A history of modern philosophy - by Harald Høffding - PDF book

A history of modern philosophy

A history of modern philosophy
A history of modern philosophy

A history of modern philosophy; a sketch of the history of philosophy from the close of the renaissance to our own day

The book is the Translation of "Den nyere filosofis histories." 1900

The appearance of a new representation of an important period in the History of Philosophy will naturally give rise to the question as to what view of philosophy is regarded by the author as fundamental, and what is the significance, and what the value which he ascribes to its history. To which I answer that the whole aim of the studies of which the publication of this book denotes the provisional conclusion has been to shed light on the question as to what philosophy really is.

 As we learn to know a man from his biography, so also we must be able to learn to know science from its history. And it is the more natural that we should adopt this path, since experience is continually showing us that, within the sphere of philosophy, contending views are advanced, each one of which claims to be valid, so that there is no one exposition of philosophy to which we can point as developing an exhaustive conception of it. 

It is natural, therefore, that we should hear, as within the sphere of religion, employ the comparative method. The history of philosophy treats the attempts which have been made by individual thinkers to discuss the ultimate problems of knowledge and of life

It will be a result of no small importance, therefore, if we can show clearly what are the problems with which philosophy deals, how these problems have presented themselves at different times, and what, in each case, were the conditions which determined the different statements of the problems, and the attempts at their solution. If such a result can be approximately attained, the study of the history of philosophy will be of no small importance for the future development of philosophy itself.

The investigation of the History of Modern Philosophy which I have here undertaken has confirmed me personally in view to which I had already been led by other routes; viz. that philosophical investigation centres in four main problems. It may perhaps conduce to the better understanding of my book if these four problems are here briefly characterised. 

1. The Problem of Knowledge (the logical problem). However different the different sciences may be with regard to subject matter and method, yet they all work by means of human thought. Every time that they form a concept, pronounce a judgment, or draw a conclusion, they presuppose the general forms and principles of thought. Hence the possibility of a special discipline which shall investigate the forms under which thought works, and the principles which must, from its nature, underlie it, whatever be the subject with which it is concerned. 

This discipline, i.e. formal logic, treats, however, of a part only of the problem of knowledge. These forms and principles do not lead out beyond thought itself, but only enable it to be in harmony with itself, — to be consistent. Every time that they are applied to given phenomena, which our thought has not itself constructed, but must take as they come, the question arises: with what right does this application take place? — with what right do we assume that not only our thought but also existence itself, as it expresses itself in the given phenomena, is consistent, is in harmony with itself? Thus arises the possibility of a discipline that shall investigate the conditions for knowledge of existence, and the limits of such knowledge. This discipline is the theory of knowledge. 

2. The Problem of Existence (the cosmological problem) arises with the question as to what nature we must, when we deduce the consequences of everything we know, or which we can, by means of the most probable hypotheses, suppose, attribute to that existence of which we ourselves are members. We call this the cosmological (from cosmos, world, and logos, doctrine) problem because it leads to the discussion of the possibilities which display themselves to thought when it seeks to work up the data of experience into one general conception of the world, or, by bold speculations, to construct such a conception. 

The different philosophical systems are attempts in this direction. Their value depends upon the comprehensiveness and significance of the experience upon which they are based, and the consistency and power of combination displayed in their construction. 

3. The Problem of the Estimation of Worth (the ethico- religious question) arises because our attitude towards existence is not merely that of perceiving and understanding; it excites our feeling so that we express judgments assigning or denying it worth. Of especial significance are the judgments which we pass on human actions, our own as well as those of other men. All such judgments, like all-knowing and understanding, rest on certain presuppositions, the proof and determination of which must be investigated. 

This is the task of ethical inquiry. If the estimation concern not only human actions and institutions but also existence, — life as a totality, — the religious problem arises, leading to the discussion of the relation between the ethical ideal and actual existence so that the ethical problem becomes combined with the cosmological.

 4. The Problem of Consciousness (the psychological problem). It is evident with regard to the three problems already indicated that their treatment presupposes empirical knowledge of the life of human consciousness. Psychology describes the actual development of human knowledge, which must be known before we can discuss the validity of knowledge. And since the relation between the mental and the material is one of the chief features of the problem of existence, psychology is also presupposed in cosmology. Finally, as regards the problem of the estimation of worth, psychology investigates the nature of those very feelings which lead to the setting up of a standard of worth, and also the possibilities offered by actual conscious life for further development in the direction demanded by the ethical ideal. In consequence of this close relation to the problems of philosophy, psychology must itself be regarded as a part of philosophy, and conversely, we shall have to touch upon philosophical problems in psychology.

 book details :
  • Author: Harald Høffding
  • Translated: B. E. Meyer
  • Publication date: 1908

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