A good for man is to fulfill his essence. It is to maintain a correct harmonious balance, among the three parts of the soul, with reason governing the spirited element and the appetite. This harmonious balance is the justice of the soul. A right act according to Plato is an act which is guided by knowledge of the proper harmony of the soul, and by knowledge of the forms. Paul's ethics is thus a rationalistic ethics, in that it gives primacy to the role of reason in determining what is absolutely good and what is right for man. Hume's ethics attacks Plato and all rationalistic ethics, which claim that reason has primacy in the moral life, that reason governs my moral conduct. We have, as Hume, only two kinds of knowledge, relations of ideas as in logic or mathematics and knowledge of matters of fact, but neither a knowledge of logic nor matters of fact
can determine my moral conduct or motivate me. We are motivated, says Hume, only by our desires, our feelings and sentiments. Reason he says has no primacy over the passions. Reason is the slave of the passions. Hegel's ethics is a social ethics, stemming from Hegel's organicism. Ethics is the ethics of the culture, which embodies the absolute. Hegel's ethics is the source of the moral values of the individual. The highest moral good for individuals is the happiness of identifying with the moral values of their own society. Alienation is the opposing process. It is the process of becoming a strange from the moral ideals of society. Sottre's ethics completely rejects rationalistic ethics, the empiricist criticism of rationalistic ethics, and also social ethics. Sottre presents the existentialist argument, that as conscious being, I alone am totally free and totally responsible for my moral choices, but I choose without any moral values
to guide or to justify my choice. We turn next to political philosophy. For Plato, political philosophy builds upon ethics. Sottre's he says have the same tripartite structure as individual human beings. The good or just society, like the good or just man, exhibits a harmonious ordering of its three parts, with the rational element governing the other two. Plato's political philosophy is the earliest articulated statement of political absolutism, advocating as it does the subordination of the individual to the state and vesting absolute power in an elite group of rulers. In political philosophy, Hegel-like Plato is a political absolutist, but whereas Plato's political absolutism is justified by the guardian's knowledge of the eternal forms of justice of man and of the state. Hegel's political absolutism is justified by his view of society as an organic totality
embodying the truths of absolute mind, the mind of God. Since the state embodies the truths of absolute mind, the individual is subordinate to the state and exists for the state which has absolute political power and moral authority over him. Marxist political philosophy views all historical governments as agencies exercising coercion on behalf of the economic interests of the ruling class. The Communist Revolution will erect a dictatorship of the proletariat, which will seize the means of coercion and oversee the transitional period leading to the classless society. And lastly, we turn into the philosophy of history. Although our six philosophers only Hegel and Marx offer a philosophy of history, both Hegel and Marx view history as a rational structure developing dialectically in time. For Hegel, the dialectic of history exhibits human progress in the consciousness of freedom,
which is now he thinks virtually complete in Germany, a synthesis he says has been achieved. For Hegel, the dialectical method, however, can only interpret the past. It cannot predict the future. But for Marx, the synthesizing stage of the dialectic is now still in the future. It is implied and made necessary by the present stage of the disintegration of capitalism he argues, and therefore he says the laws of dialectic can predict the future and in fact they guide the revolution of the proletariat. This review has tried to summarize some of the major general problems which cut across the history of philosophy, and it has tried to review briefly the concepts and arguments with which our six philosophers have responded to them. But we have not been able to include in this review of the general timeless problems of philosophy the many specific individual concepts and theories which sparkle brilliantly in the pages of our philosophers.
We can now hear only mention briefly Plato's Eros, the principle of love which motivates the quest for truth, or Plato's remarkable theory of women, or his concept of the noble lie, or his vision of human genetic planning for a noble race of humans, or his theory of the dangers of art. We can hear only mention briefly Descartes' theory of the infinite freedom of the human will in a mechanistic clockwork universe, or his theory of animals as machines, or his vision of the mathematical unity of all the sciences. We can only briefly refer to Hume's strange mitigated skepticism, or to his criticism of God as an incompetent designer of the universe, or to Hume's theory of miracles. We can only refer briefly once again to Hegel's master slave theme, his theory of culture, of the dialectical tendency of thought, his theory of the relationship of the individual to the group, his theme of alienation, and of the need for wholeness through social identification. We can only briefly refer again to Marx's sweepingly powerful concept of ideology, or
his theory of alienated labor. And we can only briefly refer to Sartre's concept of bad faith, nausea, the look of the other, and his pessimistic theory of love. No review can deliver the richness and profundity and complexity of these specific philosophic concepts and themes in our philosophers. This program has tied to deal both with the general concepts and with the specific concepts of our philosophers, especially, however, it is tried to present a sense of philosophy as a living part of human civilization, as a response to the human culture in which philosophy has its roots, but it is also tried to present philosophy as expressing the living spirit of a mortal human being, struggling to understand as we all must the human condition in the changing yet continuous reality in which we find ourselves. Pre-recorded in the studios of the Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting.
- From Socrates To Sartre
- Episode Number
- ...And In Review
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- Maryland Public Television (Owings Mills, Maryland)
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- #30: Conclusion - and in Review Conclusion. Summary and Overview of the philosophers discussed and their views on the topics we have pursued. Their contributions to a personal philosophy, to philosophic insight, to the understanding of contemporary society.
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Copyright Holder: MPT
Host: Thelma Z. Lavine, Ph.D.
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Maryland Public Television
Identifier: 36598.0 (MPT)
Format: Digital Betacam
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