December 6 2016 06:03 PST

William James, courtesy NIH

William James, courtesy NIH

SITE SEARCH ENGINE




since 01.01.08


Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry

Philosophy Readings

Abstract: These short, edited philosophy readings from the history of philosophy contain essential study questions for each reading as well as research questions for paper topics. The readings are freely available under the terms of the GFDL and under the Creative Commons License Version 3.0 or later.

Links to, and abstracts of, online philosophy readings are listed below by topic. The reading selections include (1) a short introduction to the author and the work, (2) study questions outlining the main ideas presented in the reading, (3) the reading selection itself, and (4) research topics based upon major ideas presented.

Acknowledgements: Editorial assistance for these philosophy readings is contributed by Erin Sells (es), William (Bill) Poston (wvp), James Grindeland, Jarad L. Pace, Jennifer Lovvorn, and Joshua A. Watt.

Translations: Philosophy readings translated by Hélène Brown, Samuel P. Moody, and Christine Dorsey for this series are gratefully acknowledged. These works were specifically created for this series of readings, and the translators have generously granted the use of their work under the terms of the GFDL and under the Creative Commons License Version 3.0 or later.

The Main Philosophical Topics of Readings:

  1. Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry
  2. Philosophy of Life
  3. Philosophy of Religion
  4. Philosophical Ethics
  5. Epistemology
  6. Æsthetics
  1. Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry.
    1. Preface to Reading for Philosophical Inquiry, Why Open Source?(PDF) Almost all classic major works in philosophy and literature are accessible via online sources on the Internet. Fortunately, many of the influential and abiding works in philosophy are in the public domain; these readings provide a convenient way to produce quality learning experiences for almost anyone seeking information and help. Our present collection of edited readings is free, subject to the legal notice following the title page. 8:w pp.
    2. Part I of Reading for Philosophical Inquiry Personal Uses of Philosophy 3 pp.(PDF) This introduction to the readings on philosophy of life is a summary of the first set of readings.
    3. The Nature of Learning: Recognition of Different Perspectives(PDF) The role of facts in understanding, theory dependence of facts, and In the Laboratory with Agassiz, by Samuel Scudder. 22 pp.
      Quiz (PDF) (HTML)
    4. The Nature of Philosophical Inquiry(PDF) The characterization of philosophy, Alexander Calandra's "Barometer Story," an account of many different solutions to one practical problem, and a summary of the main divisions of philosophy make up this excerpt from Reading for Philosophical Inquiry 20 pp.
  2. Philosophy of Life
    1. Plato, Just Do What's Right(PDF) In the dialogue entitled The Apology, Plato recounts the trial of Socrates. In the first part of The Apology Socrates' philosophy of life becomes evident as he skillfully defends himself from his accusers. In his quest for self-knowledge, Socrates spent many years methodically questioning practically anyone who claimed to be knowledgeable about something and, in so doing, managed to alienate influential persons. The heart of his ethics is "the Socratic Paradox," a philosophy discussed in the next chapter. Various interpretations of the Socratic ethics form the foundation of most of the ethical theories in the Western World. (Plato, The Apology. Trans. Benjamin Jowlett. 380 BC.) 26 pp.
    2. Plato, Seek Truth Rather Than Escape Death(PDF) Plato continues his account of the trial of Socrates. In this, the final part of The Apology, Socrates is found guilty of the charges by a vote of 281 to 220; undoubtedly, the ethical seriousness with which Socrates spent his final days profoundly affected Plato as the young student. Socrates now explains why he has nothing to fear from death. Socrates argues that even if the soul were not immortal, death would be a good. Nevertheless, Socrates did not doubt the immortality of the soul.(Plato, The Apology. Trans. Benjamin Jowlett. 380 BC.) 13 pp.
    3. Bertrand Russell, Enlargement of Self(PDF) In this short reading selection, Russell concludes his Problems of Philosophy, an early work introducing philosophical inquiry. He thoughtfully summarizes many uses of philosophy. The depth of the thinking evident here will probably only be evident after careful re-reading. Philosophy is not just another academic subject along side the others, instead philosophy is the systematic inquiry into the presuppositions of any field of study. Often philosophical wonderings form the historical genesis of those disciplines. (From Bertrand Russell. Problems of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912.) 13 pp.
