Map of the World 1900
War on a planetary scale characterised the whole of the 20th. century. The first half was dominated by two World Wars, which concluded in the transformation of imperial regimes into sovereign States. The second half was overshadowed by the Cold War between Eastern Communism and Western Capitalism.
In 1929 there was a global economic crash which made Communism an attractive option to Capitalism, especially since communist Russia had avoided the effects of the economic depression. This provoked a reaction in the form of Fascism. The new economic ideologies rejected the old laissez-faire capitalism (where the free market was believed to self-correct) in favour of government intervention. This resulted in the Welfare State and defined the political-economical divide of conservatism vs. socialism for the rest of the century.
In 1939 Germany invaded Poland, despite warnings from Britain and France and so World War II began in Europe. The war in the Pacific included the Sino-Japanese War between Japan and China and the Japanese attack on the U.S. base at Pearl Harbour. This area of the World War ended when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and Japan surrendered.
In 1945 Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, met at Yalta and agreed to divide Europe into the East for Russia and the West for Britain, France and the U.S. This set up the Cold War opposition for the rest of the century. It was formalised in two adversarial blocs: NATO in 1949 and The Warsaw Pact in 1955. Rebuilding after the War was quick in the Soviet Union. Western Europe rebuilt using the Marshall Plan. Ironically, both Germany and Japan, losers in the War, became the second and third richest world economies soon after the conflict.
The resulting Cold War was an extension of the arms race which the War had initiated and which now became a nuclear arms race. This provoked wars by proxy in Korea and Vietnam and led to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The Cold War stand-off began to end when the USSR and China split in 1980. Drained by the arms race, reform was attempted by Gorbachev but led to a coup in Russia. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and in 1991 the Soviet Union was disbanded.
Decolonisation was another effect of World War II. Independence for India was led by Gandhi and by Jinnah in Pakistan. The Philippines gained independence from the U.S., French Indochina transformed into the states of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1950s. In Africa, Kenya and Ghana became independent and until 1962 around 20 African nations achieved independence from France. The Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe gained independence during the 1970s.
The post-war competition between the US and the USSR developed into the space race when Sputnik was launched in 1957. The Russians also put the first craft on the Moon and the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin. The US responded with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs which finally landed astronauts on the lunar surface in 1969. Later both countries collaborated in the Mir and Skylab projects and the 1990s saw the use of the International Space Station by the United States, Europe, Russia, Japan, and Canada.
In the last quarter of the 20th. century information drove technology. Transistor research made computers gradually smaller and reprogrammable. Storage progressed from punched cards to magnetic tape, floppy disks and hard disks, combined with random access memory. The word processor, spreadsheet and database made office work more productive, which in turn led to more efficient computers. Home computing was promoted by IBM's PC which was copied by others through reverse engineering.
In response to Sputnik 1 the U.S. created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1958. The US military later used the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to ensure a bombproof communications network. Soon universities and businesses were allowed to join the network which became the Internet. In 1989 Berners-Lee devised hypertext, an information management system, which turned the network into the World Wide Web. This led to online consumerism and globalisation.
In this global interchange of information, diseases also spread, such as SARS and the HIV virus. Global climate change was another serious problem, caused by greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide and methane, threatening life on the planet.
Within the cultural context of painting, architecture, music and film the Modernist movement represented reality as a search for objective truth through reason and science, which were held as providing universal truths.
Postmodernism, after World War II, recognised that reason and truth are human ideologies, not Truths, and introduced an era of post-truth (seized on for personal benefit by populist politicians in the 21st. Century). Postmodernism recognises that reason itself is a Western construct which competes with other traditions of faith and cultural understanding.
In literature the Modernist movement arose in the late 19th. century and lasted until the end of the Second World War in 1945. Although it continued the realist tradition of social critique, its focus was on the individual, not society, and on the writing process, not plot and content. The movement broke with past literary conventions and reworked form, style and structure, provoked by deep shifts in human perception. This led to new narrative techniques:
- stream-of-consciousness, a free-flowing inner monologue, probably influenced by Husserl's phenomenology which is the examination of consciousness in the flow of experience. In literature, instead of straightforward rational thoughts, the writer represented the mind at work using fragments of incoherent thoughts, nongrammatical prose and free association of images and ideas. It was adopted, among others, by Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, Henry James, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jose Saramago and Samuel Beckett.
- non-linear storylines, contain events which are not chronological and may avoid traditional causality through parallel plots, dreams and embedded narratives within the main story. Modernist novelists who employed this abandon of linear order were Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner.
