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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

The struggle against Scholasticism


4. THE GERMAN REFORMATION.--All the elements of the new age, the struggle against Scholasticism, the revival of letters and the more enlarged culture thus secured, the striving after national independence, the attempts of the state to free itself from the Church and the hierarchy, and above all, the desire of the thinking self-consciousness for autonomy, for freedom from the fetters of authority--all these elements found their focus and point of union in the German Reformation. Though having its root at first in practical, and religious, and national interests, and expending itself mainly upon the Christian doctrine and Church, yet was the Reformation in principle and in its true consequences a rupture of the thinking spirit with authority, a protesting against the fetters of the positive, a return of the mind from its self-estrangement to itself. From that which was without, the mind now came back to that which is within, and the purely human as such, the individual heart and conscience, the subjective conviction, in a word, the rights of the subject now began to be of worth. While marriage had formerly been regarded, though not immoral, as yet inferior to continence and celibacy, it appeared now as a divine institution, a natural law ordained of God. While poverty had formerly been esteemed higher than wealth, and the contemplative life of the monk was superior to the manual labor of the layman supporting himself by his own toil, yet now poverty ceased to be desirable in itself, and labor was no longer despised. Ecclesiastical freedom took the place of spiritual bondage; monasticism and the priesthood lost their power. In the same way, on the side of knowledge the individual man came back to himself, and threw off the restraints of authority. He was impressed with the conviction that the whole process of redemption must be experienced within himself, that his reconciliation to God and salvation was his own concern, for which he needed no mediation of priests, and that he stood in an immediate relation to God. He found his whole being in his faith, in the depth of his feelings and convictions.

Since thus Protestantism sprang from the essence of the same spirit in which modern philosophy had its birth, the two have the closest relation to each other, though of course there is a specific difference between the religious and the scientific principle. Yet in their origin, both kinds of Protestantism, that of religion and that of thought, are one and the same, and in their progress they have also gone hand in hand together. For religion, reduced to its simple elements, will be found to have its source, like philosophy, in the self-knowledge of the reason.

5. THE ADVANCEMENT OF THE NATURAL SCIENCES.--To all these phenomena, which should be regarded both as causes and as symptoms of the intellectual revolution of this period, we must add yet another, which essentially facilitated and gave a positive assistance to the freedom of the mind from the fetters of authority--the starting up of the natural sciences and the inductive method of examining nature. This epoch was a period of the most fruitful and influential discoveries in nature. The discovery of America and the passage to the East Indies had already widened the circle of view, but still greater revolutions are connected with the name of a _Copernicus_ (died 1543), _Kepler_ (died 1630), and _Galileo_ (died 1642), revolutions which could not remain, without an influence upon the whole mode of thinking of that age, and which contributed prominently to break the faith in the prevailing ecclesiastical authority. Scholasticism had turned away from nature and the phenomenal world, and, blind towards that which lay before the very eyes, had spent itself in a dreamy intellectuality; but now nature rose again in honor; her glory and exaltation, her infinite diversity and fulness of life became again the immediate objects of observation; to investigate nature became an essential object of philosophy, and scientific empiricism was thus regarded as a universal and essential concern of the thinking man. From this time the natural sciences date their historical importance, for only from this time have they had an uninterrupted history. The results of this new intellectual movement can be readily estimated. Such a scientific investigation of nature not only destroyed a series of traditional errors and prejudices, but, what was of greater importance, it directed the intellectual interest towards that which is real and actual, it nourished and protected the self-thinking and feeling of self-dependence, the spirit of inquiry and proof. The standpoint of observation and experiment presupposes an independent self-consciousness of the individual, a breaking loose from authority--in a word, scepticism, with which, in fact, the founders of modern philosophy, _Bacon_ and _Descartes_, began; the former by conditioning the knowledge of nature upon the removal of all prejudice and every preconceived opinion, and the latter by demanding that philosophy should be begun with universal doubt. No wonder that a bitter struggle should soon break out between the natural sciences and ecclesiastical orthodoxy, which could only result in breaking the power of the latter.


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