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Relations to other Intellectual RealmsEarly Modern

With the dissolution of the medieval outlook in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, philosophers set about the long enterprise of recasting their subject so as to ensure its independence from theology but also to align it with new developments in scientific thinking. These tendencies can be observed in the writings of influential figures in the history of early-modern thought ranging from Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), Francis Bacon (1561–1626), Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), and René Descartes (1596–1650). That said, what in the early twenty-first century tends to be thought of as philosophy—a broad but relatively precise discipline distinct from the humanities, sciences, and religion and characterized by certain kinds of difficult and even irresoluble questions—would have struck an early modern thinker as a definition all too parsimonious in scope. The term philosophy in the seventeenth century included a great deal more than it does in the twenty-first, and this complicates any attempt to clarify the relationship of philosophy to other forms of human leaning in the early modern period. Philosophical learning would include the physical and biological sciences, as much as the logical structure of argument, conceptions of the good life, as well as questions about being and the existence and nature of God. Thus, a natural scientist in the seventeenth century would consider himself a "natural philosopher," and though preoccupied with issues in mathematics and physics, would attempt to relate his understanding of these questions to more general areas of philosophical concern. Here one thinks of the very different writings of Marin Mersenne (1588–1648), Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), Johann Clauberg (1622–1665), Robert Boyle (1627–1691), and Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Similarly, it would be wrong to detach figures who are believed to be purely "philosophical" (as that term is currently understood) from those who were "theologians," "biblical exegetes," "political theorists," and "jurists." Authors such as John Locke (1632–1704), Ralph Cudworth (1617–1688), Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716), Nicholas Malebranche (1638–1715), Antoine Arnauld (1616–1694), Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677), Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), and Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) all displayed expertise in these disciplines. The range and generality of so many seventeenth-century philosophical questions, and the continuing disputes concerning the appropriate characterization of the world of nature accompanied by several thorny theological problems concerning divine grace and predestination, provides evidence that philosophy was connected to most fields in the arts and sciences, and enjoyed a close association with theology. The synoptic enterprise of seventeenth century philosophy would have to include not only the well-known canonical figures but also confessional apologists, corpuscularian scientists, alchemists and chemists, Jansenist polemists, Jesuit moralists, activists advancing toleration, country clergy, urban rabbis, city intellectuals, and a panorama of intellectually gifted royalty and nobles.

From the seventeenth century to the Enlightenment, a new intellectual entity known as "culture," an enterprise that connoted more than simple custom but less than learning, began to occupy the middle ground between knowledge and ignorance. Most philosophes of the salons conceived their métier quite differently from the preceding generation of seventeenth-century thinkers who had attempted, with some optimism, to translate the fruits of scientific knowledge into an accessible idiom open to all educated persons. Not all the protagonists of the European Enlightenment upheld belief in the incremental democratization of human learning; rather, they held to the view that an encyclopedic understanding of all branches of knowledge would enhance the cause of civilization and harmony among nations.

Such ideas helped to facilitate a very different understanding of philosophy and its re lationship to the arts and sciences. Enlightenment thinkers and their successors no longer embraced a model of the subject that was directly influenced by the ancients. Aristotle's teaching was believed to have been made obsolete by the intellectual developments of the seventeenth century, and while the deeds and opinions of ancient thinkers like Socrates, Plato, the Stoics, and the Epicureans were widely respected and valorized, post-Enlightenment thinkers looked more to the "novelties of the moderns" than the "wisdom of the ancients" for essential instruction about the nature of the world and the purpose of human life. In addition, the increasing secularization of European thought and the general advancement of science in society, industry, and learning became increasingly opposed to the earlier models of philosophical practice that had encouraged the gratuitous pursuit of wisdom or the importance of a metaphysics leading to theology. Such views of philosophy were deemed to be out of keeping with the intellectual, cultural, and mercantile needs of the age. Perhaps more than at any other time in its illustrious history, the proud boast of the ancients that philosophy should stand at the top of the hierarchy of knowledge was now forcefully challenged by thinkers who remained unconvinced that philosophy was any different than other reputable branches of learning.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind - Early Ideas to Planck lengthPhilosophy - Relations to other Intellectual Realms - After Plato, Medieval And Renaissance, Early Modern, Modern Times, Bibliography