- multiple perspectives were where several characters narrate in the first person, so underlining their subjectivity and adding breadth to the story through several points of view. For example in To a Lighthouse Virginia Woolf uses three viewpoints, structured round the Ramsay couple and the lighthouse. Life is depicted as a sonnet and as fragmented epiphanies. Time and loss due to death, tragedy and war are at the core of the often poetic narrative.
Postmodernist literature arose in the second half of the century, after WWII. Modernist writers had focused on science, philosophy, art, and innovative narrative techniques to analyse and express human experience. Postmodernism reacted to this tradition by expressing the disillusion caused by the War, and focused on beliefs rather than factual science.
Postmodernism undermined the established relationship among text, author and reader. It avoided absolute meanings and underlined fragmentation, metafiction (underlining the artificiality of the work) and intertextuality. Shocked by the human rights violations during the World conflict such as the Holocaust and the atomic bombings of Japan, writers began to view the search for meaning as impossible and they turned to meaninglessness:
- Samuel Beckett’s theatre of the absurd staged the disintegration of narrative meaning. In the play Waiting for Godot (1953), he portrayed an existential tale of two hobos' vain wait for a supposed Godot, who never appears.
- Italo Calvino produced the metanarrative If on a winter's night a traveller (1979) which is a novel about a reader reading the novel If on a winter's night a traveller.
- Narrative playfulness is exemplified in Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) that follows many characters over a long time, indicating the scantiness of human life.
- The achronological narrative is illustrated by Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five (1969) in which the protagonist is thrown between the present and the past in a meaningless war.
In the visual arts Modernism takes its origins back to the 1860s when Manet painted modern life, not by following the tradition of modelling the real world but focusing on basics: paintwork on a blank canvas portrayed through line, colour and form. The first half of 20th. century art is encompassed in this new avant-garde tradition:
- Impressionism and Post-impressionism followed this novel approach using visible brush strokes, capturing changes in light and movement on everyday subjects.
- Cubism was created by Picasso and Braque before 1914. Their paintings focused on the two-dimensional flat canvas surface, avoiding traditional perspective, modelling and imitation of nature and portraying fragmented subjects.
- Expressionism originated in the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and James Ensor. It became the dominant style in Germany between the Wars. The artists expressed the subjective emotions which events or objects provoked in them. This was done by distorting shapes and using vivid colours:
The scream by Edvard Munch
Postmodernism, born from the experiences of WWII, rebelled against modernist reasonableness and idealism and based itself on scepticism and doubts about reason, challenging the concept of universal truths. It also embraced the practical philosophy of individual interpretations and challenged the notion that there were universal certainties or truths.
- Andy Warhol's repetitive, garish representations of Marilyn Monroe or Campbell soup cans:
are references to the culture of Pop Art, challenging the purity of Modernist artistic aethetics and pointing at mass production.
Authentic art is no longer only in the domain of the artist, but is popular. Warhol's subjects focus attention on the worship of celebrities, the world of spectacles and the rise of the consumer society.
- Conceptual Art originated in minimalism and focused on the idea behind the work as a way to challenge Modernist conceptions of art. Mel Bochner‘s exhibition Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to Be Viewed as Art displayed art books questioning the notion of art through art. Kothuth explicits this reflection of art upon itself by describing the value of artworks as:
“...according to how much they questioned the nature of art.”
- Neo-expressionism in the 1980s was seen as a reaction to minimalism and conceptual art which had been prevalent in the previous decade. It was inspired by two German Expressionist schools: Die Brücke (“The Bridge”) from Dresden, artists who chose primitive subjects and distorted depictions; Der Blaue Reiter (“The Blue Rider”), artists in Munich who rejected realism in art and sought to evoke symbolism and spirituality in a path to abstraction. This group took its name from Kandinsky's painting:
Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) Kandinsky
Neo-expressionism had followers in many Western countries: Philip Guston and Julian Schnabel in the USA, in Britain Christopher Le Brun and Paula Rego. In Germany the neo-expressionists were known as Neue Wilden, in Italy, neo-expressionist painting was named Transavanguardia and in 1980s France Figuration Libre.
- The Feminist Art movement had its beginnings in the 1960s. It englobed diverse modalities such as conceptual art, performance art, body art, and craft arts like embroidery, sewing, and textiles. Its characteristics included awareness of gender inequalities, multidisciplinarity and the historical place of women in society.
