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Early modern philosopy

This week we are treated to readings of the so-called "early" Modern philosophical era, roughly corresponding to the seventeenth through eighteenth centuries AD. It was an energetic and turbulent (some would say 'dark and chaotic') time for the European West, not only for philosophy but also for intellectual, political, spiritual, and cultural life generally. Great transformations (not all of them good) were effected in all aspects of Western civilization, many of which (or at least the descendant echoes of which) remain with us today.
In Western philosophy, the so-called Modern period begins in large part with a return to an examination of the nature and possibility of knowledge. That is to say, with the return of epistemology (i.e. study of knowledge) to intellectual and philosophical prominence. Hence most of the major early modern philosophers had significant things to say about knowledge, and said them in radically new and different ways.

Just what is knowledge, anyway? What, if anything, can we know? And how, if any way, can we know it? How reliable or trustworthy are things like sensation, memory, experience, upbringing, tradition, logic, or reason at getting to the truth of things, if there's even any 'truth' to things at all?

All of these are epistemological questions, since they all concern themselves with questions of knowledge. However, the *answers* that one comes to for such questions can vary widely from one thinker to the next.

What, if anything, does such wild variance say about knowledge, or at least about what we *think* we can know?

Early Modern philosophers greatly concerned themselves with questions such as these, and constructed great epistemological systems in an effort to account for their answers to them.

Broadly speaking, Rene Descartes ushered in a new kind of philosophical rationalism (and, incidentally, ushered in the Modern philosophical era) grounded in his belief that it is through REASON ALONE that we are able to come to any kind of truth, and thus to any kind of real knowledge.

Somewhat later (and largely in reply to Descartes), philosophical empiricists like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke articulated epistemological systems according to which experience (*not* reason) is the ultimate foundation of knowledge.

Still later, disillusioned with both rationalism and empiricism and fascinated with the epistemological limits of both reason and experience, David Hume articulates a shocking (because so very well-argued and perceptive) skepticism about the possibility of achieving any knowledge at all about the true nature of things. Hume does a brilliant job in showing that both modern bulworks of knowledge (i.e. reason and experience) may be horribly inadequate foundations of epistemology.

So, the question is this:

Which of the three major early modern approaches (i.e. Cartesian rationalism, Hobbesian/Lockian empiricism, Humian skepticism) do you believe to be the right (or at least better) approach to knowledge? And, as ever and always, WHY do you believe so?

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Dear Student,
Hi and thank you for using Brainmass. I am making the assumption that you are already familiar with the topic and the ideas introduced by your professor in this passage. She/He is talking about epistemological or concepts of knowledge and she/he is asking you to choose which one you most agree with. I have chosen to go for Cartesian rationalism because this is what I agree with most. This is the vein the solution goes. I have also expounded a little on the Hobbes/Locke and Hume angle. Good luck!

OTA 105878/Xenia Jones

About the 3 Approaches

Cartesian rationalism is Rene Descartes' view of knowledge. This is very much related to his notion of mind-body dualism which he expounded upon via his work 'Meditations' where via a method of doubt he has come to realize his own existence, his being. While he could doubt all that his senses were telling him, he couldn't doubt the notion that he is doubting, that he is thinking. Thus, he is real by virtue of doubt and reason. Now, he viewed knowledge as innate; for him we are born with the capacity to think. It is logic and reason that allows us to make sense of all the information that our sense are providing to us. Knowledge cannot come from the sense alone - the mind is the machine that makes sense of all that we experience, feel, see and taste so that we can 'know'. This is very much related to his method of doubt which we now refer to as a deductive means of proving/disproving a claim.

Hobbes and Locke were empiricists and opposite of the view of Descartes in relation to the importance of the senses. While for Descartes knowledge does not come from the senses, for them, knowledge comes via our sensory experience. Our senses allow us to observe ...

Solution Summary

The solution provides guidance in the study and evaluation of early modern philosophies,providing answers to questions set in the original problem (see above). References are listed.