This paper traces the advancement of political thought via a study of some key writers of political discourse such as Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Friedrich Hegel. Emanuel Kant was a German philosopher, and he was well known for his enormous contribution towards shaping the modern philosophy. Hume was a Scottish philosopher, and he aimed at developing the science of human nature based on empirical evidence and careful analysis.
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On the other side, Hegel was a German idealist, and he accentuated issues of freedom together with self-consent. The political thinkers’ contributions and critical in analyzing the historical political thought as they give a broad understanding of how ideas have shaped the contemporary political enlightenment. They elaborate on how political philosophy has influenced the modern world. The main objective of this paper is to establish the origin and influence of the Great Chain of Being theory coupled with how the thoughts of Kant, Hume, and Hegel fit within the enlightenment era of modern political theory.
Origin of the Great Chain of Being theory
The Great Chain of Being theory related to the medieval cultural view of the natural hierarchy. Scholars like Kant, Hume, and Hegel conceptualized the concept of the Great Chain of Being theory differently. Their views were that the theory represented how the European political philosophies related to the natural world. Kant’s focus was to develop an insight into different thinking on what entailed pure reasoning1. Kant was a rationalist, and thus he believed that life does not contain predetermined certainties and facts.
Kant criticizes the idea of Hume’s radical empiricism that what people think they know is just but assumptions. Kant examines regularity in succession. He describes the order in the sequence in which an event precedes the other. He argues that the succession leads to irreversible changes, and thus it creates a new impress on2.Kant’s idea suits the enlightenment paradigm in the view that the revolutionary changes that the western nations experienced cannot be reversed. Change in the state of affairs and thus the establishment of new laws and public involvement represent the advances in the modern political theory.
Hume argues that people learn life lessons through their senses, thus accumulating ideas in the process. Hume argues that individuals are guided by what he refers to as ‘animal faith’3. In Hume’s argument, he says that people just develop a feeling that, for instance, the sun will rise tomorrow or it will rain, and it happens. Hume suggests that people’s sense of something happening develops out of reoccurring experiences of the same events. However, there is no available evidence implying that one situation caused another. Hume’s argument can only be based on faith that what will happen in the future will be similar to past events.
However, there lacks solid empirical evidence to support his verifications. Hume’s sense of causality is challenged in the enlightenment era of modern political theory since the future does not necessarily resemble the past. For instance, the enlightenment era is characterized by free-market courtesy of capitalism as opposed to feudalism. People develop a sense of self-actualization and alter the status quo through revolutions. Hegel states that things or events do not just happen to exist as people see them, but they develop through several stages to be what they are. This evolving period indicates how things work. Hegel further states that for things to become what they are, they depend on other situations.
Hegel’s dialectic work presents people’s life expectations in politics as coming up positive, diverting at some point, and being negative as well. After this process, a resolution of mixed ideas is reached with both positives and negatives. The idea advanced by Hegel is highly practical in what individuals experience in life. For example, during the pre-enlightenment era, the mighty rulers of the monarchy created ranks, which ensured that the riches were limited to them, and thus they did not reach the subjects. This aspect ensured dependence, hence compliance of the subjects to their masters. After a process of conflict and resolutions later during the enlightenment era due to revolutions in Western societies, the era of repressive leadership ended.
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Hegel’s political philosophy was based on several aspects that influenced persons on how he viewed the state. For instance, Hegel talked of formal freedom, where he noted that for freedom to be achieved, the state had to provide the ethical structures of society4. He argued that formal freedom was achieved through the enlightenment of the American and French revolutions that helped to safeguard personal rights from oppressive leadership. On the contrary, substantial freedom brings unification and ends the conflict between individuals and the state.
If an individual does not reconcile to the ideals of the institution, then that person lives in alienation. Hegel advocated political democracy and emphasized the need for a state to have a constitution. He emphasized the need for the central government and the constitutional structures protecting the wellbeing of the people across the European continent. Hegel’s political philosophy was an advocacy tool for agents of change during the transition from the pre-enlightenment era to the enlightenment period. His idea of substantial freedom was echoed by many scholars as crucial to the way humans interacted with the authorities.
In his theory of knowledge, Kant talks of how the mind dictates what nature should be5. He claims that the political world provides things that people sense, and their minds articulate the events and give the order to the world. For the establishment of the self, one has to experience the external world. German idealism was developed from work written by Kant. His religious thinking was borrowed by Britain during the 19th Century to stop a possible decline in Christian faith and beliefs.
Influence on modern thinkers
Kant’s works are widely accepted as well as criticized, and his influence on later philosophical thinking is unparalleled. For instance, Kant was accused of the depreciation of the Christian beliefs, and thus he was discouraged from interfering with religious beliefs. His influence is reflected in Marxism among other social and behavioral disciplines. For example, Kant expressed certain measures that were necessary for solving wars and establishing long-term solutions such as introducing constitutional republics.
He elaborated on the republican government and international organizations without supporting the idea that democracy could bring peace. Instead, he saw direct democracy as the exercise of power by the many against the minority groups, which do not agree. Kant’s influences go further when he identifies democracy and republics as the most favorable forms of government. Kant developed several ideas, which are used in modern philosophy such as the principle of reasoning.
Modern scholars identified the principle of reason as a key to shifting from the enlightenment period to the post-enlightenment era through the invention and creation of better policies. Modern political thinkers aimed at improving the available socio-economic structures to fit the increasing need for equality, which was ignored in the pre-enlightenment period.
