Posts in Journeys of Janus
Journeys of Janus: John Toland

To a degree exceeded by few thinkers, the young Toland embodied the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries. At 15 years of age, he abandoned Catholicism, apparently for Anglicanism. At 16, he crossed the channel to Scotland, to study theology at the University of Glasgow; three years later he received an M. A. in theology at the University of Edinburgh. He seems then associated with Presbyterianism. By age 22, he was studying in the incomparably tolerant atmosphere of Holland, at the universities of Leyden and Utrecht. A philosophical life had begun, one beyond labels save “free thinker.”

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Journeys of Janus: John Scottus Eriugena

However challenging, Eriugena glows with originality and surprise. He blends an infant’s delight in sight and speech, a poet’s passion to see and speak through metaphor, a mystic’s conviction that what is important can neither be seen nor spoken, and a metaphysician’s aspiration to see universally and to speak systematically. Eriugena produces a grand, but daunting, thesis: From an essentially unknowable God flow primal causes that differentiate into the manifold inanimate, animate, human, and angelic actualities, which, having thus differentiated, reflect inward, the multiplicity of individuals returning in a process of reunification to God, the eternal One.

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Journeys of Janus: George Berkeley

Berkeley claims that just two kinds of things exist: Minds and ideas. Of these, only minds or spirits constitute substance. Minds have ideas. Ideas exist because of minds. To exist is to perceive, or be perceived, or be perceivable. An idealism, in the metaphysical sense, is a theory that bases reality on mind. George Berkeley is Western philosophy’s most famous idealist. 

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Journeys of Janus: Francis Hutcheson

In 1738, at Glasgow University, Francis Hutcheson, appeared before the Presbytery to defend himself against the charge of espousing “false and dangerous” doctrines. Hutcheson, his accusers said, had taught, first, that we should promote the good of all people; second, that our knowledge that we should do so comes to us independently of our knowledge of God, indeed, that moral knowledge comes even without a knowledge of God. All people, Hutcheson believed, have a “moral sense.”

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Journeys of Janus: Iris Murdoch

Having matured during one of history’s worst wars; having herself introduced Sartre to the English-speaking world; having studied at two of citadels of analytic philosophy, Oxford and Cambridge, Iris Murdoch has the credentials to credibly reaffirm a belief that some of her contemporary philosophers had come to doubt: Human beings can become better, morally better.

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