A History of Philosophy [Vol IV] by Frederick Charles Copleston

By Frederick Charles Copleston

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True, one could hardly expect a Man of the World who dabbled in many branches of philosophy an j letters to A HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY -IV INTRODUCTION give himself to research of this kind. But the comparative absence of the latter constituted a defect none the less. In the second place the eighteenth-century historians were too much inclined to use history as a means of proving a thesis and as a source of moral lessons. Gibbon was concerned to show that the victory of Christianity had been a victory of barbarism and bigotry over enlightened civilization.

What did Descartes understand by philosophy? 'l Under the general heading of philosophy, therefore, Descartes included not only metaphysics but also physics or natural philosophy, the latter standing to the former as trunk to roots. And the branches issuing from this trunk are the other sciences, the three principal ones being medicine, mechanics and morals. '2 It is not surprising that from time to time Descartes insisted on the practical value of philosophy. 3 Again, he speaks of 'opening to each one the road by which he can find in himself, and without borrowing from any other, the whole knowledge which is essential to him for the direction of his life'.

It is no matter for wonder, therefore, if metaphysics makes no progress comparable to that of physical science. The only 'scientific' metaphysics which there can be is the metaphysics of knowledge, the analysis of the a priori elements in human experience. And the greater part of Kant's work consists in an attempt to perform this task of analysis. In The Critiqus of Pure Reason he attempts to analyse the a priori elements which govern the formation of our synthetic a priori judgments. In the Critiqus of Practical Reason he investigates the a priori element in the moral judgment.

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