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Guide Japanese History, Philosophy and Mythology

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The third in the main trio of classical philosophers was Plato 's student Aristotle.


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He created an even more comprehensive system of philosophy than Plato , encompassing Ethics , Aesthetics , Politics , Metaphysics , Logic and science , and his work influenced almost all later philosophical thinking, particularly those of the Medieval period. Aristotle 's system of deductive Logic , with its emphasis on the syllogism where a conclusion, or synthesis , is inferred from two other premises, the thesis and antithesis , remained the dominant form of Logic until the 19th Century.

Unlike Plato , Aristotle held that Form and Matter were inseparable , and cannot exist apart from each other. Although he too believed in a kind of Eudaimonism , Aristotle realized that Ethics is a complex concept and that we cannot always control our own moral environment. He thought that happiness could best be achieved by living a balanced life and avoiding excess by pursuing a golden mean in everything similar to his formula for political stability through steering a middle course between tyranny and democracy.

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In the philosophical cauldron of Ancient Greece , though as well as the Hellenistic and Roman civilizations which followed it over the next few centuries , several other schools or movements also held sway, in addition to Platonism and Aristotelianism :. After about the 4th or 5th Century A. This period also saw the establishment of the first universities , which was an important factor in the subsequent development of philosophy. Avicenna tried to reconcile the rational philosophy of Aristotelianism and Neo-Platonism with Islamic theology , and also developed his own system of Logic , known as Avicennian Logic.

He also introduced the concept of the "tabula rasa" the idea that humans are born with no innate or built-in mental content , which strongly influenced later Empiricists like John Locke. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides also attempted the same reconciliation of Aristotle with the Hebrew scriptures around the same time. The Medieval Christian philosophers were all part of a movement called Scholasticism which tried to combine Logic , Metaphysics , Epistemology and semantics the theory of meaning into one discipline, and to reconcile the philosophy of the ancient classical philosophers particularly Aristotle with Christian theology.

The Scholastic method was to thoroughly and critically read the works of renowned scholars, note down any disagreements and points of contention , and then resolve them by the use of formal Logic and analysis of language. Scholasticism in general is often criticized for spending too much time discussing infinitesimal and pedantic details like how many angels could dance on the tip of a needle, etc.

Anselm best known as the originator of the Ontological Argument for the existence of God by abstract reasoning alone is often regarded as the first of the Scholastics , and St. Thomas Aquinas known for his five rational proofs for the existence of God, and his definition of the cardinal virtues and the theological virtues is generally considered the greatest , and certainly had the greatest influence on the theology of the Catholic Church.

Each contributed slight variations to the same general beliefs - Abelard introduced the doctrine of limbo for unbaptized babies; Scotus rejected the distinction between essence and existence that Aquinas had insisted on; Ockham introduced the important methodological principle known as Ockham's Razor , that one should not multiply arguments beyond the necessary; etc. Roger Bacon was something of an exception, and actually criticized the prevailing Scholastic system, based as it was on tradition and scriptural authority.

He is sometimes credited as one of the earliest European advocates of Empiricism the theory that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience and of the modern scientific method. The revival of classical civilization and learning in the 15th and 16th Century known as the Renaissance brought the Medieval period to a close.

It was marked by a movement away from religion and medieval Scholasticism and towards Humanism the belief that humans can solve their own problems through reliance on reason and the scientific method and a new sense of critical inquiry. Among the major philosophical figures of the Renaissance were: Erasmus who attacked many of the traditions of the Catholic Church and popular superstitions, and became the intellectual father of the European Reformation ; Machiavelli whose cynical and devious Political Philosophy has become notorious ; Thomas More the Christian Humanist whose book "Utopia" influenced generations of politicians and planners and even the early development of Socialist ideas ; and Francis Bacon whose empiricist belief that truth requires evidence from the real world , and whose application of inductive reasoning - generalizations based on individual instances - were both influential in the development of modern scientific methodology.