    4. Leo Tolstoy, Only Faith Can Give Truth(PDF) A Confession from which the following selection is drawn, marks a significant change from Tolstoy's earlier War and Peace and Anna Karenina. These works, composed during his so-called first writing period, established the Russian realistic novel as a major literary genre. However, the mental crisis described below, from his later writings, led to his own elucidation of the meaning of life. His writings from this period have greatly influenced subsequent Utopians, pacifists, and social activists. (From Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. A Confession, 1882.) 19 pp.
    5. Albert Camus, Le Mythe de Sisyphe— trans. Hélèn Brown(PDF) Camus in Le Mythe de Sisyphe affirms that only by facing the absurd can I act authentically; otherwise, I adopt a convenient attitude of wishful thinking. Although I cannot count on the consequences of my actions, my life's meaning comes from seizing awareness of what I do. I must act in the face of meaningless—I must revolt against the absurd—if I am not to despair from the ultimate hopelessness and limitations of my life. (From Albert Camus. Le Mythe de Sisyphe in Essais. Paris: Gallimard et Calmann-Lévy., 1965. Part IV.) 11 pp.
    6. William James, What Makes a Life Significant?(PDF) In his Talks to Students, James presents three lectures to students—two of them, being The Gospel of Relaxation, and On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings. The third talk is the one presented here. His second, On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings, has as its thesis that the worth of things depends upon the feelings we have toward them. (From William James. Talks to Students. 1899.) 23 pp.
  3. Philosophy of Religion
    1. St. Anselm, The Ontological Argument(PDF) Although Anselm's argument for God's existence presented in this article is based on predominately on reason, Anselm presents the argument as clarification Christian faith. The heart of his argument is the insight that if God is defined as a "being than which no greater can be conceived," then God could not be conceived of as not existing because perfection, he thinks, implies existence. Baruch Spinoza and René Descartes employed versions of the ontological argument where the very concept of God as a perfect being implies existence as a property. In philosophical jargon, a feature of the essence of God is said to be existence. (Anselm, Proslogium) 7 pp.
    2. Gaunilo, An Answer to Anselm(PDF) Gaunilo replies to Anselm's ontological argument in his Pro Insipiente (a take-off of Anselm's reference to the fool of Psalms) that the use of a concept does not imply that the concept has an existent reference. He argues by analogy that many ideas are only hypothetical. Note how in a later reading St. Thomas Aquinas agrees with Gaunilo's analysis. Nathan Salmon has observed, Philosophers who address the questions of what it is for an individual to exist, or what it is for an individual to be actual, often do so with reference to the fallacy they have uncovered in the classical Ontological Argument for God's existence. Indeed, the Ontological Argument is useful as a vehicle by which this and other issues in ontology and the philosophy of logic may be introduced and sharpened. (Nathan Salmon. Existence in Philosophical Perspectives: Metaphysics, Volume 1. Edited by James E. Tomberlin. Atascadero, Calif.: Ridgeview Publishing Co, 1987, 49.) (From Gaunilo. Pro Insipiente. In Behalf of the Fool. 1078.) 6 pp.
    3. Immanuel Kant, Existence Is Not a Predicate(PDF) In Section IV. Of the Impossibility of an Ontological Proof of the Existence of God, drawn from his Critique, Kant addresses the logical problem of existential import. How do we talk or think about things without supposing, in some sense at least, that they exist? Bertrand Russell expressed one aspect of the problem this way: If it's false that the present King of France is bald, then why doesn't this fact imply that it's true the present King of France is not bald? When the existence of the subjects of our statements are in question, the normal use of logic becomes unreliable. Kant argues that the use of words (or predicates) alone does not necessarily imply the existence of their referents. We can only assume the existence of entities named by our words; we cannot prove existence by means of the use of language alone. (From Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. J. M. D. Meiklejohn. 1781. Bk.2 Ch. 3 § IV, ¶ 55.) 10 pp.
