From Luther to Hume
Science and philosophy aim for knowledge and understanding. In the modern period these were not free floating projects, pursued for their own sake, but connected to overarching goals of their practitioners. An important goal was to place human cognition on a secure foundation, to allay ‘the worry about already acquired knowledge’. 1 The development of modern philosophy, from Descartes to at least the early phase of analytic philosophy, provides numerous examples of this race for certainty. But it is not enough to understand this development merely as a project of theoretical reason. Knowledge and understanding are themselves subservient to deep-seated passions, desires, fears and hopes. Among these ranks highest, as the first modern anthropological theory pointed out, the desire for self-preservation, the wish to remain alive and in motion, accompanied by the fear of destruction and the hope of avoiding it. 2 The stakes of these passions were particularly high at the intersection between morality and religion, especially with the onset of the Reformation in the early sixteenth century. Without accounting for the existential drama unfolding from Luther on, modern philosophy might become, for us, a mere kaleidoscope of wax figures.