CLEP Humanities : Answering Other Questions About Twentieth-Century Nonfiction and Philosophy

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for CLEP Humanities

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Example Questions

Example Question #1 : Answering Other Questions About Twentieth Century Nonfiction And Philosophy

In a famous quote, Alfred North Whitehead stated that all of Western philosophical history was merely a footnote with respect to what thinker?

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Alfred North Whitehead famously said that all of Western philosophy was nothing more than a series of footnotes to Plato. This statement is a bit deceiving. There were many creative Western philosophers after Plato, bringing unique ideas into the history of philosophy. The general idea that he was trying to express was that Plato was the first lengthy writer, one who was very influential on another great philosopher who was his student, namely Aristotle. Every future philosopher in the West took up some position that was somewhat positive or negative regarding these figures.

Thus, even many centuries later, the early modern rejection of Medieval philosophy was actually also a rejection of Aristotle in many ways, for Aristotle was a key component of medieval learning. Interestingly, at this same time, there was a great uptick in studies of Plato among humanist scholars. Still, even in utter rejection of some previous thinker, one must have considered that thinker at some point and at some depth. This keeps some "root" in the past even while rejecting it. Thus, even thousands of years later, philosophers write "footnotes of footnotes of footnotes" concerning the thought of Plato—at least in a broad sense of speaking!

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