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Richard Falckenberg

The long conflict with Scholasticism, which had been carried on with ever increasing energy and ever sharper weapons, was brought by Descartes to a victorious close. The new movement, long desired, long sought, and prepared for from many directions, at length appears, ready and well-established. Descartes accomplishes everything needful with the sure simplicity of genius.

[Footnote 1: Cf. G. Monchamp, Histoire du Cartesianisme en Belgique, Brussels, 1886.]

1. Occasionalism: Geulincx.

After the Cartesian philosophy had given decisive expression to the tendencies of modern thought, and had been developed through occasionalism to its completion in the system of Spinoza, the line of further progress consisted in two factors: Descartes's principles—one-sidedly rationalistic and abstractly scientific, as they were—were, on the one hand, to be supplemented by the addition of the empirical element which Descartes had neglected, and, on the other, to be made available for general culture by approximation to the interests of practical life.

Besides the theory of knowledge, which forms the central doctrine in his system, Locke had discussed the remaining branches of philosophy, though in less detail, and, by his many-sided stimulation, had posited problems for the Illumination movement in England and in France. Now the several disciplines take different courses, but the after-influence of his powerful mind is felt on every hand.

In the last decade of the seventeenth century France had yielded the leadership in philosophy to England. Whereas Hobbes had in Paris imbibed the spirit of the Galilean and Cartesian inquiry, while Bacon, Locke, and even Hume had also visited France with advantage, now French thinkers take the watchword from the English. Montesquieu and Voltaire, returning from England in the same year (1729), acquaint their countrymen with the ideas of Locke and his contemporaries.

In the contemporaries Spinoza and Locke, the two schools of modern philosophy, the Continental, starting from Descartes, and the English, which followed Bacon, had reached the extreme of divergence and opposition, Spinoza was a rationalistic pantheist, Locke, an empirical individualist. With Leibnitz a twofold approximation begins. As a rationalist he sides with Spinoza against Locke, as an individualist with Locke against Spinoza.

The suit between empiricism and rationalism had continued for centuries, but still awaited final decision. Are all our ideas the result of experience, or are they (wholly or in part) an original possession of the mind? Are they received from without (by perception), or produced from within (by self-activity)? Is knowledge a product of sensation or of pure thought? All who had thus far taken part in this discussion had resembled partisans or advocates rather than disinterested judges.

Fichte is a Kantian in about the same sense that Plato was a Socratic. Instead of taking up and developing particular critical problems he makes the vivifying kernel, the soul of criticism, his own.

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