History of materialism  

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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.

Contents

History of materialism

Axial Age

Materialism developed, possibly independently, in several geographically separated regions of Eurasia during what Karl Jaspers termed the Axial Age (approximately 800 to 200 BC).

In Ancient Indian philosophy, materialism developed around 600 BC with the works of Ajita Kesakambali, Payasi, Kanada, and the proponents of the Cārvāka school of philosophy. Kanada became one of the early proponents of atomism. The NyayaVaisesika school (600 BC - 100 BC) developed one of the earliest forms of atomism, though their proofs of God and their positing that the consciousness was not material precludes labelling them as materialists. The atomic tradition was carried forward by Buddhist atomism and the Jaina school.

Xun Zi (ca. 312–230 BC) developed a Confucian doctrine oriented on realism and materialism in Ancient China. Other notable Chinese materialists of this time include Yang Xiong and Wang Chong.

Ancient Greek philosophers like Thales, Anaxagoras (ca. 500 BC – 428 BC), Epicurus and Democritus prefigure later materialists. The Latin poem De Rerum Natura by Lucretius (ca. 99 BC – ca. 55 BC) recounts the mechanistic philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus. According to this view, all that exists is matter and void, and all phenomena result from different motions and conglomerations of base material particles called "atoms" (literally: "indivisibles"). De Rerum Natura provides mechanistic explanations for phenomena such as erosion, evaporation, wind, and sound. Famous principles like "nothing can come from nothing" and "nothing can touch body but body" first appeared in the works of Lucretius.

Common Era

Later Indian materialist Jayaraashi Bhatta (6th century AD) in his work Tattvopaplavasimha ("The upsetting of all principles") refuted the Nyaya Sutra epistemology. The materialistic Cārvāka philosophy appears to have died out some time after 1400 AD. When Madhavacharya compiled Sarva-darśana-samgraha (a digest of all philosophies) in the 14th century, he had no Cārvāka/Lokāyata text to quote from, or even refer to.

In early 12th-century al-Andalus, the Arabian philosopher, Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), wrote discussions on materialism in his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus), while vaguely foreshadowing the idea of a historical materialism.

Modern Era

Later on, Pierre Gassendi represented the materialist tradition, in opposition to René Descartes' attempts to provide the natural sciences with dualist foundations. There followed the materialist and atheist Jean Meslier, Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, Paul-Henri Thiry Baron d'Holbach, Denis Diderot, and other French Enlightenment thinkers; as well as in England, the pedestrian traveller John "Walking" Stewart, whose insistence that all matter is endowed with a moral dimension had a major impact on the philosophical poetry of William Wordsworth.

Schopenhauer wrote that "...materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself". He claimed that an observing subject can only know material objects through the mediation of the brain and its particular organization. The way that the brain knows determines the way that material objects are experienced. "Everything objective, extended, active, and hence everything material, is regarded by materialism as so solid a basis for its explanations that a reduction to this (especially if it should ultimately result in thrust and counter-thrust) can leave nothing to be desired. But all this is something that is given only very indirectly and conditionally, and is therefore only relatively present, for it has passed through the machinery and fabrication of the brain, and hence has entered the forms of time, space, and causality, by virtue of which it is first of all presented as extended in space and operating in time."

The materialist and atheist Ludwig Feuerbach would a signal a new turn in materialism through his book, The Essence of Christianity, which provided a humanist account of religion as the outward projection of man's inward nature. Feuerbach's materialism would later heavily influence Karl Marx.

See also




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