The history of Western philosophy is essentially a struggle of the human mind to discover truth and the method for achieving it, the method of objectivity.
A number of leading philosophers struggled heroically to identify, define, and explain this method. In this context, a “hero” is an individual of outstanding ability who struggles against substantial impediments and/or antagonism in the pursuit of truth and the method of objectivity.1
Prior to the birth of philosophy in Classical Greece circa the 6th century BC, mankind’s efforts to explain natural phenomena consisted mostly of stories and literature. For example, in the 8th century BC, Homer wrote great works such as the Odyssey and the Iliad, and told stirring tales about a legendary warrior whose moral character rose to equal his martial prowess—and about a wily, courageous man who battled gods, monsters, storms, sirens, and men to return home to his son and beloved wife.
But these explanations of natural phenomena are mythical. A terrible storm rages because the god Poseidon is angry; a volcano erupts and destroys a village because Hephaestus is enraged; spring blooms with abundance at Demeter’s joy. Notice that such explanations are quasi-religious, referring to deities, but they are not otherworldly. The Greeks believed that these gods were of the natural world and should be accessible to sensory awareness—even if never observed. In myth, they appear to human beings; in real life, no one ever encountered them. Belief in such beings has no empirical basis. These are legends, not theories. Such stories are rooted in a desire of the writer (the subject) to provide some explanation of natural events for which men had no empirically supported explanation. Because such explanations are based on feelings, not facts, they are subjective, not objective.
The terms “subjective” and “objective” are used a great deal in philosophy and, for clarity, they must be precisely defined. Toward that end, let’s consider another example, also from Ancient Greece.
Ancient Greek Philosophy
The first hero of philosophy is the man generally considered the father of philosophy: Thales (620–545 BC). We have only a few fragments of his thinking. He thought that all things were composed of water; it was a crude belief, now obviously false. At the time, however, this was a reasonable and novel attempt to make sense of the world, and an important step in intellectual history. Consider the pattern of his reasoning. . . .
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1. See Andrew Bernstein, Heroes, Legends, Champions: Why Heroism Matters (New York: Union Square, 2019), 1–46.
2. W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 1, The Classical Mind (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), 8–9.
3. G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1957), 97–98.
4. Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Robin Waterfield (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 33; Book One, 74.
5. Aristotle, Politics, Oxford translation, ed. W. D. Ross, in Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House, 1941), 1142; 1259 a 6–23.
6. Jones, Classical Mind, 9.
7. Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual (New York: Signet, 1961), 149–50.
8. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1945), 77.
9. W. K. C. Guthrie, The Greek Philosophers: From Thales to Aristotle (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), 68–69.
10. Jones, Classical Mind, 67.
11. Plato, an unsympathetic source, quotes Protagoras to this effect in Theaetetus, trans. F. M. Cornford, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), 856; 152 a 1–5.
12. Guthrie, Greek Philosophers, 68.
13. Plato, The Republic, trans. Paul Shorey, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), 588; 338 c 1–2.
14. Guthrie, Greek Philosophers, 78.
15. Wilhelm Windelband, History of Ancient Philosophy, trans. Herbert Ernest Cushman (New York: Dover, 1956), 134.
16. The Sophists’ exhortations to action amounted to no more than: Follow your own feelings, or follow society’s. Intellectual historians know of no thinker anywhere in the world prior to Socrates who sought to develop rational rules of proper human conduct.
17. Jones, Classical Mind, 123.
18. Leonard Peikoff, A History of Ancient Philosophy, lecture course, lecture 2.
19. Plato, The Phaedo, trans. Hugh Tredinnick, in The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961), 57; 74 a–b, d.
20. Edward Whelan, “Plato’s Symposium: Love and Philosophy,” October 9, 2020, https://classicalwisdom.com/symposium/platos-symposium-love-and-philosophy/.
