Posts Tagged ‘Philosopher’


John Locke (1632-1704) Philosopher
Any examination of philosophy leading to Kantian critique of reason will need to know this philosopher. Enlightenment is the age of Voltaire where the irrepressible skeptic tilted his barbed lance at the Church. The Church was running personal lives of men as though it held a monopoly on their religious faith. Faith in reason gave encyclopaedia which in France was to give the Age of Reason an elbow room for man to think for himself without fear of damnation. It fortified men to resist from being muzzled by superstitious fears. Prior to this Spinoza in Holland had created an universe by geometry and logic ( his works are still on the proscribed list of the Church). But Spinoza could survive with no such fears of hell and damnation. Later David Hume during the Enlightenment would launch an assault against superstitious belief saying,’when reason is against man,’he would turn against reason itself. If the age old belief,- faith and hope which had made society into some semblance of working order, were to come down what will replace them made many thinking men dread. Their chief cause for complaint was in the nature of reason. ‘Reason, what stuff is that?’
How would man respond to such confusion and perplexity? John Locke’s work is an important milestone in the advancement of human thought. He took up Franis Bacon’s inductive methods to give it a psychological basis. For the first time here was a philosopher trying to make sense of the instrument itself that stood for reason. How does knowledge arise? He compared the mind as a clean slate tabula rasa on which sense-experience writes in a thousand ways till sensation begets memory and it can play with ideas. Think of it as music is made in the manner scale ladder is used creating infinite combinations. It led to a controversy since he stated that sensations owe to material warp and woof of universe, it was all materialism since according to his argument we may know nothing but matter.
His greatest work is Essay on Human Understanding(1689).

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Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
The clarion call of “Experiment,experiment”was given out by Bacon and it brought all the scholars who were wont to live in their ivory towers to the ground. He ruthlessly dissected existing systems of philosophy,- and found Aristotle much in wanting, and laid down his own line of enquiry. Beginning with induction it was to cut the flab of hypotheses out till the experiments by the process of elimination can lead one to the secrets of nature. As he said,’Put nature to the rack and compel her to bear witness.’ The scientific method of enquiry is considered to be his greatest contribution to thinking. He wrote Novum Organum and it came out in 1621. Next year he was made Viscount of St. Alban. King James appointed him as Lord High Chancellor. Soon he was impeached for bribery, a charge brought against him by his political rival Sir Edward Cole. Fine and imprisonment followed. Shortly thereafter he was pardoned and fine remitted. Ironically his death was caused by his interest in science and experimentation.

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Thomas Acquinas 1225-1274 theologian,
A teacher of exceptional brilliance Thomas lived at a time when the thoughts of Plato,Avicenna and Maimonides were making waves among the intellectuals. For centuries before him scholars had debated whether faith or reason should be the prime guide for human behavior. In the second century Tertullian relied on faith. St. Augustinian averred that understanding would follow faith. Acquinas in his time came to the conclusion that since faith and reason were currents flowing from the common source, God the creator of faith and revelation, they were bound to agree. His great contribution to Christian theology lay in the manner he provided a synthesis of Christian dogma and the philosophy of the ancients. Both were exhalations from Godhead.
St. Thomas asked professors of theology never to prove an article of faith by rational demonstration since faith was instilled from the reading of the word of God. He averred that to prove it by carnal wisdom was to destroy it. Conversely he urged them not to prove philosophical truths by supplying word of God. Philosophy was not based on revelations but from human reason.
The major period of St. Thomas’ teaching and writing career was between the years from 1256 to 1259 when he was the master of theology at the University of Paris. The first part of the Summa Theologica was probably published in 1268 and the second was completed after his death by his secretary. He is called doctor angelicus and Pope Leo XIII in 1879 recommended his views as a model of Catholic thought.