    4. Thomas Aquinas, From the Nature of the Universe(PDF) Philosophical reasoning, according to Thomas, is sufficient by itself, without faith or revelation, to demonstrate that God exists. Thomas believes God's existence, although not self-evident, can be made evident using reasoning drawn from the nature and structure of the world. The so-called "five ways" are taken from his Summa Theologica. Thomas, as do many philosophers, believes that we can know by reason that God is, but we cannot know what God is. In other words, the nature of God, often defined by the characteristics of perfection, is, according to Thomas, only a linguistic approximation. (From Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica.) 9 pp.
    5. William Paley, The Teleological Argument: William Paley in his Natural Theology; or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature argues for the existence of God based upon the intricate design of the universe. On Paley's view, just as the function and complexity of a watch implies a watch-maker so likewise the function and complexity of the universe implies the existence of a universe-maker. (From William Paley. Natural Theology. Philadelphia: Parker, 1802.) 8 pp.
    6. David Hume, Critique of the Design Argument(PDF) Hume, in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion published several years after his death, argued that God's existence can neither be proved by á priori nor á posteriori means. Hume's skepticism, however, left some room for empirical inquiry into the nature of the world. Nevertheless, consider his famous conclusion in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning, concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. (From David Hume. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. 1779.) 8 pp.
    7. Blaise Pascal, The Wager(PDF) Pascal's Pensées reveals a skepticism with respect to natural theology. Pascal pointed out that the most important things in life cannot be known with certainty; even so we must make choices. His deep mysticism and religious commitment is reflective of Christian existentialism, and Pascal's devotional writing is often compared to Søren Kierkegaard's. The Pensées remained fragmented devotional pieces until definitively edited and organized fifty years ago. (Blaise Pascal. Pensées (1660). Trans. W. F. Trotter. New York: Collier & Son, 1910.) 8 pp.
    8. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Problem of Evil(PDF) In the The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky reveals deep psychological insight into the nature of human morality. In this, his greatest work, he expresses the destructive aspects of human freedom which can only be bound by God. In Chapter 4 of that work, the death of an innocent child is seen to be an inescapable objection to God's goodness. In this chapter Alyosha is the religious foil to Ivan, his intellectual older brother. (Fyodor Dostoevsky. "Rebellion" in the The Brothers Karamazov (1879). Trans. by Constance Garnett.) 15 pp.
  4. Philosophical Ethics
    1. Free Will and Determinism PDF forthcoming
    2. Hubbard Winslow, Conscience Determines What is Right (PDF) (HTML) In his Moral Philosophy, Winslow argues that basing ethics on theoretical philosophy is a prevailing error. Metaphysics and logic, he argues, are not subservient to everyday consciousness of freedom and responsibility. In this reading, Winslow argues that philosophy should be used in the service of faith. He believes faith is a direct manifestation of the truth presented to each person's conscience and adduces just as [w]e must not wait until we can philosophize upon food before we eat… so also [n]either should we wait to learn all the grounds and reasons of duty, before doing what we already know to be right. (From Moral Philosophy; Analytical, Synthetical, and Practical (New York: D. Appleton and Company), 1856.) 12 pp.
    3. Alexander Bain, Conscience is Learned (PDF) (HTML) In his Moral Science, Bain uses his insight into the nature of the will for an explication of ethical theory. In many ways, Bain anticipated pragmatism; in fact, Charles Sanders Pierce's well-known statement, different beliefs are distinguished by the different modes of action to which they give rise originated from Bain's notion of belief as the preparation to act. In this reading, Bain explains the origin of conscience and how our consciences are shaped. If Bain is correct, conscience cannot be a reliable guide to a consistent ethics across different cultures and during different times. (From Alexander Bain, Moral Science: A Compendium of Ethics (New York: D. Appleton, 1869).) 12 pp.