21. Ayn Rand, “What Is Capitalism,” in Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: Signet, 1967), 22.
22. Rand, Capitalism, 23.
23. Armand Marie Leroi, The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science (New York: Viking Penguin, 2014), 7–10.
24. Jones, Classical Mind, 218.
25. John Herman Randall, Aristotle (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 28.
26. Jones, Classical Mind, 234.
27. Aristotle, On the Heavens, trans. J. L. Stocks, in The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, 2 vols., ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 306a 7–17.
28. W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 2, The Medieval Mind (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1969), 170.
29. Andrew Bernstein, “Great Islamic Thinkers Versus Islam,” The Objective Standard, 7, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 50–67.
30. Richard Rubenstein, Aristotle’s Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages (New York: Harcourt, 2003), 12–23.
31. Wilhelm Windelband, A History of Philosophy, vol. 1, Greek, Roman, Medieval, tr. James Tufts (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), 310–11.
32. William Wallace, foreword, Albertus Magnus on Animals: A Medieval Summa Zoologica, trans. and annotated by K. F. Kitchell and I. M. Resnick, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), vol. 1, xvi–xx.
33. Leonard Peikoff, A History of Ancient Philosophy, lecture series, lecture 8.
34. Jones, Medieval Mind, 287.
35. Andrew Bernstein, “The Tragedy of Theology,” The Objective Standard 1, no. 4 (Winter 2006–2007): 33–34; Edward Grant, God and Reason in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 304–12.
36. René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. E. S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, in The Philosophic Works of Descartes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1931), vol. 1, 145–48, quoted in W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, Hobbes to Hume (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969), 163.
37. Roger Scruton, A Short History of Modern Philosophy (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), 29.
38. John Herman Randall, The Career of Philosophy, vol. 1, From the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), 371–72.
39. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. A. C. Fraser (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894), II, i, 2–5, quoted in W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, Hobbes to Hume (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969), 245.
40. Scruton, Short History of Modern Philosophy, 85.
41. Locke, Essay, II, v, 1. Quoted in W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, Hobbes to Hume (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969), 247.
42. Alex Tuckness, “Locke’s Political Philosophy,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2020/entries/locke-political/.
43. David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding, ed. L. A. Selby Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894), VII, pts. 1 and 2, quoted in W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, Hobbes to Hume (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1969), 316.
44. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith, 2nd ed. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1965), 138; A 111.
45. W. T. Jones, A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 4, Kant and the Nineteenth Century(New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), 113.
46. Leonard Peikoff, A History of Modern Philosophy, lecture course, lecture 3.
47. Jones, Kant and the Nineteenth Century, 70.
48. Jones, Kant and the Nineteenth Century, 114.
49. Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, 731.
50. G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1967), 79.
51. A question can certainly be raised in this regard: If the Absolute is one, how can it be constructed variously in different societies? Hegel claims that the Absolute develops by the resolution of clashing claims, by integrating contradictions into a broader unity. This is accomplished, as stated, by the advancement of human knowledge. The more knowledge we gain, the more the Absolute learns about itself. The Absolute achieves full self-knowledge in the philosophy of Hegel, in which all distinctions and conflicting claims are integrated into a realization of the oneness of reality. For all of Hegel’s claims to rationality, there is an undeniable mysticism to his philosophy.
52. G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. Alan White (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002), 66.
53. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, reprinted in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert Tucker (New York: Norton , 1972), 335.
54. Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Chicago: Regnery, 1966), 75.
55. Stephen Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault (Ockham’s Razor Press, 2011), 17.
56. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, 6.
57. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: Philosophy of Ayn Rand (New York: Meridian, 1993), 42; Leonard Peikoff, A History of Ancient Philosophy, lecture course, lecture 12.
58. Ayn Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (New York: Mentor, 1979), 15.
59. Peikoff, Objectivism: Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 83.
60. Rand, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 41.
61. Andrew Bernstein, “Heroes of Great Literature,” The Objective Standard 14, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 16.
62. Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964), 22.
63. Rand, Virtue of Selfishness, 23.