Crisis of Western Philosophy

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* Book: The Crisis of Western Philosophy. Vladimir Solovyov.



Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"This, Solovyov’s first major work, displays youthful enthusiasm, vision, optimism and a large measure of audacity. Unfortunately, it is also at times repetitious and replete with sweeping generalizations, unsubstantiated conclusions, and non sequiturs. The bulk of the work is an excursion in the history of modern philosophy that attempts to substantiate and amplify Solovyov’s justly famous claims, made in the opening lines, that: (i) philosophy — qua a body of abstract, purely theoretical knowledge — has finished its development; (ii) philosophy in this sense is no longer nor will it ever again be maintained by anyone; (iii) philosophy has bequeathed to its successor certain accomplishments or results that this successor will utilize to resolve the problems that philosophy has unsuccessfully attempted to resolve.

Solovyov tells us that his ambitious program differs from positivism in that, unlike the latter, he understands the superseded artifact called “philosophy” to include not merely its “speculative” but also its “empirical” direction. Whether these two directions constitute the entirety of modern philosophy, i.e., whether there has been any historical manifestation of another sense of philosophy, one that is not purely theoretical, during the modern era, is unclear. Also left unclear is what precisely Solovyov means by “positivism.” He mentions as representatives of that doctrine Mill, Spencer and Comte, whose views were by no means identical, and mentions as the fundamental tenet of positivism that “independent reality cannot be given in external experience.” This I take to mean that experience yields knowledge merely of things as they appear, not as they are “in themselves.” Solovyov has, it would seem, confused positivism with phenomenalism.

Solovyov’s reading of the development of modern philosophy proceeds along the lines of Hegel’s own interpretation. He sees Hegel’s “panlogism” as the necessary result of Western philosophy. The “necessity” here is clearly conceptual, although Solovyov implicitly accepts without further ado that this necessity has, as a matter of fact, been historically manifested in the form of individual philosophies. Moreover, in line with Hegel’s apparent self-interpretation Solovyov agrees that the former’s system permits no further development. For the latter, at least, this is because, having rejected the law of (non)contradiction, Hegel’s philosophy sees internal contradiction, which otherwise would lead to further development, as a “logical necessity,” i.e., as something the philosophy itself requires and is accommodated within the system itself.

Similarly, Solovyov’s analysis of the movement from Hegelianism to mid-19th century German materialism is largely indebted to the left-Hegelians. Solovyov, however, merely claims that one can exit Hegelianism by acknowledging its fundamental one-sidedness. Yet in the next breath, as it were, he holds that the emergence of empiricism, qua materialism, was necessary. Out of the phenomenalism of empiricism arises Schopenhauer’s philosophy and thence Eduard von Hartmann’s.

All representatives of Western philosophy, including to some extent Schopenhauer and von Hartmann, see rational knowledge as the decomposition of intuition into its sensuous and logical elements. Such knowledge, however, in breaking up the concrete into abstractions without re-synthesizing them, additionally is unable to recognize these abstractions as such but must hypostatize them, that is, assign real existence to them.. Nevertheless, even were we to grant Solovyov’s audacious thesis that all Western philosophers have done this abstraction and hypostatizing, it by no means follows that rational thought necessarily has had to follow this procedure.

According to Solovyov, von Hartmann, in particular, is aware of the one-sidedness of both rationalism and empiricism, which respectively single out the logical and the sense element in cognition to the exclusion of the other. Nevertheless, he too hypostatizes will and idea instead of realizing that the only way to avoid any and all bifurcations is through a recognition of what Solovyov terms “the fundamental metaphysical principle,” namely that the all- encompassing spirit is the truly existent. This hastily enunciated conclusion receives here no further argument. Nor does Solovyov dwell on establishing his ultimate claim that the results of Western philosophical development, issuing in the discovery of the all-encompassing spirit, agree with the religious beliefs of the Eastern Church fathers."