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The Point of Philosophy

An Introduction for the Human Sciences


Ludo Abicht and Hendrik Opdebeeck

The core questions of philosophy about the origin of the world and people, the distinction between good and evil, and the meaning of life – these questions keep us all busy. In this introduction to philosophy, these three questions lead our journey. You want to understand the world and man. Then you try to acquire an outlook on the proper course of action. Perhaps you especially hope to gain insight into the meaning of your own life. And our society, as well, repeatedly collides with questions of its economic, social, and ecological limits. Again and again, philosophy is the necessary condition for finding answers in a rational manner to the demands for in-sight, outlook, and the search for meaning. This is a fascinating story of more than 2,500 years of thought, where the reader might feel inspired to add his or her own responses to the most important personal and social questions. But also to ask new questions – the point of philosophy.


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3. Putting the Search for Meaning in Parentheses


43 3. Putting the Search for Meaning in Parentheses The Middle Ages are over and, from the end of the fourteenth century on, one casts a renewed look upon the culture of antiquity as a guiding model. We are witnessing the birth of what is called modern philosophy. The power of the Church and the monopoly of faith were challenged, together with the dominance of the feudal system. The new bourgeoisie in the cities is rather pragmatically inclined (cf. the Greek cities in the sixth century B.C.E.) and tries to increase its strength both against the powers from above, such as the church and the monarch, and from below, the unrest of the populace (the masses). This general crisis of authority (emperor and pope) leads to a new view of the world, which will necessitate a new philosophical approach. Thus, already in the fifteenth century with philosophers such as Machiavelli (1469-1527), we see that political philosophy is emerging as a new branch of the discipline. Also, someone like Thomas Hobbes (1588- 1679) wanted to base his philosophy upon a study of man, instead of upon the sole insights of religion and antiquity. Other important philosophers in that period of transition were humanists such as Desiderius Erasmus (1499-1536) and Thomas Morus (1478-1535). This thinking, which was no longer, or to a significantly lesser degree, tied to religious dogmas, finds its main support in the development of the sciences, where the independent human intelligence and/or the senses will play a central role....

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