    4. Richard Price, How Do We Know What's Right? (PDF) (HTML) Richard Price argues that moral principles, just like the principles of geometry, are universally, necessarily, and eternally true. He believes ideas of right and wrong originate in the understanding; indeed, Price anticipates not only Kant's recognition of the origin of ideas of judgment and comparison—whereby reason discriminates among moral ideas, and reason alone is a sufficient basis for action, but also W. D. Ross's deontological ethics or rational intuitionism—whereby morality is objective, and this objectivity is evaluative knowledge not empirically confirmable. Price concludes ideas of right and wrong are simple ideas intuitively discriminated by the understanding since they cannot be defined more simply or even defined in different terms. For him, right and wrong are objective properties of actions, and as characteristics of actions, right and wrong are not subjectively dependent upon sensations arising from the nature of our minds. Just as rightness and wrongness are characteristics of behavior, so also mass and solidity are characteristics of natural objects. In both cases, these kinds of facts are not known through observation but rather by means of reason as one aspect of the faculty of human understanding. Through introspection, Price concludes the source of the moral ideas of right and wrong is an intuition of the nature of things. In this manner, we can objectively perceive what is right and wrong in the world. Hence, Price rejects ethical naturalism, the view that ethical terms are ultimately definable in the empirical terms of the natural sciences. In this, he anticipates G. E. Moore's discussion of the naturalistic fallacy in Principia Ethica that ethical concepts must be defined in terms of nonnatural properties. Finally, Price opposes the divine command theory that actions are right only for the reason of God's commanding them. Price argues if the divine command theory were true, then we would have to conclude there would be no reason for God to command what He does. (From Review of the Principal Questions of Morals, 3rd. ed. (London: T. Cadell in the Strand, 1787), 8-79 passim.) 21 pp.
    5. F. H. Bradley, Why Should I Be Moral? (PDF) (HTML) In his essay, Bradley states the aim of ethics is the realization of self: willing and acting in accordance with an ideal toward a moral end. He recognizes the realization of an ideal self is necessarily conditioned by an unrealized self, and in this regard, his ethics does not provide a metaphysical basis for relating the thought of the ideal with the reality of the actual. The metaphysical scaffolding for this he attempts to achieve in his later works, Principles of Logic and Appearance and Reality. The first part of our reading raises the question why I should be moral, but Bradley concludes the why-question is inaptly phrased. Instead, he thinks the question should be asked along the lines of what I am to do or be. What is the ideal I seek to realize? (From F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1876), 58-84 passim.) 17 pp.
      Quiz(PDF) (HTML)
    6. :w
    7. Charles A. Ellwood, Morality as an Evolutionary Result (PDF) (HTML) In his Sociology and Modern Social Problems, Charles A. Ellwood, outlines the origin of moral codes and ethics in terms of the competition and conflict inherent in the evolution and development of sociological groups. He maintains that morality is a consequence of survival, and, in light of these studies, the study of morality can now be considered an essential part of sociology. The consequences of this reading would seem to imply that ethics is culturally relative to the specific times and conditions of disparate societies—a sociological view expounded also by Edward Westermarck, William Graham Sumner, and Ruth Benedict. In the short reading selection below, Ellwood explains why Morality… is not anything arbitrarily designed by the group, but is a standard of conduct which necessities of social survival require. (From Charles A. Ellwood, Sociology and Modern Social Problems (New York: American Book Company, 1910), 20-12; 42-50.) 16 pp.
    8. Edward Westermarck, Ethics Are Relative (PDF) (HTML) In his Ethical Relativity, Edward Westermarck argues for both psychological and ethical relativism and attempts to base ethics on the biological basis of emotion. Westermarck holds that impartial moral emotions or moral sentiments are the basis for customary moral judgments. Consequently, Westermarck concludes moral values cannot be objective since they originate in emotion. Even so, impartial or dispassionate moral emotion is not entirely subjective since it is an customary human reaction to a particular moral experience. In the book from which our reading selection is taken, Westermarck argues forcefully for ethical relativism by emphasizing that there is no empirical basis for objective standards in ethical theory. Nevertheless, even though ethical judgments are based on feelings, he does not believe ethical relativism leads to ethical subjectivism. (From Edward Westermarck, Ethical Relativity (New York: Littlefield, Adams & Company, 1932).) 16 pp.
