What is modern philosophy

Introduction to the philosophy of modernity

From our series: Introduction to Philosophy

Jena 1808. The battle of Napoleon's troops against the Prussian and Saxon armies rages around the university town. A young philosopher witnesses the invasion of the Napoleonic troops. He is enthusiastic about Napoleon. In his eyes, the French general personified the dawn of a new era of rational statehood. He will therefore refer to Napoleon as the “world soul on horseback”. The philosopher is called Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Europe will be preoccupied with his thesis on the world soul for a long time. It is based on a question inspired by the Enlightenment: Where can a reasonable society develop?

New technologies bring with them new ethical questions

Let us put ourselves mentally in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century. The Holy Roman Empire is falling apart. The coming years will bring many upheavals. The Bavarians import the steam locomotive from England, starting from the valleys of the Ruhr, a new, private economic revolution breaks out in Germany during the revolution of 1848. Factories are springing up everywhere that produce and consume more and more goods. That requires more and more manpower. The little man's living conditions are changing for the worse. Those who used to be farmers are now part of an army of workers that ekes out their existence between chimneys and soot-blackened tenements. The technology makes it possible: never before has it been possible to pump pit water in such deep shafts, never has it been possible to send goods overland so quickly and cheaply. The dimensioning and mechanization of goods and production routes are changing everyday life. This raises new ethical questions that have not existed in past centuries.

Much is also changing in the empirical sciences and philosophy. In the years of the Enlightenment the authority of the church had already lost a lot of its effectiveness. Darwin's findings had disproved the creation story of the church. And there were new criteria for what a good act was that did without revelation and instead relied on reason. The new ideas borrowed from utilitarianism and Kant's idea of ​​a rational ethics. The philosophers of the modern age are now looking for and finding new answers to their questions. In Far Eastern philosophy, as is the case with Schopenhauer. In nature and its endless movement of survival of the mightier, as Nietzsche pointed out. In the inevitability of a proletarian revolution as Marx and Engels predict. Later, in the twentieth century, existentialist approaches were added that made one's own life plan the ultimate goal. In short: you want to, you have to reorient yourself.

Does the reconnaissance inevitably lead to disaster?

Ultimately, the achievements of the industrial age in two world wars are also used on the battlefields and in the concentration camps: in the mass destruction of human lives, at the front and in the camp. Contemporary witnesses are horrified. Which “world soul” and which “objective spirit” that Hegel had seen could still stand behind it? Or, to put it more concretely: does the reconnaissance perhaps inevitably lead to catastrophe in the final analysis?

A fundamental question arises for some modern thinkers in the twentieth century. If the morally bad developments of the past centuries - colonization, for example, in which the Europeans tried to impose their views and their culture on other peoples - were part of a system that led to catastrophe: who is still right then? Must we not rather give the worldview of other peoples the same validity as the occidental sciences? And can we still assume that reason, and thus science, will bring us further?

Do the sciences help us socially?

However, if we accept this last thought, a problem arises as to the truth. Because if we admit many truths at the same time with the zeitgeist, we get into dilemmas. This happens when the various truths contradict each other, as Paul Boghossian shows.

The following dossier examines the development of philosophy over the past 200 years and is intended to continue to grow. In doing so, it cannot exhaustively exhaust all theories. First and foremost, it should stimulate philosophizing. It takes up the development of the term postmodern as an example. Based on the Lyotard contribution, you can trace its development at least back to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer via the links. The dossier uses the original texts, but also songs, videos and other media. Because according to Kant: Philosophy cannot be learned, but philosophizing can very well.

Dossier: Philosophy of Modernity

1. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Subject-Object Dialectic
2. Karl Marx and industrialization
3. Friedrich Nietzsche: It thinks
4. Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species
5. Jean F. Lyotard: The Postmodern Knowledge
6. Paul Boghossian: Fear of the Truth


Introduction to the philosophy of the Enlightenment

The Introduction to the philosophy of the Enlightenment introduces you to the most important philosophers of this era. According to Immanuel Kant, enlightenment in the philosophical sense means a process that is not limited to one epoch, but has to be repeated over and over again. The Enlightenment is an invitation to each individual not to submit to discursive power relationships without questioning, but to come of age again and again by dealing with them. [To the dossier]

Here you get back to the overview: Introduction to Philosophy


Introduction to philosophy