Modern Philosophers' Rejections of Classical Philosophy

Francis Bacon (1561-1626). The New Organon and Related Writings. New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1960. First published in 1620.*

The Great Instauration.

From the Proem: "[T]he entire fabric of human reason which we employ in the inquisition of nature is badly put together and built up, and like some magnificent structure without any foundation. . . . There was but one course left, therefore--to try the whole thing anew upon a better plan, and to commence a total reconstruction of sciences, arts, and all human knowledge, raised upon the proper foundations." (pp. 3-4)

From the Epistle Dedicatory: "[I]f these things are indeed worth anything. Certainly they are quite new, totally new in their very kind: and yet they are copied from a very ancient model." (5)

"[T]hat so at length, after the lapse of so many ages, philosophy and the sciences may no longer float in air, but rest on the solid foundation of experience of every kind, and the same well examined and weighed." (6)

From the Preface: "[T]hat wisdom which we have derived principally from the Greeks is but like the boyhood of knowledge, and has the characteristic property of boys: it can talk, but it cannot generate, for it is fruitful of controversies but barren of works. . . . In the mechanical arts we do not find it so; they, on the contrary, as having in them some breath of life, are continually growing and becoming more perfect. . . . Philosophy and the intellectual sciences, on the contrary, stand like statues, worshipped and celebrated, but not moved or advanced." (7-8)

Rene Descartes. (1596-1650). Discourse on Method. 2d rev. ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956. First published in 1637.

From Part One: "[T]here was no such wisdom in the world as I had previously hoped to find." (4)

"[P]hilosophy teaches us to talk with an appearance of truth about all things, and to make ourselves admired by the less learned." (4)

"I was especially pleased with mathematics, because of the certainty and self-evidence of its proofs; . . . On the other hand, I compared the ethical writings of the ancient pagans to very superb and magnificent palaces built only on mud and sand: . . . they give no adequate criterion of virtue." (5)

"I will say nothing of philosophy except that it has been studied for many centuries by the most outstanding minds without having produced anything which is not in dispute and consequently doubtful." (5-6)

Thomas Hobbes. (1588-1679). Leviathan: Parts One and Two. New York: Macmillan, 1958. First published in 1651.

From Part Four, Chapter 46: "But what has been the utility of those schools [of the Grecians]? What science is there at this day acquired by their readings and disputings? That we have of geometry, which is the mother of all natural science, we are not indebted for it to the schools. Plato, that was the best philosopher of the Greeks, forbade entrance into his school to all that were not already in some measure geometricians. . . . The natural philosophy of those schools was rather a dream than science, and set forth in senseless and insignificant language, which cannot be avoided by those that will teach philosophy without having first attained great knowledge in geometry. For nature works by motion, the ways and degrees whereof cannot be known without the knowledge of the proportions and properties of lines and figures. Their moral philosophy is but a description of their own passions. For the rule of manners, without civil government, is the law of nature; and in it, the law civil that determines what is honest and dishonest, what is just and unjust, and generally what is good and evil. Whereas they make the rules of good and bad by their own liking and disliking; by which means, in so great diversity of taste, there is nothing generally agreed on, but everyone does, as far as he dares, whatsoever seems good in his own eyes, to the subversion of commonwealth. Their logic, which should be the method of reasoning, is nothing else but captions of words and inventions how to puzzle such as should go about to pose them. To conclude, there is nothing so absurd that the old philosophers, as Cicero says (who was one of them), have not some of them maintained. And I believe that scarce anything can be more absurdly said in natural philosophy than that which now is called Aristotle's Metaphysics; nor more repugnant to government than much of that he said in his Politics; nor more ignorantly than a great part of his Ethics." (6-7)

From Part One, Chapter 5: "When a man reasons, he does nothing else but conceive a sum total from addition of parcels, or conceive a remainder from subtraction of one sum from another; . . . In sum, in what matter soever there is place for addition and subtraction, there also is place for reason; and where these have no place, there reason has nothing at all to do." (45)

"By this it appears that reason is not, as sense and memory, born with us, nor gotten by experience only, as prudence is, but attained by industry: first in apt imposing of names, and secondly by getting a good and orderly method in proceeding from the elements, which are names, to assertions . . . , and so to syllogisms, . . . till we come to a knowledge of all the consequences of names appertaining to the subject in hand; and that is it men call SCIENCE. . . .

[S]cience is the knowledge of consequences and dependence of one fact upon another, by which out of that we can presently do we know how to do something else when we will, or the like another time; because when we see how anything comes about, upon what causes and by what manner, when the like causes come into our power we see how to make it produce the like effects." (49)

*All sources are from the Library of Liberal Arts series.