    9. Baruch Spinoza, Human Beings are Determined (PDF) Sometime after his sentence of excommunication Spinoza began working of the ideas which would eventually be published as The Ethics, a book published posthumously from the fear of persecution from the charge of the blasphemy of pantheism. Pantheism should be distinguished from panentheism which is the view that gods are in all things. Spinoza believed, much as Socrates believed, the excellent life is the life of reason in the service of one's own being. The soul seeks knowledge as a good; indeed, the soul's highest good is knowledge of God. Spinoza argues that the mind and the body are, in reality, only one thing but can be thought of in two different ways. The person who understands how the soul is part of the system of nature also understands, at the same time, how the soul is part of God. In sum, Spinoza's monism is the deductive exposition of existence as the complete unity of God and nature. According to this view, human beings have no free will, and the world cannot be evil. (From Baruch Spinoza. The Ethics: Demonstrated in Geometric Order. Translated by R.H.M. Elwes. 1883. Part III: On the Origin and the Nature of the Emotions—Note to Proposition 2.) 10 pp.
    10. William James, The Will to Believe (PDF) In his Will to Believe and Other Essays, James argues that it is not unreasonable to believe hypotheses that cannot be known or established to be true by scientific investigation. When some hypotheses of ultimate concern arise, he argues that our faith can pragmatically shape future outcomes. Much as in Pascal's Wager, by not choosing, he thinks, we lose possibility for meaningful encounters. (From William James. The Will to Believe and Other Essays. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1897.) 14 pp.
    11. Plato, The Ring of Gyges (PDF) Glaucon, the main speaker of this reading from Plato's Republic,expresses a widely and deeply-held ethical point of view known as egoism—a view taught by a Antiphon, a sophistic contemporary of Socrates. Egoistic theories are founded on the belief that everyone acts only from the motive of self-interest. For example, the egoist accounts for the fact that people help people on the basis of what the helpers might get in return from those helped or others like them. This view, neither representative of Plato's nor of Socrates's philosophy, is presented here by Glaucon as a stalking horse for the development of a more thoroughly developed ethical theory. Although Socrates held that everyone attempts to act from the motive of self-interest, his interpretation of that motive is quite different from the view elaborated by Glaucon because Glaucon seems unaware of the attendant formative effects on the soul by actions for short-term pleasure. (From Plato. The Republic. Trans. by Benjamin Jowlett, Book II, 358d—361d.) 9 pp.
    12. Aristotle, Life of Excellence: Living and Doing Well (PDF) In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that what we seek is eudaimonia, a term translated in this reading as happiness. Eudaimonia is better expressed as well-being or excellence of performing the proper function. When Aristotle explains human virtue, he is not discussing what we now refer to as (Victorian) virtue. He is clarifying the peculiar excellence of human beings in the same manner as we often speak of the peculiar excellence attributable to the nature of a thing. For example, a tool is useful in virtue of the fact that it performs its function well. Aristotle's purpose in the Nicomachean Ethics is not just to explain the philosophy of the excellence for human beings but also to demonstrate specifically how human beings can lead lives of excellence as activity in accordance with practical and theoretical reason. (From Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.) 18 pp.
    13. Jeremy Bentham, Happiness is the Greatest Good, (PDF) In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham attributes the inconsistency of English law, its complexity as well as it inhumanness, to its foundation on the moral feelings of sympathy and antipathy. He argues that the laws of all nations should be rationally based, not emotionally based, on what appeared to him to be the self-evident principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. In an effort to apply this principle of utility to legal reform, Bentham develops the hedonistic, or as it is sometimes called, the felicific calculus. As an ethical teleologist, Bentham devises a method of calculating the most pleasure vis-á-vis the least pain by means of a quantitative scale. Historically, the hedonistic calculus was a major step in the development of rational decision theory and utility theory. (From Jeremy Bentham. Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1907.) 15 pp.
