The Age of Immutability -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

The Age of Immutability

No Comment - Post a comment

During the Renaissance, as in ancient times, philosophy and science, which were mainly the same thing, looked upon nature as a single, interdependent whole. A series of brilliant hypotheses were advanced as to the nature of the universe, but could not be verified or developed further because of the existing state of technology and production. Only with the birth of capitalism, and particularly with the beginnings of the industrial revolution did it become possible to investigate in detail the workings of nature in their different manifestations. This profoundly altered the way men and womenlooked at the world:

"Genuine natural science dates from the second half of the fifteenth century, and from then on it has advanced with ever increasing rapidity. The analysis of nature into its individual parts, the division of the different natural processes and objects into definite classes, the study of the internal anatomy of organic bodies in their manifold forms—these were the fundamental conditions for the gigantic strides in our knowledge of nature that have been made during the last four hundred years. But this has bequeathed us the habit of observing natural objects and processes in isolation, detached from the general context; of observing them not in their motion, but in their state of rest; not as essentially variable elements, but as constant ones; not in their life, but in their death. And when this way of looking at things was transferred by Bacon and Locke from natural science to philosophy, it begot the narrow, metaphysical mode of thought peculiar to the last centuries." (Engels, Anti-D¸hring, p. 25.)

In the writings of Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) the materialism of Bacon is developed in a more systematic way. Hobbes lived in a period of revolution. A convinced monarchist, he experienced at first hand the storm and stress of the English Civil War. The impending victory of Parliament forced him to flee to France, where he met and clashed with Descartes. His royalist convictions should have endeared him to the monarchist exiles in whose midst he lived (for a while he taught mathematics to prince Charles). But, like Hegel, whose conservative politics did not prevent his philosophy from attracting the suspicions of the authorities, Hobbes ideas proved too radical for his contemporaries. The materialist tone of his Leviathan, which appeared in 1651, provoked the wrath of the Church and government of France, while his theories of society offended the English exiles by their rationalism. By a supreme irony, Hobbes was forced to flee to England, where he was welcomed by Cromwell, on condition he abstained from political activity.

The Restoration of the monarchy after the death of Cromwell led to the imposition of severe restrictions on intellectual freedom. Baconians were expelled from Oxford and Cambridge, effectively undermining them as centres of science. Under the Licensing Acts (1662-95) an iron censorship was re-imposed. Hobbes was afraid that the Bishops would attempt to have him burnt. He was suspected of atheism, and even mentioned in a parliamentary report on the subject. His book Behemoth was withheld from publication until 1679. After that, he could get nothing of importance published in England for fear of ecclesiastical repression.

It is not hard to see why he attracted such a reputation. Right from the first page of Leviathan, he proclaims the materialist doctrine in the most intransigent spirit. For him, there is absolutely nothing in the human mind which does not originate in the senses:

"Concerning the Thoughts of man, I will consider them first Singly, and afterwards in Trayne, or dependence upon one another. Singly, they are every one a Representation or Apparence, of some quality, or other Accident of a body without us; which is commonly called an Object. Which Object worketh on the Eyes, Eares, and other parts of mans body; and by diversity of working, produceth diversity of Apparences.

"The Originall of them all, is that which we call SENSE; (For there is no conception in a mans mind, which hath not at first, totally, or by parts, been begotten upon the organs of Sense.) The rest are derived of that originall." (Leviathan, p. 3.)

Elsewhere, he comes close to attributing the origins of religion to primitive superstitions arising from phenomena such as dreams, although, for obvious reasons, he limits the application of this idea to non-Christian religions!

"From this ignorance of how to distinguish Dreams, and other strong Fancies, from Vision and Sense, did arise the greatest part of the Religion of the Gentiles in time past, that worshipped Satyres, Fawnes, Nymphs, and the like; and now adayes the opinion that rude people have of Fayries, Ghosts, and Goblins; and of the power of Witches." (Ibid., p.7.)

Following in Bacon’s footsteps, Hobbes appeals directly to nature, as the source of all knowledge:

"Nature it selfe cannot erre: and as men abound in copiousness of language; so they become more wise, or more mad than ordinary. Nor is it possible without Letters for any man to become either excellently wise, or (unless his memory be hurt by disease, or ill constitution of organs) excellently foolish. For words are wise mens counters, they do but reckon by them: but they are the mony of fooles, that value them by the authority of an Aristotle, a Cicero, or a Thomas, or any other Doctor whatsoever, if but a man." (Ibid., p. 15-6.)

