The Empiricists by R. S. Woolhouse (Reader in Philosophy, Reader in Philosophy, the University of York)
`One of the great historic controversies in philosophy' was how Bertrand Russell described the ideological conflict between rationalists and empiricists - the conflict between reason and experience as sources of knowledge and ideas. Yet in this study of the empiricists R.S. Woolhouse is not so much concerned to justify these conventional labels as to set forth the dominant philosophical ideas and let those ideas speak for themselves. Setting the empiricist philosophers in their contemporary cultural context, the author examines their various approaches to philosophy. He concentrates primarily on the major figures - Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley and Hume - but also discusses the unjustly neglected French philosopher Pierre Gassendi and devotes a chapter to the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, which was founded in the 1660s. While focusing on their contribution to the new philosophy of the seventeenth century, which was primarily concerned with the nature of knowledge and science, he also highlights the moral and political aspects of their work and emphasises the significance of their ideas to twentieth-century thinking.