    14. John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (PDF) Much as his father and Jeremy Bentham assumed, Mill also believes an action is right if and only if the action produces on balance more good than bad than any other action available to the person. Also, as well, with them, he identifies pleasure or happiness as the only intrinsic good. Mill explicates and broadens this view in his Utilitarianism where he avoids the limited hedonism of Bentham and the egoism of his father by noting first that pleasures of the mind are preferable to those of the body and second that helping others is one of the ways to maximize an individual's good. In general, Mill's ethics turns out to be positivistic and empirical: moral rules are justified in experience by their usefulness for human welfare. In particular, the moral rules of common sense, such as speaking truthfully, are gleaned from the recognition of their utility as founded on historical knowledge and experience. Although Mill's utilitarianism is roundly criticized by the British idealists T. H. Green and F. H. Bradley, his ethics stands as perhaps the most influential philosophy of individual and social liberty in the nineteenth century. (From John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (London: Parker, Son, and Bourn, West Strand: 1863), 9-29; 51-60.) 27 pp.
    15. G. E. Moore, The Objectivity of Moral Judgments (PDF) forthcoming.
    16. Friedrich Nietzsche, Slave and Master Morality (PDF) In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche detects two types of morality mixed not only in higher civilization but also in the psychology of the individual. Master-morality values power, nobility, and independence: it stands beyond good and evil. Slave-morality values sympathy, kindness, and humility and is regarded by Nietzsche as herd-morality. The history of society, Nietzsche believes, is the conflict between these two outlooks: the herd attempts to impose its values universally but the noble master transcends their mediocrity. (From Friedrich Nietzsche. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. by Helen Zimmern (1909-1913), 257-261.) 12 pp.
    17. T. H. Huxley, Evolution and Ethics (PDF) (HTML) In his Romanes Lecture entitled Evolution and Ethics, T. H. Huxley, argues that the moral progress of civilization is not a product of the evolution of the natural world. The phrase survival of the fittest simply means the adaptation to current conditions, with no implication whatsoever of moral improvement. In point of fact, civil law, customs, and morals sustain those who are ethically best; moreover, science and the arts have been instrumental in opposing the natural condition of competition for survival. Huxley reasons that only man's intelligence can effect modification of the conditions of existence and perhaps, as well, change mankind itself in order to stave off the natural circumstances of existence. (From T. H. Huxley, Collected Essays (London: Macmillan, 1893-4), Vol. 9, 46-116.) 13 pp.
    18. José Ortega y Gasset, Man, as Project—trans. Samuel P. Moody (PDF) (HTML) Ortega seeks to answer the question, Qué es la técnica? Human beings, unlike other living things, are not limited by natural circumstance because they can, so to speak, reform nature through technical invention and accomplishment. The essence of being human is this adaptation of an environment to the individual— not the adaptation of the individual to the environment. The attainment of such practical technicality is not based on the instinct to live so much as it is based on the necessity to live well, even though these extra-natural ideals of well-being develop in different ways in different historical periods. Since man's being diverges from his nature, to live authentically, Ortega writes, each person must uniquely construct his life's aspirations through historical reason. An authentic life is one where a person becomes his mission in life; an inauthentic (and consequently immoral) life is a life where a person avoids his vital project by taking refuge in happenstance. (From José Ortega Y Gasset. "Meditación de la técna," in Ensimismamiento y alteractión. Buenos Aires: Espasa-Calpe, 1939.) 20 pp.
    19. J. P. Sartre, Man Makes Himself (PDF) In his Existentialism Is A Humanism, a public lecture given in 1946, Sartre provides one of the clearest and most striking insights into the anti-philosophy termed existentialism. Many of the issues discussed here are part of the family-relation of concepts often cited as being part of the existential movement. By its very nature existentialism cannot be consistently thought of as a popular philosophy both because of its rejection of crowd values as well as its rejection of a common human nature. Indeed, Jaspers, Heidegger, and Camus all disassociated themselves from existentialism after the enormous success of Sartre's works. Even Sartre himself later turned away from the unique individuality of existential perspective to a anomalous political Marxism. (From Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism Is A Humanism. Trans. by Philip Mairet. Public Lecture, 1946.) 25 pp.
