I love ideas. And I love thinking about them. One of the fundamental reasons I study philosophy is that I believe ideas really matter. And philosophy is the discipline of big ideas: God, the cosmos, the mind, knowledge, ethics, aesthetics, logic, etc.
As a Christian, I also think it is important apologetically to understand how the big philosophical ideas through the centuries relate to the truth of historic Christianity. For much of Christian history, the discipline of philosophy was understood to be a handmaid (servant) to theology. But in the ancient world, as today, certain philosophical ideas posed challenges to Christian truth-claims.
In parts one and two of this series, I suggested that one way of coming to know and appreciate philosophy is to consider some of the powerful quotations made by great philosophers on ultimate issues. In part three of this series, we’ll look briefly at three famous philosophical quotations from three of history’s greatest thinkers. The three quotes relate to such topics as the mind, creation, and morality.
Three Famous Philosophy Quotes
1. René Descartes (1596–1650)
René Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. Because of his break with the traditional Scholastic-Aristotelian philosophy, he has been called “the father of modern Western philosophy.” He developed the first modern form of mind-body dualism. Thus, his famous dictum:
I think, therefore I am. (Latin: Cogito ergo sum.)
René Descartes, Discourse on the Method
Descartes affirmed that thought was indubitable evidence that a person existed, for one must be a thinking entity (mind) to even doubt one’s existence. And even if a person is confused about their existence, they must exist to be confused.
2. Gottfried Leibniz (1646–1716)
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. As part of his argument for God’s existence, he asked the ultimate metaphysical question:
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Gottfried Leibniz, Principles of Nature and of Grace
For Leibniz, all contingent (dependent) realities find their cause in God, who is a noncontingent, or necessary, reality. Leibniz’s question anticipated big bang cosmology, which implies a cosmic beginning.
3. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who deeply influenced Enlightenment thinking. He was a systematic philosopher who wrote in such fields as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political theory, and aesthetics. In developing his duty-oriented approach to objective ethics, he stated:
Always act so as to will the maxim of your action to become a universal law.
Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
In affirming a nonconsequential approach to ethics, Kant believed that one could, in effect, universalize one’s ethical actions. Thus, Kant believed in an objective basis for ethics, which he grounded in God’s existence.
I hope this very brief introduction to some of philosophy’s greatest thinkers and their most important quotes will help you appreciate the unique discipline of philosophy and part of its history. Join me once more next week for the final post in this series on philosophy’s most famous quotations!
Reflections: Your Turn
Which one of the three quotes above do you find the most engaging? Why? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.
For more about the ideas of Descartes, Leibniz, and Kant in light of Christianity, see Christianity and Western Thought: A History of Philosophers, Ideas and Movements by Colin Brown and A History of Western Philosophy and Theology by John M. Frame.