Modernism in musical circles of the 20th. century coincided with the conception in other arts that timeless truths and classical traditions do not define the musical art. What does is developmental and innovative music. This led to technical changes in the organization of harmony, melody and rhythms. Musicians were tolerant of different genres and no one became dominant. Composers of this period include: John Adams, Leonard Bernstein (1943-1990), Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), John Cage (1912-1992), Philip Glass (b. 1937), Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Ellen Taaffe Zwillich (b. 1939)
Modernism in music was about rejecting convention. It did this by denying tonality through not remaining in one key, thus sounding "off". It also tends to spurn standard rhythmic meters such as 4/4 and 3/4 for flexibility. Atonality was innnovated by Arnold Schoenberg in Vienna by giving all twelve notes equal weight, so that no one dominates. One example is his piano concerto, op. 42 (1942) which was banned by the Nazis. Another example is Stravinsky's composition, the ballet Petrushka, incorporating irregular meters and a driving rhythm.
Modernist music can be interpreted as falling into three compositional methods: Total Serialism and Electronic music exercising complete control; random composition as in Chance Music leading to Minimalism; Neo-romantic styles which express emotion through a pastiche of the past and the modern.
- the composers of Total Serialism continued in the Schoenberg tradition of an atonal style, as well as retouching pitch selection in rhythms. Electonic technology like synthesisers could create new timbres. In the 50s magnetic tape offered control of sounds through cutting and splicing which created sounds unlike those of standard musical instruments.
- chance music composers renounced control through partially randomised composition methods, including rolling dice to decide pitch and rhythms. Minimalism used as little material as possible for composition including musical phrases played by any musicians with no set instrumentation. John Adams and Philip Glass use a functional tonality and small units which repeat but gradually incorporate small changes.
- Neo-Romanticism reached back historically and created pastiches. The composers reincorporated tonality and samples from earlier compositions. Ellen Taaffe Zwillich was awarded the Pulitzer music prize (1983) for her Symphony No. 1. It is built around the tonal material of fifteen opening measures which is then elaborated, incorporating older elements of melody and recurrent pitch.
It is claimed that Jazz was invented by Jelly Roll Morton in 1902 and he popularised the New Orleans sound through the new recording technologies. From 1910 to 1930 there was a great migration of African Americans from the rural South to cities. This brought jazz to a wide audience.
Louis Armstrong led the jazz world at the time and changed performances from several musicians playing the melody together to the individualist with group format. This gave way to the Swing Era (1935-1946) where big bands took over. The era included composers such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, the first to perform with a racially integrated band in 1938.
In the 1940s many black musicians reverted to virtuoso with a group format because white bands, led by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, had taken over the jazz scene. This created the bebop jazz scene with sitting audiences in smoke-filled bars. Jazz was turning into art music.
However, in 1942 a royalties dispute prohibited instrumentalists playing, but vocal artists were exempt and audiences became used to vocal pop. This divided the pop music revolution into instrumental jazz and vocal music which, in a decade, became Rock and roll.
Jazz musicians soon rejected the complex, fast bebop and moved into Cool Jazz which was played in ensembles. Famous names here are Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis, innovative until his death in 1991.
The free jazz era began in 1959 and encouraged musicians, like John Coltrane, to play without the constraints of harmony and melody. This loosened the interaction between musicians and gave rise to an unrestricted free space for creation.
As in other art forms in the Modernist period, architecture focused on techniques to create new, functional buildings. In the late 19th. century a revolution in materials such as cast iron, plate glass, and reinforced concrete helped distinguish the movement.
At the beginning of the 20th. century some architects challenged the Beaux Arts and Neoclassical traditions. The Glasgow School of Art was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, with a façade of large vertical bays windows. Art Nouveau was launched by Victor Horta in Belgium and Hector Guimard in France using elements based on vegetal and floral decoration. In Barcelona, Antoni Gaudí, conceived architecture as sculpture: Casa Batllò has no straight lines and it was brightened with coloured stone mosaics and ceramic tiles. Auguste Perret built the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées of reinforced concrete with Art Deco sculptural bas-reliefs on the facade. The concrete construction had the added practical advantage that no columns blocked the spectator's view of the stage. In Vienna Loos rejected ornamentation on his buildings and his Steiner House was a rationalist structure with a rectangular facade, square windows and no decoration.
Postmodern architecture arose in the 1950s, reacting against modern architectures's uniformity and focusing on a free design which fitted the surroundings. After the Second World War reconstruction of destroyed towns such as Le Havre drove architectural renewal. Auguste Perret used reinforced concrete and prefabricated materials to rebuild the city center. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005. Shortages of steel and other materials also led to the creation of new building materials like aluminium.
