November 08, 2005

Calvin, Campanella, Condillac, Condorcet

John Calvin (1509-1564) is undoubtedly the greatest of Protestant divines, and perhaps, after St. Augustine, the most perseveringly followed by his disciples of any Western writer on theology. A generation divided him from Luther, whom he never met. By birth, education, and temper these two protagonists of the reforming movement were strongly contrasted. He took a monk's vows, was made a priest and incurred much odium by marrying a nun. Catholic Encyclopedia His most important work involved the organization of church governance and the social organization of the church and the city. He was, in fact, the first major political thinker to model social organization entirely on biblical principles. Calvin created the patterns and thought that would dominate Western culture throughout the modern period. American culture, in particular, is thoroughly Calvinist in some form or another; at the heart of the way Americans think and act, you'll find this fierce and imposing reformer. Richard Hooker

Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639) wrote on a wide range of subjects, from Telesian philsophy to political philosophy and astrology. In 1622 he published his Apologia pro Galileo ("Defense of Galileo") in which he defended the Copernican system and the separate paths of Scripture and nature to knowledge of the Creator. He argued that truth about nature is not revealed in Scripture and claimed freedom of thought in philosophical speculation. His writings were influential not because of any scientific discoveries but because of animistic, empirical interpretation of nature. Campanella was a great admirer of Galileo and corresponded with him for many years. In his animistic, Neo-Platonic, astrological approach to nature he was, however, very different from the much more practical Florentine. Sources: Charles B. Schmitt The City of the Sun, by Campanella, was originally written in Italian in 1602, just after he was condemned to life imprisonment for sedition and heresy. This is one of the most important utopias, and may have influenced Bacon's New Atlantis. Alchemy site
Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac (1714-1780) was a major but independent figure of Enlightenment France. His first book was subtitled "a supplement to Mr Locke's Essay on Human Understanding", and he has often been depicted as the thinker who brought British Empiricism to France. However, he differed from Locke in several crucial ways.
  • First, he claimed that all mental operations could be derived from sensation alone, rejecting reflection as a source of ideas.
  • Second, he took Locke's attack on innate ideas a major step further, by denying the existence of any innate faculties. Mental faculties too (e.g. attention and memory) were themselves generated from the occurrence of simple sensations.
  • Third, where Locke claimed that the function of language was to communicate ideas which could exist independently of it, Condillac insisted that the function of language was constitutive in their formation.
  • This claim culminated in the view that knowledge itself is a well-made language, and that the basic form of a well-made language is algebra, which consists of tautological propositions.

Condillac developed a utility-cum-scarcity theory of value that anticipates the Marginalist Revolution by a century. Condillac's life and thought, or bibliography. F.C.T. Moore

Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) was a French philosopher, mathematician, and early political scientist who devised the concept of a Condorcet method. Ahead of his time in many respects as an 18th century thinker, he advocated a liberal economy, free and equal public education, constitutional justice, and equal rights for women and people of all races. His ideas and writings embodied the ideals of the Enlightenment and rationalism, and remain influential to this day. WikipediaWhen the French Revolution broke out Condorcet championed the liberal cause. He was elected as the Paris representative in the Legislative Assembly and he became the secretary of the Assembly. He drew up plans for a state education system which were adopted. Condorcet went into hiding and wrote a very interesting philosophical work Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain (1795). He was arrested and imprisoned on 27 March 1794. Two days later he was found dead in his prison cell. J J O'Connor and E F Robertson

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