Notes on Introduction to Philosophy -- Phil A201

William Jamison - Instructor

Lecture 5

Fifth lecture notes for Introduction to Philosophy

Notes and slides for Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza lecture.


There are quite a few wonderful sites with information and texts on Descartes. One link is a very well done presentation on the Meditations. Try this one for an overall picture of Descartes' life. Both of these links are different than the one given in the syllabus.

Slide 1: Descartes

bulletEstablish the priority of Reason over Faith
bulletShow that knowledge is possible through the use of reason -- I think; therefore, I am.
bulletClear and distinct knowledge is the goal
bulletMathematics is certain
bulletMind - Body Dualism
bulletMind and Body interact in the pineal gland
bulletRationalism -- Thoughts as starting point

Explanation: While for Augustine it was necessary to believe in order to understand -- so faith was prior to reason, and for Anselm faith sought understanding, and for Aquinas reason and faith were mutually supportive, with Descartes we move into the Modern period. His efforts are to establish a firm basis for our knowledge and this firm basis will be the logical certainty of the cogito and that which is clear and distinct to the thinking substance. His work begins what is known as rationalism.

Slide 2: René Descartes 1596 - 1650

bulletJesuit college of La Flèche in Anjou - at eight, 1604 - 1612, studying classics, logic and traditional Aristotelian philosophy
bulletlaw degree from Poitiers in 1616 then enlisted in the military school at Breda
bullet1618 studied mathematics and mechanics under the Dutch scientist Isaac Beeckman, and began to seek a unified science of nature
bullet1619 joined the Bavarian army

Slide 3: René Descartes

bullet1620 - 1628 traveled through Europe
bullet1628 settled in Holland
bulletfirst major treatise on physics, Le Monde, ou Traité de la Lumière near completion when Galileo was condemned to house arrest
bullet1637 Discours de la méthod
bulletLa Dioptrique, Les Météores, and La Géométrie (includes his application of algebra to geometry from which we now have Cartesian geometry)

Slide 4: René Descartes

bulletMeditations on First Philosophy -1641
bulletPrincipia Philosophiae -1644 put the whole universe on a mathematical foundation reducing the study to one of mechanics - 4 parts:
bulletThe Principles of Human Knowledge
bulletThe Principles of Material Things
bulletOf the Visible World
bulletThe Earth

Slide 5: René Descartes

bulletIn 1649 Queen Christina of Sweden persuaded Descartes to go to Stockholm. However the Queen wanted to draw tangents at 5 a.m. and Descartes broke the habit of his lifetime of getting up at 11 o'clock. After only a few months in the cold northern climate, walking to the palace at 5 o'clock every morning, he died of pneumonia.

Any interesting video that brings up Descartes is Mindwalk VHS ~ with Liv Ullmann (1991)


There are a number of sites available with information on Thomas Hobbes.

Slide 1: Thomas Hobbes

bulletBorn a "twin of fear"
bulletTranslates Thucydides - might = right
bulletTutor to royalty
bulletInspired by Galileo's concept of motion
bulletApplies this concept to psychology
bulletsenses receive motions from things
bulletbody responds as a machine to stimuli
bulletSelf-interest cause of all choices
bulletState of Nature - "dog eat dog" world

Explanation: Hobbes is arguably the first British empiricist, though this is usually considered Locke for reasons we will discuss with Locke. It is also arguable to view Hobbes as an example of a behaviorist, though this is also an interpretive issue. It is clear that Galileo had a great impact on his thought and his views can be seen as an application of Galileo's interest in movement to the human body.

Slide 2: Leviathan

bulletSocial Contract
bulletpurpose is security
bulleteven the strong need the contract
bulletinalienable rights
bulletLife, Liberty, property
bulletThe fool hath said in his heart, "There is no such thing as justice."
bulletcovenants without the sword - useless

Hobbes is the first of the social contract philosophers. Locke and Rousseau are others. A contemporary who uses the concept of social contract theory to develop a theory of justice is John Rawls.

Slide 3: Absolute Monarch - best

bulletenlightened monarch - interest is the same as the best interest of the people
bulletchurch - like a department of state
bulletreligion - social answer to fears of the unknown, ignorance of second causes
bulletOliver Cromwell understands Leviathan as support for his government
bulletCharles II rewards Hobbes with pension

How much of Hobbes support for the absolute monarch is a result of the almost constant civil war during his life time? Even though he supported the absolute monarch, Hobbes is still viewed as the first liberal philosopher (by many) because the legitimacy of the monarch's authority was not Divine Right but the social contract.

Slide 4: Reformation - Bible as the source of all religious authority

bulletJohn Wycliffe - English Bible
bulletFollower John Huss executed 1415
bulletJohn Knox - Scotland (against Mary) 1560
bulletMartin Luther - Bible in German 1532
bulletHenry VIII - head of church in England 1534
bulletKing James Bible - 1611 (Welsh -1588)
bulletJohn Calvin - Geneva - 1560
bulletInquisition- Jesuits - 30 Years War

Explanation: Both Hobbes and Spinoza must also be viewed in light of the reformation and what that was doing to religious belief, relationship of religious institutions to the state, and theories of ethics.


Slide 1: Spinoza

bulletStudied Scriptures, Talmud and Jewish medieval classics in Hebrew
bulletStudied Latin with an ex-Jesuit, became acquainted with Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes - Mechanistic science of Nature
bulletExpelled and cursed from the synagogue because of his heterodox beliefs
bulletDid not renounce his Jewish heritage

Slide 2: Tractatus Theologico-Politicus

bulletApplication of Mechanistic science to Scripture
bulletInterpreting Scripture like interpreting nature
bulletstudy the nature and properties of the language
bulletclassify and compare the topics and passages
bulletascertain who wrote it, when, how, to whom
bulletHis conclusions:
bulletfirst twelve books written on a single theme by one author - probably Ezra
bulletprophetic books are fragments
bulletinterpretations of God's revelations are flawed

Explanation: The greatest impact Spinoza had was after his death, since he published little during his life. However, his effect on the religious views of Locke and the work of Leibniz are of major importance.

Slide 3: Revelation as Practical

bulletNature is God
bulletLaws come from God
bulletThe very essence of God is nature being as it is, a lawful self-caused system, so there is no intervention in the normal course of events
bulletTruths God reveals are of direct practical value
bulletSince God neither has created nature from outside, nor intervenes, scripture that says he has must be false
bulleteither what is reported did not happen, or happened naturally even though man did not understand how

Explanation: If we look at the chain backwards from Jefferson to Locke to Spinoza we see a chain of thinking that effected religious freedom in the Virginia and the US. It seems pretty clear that Spinoza's interest in religious toleration because of his belief that science was the way to know God, had an impact on Locke and his support of religious toleration. Locke in turn had great impact on Jefferson. The result is the first attempt in our history of a nation resolved to prevent religious dogma or institutions from having control over law in general or each other.

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