English Philosophy Part I

English Philosophy Part I

English philosophy, a strongly formalized collective name for the philosophy whose bearers come from the British Isles and which brought an empirical-practical spirituality into European intellectual history.

Middle Ages

The first great epoch of English philosophy began around 1200 after the thoughtful approaches (since the 8th century) by B. Venerabilis , JS Eriugena , A. von Bath and R. von Sankt Viktor , who defined the entire philosophy of the person Dominated scholasticism. A. von Canterbury , who was born in continental Europe, does not belong to the English philosophy. The first outstanding English philosopher was R. Grosseteste, between 1214 and 1221 first chancellor of the University of Oxford, who mastered the Greek language and had his own translations of Aristotle submitted (Nicomachean Ethics); around 1230 he became the first lecturer (academic teacher) at the Franciscan religious studies. This association of the Franciscans with Oxford University meant that the most important Middle Ages English philosophers were Franciscans and the most important Franciscan philosophers of the Middle Ages were English. Another typical representative of this pragmatic, empirical English philosophy, which also included natural science and linguistics, was R. Bacon. The English representatives of the older Franciscan school, A. von Hales , Thomas von York (* around 1220, † around 1260), R. Bacon, were supporters of Platonic-Neoplatonic Augustinism. The middle Franciscan school, represented i.a. by J. Peckham, Roger Marston (* around 1250, † 1303), Wilhelm von Ware (* around 1260, † around 1285), while still emphasizing Augustinism, but approached Aristotelianism. The younger Franciscan school, v. a. J. Duns Scotus and T. Bradwardine, tried to combine Augustinian tradition with Aristotelianism. With J. Duns Scotus a turning point was already beginning that brought specifically English-empirical property into the development of science: the principle of individuation is no longer matter or form, but rather the “haecceitas” (thisness). The special position that the Franciscan W. von Ockham , Representative of nominalism (or conceptualism) par excellence, is typical of English philosophy in its emphasis on the individual. Thomism, e.g. B. of T. von Sutton , never played a major role in English philosophy. J. Wycliffe, who was a philosophical supporter of the Via antiqua and thus a representative of extreme realism in the universality controversy, has to be regarded as a thinker of his own kind.

Early modern age

During the Renaissance, the universities, which, while rejecting more recent scientific developments, essentially clung to school traditions, especially Aristotelianism and Aristotelian logic (especially Oxford, while Cambridge was open to newer tendencies), lost their leading position in the Philosophy into the 19th century. The outstanding personalities of this period, although not philosophers in the narrower sense, were T. More and Richard Hooker (* around 1554, † 1600). T. Morepostulated in his social utopia tolerance, equality of claims of citizens, abolition of property, improvement of the material living conditions of society. According to baglib.com, the ethical rationalism of R. Hooker, the theorist of the Elizabethan Church, the opponent to the voluntarism of Ockham and to T. Hobbes, worked in the mediation of J. Locke and influenced his theory of the state, which contains central elements of the modern constitutional state (“Two treatises of government”, 1690; German “Zwei Abhandlungen über die Government”). In correlation with scientific and technical developments, the search for secure methods of knowledge and research became the central subject of scientific thinking during the Renaissance, which led to the Enlightenment. – F. Bacon, the first English philosopher of the modern age, advocated scientific and technical development for the advancement of mankind; he made a sharp distinction between knowledge to be attained through experience and divinely revealed knowledge. Pointing the way was his doctrine of idols, which aims at the liberation of experience from illusions (“idolae”). However, since he did not recognize the importance of mathematics for scientific thinking, it had no noticeable effect in the age of classical physics. R. Boyle joined F. Bacon’s methodological approach and ordered him, based on G. Galilei and R. Descartes, mathematics and P. Gassendis Atomism too. With the distinction between “primary” and “secondary sensory qualities” introduced for the first time, he determined the development of knowledge of nature up to J. Locke and I. Newton. – T. Hobbes attempted a synthesis of empirical nominalism and rationalism: the raw material, not the knowledge itself, is empirical. Following G. Galilei, he saw geometry as the only possible basis of all knowledge of nature, which consists in tracing back what is perceived to the movements of the body. In terms of social philosophy, he became the forerunner of utilitarianism with the theory of reasonable egoism based on the law of “self-preservation”, to which he assigned his theory of state treaties as a guideline. – Against F. Bacon and T. Hobbes initially opposed the Cambridge School in the 17th century, represented in particular by Benjamin Whichcote (* 1609, † 1683), R. Cudworth and H. More with their attempt to renew a Christian Platonism.


The English Enlightenment mediated the European Enlightenment on the one hand v. a. through their consistently further developed empiricism, on the other hand through deism decisive impulses. J. Locke , exponent of the English and – made famous by Voltaire in France – also of the European Enlightenment, moved epistemology with the question of the scope and sources of knowledge as well as the processes of its development into the center of philosophical interest. With this began the gradual replacement of metaphysics by epistemology up to the positivism of D. Hume. Epistemologically founded J. Locke against Descartes’ theory of the innate ideas modern English empiricism by tracing back (dualism of the sources of experience) and securing all ideas (“ideas”) to experience based on “external” (“sensation”) and “inner perception” (“reflection”) this theory by establishing a sensualistic association psychology (association).

English Philosophy 1