The Age of Reason of the 17th Century and the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th Century very roughly speaking , along with the advances in science , the growth of religious tolerance and the rise of liberalism which went with them, mark the real beginnings of modern philosophy. In large part, the period can be seen as an ongoing battle between two opposing doctrines , Rationalism the belief that all knowledge arises from intellectual and deductive reason , rather than from the senses and Empiricism the belief that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience.

His method known as methodological skepticism , although its aim was actually to dispel Skepticism and arrive at certain knowledge , was to shuck off everything about which there could be even a suspicion of doubt including the unreliable senses , even his own body which could be merely an illusion to arrive at the single indubitable principle that he possessed consciousness and was able to think "I think, therefore I am".

He then argued rather unsatisfactorily, some would say that our perception of the world around us must be created for us by God. He saw the human body as a kind of machine that follows the mechanical laws of physics, while the mind or consciousness was a quite separate entity , not subject to the laws of physics, which is only able to influence the body and deal with the outside world by a kind of mysterious two-way interaction. This idea, known as Dualism or, more specifically, Cartesian Dualism , set the agenda for philosophical discussion of the "mind-body problem" for centuries after.

Despite Descartes ' innovation and boldness, he was a product of his times and never abandoned the traditional idea of a God , which he saw as the one true substance from which everything else was made. The second great figure of Rationalism was the Dutchman Baruch Spinoza , although his conception of the world was quite different from that of Descartes. He built up a strikingly original self-contained metaphysical system in which he rejected Descartes ' Dualism in favor of a kind of Monism where mind and body were just two different aspects of a single underlying substance which might be called Nature and which he also equated with a God of infinitely many attributes, effectively a kind of Pantheism.

Spinoza was a thoroughgoing Determinist who believed that absolutely everything even human behavior occurs through the operation of necessity , leaving absolutely no room for free will and spontaneity. He also took the Moral Relativist position that nothing can be in itself either good or bad, except to the extent that it is subjectively perceived to be so by the individual and, anyway, in an ordered deterministic world, the very concepts of Good and Evil can have little or no absolute meaning.

The third great Rationalist was the German Gottfried Leibniz. In order to overcome what he saw as drawbacks and inconsistencies in the theories of Descartes and Spinoza , he devised a rather eccentric metaphysical theory of monads operating according to a pre-established divine harmony.

According to Leibniz 's theory, the real world is actually composed of eternal, non-material and mutually-independent elements he called monads , and the material world that we see and touch is actually just phenomena appearances or by-products of the underlying real world. The apparent harmony prevailing among monads arises because of the will of God the supreme monad who arranges everything in the world in a deterministic manner.

Leibniz also saw this as overcoming the problematic interaction between mind and matter arising in Descartes ' system, and he declared that this must be the best possible world , simply because it was created and determined by a perfect God. He is also considered perhaps the most important logician between Aristotle and the midth Century developments in modern formal Logic.

Another important 17th Century French Rationalist although perhaps of the second order was Nicolas Malebranche , who was a follower of Descartes in that he believed that humans attain knowledge through ideas or immaterial representations in the mind. However, Malebranche argued more or less following St. Augustine that all ideas actually exist only in God , and that God was the only active power.

Thus, he believed that what appears to be "interaction" between body and mind is actually caused by God , but in such a way that similar movements in the body will "occasion" similar ideas in the mind, an idea he called Occasionalism. In opposition to the continental European Rationalism movement was the equally loose movement of British Empiricism , which was also represented by three main proponents. The first of the British Empiricists was John Locke.

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He argued that all of our ideas, whether simple or complex, are ultimately derived from experience , so that the knowledge of which we are capable is therefore severely limited both in its scope and in its certainty a kind of modified Skepticism , especially given that the real inner natures of things derive from what he called their primary qualities which we can never experience and so never know.

Locke , like Avicenna before him, believed that the mind was a tabula rasa or blank slate and that people are born without innate ideas , although he did believe that humans have absolute natural rights which are inherent in the nature of Ethics. Along with Hobbes and Rousseau , he was one of the originators of Contractarianism or Social Contract Theory , which formed the theoretical underpinning for democracy , republicanism , Liberalism and Libertarianism , and his political views influenced both the American and French Revolutions.

