Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz: 17th Century Rationalism

Arguably, Baruch Spinoza, was the world’s most sensible mystic, who constructed the first thoroughly logical, consistent metaphysical system and made the first attempt at an objective, scientific study of human behavior. Spinoza is credited with carrying all arguments to their logical conclusions, even when those conclusions meant trouble! A pantheist and a pure determinist, who believed, as all good mystics do, in the oneness of the universe, in the supremacy of immutable natural law, in the necessity of learning to go with the flow. The other Rationalist, Gottfried Leibniz is considered by many to be one of the greatest logicians of all time, who invented infinitesimal calculus, and founded the first system of symbolic logic. A metaphysician in the tradition of Rene Descartes, he created the famous analogy of the Cartesian Clocks, which postulates that mind and body do not interact, but only seem to, because they are synchronized by God. Leibniz publicly espoused a philosophy that was pious, logical, and, one might say, somewhat simpleminded.

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René Descartes: Philosophy and seventeenth century Rationalism

British philosopher and eminent Descartes scholar the late Sir Bernard Williams talks about the relevance and importance of Descartes as a seminal figure of modern philosophy. René Descartes, as a man of science, mathematics and philosophy, known best for his ‘Discourse on Method’ and ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’, certainly marks the point at which the world decided to go ‘modern’. His philosophical system based on deductive reasoning and a priori truths, were the basis for seventeenth century Rationalism. Individualistic, lucid and methodical, he believed in innate ideas, ones that do not come to us through experience, and not to forget his contributions to analytic geometry and the mind-set behind the scientific method, Descartes was determined to make a clean sweep of all the comfortable old assumptions, to take nobody’s word for anything, to doubt everything. We are all better for that.

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