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Aristotle by birth and circumstances was marked for being a boon companion to the royalty. His father was the physician to the king. He had access to the court of King Philip of Macedon and naturally he would be asked when the time was ripe, to undertake the education of his son who later was known as Alexander the great. When he was seventeen he approached Plato to be admitted into his famous Academy. It marked a definite break from his roistering carefree life. Soon his independent spirit and inquisitive mind impressed Plato to refer him as the “mind” of the Academy.
After a seven year stint in Macedon as the tutor he returned to Athens to found the Lyceum which later would be known as the Peripatetic School.
Next he turned his attention to piece together all the learning of the past and present, under different categories and make them available to study for the future generations. In his book Organon he set down six treatises on logic and scientific reasoning. Deductive reasoning that he advocated would later be challenged by inductive approach that was based observation from results of many experiments. In the Metaphysics Aristotle explored the fundamental nature of reality and being, which is the foundation of philosophy.
Aristotle for all his breadth of knowledge and study would espouse an aristocratic point of view naturally imbibed by circumstances of his birth and circumstances.He averred that some are marked from birth for ruling and others for obeying. One would think herein lies the paradox of intellect. Your conscious mind argues impeccably but unconscious mind slips in a few home truths where your own experience and pet peeves half buried, give it an altogether twist.
He agreed with Plato that education should be in the control of the state.
At the age of sixty-one he entered the last phase of his life that began with the news of the death of his patron Alexander the Great. The Macedonian faction at home lost the power and Aristotle by association was vulnerable. He was denounced for piety and went into exile and chose Chalcis, his mother’s homeland where he died in the following year.
Aristotle is said to have written some on thousand manuscripts during his lifetime, unfortunately only a few of them are extant.
From the fifth to the fifteenth, Aristotle was regarded as the fountainhead of all knowledge. Dante considered him as the Master of those who know.’ Reaction came with the Renaissance and Francis Bacon. In whichever case past his admirers and detractors his impact is immeasurable and his synthesis of wisdom owe to his own keen faculties but in the way he spread them as coherent whole ever since at the disposal for all to profit and furtherance of human knowledge is his unique achievement.

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Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who advocated back to basics was a contradiction in his life. Imagine the concept of ‘noble savage’ coming from the pen of a tormented soul like Dosteovsky? Rousseau unlike the eponymous hero of ‘The Idiot’ was a man of flesh and blood and one, notwithstanding his own case, conceived an ideal for man who had sold his birthright for a make-believe article called progress. Here was one who turned his back on the march of events in full flow in France – and Encyclopaedia movement was as harbinger of progress, and felt in his bones that it was leading nowhere. In one sense he was right. Enlightenment of the skeptics was as misplaced as salvation promised by the Church. France was limping from long fought religious wars that had undeniably damaged man’s faith and liberal ideas of man as reaction to his lost innocence were gathering momentum. In Rousseau’s mind men, who placed premium on civilization without being really civilized were straws in wind. It shall indeed be proven in the needless blood that flowed during the reign of terror, l’affaire Dreyfus, debacle of the two wars that liberal mind superficially cobbled up was as just as bad as religion. Unfortunately the voice of a near mad man was lost in the confusion and his already overwrought mind would be for the rest of his life fighting on two fronts for his own sanity and for recognition of his ideas.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland, 28 June, 1712, the second son of Isaac Rousseau, descendant of French Huguenots, and Susanne Bernard who died a week after he was born. The practically orphaned Rousseau would be saddled with a sense of guilt he was responsible for his mother’s death. He resisted authority and spent much of his spare time alone exploring his first love, nature, which he escaped to in life as a vagabond in 1728. His wanderings led him out of Geneva to Sardinia then France, where he met Madame de Warens, who for the next ten years provided for him an education and much needed moral support and maternal love. At this time Rousseau converted to Catholicism. Later he would become a Calvinist. His nature was quick to take offence and he would fall out with most of his friends as in the case of David Hume for example.
In 1742 and living in Paris, Rousseau hoped to establish himself in a musical career, unsuccessfully proposing a new system of music to the Academy of Sciences. He published musical theory and wrote for the opera, attracted the attentions of King and court, but ended up concentrating on the development of his political theories towards social reform. He also met Therese le Vasseur who became his mistress with whom he had five children. They married near the end of his life.
It was not until 1750 that he won his first prize for an essay A Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, its basis being that man basically is good but became corrupted by society in his view civilization merely debased him. In 1755 he published his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, stating that original man was preferable while isolated from the corruption of social institutions; that vices develop out of a society where man starts to compare himself to others and pride takes over his drive. In these time we know it as greed. Catholic theologians concurred that humanity had not sufficiently advanced, yet disagreed that man was innately good. Rousseau eloquently expressed the problems of `law and order’ with greater clarity than most other of his contemporaries like Diderot and Voltaire, whom he eventually parted ways with, but he was heavily criticised for his condemnations as well.
Rousseau wrote The New Eloise (1761) next, which escaped censor and was one of the most widely read works of the Romanticism period. He published Èmile in 1762, his `heretical’ education reform treatise. His next and most controversial work, The Social Contract (1762) while starting with the opening line “Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” suggested that there was still hope for mankind’s future, that he is essentially good, a `noble savage’, if only he realised the importance of a state of nature and worked to disarm the constraints of society. The publication of these two works caused uproar among French Catholics and Calvinist censors who were deeply offended and publicly burnt the books. Orders for his arrest were issued. Enduring this persecution but becoming paranoid and insecure, Rousseau lived in exile in Prussia and later England, to live with Scottish philosopher David Hume for a period of time. He returned to France under a false name after accusing Hume of disloyalty.
Rousseau continued to work in secret on his Confessions (1764 – 1778), inspired by St. Augustine’s Confessions as well as the Essays of Montaigne. His last opus proves to be a progressively more and more disquieting assay of self-justification, Rousseau seeming to need to plead his case for posterity, confess his sins. The lyrical Reveries of a Solitary Walker (1782), marks a period of inner peace for Rousseau in his declining years. On 2 July, 1778, while staying with the Marquis de Giradin in Ermenonville, just north of Paris, Rousseau, after taking one of his routine morning walks communing with nature, he was felled by a stoke and is buried in The Pantheon in Paris alongside Victor Hugo, Voltaire(Francois Marie Arouet), and Emile Zola.
Voltaire’s letter:

Les DELICES, August 30, 1755.
I have received, sir, your new book against the human species, and I thank you for it. You will please people by your manner of telling them the truth about themselves, but you will not alter them. The horrors of that human society–from which in our feebleness and ignorance we expect so many consolations–have never been painted in more striking colours: no one has ever been so witty as you are in trying to turn us into brutes: to read your book makes one long to go on all fours. Since, however, it is now some sixty years since I gave up the practice, I feel that it is unfortunately impossible for me to resume it: I leave this natural habit to those more fit for it than are you and I. Nor can I set sail to discover the aborigines of Canada, in the first place because my ill-health ties me to the side of the greatest doctor in Europe, and I should not find the same professional assistance among the Missouris: and secondly because war is going on in that country, and the example of the civilised nations has made the barbarians almost as wicked as we are ourselves. I must confine myself to being a peaceful savage in the retreat I have chosen–close to your country, where you yourself should be…’
A fearful earthquake of Lisbon prompted Jean Jacques Rousseau to say it vindicated his theories arguing that houses could not have fallen if there had been no houses to fall, and that if men lived like beasts in the open, earthquakes would be robbed of nearly all their terrors.’

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Spinoza, Baruch (1632-1677) Dutch

The greatest of the modern philosophers brought rational approach to the enquiry of great questions like God and human destiny. He laid the groundwork for the 18th century Enlightenment. His masterpiece Ethics never found light of the day in his lifetime. The reason was simple. He was excommunicated* for his heretical thinking from the Jewish community in Amsterdam and the odium of it had preceded his brief life; however stoicism of his race was in his blood as a result of persecution running through centuries, and made him think his own thoughts and make a living by an useful trade of polishing lenses. If he, despite all odds became the greatest ( Frederick Hegel on one occasion speaking to his contemporaries said thus: ‘You are either Spinozit or not a philosopher at all.’) it still owed to his Jewish identity. The fact that he was born a Jew was both a curse and a blessing.
All his works were put on the proscribed list (index librorum prohibitorum) by the Roman Catholic Church. He was greatly influenced by Bruno (1548-1600) whose dictum, ‘all reality is one substance’ naturally would make him oppose Descartes’ mind-body dualism. Bruno perished under inquisition and if the Catholic Church proscribed Spinoza the reason was obvious.
Spinoza’s thinking however latched on to an idea of Descartes that all forms of matter had a ‘homogeneous’ substance, and it propelled him in the direction his precocious mind was taking, and served as light clearing many dark recesses of doubts on way. In 1656 he was excommunicated on charges of heresy and the upshot of it was his father refused to receive him and his sister tried to cheat him out of a small inheritance. (He contested the case in court and won. He duly handed the bequest over to his sister.) Rejected by his family and friends, an assassination attempt on his life made him leave Amsterdam. He changed his name to Bernard de Spinoza and disciplined his life to extreme thrift. He was happy living within his modest means and many influential men of his day found him stimulating and his company congenial. Some of them offered help but he refused stipends and money saying, ‘Nature is satisfied with little; if she is, I am also.’
He finally settled in The Hague in 1670 economically secure and surrounded by rich and powerful friends who looked up to him with great respect.
As a person he was of middle size, his face pleasing, and skin somewhat darker and his hair curly and eyebrows dark and long stamping his Portuguese ancestry in his looks.
Spinoza chose not to found a sect and he founded none and yet philosophy after him was permeated with his thought. The great German polymath Goethe was converted after one reading of Ethics and also was cured of wild romanticism of his past. Spinoza supplied what his yearning soul had sought, dass wir entsagen sollen-‘that we must accept the limitations Nature puts on us.’
There is a statue of him at The Hague erected from public subscription collected from every part of the educated world. At the unveiling of it (1882) Ernest Renan made a moving speech at the conclusion he said thus.’ This man from his granite pedestal, will point out to all men, the way of all blessedness which he found; and ages hence, the cultivated traveler, passing by this spot, will say in his heart, ‘the truest vision ever had of God came, perhaps, here.’