Assymetric construction was a mainstay of the postmodern movement. Pillars and walls that sloped within functional buildings offered a new perspective as in the Groninger Museum which uses shapes and colours to add variety to its pavilions:
Fragmentation was another stylistic element which gave the appearance of different buildings in one construction. The Bilbao Guggenheim Museum is an example and its use of titanium allows changes in colour, aesthetically reflecting the changing daylight.
The Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart by James Stirling and Michael Wilford is the epitome of postmodern construction. It harmonises with the surroundings by using warm colours and natural textures while incorporating neon elements. This allowed the building to stand in historic surroundings, yet include new elements.
At the beginning of the century films were very short sequences shown in lecture halls, showgrounds and music halls and dialogue was not synchronised.
By the beginning of the First World War in 1914 several European countries had set up their national film industry. They adopted the narrative format as their preferred genre. The War increased the need for films as a distraction and a propaganda instrument.
Colour was added gradually, but by 1932 the three technicolour process became widely used as in Hollywood's Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (1939). Integrated sound came earlier with the first feature film The Jazz Singer using synchronised dialogue in 1927, using a seperate disc with every reel of film. Later the Movietone newsreels used an improved soundtrack method, recorded along the edge of the film reel.
The film industry was prompted to innovate by the coming of television in the U.S. In the early 50s Cinerama experimented with three projectors, a curved screen and surround sound. This immersed the audiences and became popular. However, it was technically complex and expensive to produce and show. It was replaced by Cinemascope in 1953 which resulted in a screen change standard from Edison's original 35mm film with a 4:3 aspect to 70mm film with a 2.35:1 aspect. Stereo sound was another standard experience of the new wide screen. 70mm screens went on to develop IMAX cinemas in 2D and 3D formats.
Modernism in the cinema can be dated to between the World Wars. It is characterised by a narrative format influenced by genres such as surrealism and expressionism such as Fellini's La Dolce Vita and Rebecca. The references are everyday life, even embracing social outcasts, and a fractured experience of urban space. However, there is an underlying belief in progress and universal truths.
Postmodernism tests the 'suspension of disbelief' in the modernist narrative. The films question the realistic view of modernism through countering stereotypes of gender, race, genre, class and time. They project multiple viewpoints, challenging master narratives in examples such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Blade Runner.
Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, was Heidegger's teacher in Freiburg. His theory was a new version of Cartesianism with the focus on consciousness as 'subjectivity'. Phenomenology is the examination of consciousness in the flow of experience. It is the study of the intentional structure of experiences, which means that consciousness is oriented towards something else.
Husserl's philosophical method is to subtract external knowledge from the external world (putting it into 'parentheses') which is when the philosopher reflects on how a phenomenon appears to consciousness. When looking at a tree, what remains after making the parentheses is a pure tension between the subject and the object. It is an introspective analysis of experience that attempts to go beyond linguistic expressions or a common understanding of the phenomenon.
Husserl was primarily a mathematician who was interested in the nature of truth more than life's problems. His philosophy seeks certainty, just like Descartes, Hume and Kant. He was looking for an 'Archimedean' point from which to establish a foundation for all knowledge. His interest is focused on the form and need for mathematical and philosophical truths.
His method aims to develop a worldview without prejudice that allows a rational exploration of the interconnections between phenomena. Following the Kantian concept of 'transcendental Ego' Husserl develops a 'transcendental phenomenology' as the foundation of all knowledge.
This is a contribution to epistemology, but it is based on questionable assumptions, derived from German idealism.
Max Weber’s philosophical worldview was informed by the deep crisis of the Enlightenment project at the end of the 19th. century in Europe. This was characterized by the intellectual revolt against positivist reason, a celebration of subjective will and intuition, and a neo-Romantic longing for spiritual wholesomeness. In other words, Weber belonged to a generation of imitators who had to struggle with the legacies of Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche. The philosophical backdrop to his thoughts are kantian in epistemology and ethics.
Weber shared the (neo)-Kantian dichotomy between reality and concept: reality is irrational and incomprehensible, and the concept is an abstract construction of our mind. Our cognition is logical and all reality exists within cognition, so only a reality that we can comprehend in the form of knowledge is rational. Weber's acceptance of the Kantian dualism shaped the methodological strategy employed in the study of social reality. The mind may have material premises, but the activities of the mind are unique to it. As an object separate from empirical reality, the reasoning mind confronts that reality as a object alien to itself. In the study of society, as in the study of physical objects, events are never understood in their entirety. The mind is not capable of grasping the totality of history. Therefore, the social world requires interpretation.
