8 Characteristics of Modern Philosophy

Modern Philosophy

Modern philosophy begins in the 15th century, when the Modern Age begins. It remains until the 18th century, with the arrival of the Contemporary Age.

Based on experimentation, modern philosophy questions the values related to human beings and their relationship with nature.

Rationalism and empiricism demonstrate this change. The first is associated with human reason (considered an extension of divine power), and the second is based on experience.

Historic context

The end of the Middle Ages was based on the concept of theocentrism (God at the center of the world) and the feudal system, ending with the arrival of the Modern Age.

This phase brings together several scientific discoveries (in the fields of astronomy, natural sciences, mathematics, physics, etc.) that gave rise to anthropocentric thinking (man at the center of the world).

Thus, this period was characterized by the revolution of philosophical and scientific thought. This is because he left aside the religious explanations of the medieval period and created new methods of scientific research. In this way, the power of the Catholic Church became increasingly weaker.

At this time, humanism has a central role offering a more active position of the human being in society. That is, as a thinking being and with greater freedom of choice.

There have been several transformations in European thought at the time, including:

  • The transition from feudalism to capitalism
  • The emergence of the bourgeoisie
  • The formation of modern nation states
  • absolutism
  • mercantilism
  • The Protestant Reformation
  • The great navigations
  • The invention of the press
  • The discovery of the new world
  • The beginning of the Renaissance movement

Main features

The main characteristics of modern philosophy are based on the following concepts:

  1. Anthropocentrism and Humanism
  2. scientism
  3. Valuation of nature
  4. Rationalism (reason)
  5. Empiricism (experiences)
  6. Freedom and idealism
  7. Renaissance and enlightenment
  8. Secular philosophy (non-religious)

Major modern philosophers

Take a look at the main philosophers and philosophical problems of the Modern Age:

Michel de Montaigne (1523-1592)

Inspired by Epicureanism, Stoicism, Humanism and Skepticism, Montaigne was a French philosopher, writer and humanist. He worked with themes of human, moral and political essence.

He was the creator of the personal essay of the textual genre when he published his work “Essays” in 1580.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)

Considered “Father of modern political thought”, Machiavelli was an Italian philosopher and politician of the Renaissance.

He introduced moral and ethical principles into politics. He separated politics from ethics, a theory analyzed in his most emblematic work “The Prince”, later published in 1532.

Jean Bodin (1530-1596)

French philosopher and jurist, Bodin contributed to the evolution of modern political thought. His “theory of the divine law of kings” was analyzed in his work “The Republic.”

According to him, political power was concentrated in a single figure who represents the image of God on Earth, based on the precepts of monarchy.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

British philosopher and politician, Bacon collaborated in the creation of a new scientific method. Thus, he is considered one of the founders of the “inductive method of scientific research”, based on the observation of natural phenomena.

Furthermore, he presented the “idol theory” in his work “Novum Organum”, which, according to him, altered human thinking and impeded the advancement of science.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

“Father of Physics and Modern Science”, Galileo was an Italian astronomer, physicist and mathematician.

He collaborated with several scientific discoveries of his time. Much of it was based on the heliocentric theory of Nicholas Copernicus (the Earth revolves around the sun), thus contradicting the dogmas expounded by the Catholic Church.

In addition, he created the “experimental mathematical method”, which is based on the observation of natural phenomena, experiments and the valorization of mathematics.

René Descartes (1596-1650)

French philosopher and mathematician, Descartes is recognized for one of his famous phrases: “I think, therefore I am.”

He was the creator of Cartesian thought, the philosophical system that gave rise to Modern Philosophy. This topic was analyzed in his work “The Discourse of the Method”, a philosophical and mathematical treatise, published in 1637.

Baruch Espinosa (1632-1677)

The Dutch philosopher Espinosa based his theories on radical rationalism. He criticized and eliminated superstitions (religious, political and philosophical) that, according to him, were based on the imagination.

From there, the philosopher believed in the rationality of a transcendental and immanent God identified with nature, which had been analyzed in his work “Ethics.”

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

French philosopher and mathematician, Pascal contributed with studies based on the search for truth, reflected in human tragedy.

According to him, reason would not be the ideal end to prove the existence of God, since the human being is impotent and limited to appearances.

In his work “Thoughts” he presents his main questions about the existence of a God based on rationalism.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

English philosopher and political theorist, Hobbes sought to analyze the causes and properties of things, leaving aside metaphysics (essence of being).

Based on the concepts of materialism, mechanism and empiricism, he developed his theory. In it, reality is explained through the body (matter) and its movements (allied to mathematics).

His most emblematic work is a political treatise called “Leviathan” (1651), which mentions the theory of the “social contract” (existence of a sovereign).

John Locke (1632-1704)

An English empirical philosopher, Locke was the precursor of many liberal ideas, thus criticizing monarchical absolutism.

According to him, all knowledge comes from experience. With this, human thought would be based on the ideas of sensations and reflection where the mind would be a “surface table” at the moment of birth.

Thus, ideas are acquired throughout life from our experiences.

David Hume (1711-1776)

Scottish philosopher and diplomat, Hume followed the empirical and skeptical line. He criticized dogmatic rationalism and inductive reasoning, analyzed in his work “Investigation of Human Understanding.”

In this work, he defends the idea of the development of knowledge from a sensitive experience, in which perceptions would be divided:

impressions (associated with the senses); ideas (mental representations resulting from impressions).

Montesquieu (1689-1755)

French philosopher and jurist of the Enlightenment, Montesquieu was a defender of democracy and a critic of absolutism and Catholicism.

His greatest theoretical contribution was the separation of the powers of the State into three branches (executive, legislative and judicial). This theory was formulated in his work The Spirit of the Laws (1748).

According to him, this characterization would protect individual freedoms, while preventing abuses by rulers.

Voltaire (1694-1778)

French philosopher, poet, playwright and historian was one of the most important thinkers of the Enlightenment, a movement based on reason.

He defended the monarchy governed by freedom and enlightened sovereign and individual thought, while criticizing religious intolerance and the clergy.

According to him, the existence of God is a social necessity and, therefore, if it were not possible to confirm his existence, we would have to invent him.

Denis Diderot (1713-1784)

Philosopher and encyclopedist of the French Enlightenment together with Jean le Rond D’Alembert (1717-1783), he organized the “Encyclopedia.” This 33-volume work brought together knowledge from different areas.

He had the collaboration of several thinkers, such as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Rousseau. This publication was essential for the expansion of modern bourgeois thought of the time and the ideals of the Enlightenment.

Rousseau (1712-1778)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss philosopher and social writer and one of the most important figures of the Enlightenment movement. He was a defender of freedom and a critic of rationalism.

In the field of philosophy, he investigated topics on social and political institutions. His most notable works are: “Discourse on the origin and foundations of inequalities between men” (1755) and “Social contract” (1972).

Adam Smith (1723-1790)

Scottish philosopher and economist, Smith was the main theorist of economic liberalism, thus criticizing the mercantilist system.

His most emblematic work is the “Essay on the Wealth of Nations.” In this sense, it defends an economy based on the law of supply and demand, which would lead to the self-regulation of the market and, consequently, the satisfaction of social needs.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

German Enlightenment philosopher, Kant attempted to explain the types of judgments and knowledge by developing a “critical examination of reason.”

In his work “Critique of Pure Reason” (1781) he presents two forms that lead to knowledge: empirical knowledge (a posteriori) and pure knowledge (a priori).

In addition to this work, it is worth highlighting the “Critique of Practical Reason” (1788). In summary, in Kantian philosophy, knowledge would be the result of sensitivity and understanding.