17th-century philosophy  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

17th century philosophy in the Western world is generally regarded as being the start of modern philosophy, and a departure from the medieval approach, especially Scholasticism.

Early 17th century philosophy is often called the Age of Reason or Age of Rationalism and is considered to succeed the Renaissance philosophy era and precede the Age of Enlightenment, but some consider it as the earliest part of the Enlightenment era in philosophy, extending that era to two centuries.

Europe

In the West, 17th century philosophy is usually taken to start with the work of René Descartes, who set much of the agenda as well as much of the methodology for those who came after him. The period is typified in Europe by the great system-builders — philosophers who present unified systems of epistemology, metaphysics, logic, and ethics, and often politics and the physical sciences too. Immanuel Kant classified his predecessors into two schools: the rationalists and the empiricists, and Early Modern Philosophy (as seventeenth- and eighteenth-century philosophy is known) is sometimes characterised in terms of a supposed conflict between these schools. The three main rationalists are normally taken to have been René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Leibniz. Building upon their English predecessor Francis Bacon, the three main empiricists were Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and George Berkeley. The former were distinguished by the belief that, in principle (though not in practice), all knowledge can be gained by the power of our reason alone; the latter rejected this, believing that all knowledge has to come through the senses, from experience. Thus the rationalists took mathematics as their model for knowledge, and the empiricists took the physical sciences.

This emphasis on epistemology is at the root of Kant's distinction; looking at the various philosophers in terms of their metaphysical, moral, or linguistic theories, they divide up very differently. Even sticking to epistemology, though, the distinction is shaky: for example, most of the rationalists accepted that in practice we had to rely on the sciences for knowledge of the external world, and many of them were involved in scientific research; the empiricists, on the other hand, generally accepted that a priori knowledge was possible in the fields of mathematics and logic.

This period also saw the birth of some of the classics of political thought, especially Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, and John Locke's Two Treatises of Government.

The seventeenth century in Europe saw the culmination of the slow process of detachment of philosophy from theology. Thus, while philosophers still talked about – and even offered arguments for the existence of – a deity, this was done in the service of philosophical argument and thought. (In the Enlightenment, 18th-century philosophy was to go still further, leaving theology and religion behind altogether.)

List of 17th century philosophers

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "17th-century philosophy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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