John Dewey needed to expose the flaws in the existing tradition in order to articulate his own. He thought that the characteristic of Western philosophy was its assumption that what we can know is perfect, stable, and eternal. Three examples are Plato's Forms, the Christian concept of God, and Cartesianism. This latter tradition has made a radical distinction between true reality and the endless varieties of the world's human experience.
Dewey argued that Cartesian philosophy impoverished nature. He rejects the dualism between being and experience and proposed that all things are subject to change and that they change. The static is not natural and the experience is not purely subjective because the human mind is part of nature. The challenge, then, is to determine how to live well with the processes of change, not how to transcend them.
Dewey developed a metaphysics that examined the characteristics that encompassed human experience. Three of these were: precariousness, stories and purposes.
A precarious event makes the experience problematic. Thus any obstacle, disruption, danger or surprise is precarious. The cruelty of a tyrant, the destruction of a flood or the colors of the sunset are equally natural. Human ideas and moral standards must be viewed through this prism. Human knowledge is completely intertwined with precarious and constantly changing nature.
"Like all experience, it is constituted by the interaction betweenthe subject and the object ... is not merely physical or merely mental…” Dewey
History meant a process of change and when processes are identified they are subject to change. The logical result is that fate is not sealed by human nature, temperament, character, talent, or social role. With proper knowledge of the conditions necessary for human growth, an individual can develop in multiple ways. The purpose of education, then, is to promote the fruition of an active human history.
The purposes or final cause is a philosophical concept from the time of Aristotle. For Dewey a purpose is a deliberately constructed historical result and the specific purpose was 'the construction of good' There is no absolute good against which actions can be evaluated but any purpose that promotes human prosperity is good as long as it takes into account precariousness.
Dewey was involved in the American pragmatism movement started by Peirce and James. It integrated James' concept of shifting reality and his idea that the mental experience and the physical world were unclear. He also embraced the importance of experimental research.
Pragmatists were generally inspired by dramatic advances in science and technology during the 19th century. Many had formal scientific training and experimented in the natural, physical, or social sciences.
Bertrand Russell explains his epistemological vision in The Problems of Philosophy. He affirms that philosophy is seeking certainty and we assume the certainty of many things that, when we look at them more closely, we realise that they are full of contractions. The more we learn from the world the more we realize that we know little for sure. The question of what our senses tell us lies in the problem of change.
To explain this problem Russell distinguishes between appearance and reality and calls it 'skepticism of the senses'. He gives the example of a table that is perceived based on the light in the room, the distance from the sensor, and how the light reflects from the table to the eyes. The same happens with the texture of the furniture and its shape.
"There is no logical impediment to suppose that life is a dream ..." Bertrand Russell
Thus Russell affirms that these observable facts must lead us to doubt our senses. The 'real' table is an inference, not the thing itself. He praises Descartes for having introduced the method of doubt and showing that the subjective is the most accurate base. According to Russell, trying to prove that there is a reality outside the mind is an argument about probabilities, not certainties.
Ludwig Wittgenstein published his ideas on epistemology in Über Gewissheit (1969) (On Certainty), a reflection on Moore's idea in his book A Defense of Common Sense (1925). Moore argues that common sense allows certain things to be known with certainty.
Wittgenstein distinguishes between knowledge and certainty by claiming that they are two categories, not two mental states and neither implies the other. It is possible to be in a state of knowledge without being sure and to be safe without having knowledge. Certainty is not identified with apprehending but with a form of action. A proposition is true when its truth is presupposed in the various activities of a community. In other words, it is our action that causes us to call something true.
A recurring theme in the book is that there are things that should not be doubted for activities to be possible and this includes the act of doubting.
"A doubt that doubts everything would not be a doubt." Wittgenstein
An important result is Wittgenstein's assertion that all doubt is grounded in underlying beliefs and therefore the most radical forms of doubt must be rejected because they are contradictory to the very system that expressed them. Philosophical skepticism works within a rational debate, but if one doubts excessively, rationality itself is undermined and thus the basis for doubting.
However, Wittgenstein argues that skepticism only makes sense when we abstract from everyday life. He claims that a proposition is meaningless if it is not placed within a specific context. But once we attribute a context to propositions the doubts of a skeptic will lack the generality that would cast doubts on the external world. It is only by removing the language from all possible contexts, and thus rendering it useless, that skepticism can work.
