A sophomore's history of philosophy

In a TLS review of Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A refutation of the new atheism [subscription only], Anthony Kenny has this amusing paragraph:
There is a popular master-narrative of the history of philosophy that goes like this: philosophy was started in the ancient world by Plato and Aristotle, who were not bad philosophers considering how long ago they lived. Once the Western world became Christian, however, philosophy went into hibernation for many centuries, and saw as its only task to write footnotes to Aristotle. Some of the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages were clever chaps, but they wasted their talents on logical quibbles and pettifogging distinctions. It was only when Aristotles metaphysics was thrown over in the Renaissance that philosophy got into its stride again, and renewed its connection with scientific inquiry. Descartes showed that the way to understand the material universe was to treat it as a conglomeration of purposeless material objects operating according to blind laws: there was no need for Aristotles final causes. While Descartes was a rationalist, a succession of philosophers writing in English, from Hobbes to Hume, showed that it was sensory experience, not reason that was the basis of all our knowledge. Kant and his German Idealist followers introduced a degree of obfuscation into philosophy, from which Continental philosophy has never totally recovered. But in Britain and American in the twentieth century, philosophy re-emerged into the daylight with the logical empiricism of brilliant minds like A.J. Ayer.
Feyer rightly rejects this entire story.

In a TLS review of Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A refutation of the new atheism [subscription only], Anthony Kenny has this amusing paragraph:

There is a popular master-narrative of the history of philosophy that goes like this: philosophy was started in the ancient world by Plato and Aristotle, who were not bad philosophers considering how long ago they lived. Once the Western world became Christian, however, philosophy went into hibernation for many centuries, and saw as its only task to write footnotes to Aristotle. Some of the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages were clever chaps, but they wasted their talents on logical quibbles and pettifogging distinctions. It was only when Aristotles metaphysics was thrown over in the Renaissance that philosophy got into its stride again, and renewed its connection with scientific inquiry. Descartes showed that the way to understand the material universe was to treat it as a conglomeration of purposeless material objects operating according to blind laws: there was no need for Aristotles final causes. While Descartes was a rationalist, a succession of philosophers writing in English, from Hobbes to Hume, showed that it was sensory experience, not reason that was the basis of all our knowledge. Kant and his German Idealist followers introduced a degree of obfuscation into philosophy, from which Continental philosophy has never totally recovered. But in Britain and American in the twentieth century, philosophy re-emerged into the daylight with the logical empiricism of brilliant minds like A.J. Ayer. Feser rightly rejects this entire story.

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

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