Philosophical Imagination and the Evolution of Modern Philosophy

By Eby, Lloyd | International Journal on World Peace, September 2017 | Go to article overview

Philosophical Imagination and the Evolution of Modern Philosophy


Eby, Lloyd, International Journal on World Peace


PHILOSOPHICAL IMAGINATION AND THE EVOLUTION OF MODERN PHILOSOPHY James P. Danaher St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2017 Pp. 184, paperback, $17.95

Philosophy may be the most self-conscious and self-referential of human pursuits. The question "What is philosophy?" is itself a central question of philosophy. Thus histories of philosophy are likely to turn into philosophies of philosophy, especially if that history of philosophy is done by a philosopher.

The short new book, Philosophical Imagination and the Evolution of Modern Philosophy, by James P. Danaher-a philosopher himself, and head of the Philosophy Department at Nyack College in Nyack, NY-is a brief but still far-encompassing history of Western philosophy directly centered on a philosophy of philosophy. As Danaher puts it, "This book ... [is] an attempt to familiarize the reader with the kind [he probably should have written kinds] of philosophical intelligence that is [are] at the base of original philosophical thinking. In doing so, we have laid out something of the way the philosophical imagination has caused human consciousness to evolve in order to make sense of new data as it has appeared over our history." [p. 161]

Given the brevity of his book (172 pages) and his large scope-most of the most major figures in Western philosophy are mentioned-Danaher nearly always presents each of those philosophers through a lens that sees one great main point or goal for that person's work.

Danaher begins with Heraclitus and Parmenides, with "the difference between the way we experience the world and the way we think about it." [p. 3] Heraclitus, emphasizing sensory experience, began the empiricist tradition which sees the observable world is in constant flux and thus "is never certain and always leads to some form of skepticism." [p. 3] Parmenides, however, believed that knowledge as certainty is possible, and therefore emphasized thought-the beginning of the rationalist tradition-as the way to knowledge. Rationalists almost always appeal to mathematics and geometry as paradigm cases of knowledge. This leads to Socrates and Plato, who were concerned especially with moral/ethical things, and who-Plato especially-tried to combine empirical-sensory knowledge with rational thought, leaning more to the side of rationalism, mathematics, and geometry. Plato especially tried to say that there were pure forms of ethical things (courage, temperance, wisdom, justice) just as numbers (e.g. seven) and geometric things (e.g. a circle) are pure forms.

Aristotle, Plato's student-and, according to many people, the greatest philosopher ever-focused on language and on the distinction between substance (things that exist in themselves) and accidents (things that exist only by being in some substance). Aristotle could do this because he thought that language mirrored nature, and that forms exist in substances themselves, with our minds having the natural ability to identify these forms. [p. 13]

With the advent of Christianity, Christian philosophers-chief among them Augustine of Hippo-tried to fit their religious-theological interests into a philosophical framework. For Augustine, this philosophical framework was a Platonic and neo-Platonic one.

Aristotle's work was lost and went into eclipse, preserved only by Muslim scholars; it arrived only in medieval Europe through Latin translations made by the Moors in Spain. But then, the work of Thomas Aquinas brought an interpretation of Aristotle that reconciled Aristotelianism with Christianity and made Aristotelianism dominant in late medieval thought for about 400 years. But, along with Aristotle, the medieval world also found a place for the mystics and the mystic tradition.

The Aristotelian-medieval-mystical world was undermined in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by the discovery of remote cultures and by the invention of the microscope, allowing people to see things at the microscopic level. This led to the development of what Danaher calls "corpuscular philosophy," [p. …

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