Martin Heidegger in his book on ontology Sein und Zeit (1927) (Being and time) raises his fundamental question: What is Being? It begins with a critique of Descartes that, according to the author, did not raise the problem of the nature of being that accompanies the existence of the self. This Dasein is a community way of life similar to a shared language. It is Cartesianism in reverse: I exist then I can think.
"The human being is not the lord of beings, but the shepherd of Being." Heidegger
He also wants to reverse the Aristotelianism that proceeds by logic and grammar and is imprisoned in language. He wants to free language from grammar and logic as creation does poetics.
For Aristotle, thinking was a technique, a process of reflection in the service of doing and creating things. For Heidegger, thinking is not a practical task in the service of action. Thus he distances himself from scientific positivism and from Marxists like Sartre. He tries to develop a holistic philosophy that understands existence and thought as two sides of the same coin. He rejects an instrumental interpretation of thought (positivism) and an emphasis on pure theory (idealism, Platonism).
He disagrees with Plato because he was fascinated by the theory that carries an implicit promise of power over nature. For Heidegger, this led us, mistakenly, to believe that thinking is reality. This leads us to imagine that we can build models of everything including human beings and their world and that the way human beings relate to things is to have a theory about them. He wants to teach that there is no theory about what makes possible theories.
Heidegger aims to apply Husserl's method by not asking 'What is in your experience?' but 'What constitutes your experience?' It radicalizes Husserl's method and maintains that concepts like 'mind', 'subject', 'object' and even 'world' have no basis in experience and are thus reifications and not a fundamental analysis that investigates the correlation between thought and experience.
Heidegger's concept Dasein (Being) implies a permanent crisis of identity. We want to know who or what we really are, but what we consider our identity can easily be a false or misinformed concept. This will lead him to an interest in psychiatry.
Willard Van Orman Quine produced original works in logic, ontology, epistemology, and linguistics. He developed a systematic philosophy that is naturalistic, empirical, and behavioral. His epistemology aimed to explain psychologically how scientific knowledge is obtained.
In Epistemology Naturalized (1969) Quine outlines his epistemology. According to Descartes, he affirms that epistemology deals with the foundations of science. However, he thinks that the search for Descartes is a lost cause. According to Quine there can be no strict translation of the notion 'body' in sensory terms so the steps between the evidences of the senses and scientific doctrine are far from being certain.
Quine proposes that we only have the stimulation of sensory receptors as evidence in the construction of our image of the world. So to understand how we make this construction, you have to study psychology empirically.
In ontology Quine recognized only concrete physical objects. He rejected notions like properties, propositions, and meanings as ill-defined or scientifically useless.
"Language is conceived in sin and science is its redemption." Quine
In the philosophy of language Quine opted for the behavioral theory of learning and an indeterministic concept of translation from one language to another in such a way that, according to him, there is no correct translation. This is an example of his vision of 'ontological relativity'. This stipulates that for a given scientific theory there are a multitude of alternatives all covered by the same evidence. In conclusion, there is no point in arguing that one theory or another truly describes the world.
Jean-Paul Sartre adopted and adapted the methods of phenomenology, in particular Heidegger's work. Like him, Sartre wanted to develop an ontological description of what it is to be human. He expounded his theories in La Transcendence de l'Ego (1936), L'Être et le néant (1943), and L'existentialisme est un humanisme (1946). He also believed that our ideas are products of our real-life experiences and that novels and plays that describe fundamental experiences have value for philosophical theories as well as discursive essays. Thus he wrote several novels and plays that were later followed by a school of the literature of the absurd.
In Sartre's existentialism, human existence precedes consciousness. Humans exist in a concrete universe that cannot be ignored by thought. This is what determines our life is how we act.
"Essence precedes existence." Sartre.
Sartre believed that we all have options and therefore freedom. Even in the face of the inevitable, we can choose to do nothing, run away or risk our lives. This freedom brings with it power, but also responsibility. We are condemned to be free, according to the author, and we have to face it if we want to be moral. Individuals are responsible for what they choose, but they live with a constant existential concern because they are aware of the limits of knowledge and mortality.
The corollary of this argument from human freedom is that if God exists the human is not free and vice-versa. Atheism is an integral part of Sartre's philosophy. This means that in a world without God life has no meaning beyond individual human goals.
For his part, Heidegger thought that Sartre had appropriated his work to return it to the previous subject-object philosophy of Descartes and Husserl. This is exactly what Heidegger wanted to free philosophical thought from.
