In a lecture, delivered in Vienna in 1894 and dedicated "to the academic youth of Austria-Hungary", Franz Brentano outlined four phases of advance and decline which he saw as providing the key to the understanding of the history of Western philosophy. In the first cycle, in antiquity, the initial advancing phase culminated in the work of Aristotle, and was followed by three phases of decline, terminating in the irrational mysticism of the Neo-Pythagoreans. These four phases then repeated themselves: in the Middle Ages, beginning with Aquinas and ending with the "learned ignorance" of Nicholas of Cusa; and then in the modern period, beginning with Bacon and reaching its low point in the work of Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. In the contemporary era we are currently witnessing the end of the fourth cycle in the work of (for example) Derrida, Rorty; but also the beginnings of a new, fifth cycle, which is described in the talk. (Presented at the conference Consequences of Realism, Rome, May 4-6, 2014.)
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