And, like Bacon and Duns Scotus, he follows in the tradition of nominalism, denying the existence of universals, except in language:

"Of names, some are Proper, and singular to one onely thing; as Peter John, This man, this Tree: and some are Common to many things; as Man, Horse, Tree; every of which though but one Name, is nevertheless the name of divers particular things; in respect of all which together, it is called as Universall; there being nothing in the world Universall but Names; for the things named, are every one of them Individuall and Singular." (Ibid., p. 13.)

In comparison to Bacon, the method of Hobbes is much more worked-out, but at the same time becomes increasingly more one-sided, rigid, soulless, in a word, mechanistic. This was not accidental, since the science which was advancing most rapidly at the time was mechanics. Increasingly, the entire workings of the world came to be seen in terms borrowed from mechanics. Thus, for Hobbes, society was like a human body, which, in turn, was just a machine:

"Nature (the Art whereby God hath made and governes the World) is by the Art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal. For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the begining whereof is in some principall part within; why may we not say, that all Automata (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheeles as doth a watch) have an artificiall life? For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheeles, giving motion to the whole Body, such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating that Rationall and most excellent worke of Nature, Man. For by Art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH, or STATE, (in latine CIVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man." (Ibid., p. 1.)

Marx sums up Hobbes’ contribution in the following passage from The Holy Family:

"Hobbes, as Bacon’s continuator, argues thus: if all human knowledge is furnished by the senses, then our concepts, notions, and ideas are but the phantoms of the real world, more or less divested of its sensual form. Philosophy can but give names to these phantoms. One name may be applied to more than one of them. There may even be names of names. But it would imply a contradiction if, on the one hand, we maintained that all ideas had their origin in the world of sensation, and, on the other, that a word was more than a word; that besides the beings known to us by our senses, beings which are one and all individuals, there existed also beings of a general, not individual, nature. An unbodily substance is the same absurdity as an unbodily body. Body, being, substance, are but different terms for the same reality. It is impossible to separate thought from matter that thinks. This matter is the substratum of all changes going on in the world. The word infinite is meaningless, unless it states that our mind is capable of performing an endless process of addition. Only material things being perceptible, knowable to us, we cannot know anything about the existence of God. My own existence alone is certain. Every human passion is a mechanical movement which has a beginning and an end. The objects of impulse are what we call good. Man is subject to the same laws as nature. Power and freedom are identical." (MECW, Vol. 4, p. 128-9.)

This mechanistic view of the world, in a sense, represents a step back in relation to Bacon. "Knowledge based upon the senses loses its poetic blossom," writes Marx, "it passes into the the abstract experience of the geometrician. Physical motion is sacrificed to mechanical or mathematical motion; geometry is proclaimed as the queen of sciences. Materialism takes to misanthropy. If it is to overcome its opponent, misanthropic, fleshless spiritualism, and that on the latter’s own ground, materialism has to chastise its own flesh and turn ascetic. Thus it passes into an intellectual entity; but thus, too, it involves all the consistency, regardless of consequences, characteristic of the intellect." (MECW, Vol. 4, p. 128.) Yet this type of mechanical materialism was to predominate for the next century and a half in Britain and France.

John Locke (1632-1704) continued in the same direction as Hobbes, declaring that experience is the sole source of ideas. To him belongs the celebrated maxim nihil est in intellectu, quod non prius fuit in sensu—nothing is in the intellect which was not first in sense. It was Locke, with his Essay on the Human Understanding, who supplied the proof for Bacon’s fundamental principle, that the origin of all human knowledge and ideas was the material world given to us in sense-perception. He is the philosopher of sound common sense, who "said indirectly that there cannot be any philosophy at variance with healthy human senses and the reason based on them." (MECW, Vol. 4, p. 129.) "Reason," he said, "must be our judge and guide in everything." Locke’s work was translated into French, and inspired Condillac and others to launch the French school of materialist philosophy, which prepared the ground intellectually for the Revolution of 1789-93.

This Post has No Comment Add your own!

Yorum Gönder