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NINETEENTH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY
What characterizes nineteenth century philosophy as a foundation for current philosophical thought?
Philosophy became fully modern in the nineteenth century in the sense that nineteenth century philosophical schools of thought and methods of analysis are still practiced by professional philosophers today. Modern philosophy is characterized by empiricism on the one side and a reaction against empiricism on the other. It consists of a series of inquiries that continue to be used as classic foundations for contemporary thinkers, who build upon it still. Its primary founders flourished in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and they set the stage with problems that gave rise to existentialism and phenomenology, or continental philosophy; American philosophy, or pragmatism; Anglo-American analytic philosophy, including what is now known as "philosophy of science"; and the new philosophies of post-structuralism, post-modernism, feminism, and race and post-colonialism.
The hallmark of modern philosophy has been a constantly renewed awareness of other fields as philosophically interesting, such as social criticism, political science, physical science, psychology, mathematics, logic, and literature, and new understandings of the human subject as both a generator and subject matter of philosophical thought.
NINETEENTH CENTURY EMPIRICISM
What happened that affected empiricism in the nineteenth century?
Empiricism became systematized as an overall philosophical methodology with applications for science, ethics, and political science. This was largely the work of two men who did not agree with each other, William Whewell (1794-1866) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), and a third, Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who founded the new school of thought called positivism.
Comte was also important in founding sociology, but can be considered here as an empiricist for his methodology. Whewell was primarily focused on science and its popularization. Mill was able to bring a coherent explanation of empirical science into philosophy because his empiricism was more easily accepted by empiricist philosophers than was Whewell's. Mill also extended empiricism to ethics, political philosophy, and rights for women. Comte was the most extreme empiricist to date, and in the twentieth century positivism was revisited as a method for doing philosophy in general.
Who was William Whewell?
William Whewell (1794-1866) was a polymath who contributed work to mechanics, mineralogy, geology, astronomy, political economy, theology, education, law, architecture, ethics, the philosophy of science, and what he named "tideology." He was a founder and president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and a fellow of the Royal Society. Whewell invented the term "scientist" analogously with "artist." He was the most influential figure in British education in the nineteenth century.
What were the main facts about Whewell's life?
William Whewell was born in Lancaster in 1794. His father was a master carpenter, and his mother wrote poetry. He studied at Heversham Grammar School and attended Trinity College, Cambridge, on a scholarship. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1820, when he was just 26. After being ordained as an Anglican priest—a requirement for the post—he was chair of mineralogy at Trinity College from 1828 to 1832. He became professor of moral philosophy in 1838.
Whewell married Cordelia Marshall and became master of Trinity College and vice chancellor of Cambridge in two separate terms. When Cordelia died, he married Lady Affleck, who was the sister of a friend. Lady Affleck died, and then Whewell himself passed away after he was injured in a riding accident. His work was largely neglected until the mid-twentieth century; the revival of interest in his empirical and theoretical achievements has been substantial ever since.
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