  5. Epistemology
    1. August Comte, Postitive Philosophy (PDF) In his Cours de Philosophie Positive, Comte explains how societies evolve in accordance with natural law. The three stages discussed here, the theological-military, the metaphysical-transitional, and the scientific-industrial, he argues, progress according to a law of social development. Furthermore, he advocates a historical method of study for social science based on empirical methods. (From August Comte. Cours de Philosophie Positive. Trans. Paul Descours and H. G. Jones, 1905.) 6 pp.
    2. Frederick Engels, Science of Natural Processes (PDF) In this reading from the second publication of Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, Frederick Engels argues that three recent discoveries in the sciences provide the basis by which all aspects of the universe can be understood in terms of the philosophy of materialism. Wöhler's synthesis of urea proves that organic processes are explainable in terms of inorganic processes. The theory of the cell discovered by Schwann and Schleiden proves that the physiological basis of all living things is the same, and Darwin's theory of evolution indicates no difference in kind between human and all other forms of life. Finally, the discovery of the mechanical equivalent of heat (that heat is just matter in motion), proved that subjective properties (heretofore considered mental qualities) are equivalent to material processes. On Engels' proposal, soul, spirit, and ideas are part of the material processes of nature. One arguable consequence of the unification of science provided by the theory of mechanistic materialism is the impossibility of the discipline of an ethics based on choice. How could free will be possible in a deterministic and materialistic world? (Frederick Engels. Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy. 1888.) 11 pp.
    3. John Stuart Mill, A Science of Human Nature (PDF) In our selection from A System of Logic,his first significant book, Mill argues that a science of human nature is no different from any other kind of exact science. In astronomy, the movement of the planets can be predicted with certainty because the laws of motions and the antecedent circumstances can be, he thinks, known with certainty. The rise and fall of the tides, on the other hand, can only be imprecisely known because local antecedent conditions cannot be known or measured exactly. The study of human nature is similar to tidology because of the complexity of the factors in human action. Nevertheless, Mill argues that, in principle, both tidology and human nature can become exact sciences. (From John Stuart Mill. A System of Logic: Ratiocinative and Inductive. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1893, Bk. VI, Ch. IV.) 9 pp.
    4. Harold H. Joachim, Coherence Theory of Truth (PDF) In his The Nature of Truth; An Essay, Harold H. Joachim gives one of the classic statements of the coherence theory of truth. On his view, human truth is incomplete, for there can be no absolute truth unless the whole system of knowledge could be completed. Whatever is true not only is consistent with a system of other propositions but also is true to the extent that it is a necessary constituent of a systematic whole. Joachim emphasizes that since the truth is a property of the whole, individual propositions are only true in a derivative sense—literally they are partly true and partly false. Only the system of an extensive body of propositions as a whole can be rightly said to be true. (From Harold H. Joachim. The Nature of Truth; An Essay. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1906.) 15 pp.
    5. William James, Pragmatic Theory of Truth (PDF) In his Pragmatism, William James characterizes truth in terms of usefulness and acceptance. In general, on his view, truth is found by attending to the practical consequences of ideas. To say that truth is mere agreement of ideas with matters of fact, according to James, is incomplete, and to say that truth is captured by coherence is not to distinguish it from a consistent falsity. In a genuine sense, James believes we construct truth in the process of successful living in the world: truth is in no sense absolute. Beliefs are considered to be true if and only if they are useful and can be practically applied. At one point in his works, James states, …the ultimate test for us of what a truth means is the conduct it dictates or inspires. Certainly, one difficulty in understanding James lies in the interpretation of his rhetorical flourishes. (From William James. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New York: Longman Green and Co., 1907.) 15 pp.
