Explain general characteristics of modern western philosophy in detail

We can summarise the chief characteristics of modern western philosophy as the following.

The Spirit of Criticism

Modern philosophy began as revolt against the religion- oriented thinking of the medieval period and had its origin in the new intellectual awakening, the Renaissance. Thinkers developed a keen critical faculty. They refused to accept traditions and scriptures without critical examination. Descartes’ methodic doubt influenced the thinkers to never accept anything as true without doubting. There was a tendency to liberate every aspect of the society from the influence of the church. Philosophy at this time also shared the time to free search for a definite knowledge.

Revolt Against Tradition and Authority

The salient feature of the medieval mind was of an uncritical and blind acceptance of authority and power overemphasized by theology and salvation neglecting the human freedom and life on earth. But modern mind the secular authority replaced ecclesiastical authority and as the dominant interest of the age shifted from religion to politics, it was natural that the rivalries of the national states and their persistent crises of internal order should raise with renewed urgency philosophical problems, practically dormant since pre-Christian times, about the nature and the moral status of political power. This new preoccupation with national unity, internal security, state power, and international justice stimulated the growth of political philosophy in Italy, France, England, and Holland.

Predominance of the Scientific Spirit

One of the outstanding characteristics of modern philosophy is that it is scientific. In the Middle Ages theology was regarded as the supreme science, but in the post-medieval period the natural sciences begin to occupy the centre of the stage. Philosophy was most influenced by the development of natural and physical science. The marvellous success of modern science induced the philosophers to apply scientific method in the field of philosophy too.

The Development of Humanism

The development of humanism was another characteristic of modern thought. The Renaissance was characterized by the renewed study of mathematics, medicine, and classical literature. The first two sparked the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries; the last became the foundation of the philosophy of Renaissance humanism. From its origin, humanism – suspicious of science and generally indifferent to religion emphasized anew the centrality of man in the universe, his supreme value and importance. Humanism represented for a passion of learning and a stress on scholarly exactness.


In line with the development of humanism we can see the growth of individualism as an important characteristic of modern philosophy. Emancipation from the authority of the Church led to the growth of individualism. Modern Philosophy has retained for the most part an individualistic and subjective tendency. The authority of the church over the mind gradually weakened and the individual began to gradually assert his intellectual independence. Modern philosophy is always individualistic in its thinking.


A shift of interest from the contemplation of super natural things to the explanation of natural things is an important characteristic of modern philosophy. Reason and logic were accepted as the final criteria both in the field of philosophy. The intellectuals of the modern thought realised that the truth cannot be arrived at through the dogmatic statements of the religious authorities but only through the reethinking. And hence, thinking freed itself from the clutches of the religious authorities and turned towards the natural subjects. Religion was pushed into the background by science and philosophy. Philosophy was brought down from heaven to the earth. Philosophy became more secular.

Predominance of Reason

The main landmark of modem Philosophy, which distinguishers it from the medieval thinking is its growing faith in the power of reason. It is this faith in the assumed power of reason, which was responsible for the fresh researches and explorations in the field of Natural science, and for the unprecedented progress in very field of life. Beginning With Francis Bacon every new thinker wanted to improve life by applying the research into nature. There was an awakening in the realm of knowledge. Reason became the sole authority in the matters concerning Philosophy and science (Truth is not something to be dedicated by authority- ecclesiastical or political, but something to be discovered by free and impartial investigation).

(Source: BPY008/Block 1/Unit 1/Page 8)

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