The next of the British Empiricists chronologically was Bishop George Berkeley , although his Empiricism was of a much more radical kind, mixed with a twist of Idealism. Using dense but cogent arguments, he developed the rather counter-intuitive system known as Immaterialism or sometimes as Subjective Idealism , which held that underlying reality consists exclusively of minds and their ideas , and that individuals can only directly know these ideas or perceptions although not the objects themselves through experience.

Thus, according to Berkeley 's theory, an object only really exists if someone is there to see or sense it "to be is to be perceived" , although, he added, the infinite mind of God perceives everything all the time, and so in this respect the objects continue to exist. The third, and perhaps greatest , of the British Empiricists was David Hume. He believed strongly that human experience is as close are we are ever going to get to the truth , and that experience and observation must be the foundations of any logical argument.


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  6. Hume argued that, although we may form beliefs and make inductive inferences about things outside our experience by means of instinct, imagination and custom , they cannot be conclusively established by reason and we should not make any claims to certain knowledge about them a hard-line attitude verging on complete Skepticism.

    Although he never openly declared himself an atheist , he found the idea of a God effectively nonsensical , given that there is no way of arriving at the idea through sensory data. He attacked many of the basic assumptions of religion , and gave many of the classic criticisms of some of the arguments for the existence of God particularly the teleological argument. In his Political Philosophy , Hume stressed the importance of moderation , and his work contains elements of both Conservatism and Liberalism. Among the "non-aligned" philosophers of the period many of whom were most active in the area of Political Philosophy were the following:.

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    Towards the end of the Age of Enlightenment , the German philosopher Immanuel Kant caused another paradigm shift as important as that of Descartes years earlier, and in many ways this marks the shift to Modern philosophy. He sought to move philosophy beyond the debate between Rationalism and Empiricism , and he attempted to combine those two apparently contradictory doctrines into one overarching system. A whole movement Kantianism developed in the wake of his work, and most of the subsequent history of philosophy can be seen as responses , in one way or another, to his ideas.

    Kant showed that Empiricism and Rationalism could be combined and that statements were possible that were both synthetic a posteriori knowledge from experience alone, as in Empiricism but also a priori from reason alone, as in Rationalism. Thus, without the senses we could not become aware of any object, but without understanding and reason we could not form any conception of it. However, our senses can only tell us about the appearance of a thing phenomenon and not the "thing-in-itself" noumenon , which Kant believed was essentially unknowable , although we have certain innate predispositions as to what exists Transcendental Idealism.

    Kant 's major contribution to Ethics was the theory of the Categorical Imperative , that we should act only in such a way that we would want our actions to become a universal law , applicable to everyone in a similar situation Moral Universalism and that we should treat other individuals as ends in themselves , not as mere means Moral Absolutism , even if that means sacrificing the greater good.

    Kant believed that any attempts to prove God's existence are just a waste of time , because our concepts only work properly in the empirical world which God is above and beyond , although he also argued that it was not irrational to believe in something that clearly cannot be proven either way Fideism. In the Modern period, Kantianism gave rise to the German Idealists , each of whom had their own interpretations of Kant 's ideas.

    Fichte 's later Political Philosophy also contributed to the rise of German Nationalism. Friedrich Schelling developed a unique form of Idealism known as Aesthetic Idealism in which he argued that only art was able to harmonize and sublimate the contradictions between subjectivity and objectivity, freedom and necessity, etc , and also tried to establish a connection or synthesis between his conceptions of nature and spirit.

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    Arthur Schopenhauer is also usually considered part of the German Idealism and Romanticism movements, although his philosophy was very singular. He was a thorough-going pessimist who believed that the "will-to-life" the drive to survive and to reproduce was the underlying driving force of the world, and that the pursuit of happiness, love and intellectual satisfaction was very much secondary and essentially futile. He saw art and other artistic, moral and ascetic forms of awareness as the only way to overcome the fundamentally frustration-filled and painful human condition.