    6. Bertrand Russell, What is Truth? (PDF) In the chapter Truth and Falsehood in his Problems of Philosophy, Russell advances the correspondence theory of truth. On this theory, truth is understood in terms of the way reality is described by our beliefs. A belief is false when it does not reflect states-of-affairs, events, or things accurately. In order for our beliefs to be true, our beliefs must agree with what is real. Note that the correspondence theory is not concerned with the discovery of truth or a means for obtaining true belief because the theory, itself, cannot establish the nature of reality. (Bertrand Russell. The Problems of Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912.) 13 pp.
    7. Aristotle, The Sea-Fight Tomorrow (PDF) In his On Interpretation, Aristotle outlines the basis for what has been designated since the Middle Ages the "Square of Opposition" under the assumption that statements have existential import. Statements involving future possibilities pose unique problems for logic, and there have been many attempts to develop a consistent and reasonably complete temporal logic. In this reading selection, Aristotle concludes that sentences about the future do not quality as being statements at all since, strictly speaking they have no truth value—hence, the all-important law of the excluded middle is not in question. On this view, sentences concerning future contingencies involve possibility. Yet, there is more to the story when the question of future truths is related to the metaphysical presuppositions when actuality and potentiality used in a logic system. (From Aristotle. On Interpretation. Trans. E. M. Edghill, 350 BCE, Part 9.) 9 pp.
  6. Æsthetics
    1. Joseph Adddison, Pleasures of the Imagination (PDF) In his and Richard Steele's The Spectator, Addison developed an essay style which greatly influenced the writings in eighteenth-century periodicals. In the short well-known passages in our readings on the pleasures of the imagination, Addison clearly notes some first suggestions towards a theory of æsthetics. His contribution represents a shift in emphasis from the creations of the artist to the pleasures of the connoisseur; for this reason, Addison's essays had great appeal to the rising middle class seeking to improve their refinement and taste. Addison notes that of the pleasures of sense, the understanding and the imagination, only the latter pleasures originate from sight. Whether or not imaginative pleasures derive from the appearance or the ideas of visible objects, the pleasure, he thinks, is due to their expansiveness, novelty, or beauty. He argues that the purpose of such pleasure is attributable to the Supreme Being providing light and color to behold His works. Accordingly, Addison believes beauty in nature surpasses that of art, even though different aspects of beauty in each form enhance the beauty of the other. (From Joseph Addison, The Spectator. London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd. 1891. Letters No. 411 Saturday, June 21, 1712; No. 412 Monday, June 23, 1712; No. 413 Tuesday, June 24, 1712; and No. 414 Wednesday, June 25, 1712.) 19 pp.
    2. Clive Bell, Art. (PDF) (HTML) Bell outlines a formalist theory based on his definition of art as significant form. True art, he believes, exhibits combinations of lines and colors which engender intellectual recognition and æsthetic experience in persons of taste. The resultant æsthetic emotion, he believes, is unique, morally transcendent, and independent of other kinds of human emotion. Æsthetic value in art, he argues, is based solely on the forms and relations which evoke an ecstatic artistic response. Since æsthetic response to significant form in art is a basic and distinct emotion, forms and relations in art are intuited as a pure, simple quality intuitively known by individuals with the rare gift of artistic appreciation. Significant form, itself, is a quality of the artistic work and not of the resultant emotion or perception, even though the form initiates æsthetic experience. (From Clive Bell, Art. London: Chatto & Windus. 1914.) 24 pp.
      Quiz (PDF) (HTML)

If you have questions or suggestions about the readings, email philhelp@gmail.com. All readings are freely available in accordance with the GFDL license.

Top of Page

A philosophical problem has the form, I don't know my way about. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 3rd. ed., trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan, 1958), ¶ 123.

Relay corrections, suggestions or questions to
larchie at lander.edu
Please see the disclaimer concerning this page.
This page last updated 09/03/12
Licensed under the GFDL and under the Creative Commons License Version 3.0 or later.

Valid XHTML 1.1!    Valid CSS!