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The history of contemporary philosophy

A. von Menzel, The iron rolling mill  (A. von Menzel, The iron rolling mill (1875). The Industrial Revolution brings about a change in living conditions, which reflects on philosophical, economic and political thought.)

The philosophy of the nineteenth century is divided into different directions. It includes Romantic philosophy, German idealism, positivism, socialist and materialistic thinking (of Marx, Feuerbach or Proudhon), utilitarianism and pragmatism, as well as Christian thinkers like Kierkegaard.

Part of German philosophy, in particular, is understood as a critical but also constructive dialogue with Kantian thought: this was the case of German idealism, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. The avowed purpose being to take back what seemed most interesting in Kant’s philosophy and to rid it of what appeared to be the remains of an outdated metaphysics. Schopenhauer emphasized the power and domination of the will over reason, based on Indian philosophy; his pessimistic view of the world, marked by the experience of suffering, is inspired by Buddhist ideas. Nietzsche, who attached great importance to the arts, described himself as an immoralist: according to him, the values ​​of traditional Christian morality were the expression of weakness and decadent thought; he analyzed the ideas of nihilism, superman, and the eternal return of the endless repetition of history.

The philosophical currents marked by empiricism took another direction, like the positivism of Auguste Comte, who wanted to go beyond metaphysics by means of empirical sciences alone. In England, Bentham and Mill developed utilitarianism, which subjected economics and ethics to the principle of comparing advantages and disadvantages, and with the idea of ​​social welfare (the principle of greater happiness of the greatest number “), had a great influence in the West. The economy and political philosophy were also marked by Marx, Engels and Proudhon: the first two wanted to profoundly modify the living conditions of the workers by a disruption of the economic and political structures of their time, that these philosophers set themselves the task of analyze (see Capital).

Kierkegaard was in many ways a precursor to existentialism. He defended a philosophy steeped in religion and representing a radical individualism that says how one must behave as a singular individual in different concrete situations.

Twentieth century

Contemporary philosophy, heir to multiple and contradictory traditions, comes in various forms. Schematically, one often opposes on the one hand the analytic philosophy (Russell, Wittgenstein, Quine), born in the English-speaking countries and postulating that it is by having a better comprehension and a logical use of the language that one can solve the problems philosophical, and on the other hand the continental philosophy, grouping various approaches, having generally pursued the rejection of metaphysics, towards an “end of Ideology”, as the hermeneutical tradition (Ricœur, Foucault) and post-Kantian tradition, the phenomenological tradition (Husserl), existentialism (Sartre), Marxism, the deconstruction of Derrida and Heidegger, structuralism, and feminist philosophy.

Each of these currents questions the presuppositions of the philosophical tradition, putting it more or less in question. Philosophy is therefore plural, no method having succeeded in imposing itself among philosophers (as the experimental method has imposed itself in physics and chemistry for example). However, the instability of philosophical methods must not be seen as a weakness of the discipline, but rather as one of its characteristic features.

The twentieth century is also that of the rise of psychoanalytic theories, which strongly influenced the philosophers, with their initiator Sigmund Freud, and its most important successor in France, Jacques Lacan.

In political philosophy, Hannah Arendt provided, after the failure of totalitarianism in the twentieth century, an analysis of these systems, and questioned the modern condition and crisis of culture in the West. John Rawls, meanwhile, is in the legacy of social contract theories with his Theory of Justice, which reflects on the conditions of a just society in the context of political liberalism.

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