Hanna Arendt in her analysis The Origins of Totalitarism distinguishes between nationalism and totalitarianism. She affirms that dictatorship is not necessarily totalitarian. One characteristic of the totalitarian government is replacement of all previous traditions and political institutions for its own specific goals. Other characteristics are the endeavour to rule globally and the organisation of the masses. (She asserts that totalitarianism is less likely to arise within small populations.)
The authoress cites indiscriminate terror as another feature of modern totalitarian regimes and it is directed equally at enemies and obedient followers. Random terror is not a tool, but an end in itself. It is justified by supposed natural laws of history which, for example, state that war is inevitable between superior and inferior races.
In economical terms the rise of the bourgeoisie to power is also cited by Arendt as restricting freedom and consensus, which made populations more susceptible to totalitarianism. These regimes offer a clear idea of security and protection from danger. After the First World War and the 1929 financial crack societies were more responsive to these promises. This ideology is a fiction and propaganda is the tool used to transform reality into fantasy.
Claude Levi-Strauss borrowed the term 'structuralism' from Ramón Jakobson, but it was he himself who expanded it beyond its linguistic origin and demonstrated that it was a general way of approaching human life because it could be applied to all aspects of culture. It is the idea that symbolic practices cannot be considered scientific objects without introducing new types of entities not recognizable by traditional metaphysics.
"The wise man is not the one who provides the true answers, but the one who asks the true questions." Claude Levi-Strauss
Structuralism encourages philosophers to develop a new ontology by redefining what it means to be different and identical, to be single or multiple, to be successive or present. It also forced a reconsideration of the nature of 'meaning' (now not objective but the effect of actions) and
'subjectivity' (no longer analyzed as origin but as function).
Levi-Strauss opposes thinkers who imagine logical coherence, with anthropologists who rely on verifiable facts. He affirms that we will only know what there is to know if it is recognized that practices very distant from scientific knowledge, such as myths and rituals, are variants of this same knowledge. As an anthropologist he defined anthropology as the type of knowledge that uses different forms of knowledge to produce particular truths. Another type of science.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty set out to develop a radical description of bodily experience, mainly in perception studies. He argued that this phenomenon could not be understood by the philosophical tradition because it tended to move only between two flawed alternatives: empiricism and intellectualism.
Another traditional dichotomy that Merleau-Ponty criticizes is the distinction between subject and object. Generally we maintain a distinction between ourselves and the objects of the world and we can suggest that we are free and they are determined. He also differentiated between the empirical facts of our actions and the reasons that transcend those behaviors. This distinction between object and consciousness is dualism.
"... he who sees and he who touches is not exactly himself, because the visible world and the tangible world are not the world as a whole." Merleau-Ponty
In his work Le Visible et l'Invisible (1988), the author tries to make a transition from a phenomenology of consciousness (an analysis of how the objects that we perceive are presented to us) to a philosophy of Being: that which allows the possibility of existence.
Merleau-Ponty uses linguistics and structuralism to criticize Sartre who gave a meager role to language. He based himself on Lacan, who suggested that the unconscious is structured as a language, on Claude Levi-Strauss, a structuralist anthropologist, and on Saussure. Levi-Strauss believed that Merleau-Ponty's work was a synthesis of structuralism and phenomenology.
Alfred Ayer published The Problem of Knowledge in 1956. In it he presents several theories of knowledge that have been proposed as responses to a radical skeptic who argues for a large gap between:
- belief in an external world, the existence of other minds or the reality of the past,
- the evidence on which these beliefs are based.
However, he changes his previous positivism and admits that not everything can be translated into the language of the senses. Instead he argues that constructions made on the basis of experience have their own validity.
Michel Foucault starts from Kant's epistemological theory to reverse it. The German philosopher maintained that the same criticism that revealed the limits of our power to know could also reveal the necessary conditions for its exercise. He argued that what appeared to be circumstantial features of human cognition (such as the spatial and temporal character of perceptual objects) are actually necessary truths. Foucault suggests that instead of asking what is necessary in the apparently contingent, we ask what is circumstantial in what is apparently necessary. He focuses his questions on the modern human sciences (biology, psychology, sociology) that claim to offer scientific truths about nature but are, in fact, expressions of the politics or ethics of a particular society.
In his Histoire de la folie à l'age classique (1961), a study of the concept of madness as 'mental illness' in Europe, he argues, it was not an improvement over earlier notions. He claimed that the alleged neutrality of modern insanity treatments is in fact used to control insanity's challenges to conventional bourgeois morality. In short, what is presented as a scientific discovery is the product of a questionable social and ethical ideology.
