Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 16

(Read Part 15 of the series.)

So, do any of these philosophies provide us with the answer for which we are looking? It has been a very cursory overview and obviously much has been omitted, particularly the ideas of more recent philosophers. Again I must remind the reader that I have not studied all of these philosophers and my findings are the result of reading histories, dictionaries and overviews and of research on the Internet. I have extracted only those ideas that seemed relevant.

Philosophers typically take an interest in many areas, even if they concentrate principally on one or two and they often devote much effort to supporting, or more frequently refuting, the ideas of their predecessors. If you should attempt to go into any significant detail on any aspect of what has been outlined above, you would soon find yourself reading many books and studying often complex arguments on all sides of the issue. All that I have attempted to do was to find some relevant ideas and I have to say that none of the ones that I discovered seem entirely appropriate for today’s society.

Somehow, they leave a feeling of incompleteness or even emptiness. Maybe they provide excellent guidelines for discriminating between potential course of action in a specific situation but there is no overall sense of purpose and meaning. If I want to know whether I ought to go out to the cinema or visit my ageing grandmother, there is much material to provide guidance – in fact, I could decide to stay in and read all about it for the next few weeks instead of going anywhere. But when it comes to giving me a raison d’être for my life, it seems that, unless I adopt a religious outlook and acquire faith in a heaven and hell, then I am left with little of substance. Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 13

(Read Part 12 of the series.)


When deciding whether an action should be deemed good or bad (as opposed to whether it is something we ourselves want to do), people will sometimes try to calculate whether the result will benefit the majority. This principle was expressed in the 18th Century by Francis Hutcheson: ‘That action is best which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers’. It is effectively the opposite of what Kant was saying. Whereas he insisted that it was the motive alone that determined whether an act should be deemed to be ‘good’ and that we should act from a sense of duty, Hutcheson was claiming that motives were ultimately irrelevant, it was the outcome alone that mattered.

Two philosophers in particular were responsible for developing and propagating these ideas and thereby influencing many people’s attitude towards morality. The first was Jeremy Bentham, who is generally regarded as the originator of so-called ‘Utilitarianism’, which says that conduct is right or wrong according to its tendency to produce favourable or unfavourable consequences for the people who are affected by it. It was given this name because actions are judged on the basis of their ‘utility’ or usefulness in bringing about good, or benefit of some kind as opposed to evil or unhappiness. Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 11

(Read Part 10 of the series.)


Kant’s noumenal consisted of the reality of mental things – plural – though we could never be objectively aware of them in any sense, and effectively acknowledged the existence of many minds as well as that of God himself. Kant was very influential, thought by many to have been the greatest of modern thinkers, and a number of philosophers attempted to build upon or revise his ideas, in particular to do away with his unknowable reality.

Johann Gottlieb Fichte was the first of these and he conceived of an absolute mind or ego, divided up into the relative egos of human personalities, which together were evolving. Objects or ‘things in themselves’ became redundant. History is explained, and our sense of meaning is gained, by reference to this absolute ego. Even supposedly straightforward explanatory accounts of his philosophy, however, are incomprehensible without attempting to read any of the original material (and possibly with, too, but I have no direct knowledge of this). Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 10

(Read Part 9 of the series.)

Rousseau and Kant

The reaction to the perceived unreasonableness of the empirical method was most apparent in the philosophy of Rousseau in France, which eventually contributed to the Romantic Movement, with its disdain for reason and advocacy of giving free rein to feelings and instinct. It was also taken up by those who instigated the French Revolution. Rousseau believed that man is inherently good but that the rise of civilisation, begun through the inequalities created in claiming ‘private property’ had corrupted us. Voltaire, on reading of his ideas, sarcastically commented that he was too old to start walking on all fours or searching out the savages in Canada. They also quarrelled over an earthquake in Lisbon. Voltaire saw in it a justification for questioning the beneficence of a God that would allow such a thing. Rousseau thought it served them right for living in seven-story houses rather than out in the countryside where they ought to have been. In any case, he did not think that we could use reason when talking about God; our attitude should be one of awe and reverence.

More dangerously, Rousseau was advocating democracy in his writings and questioning the divine right of kings. He believed that there should be discussion and agreement amongst the people to determine what he called the ‘general will’. This would then be formed into legislation which, once accepted by everyone, would be forcibly imposed. His best known work, ‘Social Contract’, opens with the challenging statement: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.Continue reading

The Relevance of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism to Advaita Vedanta, Part III


The Critique of Pure Reason is a long and intricate text. Most of what I discussed in Parts I and II is material covered just in the Introduction! In this final installment of our Kant series, we’ll briefly discuss the first formal section of the CPR, the Transcendental Aesthetic, where Kant elucidates his radical view of space and time. Also, from a later section of the critique, we will examine Kant’s notion of the transcendental synthetic unity of apperception, and I will argue that he is essentially talking about Atman in Western philosophical terms. Continue reading

The Relevance of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism to Advaita Vedanta, Part II

266px-Immanuel_Kant_(portrait)In Part I of this three-part series, I introduced Kant’s work and summarized his views on a priori and a posteriori knowledge. In this second part, we’ll review analytic versus synthetic judgments, clarify the meaning of transcendental idealism as it applies to Kant’s work in general, and also analyze tat tvam asi in terms of Kant’s philosophy.

Analytic and Synthetic Judgments

Kant’s investigation of the faculties of reason led him to explore the nature of judgments. He made clear the crucial difference between analytic and synthetic judgments. Kant’s jargon can become admittedly arcane, but analytic and synthetic are not hard to understand. Continue reading

The Relevance of Kant’s Transcendental Idealism to Advaita Vedanta, Part I

This the first of a three-part series discussing the relevance of Kant’s philosophy to Advaita. Kant-CPR

Immanuel Kant published the first edition of The Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, with an extensively rewritten second edition appearing in 1787. Between those editions he also published a shorter “easier” introduction to his philosophy, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (1783). With the later appearance of The Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and The Critique of Judgement (1790), Kant had articulated a complete system of philosophy of incredible depth and complexity, wholly original and unique in its solution to the age-old problems of reason, ethics, and logic. So great was the importance of this Prussian professor, we may justifiably think in terms of pre-Kantian and post-Kantian philosophy. Many have disagreed with his conclusions and offered refutations on one level or another, but all who have come after Kant have been required to address him. Continue reading