Ontology in Modern Philosophy

What Is Modern Philosophy?

Modern philosophy is a period in the history of philosophy. Historians of philosophy usually distinguish modern from earlier medieval philosophy or philosophy of the middle ages and either postmodern or contemporary philosophy.

It specifically refers to Western European philosophy. Historians distinguish western philosophy from those of other cultures and geographic regions. Those can include philosophies from South America, Africa, and Asia.

Modern philosophy flourished during what historians call the modern era. They also associate it with the socio-historical idea of modernity. But unlike modernism, modern philosophy does not center on one specific philosophical idea or school.

However, modern philosophers tend to share some common ideas and assumptions. These distinguish modern ontology from other periods in the history of philosophy.

Modern philosophy begins in roughly the 17th century with the writings of Descartes. And it ends in the 20th century.

Historians generally group continental philosophers in phenomenology and existentialism in the modern philosophy period. But they consider later philosophers like Derrida and Foucault postmodern.

What Is Ontology in Modern Philosophy?

One thing that distinguishes ontology in modern philosophy from medieval philosophy is a shift of emphasis. This shift in emphasis is from metaphysics, the branch of philosophy to which ontology belongs, to epistemology. Epistemology is the philosophy or theory of knowledge. 

However, that does not mean that modern philosophy abandoned ontological themes. On the contrary, the modern period represents a radical shift in the ontological assumptions of philosophers. 

The two dominant epistemological schools of the early modern period were rationalism and empiricism. The differences between these two epistemological schools or doctrines on how philosophers within each school came to their ontological conclusions.

The competition between rationalism and empiricism culminated in the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant’s critical epistemology and metaphysics set the stage for philosophy for the next century and beyond.

Epistemology influenced how much about ontology a philosopher believed you could know. For example, a rationalist might believe you could have ontological knowledge through pure reason. This would include knowledge of God, the soul, or free will through purely rational or logical deduction.

On the other hand, empiricists largely believe you could only know about such things from direct observational experience. But direct observational experience of God, the soul, or free will may be impossible.

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