1800’s Philosophy

Philosophy in the 1800’s. Kant’s philosophy stimulated various systems of thought in the 1800’s, such as those of G. W. F. Hegel and Karl Marx of Germany. Hegel developed a theory of historical change called dialectic, in which the conflict of opposites results in the creation of a new unity and then its opposite. Hegel’s theory was transformed by Marx into dialectical materialism. Marx believed that only material things are real. He stated that all ideas are built on an economic base. He believed that the dialectic of conflict between capitalists and industrial workers will lead to the establishment of communism, which he called socialism, as an economic and political system.

Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, was an atheist who proclaimed in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-1885) that “God is dead.” Nietzsche meant that the idea of God had lost the power to motivate and discipline large masses of people. He believed that people would have to look to some other idea to guide their lives. Nietzsche predicted the evolution of the superman, who would be beyond the weakness of human beings and beyond the merely human appeals to morality. He regarded such appeals as appeals to weakness, not strength. He felt that all behavior is based on the will to power–the desire of people to control others and their own passions. The superman would develop a new kind of perfection and excellence through the capacity to realize the will to power through strength, rather than weakness.

The dominant philosophy in England during the 1800’s was utilitarianism, developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The utilitarians maintained that the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people is the test of right and wrong. They argued that all existing social institutions, especially law and government, must be transformed to satisfy the test of greatest happiness. In The Subjection of Women (1869), Mill wrote that the legal subordination of women to men ought to be replaced by “a principle of perfect equality.” That idea was revolutionary in Mill’s time.


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