I am by no means an expert in the history of philosophy (although I feel pretty comfortable with what happened between the three hundred years, say… between 624 B.C. and 322 B.C.)
But just what happened afterwards begins to get slightly blurry for about 1500 years. (Of course Our Lord comes along and basically speaks all truth, but I shy away from calling our Lord a “philosopher” as we sometimes hear people speak about Mahatma Gandhi. I refuse to participate in this sort of insidious comparison.)
And then Shazam! For about fifty years between 1225-1274 there was this huge philosophical and Theological fireworks show. And then things appeared to go dark again and appear to have remained dark or dim ever since (although granted here and there the light continues to twinkle continuously as it always has.)
As an example of its dimness we present our good friend Bishop George Berkeley 1685-1753. And I don’t mean to be facetious here, because I do think that we owe a debt of gratitude for the thinking of Berkeley, but mostly as to someone who provides us with a foil for right thinking.
I love this opening paragraph to his treatise “The Principles of Human Knowledge” (and I am going to use a Fr. Z technique here to make some appropriate comments in bold)
Philosophy is just the study of wisdom and truth, so one might reasonably expect that those who have spent most time and care on it would enjoy a greater calm and serenity of mind, know things more clearly and certainly, and be less disturbed with doubts and difficulties than other men. (Bravo! This seems totally true to me! Go liberal education!!) But what we find is quite different, namely that the illiterate majority of people, who walk the high road of plain common sense and are governed by the dictates of nature, are mostly comfortable and undisturbed. (Alas too true. This really bugs me. Ignorance is bliss!) To them nothing that is familiar appears hard to explain or to understand. (I know, I know…Liberal education, as I can attest, definitely makes it difficult to get out complete sentences!) They don’t complain of any lack of certainty in their senses, and are in no danger of becoming skeptics. But as soon as we depart from sense and instinct to follow the light of a higher principle—i.e. to reason, meditate, and reflect on the nature of things—a thousand doubts spring up in our minds concerning things that we previously seemed to understand fully. We encounter many prejudices and errors of the senses; and when we try to correct these by reason, we are gradually drawn into crude paradoxes, difficulties, and inconsistencies that multiply and grow on us as our thoughts progress; until finally, having wandered through many intricate mazes, we find ourselves back where we started or—which is worse—we sit down in a forlorn skepticism. (All that college money down the drain…we should have majored in business!)
With that opening paragraph Berkeley does a great job summing up, perhaps, the average experience of most students of philosophy. He describes the intellectual Weltanschauung of our day.
I think he intends to solve the inconsistencies and lead us out of the maze in the rest of his treatise.
Unfortunately, arguably, he accomplishes just the reverse.