    The greatest and most influential of the German Idealists , though, was Georg Hegel. Although his works have a reputation for abstractness and difficulty , Hegel is often considered the summit of early 19th Century German thought, and his influence was profound. He extended Aristotle 's process of dialectic resolving a thesis and its opposing antithesis into a synthesis to apply to the real world - including the whole of history - in an on-going process of conflict resolution towards what he called the Absolute Idea.

    However, he stressed that what is really changing in this process is the underlying "Geist" mind, spirit, soul , and he saw each person's individual consciousness as being part of an Absolute Mind sometimes referred to as Absolute Idealism. Karl Marx was strongly influenced by Hegel 's dialectical method and his analysis of history. His Marxist theory including the concepts of historical materialism , class struggle , the labor theory of value , the bourgeoisie , etc , which he developed with his friend Friedrich Engels as a reaction against the rampant Capitalism of 19th Century Europe, provided the intellectual base for later radical and revolutionary Socialism and Communism.

    A very different kind of philosophy grew up in 19th Century England , out of the British Empiricist tradition of the previous century. The doctrine of Utilitarianism is a type of Consequentialism an approach to Ethics that stresses an action's outcome or consequence , which holds that the right action is that which would cause "the greatest happiness of the greatest number". Mill refined the theory to stress the quality not just the quantity of happiness, and intellectual and moral pleasures over more physical forms.

    He counseled that coercion in society is only justifiable either to defend ourselves, or to defend others from harm the "harm principle". Ralph Waldo Emerson established the Transcendentalism movement in the middle of the century, rooted in the transcendental philosophy of Kant , German Idealism and Romanticism , and a desire to ground religion in the inner spiritual or mental essence of humanity, rather than in sensuous experience.

    Emerson 's student Henry David Thoreau further developed these ideas, stressing intuition , self-examination , Individualism and the exploration of the beauty of nature. Thoreau 's advocacy of civil disobedience influenced generations of social reformers.


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    The other main American movement of the late 19th Century was Pragmatism , which was initiated by C. Peirce and developed and popularized by William James and John Dewey. The theory of Pragmatism is based on Peirce 's pragmatic maxim , that the meaning of any concept is really just the same as its operational or practical consequences essentially, that something is true only insofar as it works in practice.

    Peirce also introduced the idea of Fallibilism that all truths and "facts" are necessarily provisional , that they can never be certain but only probable. James , in addition to his psychological work, extended Pragmatism , both as a method for analyzing philosophic problems but also as a theory of truth , as well as developing his own versions of Fideism that beliefs are arrived at by an individual process that lies beyond reason and evidence and Voluntarism that the will is superior to the intellect and to emotion among others.

    Shinto shrines are the places of worship and the homes of kami.

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    Most shrines celebrate festivals matsuri regularly in order to show the kami the outside world. Shinto priests perform Shinto rituals and often live on the shrine grounds. Men and women can become priests, and they are allowed to marry and have children. Priests are aided by younger women miko during rituals and shrine tasks. Miko wear white kimono , must be unmarried, and are often the priests' daughters.

    Important features of Shinto art are shrine architecture and the cultivation and preservation of ancient art forms such as Noh theater , calligraphy and court music gagaku , an ancient dance music that originated in the courts of Tang China - The introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century was followed by a few initial conflicts, however, the two religions were soon able to co-exist and even complement each other. Many Buddhists viewed the kami as manifestations of Buddha. In the Meiji Period , Shinto was made Japan's state religion. Shinto priests became state officials, important shrines receive governmental funding, Japan's creation myths were used to foster a national identity with the Emperor at its center, and efforts were made to separate and emancipate Shinto from Buddhism.

    People seek support from Shinto by praying at a home altar or by visiting shrines. A whole range of talismans are available at shrines for traffic safety, good health, success in business, safe childbirth, good exam performance and more. A large number of wedding ceremonies are held in Shinto style. Death, however, is considered a source of impurity, and is left to Buddhism to deal with. Consequently, there are virtually no Shinto cemeteries, and most funerals are held in Buddhist style.

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