The enlightenment era
The era of enlightenment influenced scientific, cultural, and intellectual realms. This period spurred the revolution in the United States and France. According to Kant, “it was the moment when humanity self-actualized from an immature state of ignorance and the state of liberation of individuals’ minds from the dogmatic level of understanding”6. Bertrand Russell argues that enlightenment emerged at a time when the Protestants revolted against the Catholic dogmas7.
The Protestants wanted to break from the Pope as they were against monarchy. The idea behind the enlightenment was to achieve specified political goals. Kant generally views the enlightenment as the freedom to express own ideas and use them to achieve the intended goals. Hume considered reason and freedom as the key to modern political thought. Through reason, human beings developed laws. Many philosophers differed in many ways, but for the sake of the wellbeing of humanity, they agreed that reason was the key to human liberty.
Philosophers criticized Christians who opposed science. Christians believed in reward of good actions or retribution for bad actions in the life after death. People had belief in the monarchs to change society from the top and bring hope to the European society, but this hope never actualized, as the rulers remained conservative8.
Kant, unlike many enlightenment thinkers, highlights that democracy might not always represent humanity, but it can be means of achieving basic personal desires at the same time pursuing collective ends. During the enlightenment period, rulers were encouraged to adopt better forms of governance, which were inclusive of different arms having the mandate to watch over each other. This approach ensured that the society was protected and well represented in decision-making.
Hegel’s political philosophy on how the individual related to the state was later reflected in the modern political thought. Societies experienced relief from the oppressive authorities, increased concern for human rights, and religious independence. Gender inequality, racial discrimination, and marginalization of minority groups were also addressed.
The enlightenment period is described by rising empiricism, freedom, democracy, and the principle of reason among other basic values of society and the elimination of authoritative rule by kings. This approach leads to elaborate scientific methods, democracy, and religious freedom. The rise of modern nation-state and the emergence of capitalism steered individuals towards independence and self-awareness.
Although democracy was the key to people’s freedom, many governments adopted republics as democracy was seen as the rule of the majority. Modern political thought drew inspiration largely from the enlightenment isms, which advocated individualism vis-à-vis capitalism and this form of economic structuring was believed to be the drive behind innovation. This assertion is evident today in countries like the US, which quickly adopted the enlightenment philosophies.
The separation of the church from the state was yet another step towards modern political perspective. This era also saw the collapse of the monarchical system of governance where leadership was predetermined and only through birth that people could expect a change in leadership9. However, with democracy and republics, citizens can elect leaders of their choice for a given period.
The majority of Europeans and Americans openly expressed racism towards people of different affiliations. Slavery was still rampant which saw Africans as inferior people. During the enlightenment period, these slaves were alienated alongside other marginalized groups like women. However, with time and maturity of the enlightenment era, Africans were freed from slavery and advocacy against racism was embraced across the modern western philosophies.
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Implications of Enlightenment era in the modern society
The enlightenment resulted in the irreversible changes as earlier indicated by Kant. The Western societies became dynamic and people started appreciating their leaders. The public was highly involved in economic and political activities. Leaders were motivated by reason rather than greed to pursue national and international agendas10.
The law emphasized respect for humanity and equality to all regardless of gender or race. The enlightenment era did not occur at once. This assertion means that regions that opened up early took advantage of the other regions that were yet to experience enlightenment. For example, Western countries were informed, which meant that they benefited from the collective undertakings such as the international law. This aspect enhanced dominance, thus creating regional imbalance.
After a wide assessment and analysis of the enlightenment transition in respect to the views of Kant, Hume, and Hegel, one can conclude that enlightenment radically transformed the Western world massively. The idea of reason was developed and modern political philosophies initiated. The ancient powers of the monarchy became irrelevant and they were replaced with democracies, which suited the general need of the people to exercise freedom.
As Hegel indicates, modern nation-state manifests a sense of self-consciousness of its perceptions of nature and objectives of modern political implications such as actualization of freedom. Even though different ideas came from the three philosophers, their concepts contributed to the enlightenment period and the development of the modern political theory. They have achieved this by changing the tradition of thinking about the nature of political rule by establishing the root of political oppression and developing a way out of domination.
Lively, Jack, and Andrew Reeve. Modern political theory from Hobbes to Marx: Key debates. New York: Routledge, 2013.
Tampio, Nicholas. Kantian courage: Advancing the enlightenment in Contemporary political theory. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.
Zafirovski, Milan. The Enlightenment and its effects on Modern Society. New York: Springer, 2010.
- Nicholas Tampio, Kantian courage: Advancing the enlightenment in Contemporary political theory (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 137.
- Nicholas Tampio, Kantian courage: Advancing the enlightenment in Contemporary political theory (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 109.
- Jack Lively and Andrew Reeve, Modern political theory from Hobbes to Marx: Key debates (New York: Routledge, 2013), 83.
- Jack Lively and Andrew Reeve, Modern political theory from Hobbes to Marx: Key debates (New York: Routledge, 2013), 88.
- Nicholas Tampio, Kantian courage: Advancing the enlightenment in Contemporary political theory (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 97.
- Milan Zafirovski, The Enlightenment and its effects on Modern Society (New York: Springer, 2010), 95.
- Jack Lively and Andrew Reeve, Modern political theory from Hobbes to Marx: Key debates (New York: Routledge, 2013), 111.
- Milan Zafirovski, The Enlightenment and its effects on Modern Society (New York: Springer, 2010), 100.
- Milan Zafirovski, The Enlightenment and its effects on Modern Society (New York: Springer, 2010), 142.
- Jack Lively and Andrew Reeve, Modern political theory from Hobbes to Marx: Key debates (New York: Routledge, 2013), 83.