From Descartes to Kant: Readings in the Philosophy of the Renaissance and Enlightenment

From Descartes to Kant: Readings in the Philosophy of the Renaissance and Enlightenment

From Descartes to Kant: Readings in the Philosophy of the Renaissance and Enlightenment

From Descartes to Kant: Readings in the Philosophy of the Renaissance and Enlightenment

Excerpt

The development of physics in the seventeenth century, culminating in the work of "the incomparable Mr. Newton" (1642-1727), suggested to scientists a number of cognate philosophic problems. The method of physics effectively united contributions from reason and observation. To account theoretically for this practically successful union was the more difficult task left to philosophers. As to its content, physics gave a diagrammatic picture of a world-machine running smoothly according to mathematical formulas; philosophers were concerned to relate that mechanical world to the mind knowing it and, in general, to phenomena usually called mental or spiritual. Or to put the problem again in terms of method: the procedure of physical science reduced certain phenomena of the natural world to expressions of a few simple mathematical laws; philosophers were interested in discovering how far and on what basis human reason could be applied with similar success in other fields. The statement of such problems varied widely, of course, with the men propounding them. Some emphasized the role of "reason" in knowledge, some that of "experience," with both terms interpreted in a variety of ways. Some thought the world ultimately more akin to matter, some to mind; many divided it radically into two disunited parts. A few despaired of extending scientific method beyond mathematical physics; but many attempted such extensions--some to a universal science, some to various particular fields like politics or morality or religion. The situation was complicated, further, by the survival of traditional terms and principles. Physics made, in a sense, a fresh start with the adoption of its new method. Philosophy, using language as its only tool, was slower in effecting anything like . . .

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