"The characteristic of knowing is neither seeing nor demonstrating, but interpreting."
In the work that made him famous Les mots et les choses (1966) Foucault argues that from Descartes to Kant representation was assimilated to thought: thinking was using ideas to represent the object of thought, as on a map. It is the principle that we know that our thoughts represent what we know just as the map represents the territory. Furthermore, we can alter the structure of an idea to improve representation of an object similar to redrawing a map. Foucault insists that Kant introduced a new vision by proposing that representation itself could have its origin in something other than representation.
In L'ordre des choses (1966) he presents the two main features of thought after Kant: the return of language and the 'birth of man'.
Language in classical thought (Descartes a Kant) was an instrument of thought: a physical representation of ideas and meaningless except in relation to them. After Kant, language has an independent and essential role. It is freed from its subordination to ideas and can function (as in the Renaissance) as an autonomous reality without a system of representations linking it to the world. Furthermore, Foucault suggests that language is a truth in itself, communicating nothing but its own meaning. (In contrast to the Renaissance, however, there is no underlying divine Word that gives a single truth to the words of the language.)
The notion of the 'birth of man' is explained by the fact that in the classical age humans were supposed to receive mental representations; on the other hand, for Kant's transcendental idealism these perceptions are mental products. Foucault exemplifies this idea with his example from Descartes. In his famous phrase: "Je pense donc je suis", Descartes relates the being with its representation, that is, ontology with mental perception. This was logical within classical epistemology that equated thinking with representing. Post-Kantian philosophy, however, affirms that thinking is a creative activity and thus we cannot pass from representation to thinker. We cannot go from "I think" to "I am" because the content of our reality (what I am) is always more than the content of our thinking because living, working, speaking, etc. take us beyond thought.
Kant tries to unite the two traditions proposing that the 'I' consciousness must be an empirical object of representation and at the same time a source of transcendental representations. The project of modern philosophy is to test whether this can be possible. Foucault believes that it is not possible and reviews the post-Kantian philosophers to demonstrate it.
According to Foucault, Naturalism and Marxism reduce the transcendental to the empirical: the former explains knowledge in terms of the natural sciences; the second appeals to the social sciences. Foucault points out that both ignore the terms of the problem: that the person is empirical and transcendental at the same time.
Husserl based knowledge of empirical truths on the transcendental subject. Foucault replies that thought is no longer pure representation as in Descartes and empirical facts cannot be separated from whom we are.
Sartre and Merleau-Ponty's existentialist phenomenology focus on the concrete reality of human-in-the-world. But Foucault believes that this is a subtle way of reducing the transcendental to the empirical.
Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger tried to solve the problem of the human dual status treating it as historical reality. But the difficulty remains that the human has to be the product of historical processes and at the same time the origin of history. If we treat humanity as a product, its reality is reduced to something non-human; if we insist on a human return to origins, its place in the empirical world no longer makes sense. It is the modern paradox of the human as originated and origin. Foucault suggests that the modern search for origins provides us with a deeper sense of the ontological meaning of time. This is more evident in the thinking of Nietzsche and Heidegger who reject the vision of Marx and Hegel of the return to the origin as redemption of being and propose that it leads us to a confrontation with the nothingness of existence.
Jacques Derrida was the promoter of 'Deconstruction', a critique of the Western philosophical tradition, in particular of phenomenology, existentialism and structuralism. It generally works using specific texts that try to expose and then subvert the binary oppositions that underlie our main ways of thinking: presence / absence, speech / writing ...
"There is nothing outside the text." Jacques Derrida
The philosophical aspect of Deconstructivism deals with its first objective: 'the metaphysics of presence'. Starting from the Heideggerian point of view Derrida argues that metaphysics affects all philosophy from Plato. Create dual oppositions and install a hierarchy that grants privileges to one of the terms. The deconstructive strategy is to bring up these ways of thinking and it operates in two steps: reverse the dichotomies and try to corrupt them. In addition, it tries to demonstrate that something exists that does not fit in any of the oppositions.
His metaphysics describes the return to origins found in metaphysicians from Plato to Husserl, looking for a foundation on which to build their theories. This is how they conceive of good before evil, the positive before the negative, purity before impurity, the simple before the complex, the essential before the accidental etc ... Derrida warns that in these oppositions there is always a hierarchy : one party subordinate to the other. Deconstruction aims to undo the classical opposition to end the system.
However, this same methodology deconstructs itself because it no longer starts from the possibility that the observer may be external to the object under examination.