- Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics
Epicureans advocate the idea of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. They believe that there is a link between pleasure and morality. People should avoid pain although it is not always possible to do so. Psychological pain is worse than physical pain and it manifests itself through fear and anxiety. While people desire pleasure, it is important to identify the different kinds of pleasure so that one can avoid those that can lead to difficulties. They believe that power and fame are unnecessary desires, which cannot be satisfied easily, and people should not pursue them. Having virtues such as courage and honor will increase people’s pleasure. They believed in the existence of the gods but they discouraged people from fearing them. Most of people’s fears were caused by thinking about the punishment or rewards they would receive from the gods. Therefore, in order to get the most pleasure out of life and reduce pain, the gods should be seen as part of nature.
Contrary to the epicureans, the stoics believed that people could obtain happiness if they choose to deny themselves pleasures. People should be satisfied by living a simple lifestyle, as this will ensure that they are able to avoid unhappiness in life. According to them, fate controls everything in nature. However, human beings have free wills and they have the ability to control their thoughts. People cannot control everything but they can control their attitudes and desires. The stoics believed in the immanence nature of God. According to them, God controls everything in the universe. According to the skeptics, people can become happier by agreeing to become tranquil. This involves suspending judgment on an issue instead of always claiming the truth. Skeptics believed in questioning everything. They held the belief that people do not know everything; therefore, they cannot be sure about the existence or non-existence of god.
- Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Anselm
Saint Anselm intended to show the existence of God by using ontological argument. His argument was directed at those who claimed that God was a mere intellectual concept and not reality. He posited that the idea of God is that of a supreme being. It is that being than which nothing greater can exist. He sought to explain the existence of God both as a concept in the mind and as something real. He asserted that God could not only exist in the mind since it is possible to think of something greater that exists both in the mind and in reality and that thing would be God. That which exists in the mind and in reality is greater than that which exists only in the mind. Gaunilo criticized Anselm’s thoughts and he argued that one would use his logic to explain the existence of any other perfect thing. While Saint Anselm depended on the power of reason, saint Thomas Aquinas sought to explain God’s existence by relying on the experiences.
Saint Thomas identified five proofs to show his claim. In his first proof, he argues that since there is always something moving, a source must have begun all things in motion. In his second argument, he argued that everything that is has a cause and that cause has its own creation. Since the things that exist could not have come from nothing, then there must be the one who began it all. That source was the first maker and he was not made by anybody. He also argued based on purpose and design as well as on the level of perfection. In his criticism, Aquinas argued that contrary to what Anselm argued, not every person has a concept of God. His empirical argument differed from Anselm’s rationalist approach because he relied on the experiences or things that people can relate to since they already know them. On the other hand, Anselm required people to reason through his perspectives.
- Descartes Meditation 1
Descartes begins by doubting everything and questioning all his previous knowledge. He does this so that he can be certain of the knowledge he has. He begins by doubting his own senses, and he states that he cannot be sure whether he is dreaming. He contends that he cannot be sure whether he is asleep or awake as there are no signs to indicate and confirm this. He observes that it is not possible for people to doubt what is based on simple things such as mathematics. On further reflection, he observes that it is possible to be deceived concerning simple matters such as mathematics because there is a powerful God who has the power to deceive people.
Descartes realizes that this argument presents a contrary idea of God, seeing that God is good and the source of all truth. Therefore, he cannot result to deceiving people. He therefore, comes up with the idea of a demon that is bent on deceiving him. Because he begins by acknowledging that he might be wrong, he opens his mind to other possibilities. He is willing to look beyond and above what he believed. This helps him to consider the possibility that he might be wrong on other issues that he was certain of from the very beginning. The only thing he remains sure of is the goodness and truthful nature of God and this makes him realize that there might be a powerful but evil and deceitful being.
- Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
Hobbes and Locke’s perception of the state of nature differed in the sense that they had different understanding concerning human nature and their nature of rights. They also differed in their understanding of the government and in the obligations that it has towards its people. Hobbes chose to see a pessimistic side of human beings that emphasized their desires and selfish needs. He believed that people would be in a constant state of fighting and warfare if they were left in a natural state. Locke believed in the power of human reason. He believed that people are free, independent, and equal in a state of nature. However, they are limited by the laws of nature. Every person should respect other people’s property and liberties. People realize that they will have to face the consequences of what they do and this will prevent them from engaging in constant warfare.
Although Hobbes recognizes that people would live in freedom a state of nature, he was of the opinion that they are not bound by any sense of duty or obligation. Locke attributed this sense of obligation to natural law and not individual rights. Hobbes argued that the best form of government was an absolute monarchy. This form of government is strong and the king has all the authority he needs to control the people. Although Locke did advocate for a monarchy, he did not advocate for total and supreme power of the king. He advocated for a situation whereby the people had the power to limit the authority of the government. The government is limited and it has a duty to respect people’s wishes.
- John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume
Locke believed that people acquire knowledge through senses. They can only use sensory data to know about their physical world. He claimed that people do not have any innate ideas and that the mind starts on a clean slate. They only get the ideas they have from sensations or through engaging in reflection. Hume advanced on Locke’s idea and he posited that people do not have the answers to religion because they are dependent on their senses. He added that people acquire knowledge through matters of fact and relations of ideas. Berkeley came up with the phrase ‘ese es percipi’ that is translated as ‘to be is to be perceived’. He argued that only ideas exist. Thus, something will exist only if it can be perceived. If a person is not able to form an idea concerning something, then that thing does not exist.
Hume differed with Locke because he argued that one could not have ideas concerning substances and other metaphysical factors if he does not have any impressions. Ideas only exist if one has impressions. Locke noted that people develop ideas because of the experiences they have acquired. Babies are born with no prior knowledge or ideas. The experiences they get from using their senses constitute the knowledge they will have. Once they have gained the capability to think about things, they increase their knowledge and ideas. This is a realist point of view and it differs from idealism, as advocated by Berkeley. According to Berkeley, one has to have a concept of something for it to exist.
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