In 1656 the 24-year old Spinoza was summoned before the elders to answer the charges of heresy. One of the sticking points was his doubt regarding the belief in another life. The Synagogue was concerned such a view, contrary to the essence of Christianity would seem inimical to the community that had welcomed them into their midst. For their security in the host country the Dutch Calvinists had to be appeased and no cost was to be reckoned too little. The same mindset that had prompted Caiaphas to say about Jesus was alive in the elders of his time. (‘It was expedient that one man should die for the people’- Jn.18: 14) If the Synagogue had not spared Jesus or Uriel a Costa it was not going to spare the young Spinoza either.
The young skeptic was offered $500 in annuity for his silence and outward loyalty to the Synagogue and his faith. He refused.
On July 27, 1656, he was excommunicated with all the somber formalities of Hebrew ritual. During the reading of the curse, wailing of the great horn was heard and lights were put out one after the other, indicating the quenching of spiritual life of the man under curse. Spinoza took it under quite courage. He did not join another sect for comfort and determined, as he was to seek his own salvation. The form of the Synagogue and shape of elders that guided it was a mode far from the ‘substance’ of God that moved him. Mode pandered to circumstances and compromised wherever it suited while his soul was ever fixed. His life was his proof to his thought.
(ack: Will Durant- The story of Philosophy: Pub. The Washington Square Press-1964)

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Friederich Nietzsche (1844-1900) philosopher, German

Generally regarded as Superman’s voice he was nevertheless amenable to influences, and without exception all those who had impressed him he repaid by denouncing them most. Of these Darwin and Bismarck brought his bile up.
Darwin in his eyes had completed the work of the French encyclopedists to the extent that he had removed, by Natural selection, the theological basis of modern morals. By leaving the morality untouched English evolutions pulled their punches. They were therefore suspect. They were brave enough to leave God out but dared not cease to be Christians.
Bismarck was a revelation to the iconoclast philosopher. Here was a man who knew the realities of life who said,’ there is no altruism among nations’ and understood only blood and iron got a nation its rights. His creation of a growing empire on might and muscles all in right temper by the industrial resurgence needed a voice. He intended to be that voice.
Coming from a long line of clergy men it was natural that he became a preacher of sorts. The early death of his father found him petted and mollycoddled by women in the household he was like ‘a Jesus in the Temple’. He was sensitive and also a stoic: when his schoolfellows doubted the story of Mutius Scaevola he lit a batch of matches and held them in his palm and let them burn out by itself. He seem to have once said,’What I am not that for me is God and virtue.’
All his life long he sought physical and intellectual means to turn him into an idealized masculinity. In that process he lost faith in God and discovered Wagner.
At the very prime of life in 1879 he broke down physically and mentally. But he would by superhuman will recover and write his masterpiece Thus spake Zarathustra(1883) He had to pay for the cost of printing, forty copies of the book were sold , seven were given away. No one acknowledged it and no one said a word of praise for it.
His health broke down and his last days felled by stroke he was cared for first by his mother and then his sister in Weimar. The peace that eluded when sane and in full control of his gifts seemed to come home. Once he caught his sister in tears, ‘Lisbeth,’ he asked,” why do you cry? Are we not happy?’ On another occasion he heard talk of books; his pale face lit up; ‘Ah!’, he said brightening, ‘I too have written some good books.’ That lucid moment went. He died in 1900.

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