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Monday, 19 March 2012 08:14

Jean Jacques Rousseau: Men of Ideas

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Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) is probably one of the greatest Political Philosophers produced by France. His ideas, especially those contained in his most famous book, Social Contract, influenced the French Revolution of 1789. His ideas also influenced other areas of human endeavor; his book, Emile, even set out to show how to raise children who would turn out well functioning citizens (a curious exercise in light of the fact that he abandoned his five children and never expended money or attention to their upbringing; ah, it is a lot easier to tell other people how to raise their children than…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:13

Voltaire

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Francois Marie Arouet aka Voltaire (1698-1778) was a French enlightenment writer. He wrote on many subjects: literary, philosophical, religious and political. His most famous book is probably Candide, a satirical look at belief in God in a world where natural forces seem to prove that nature governs the world, not god. Men believe in a benevolent god that supposedly protects them yet natural events like tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, draughts, plagues of virus, bacteria and fungi kill them, as they kill animals and trees. Looking at human existence one would think that the most obvious conclusion is that…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:12

Charles de Montesquieu: Men of Ideas

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Charles de Montesquieu (1689-1755) is known for one thing and one thing only, his elaboration of the good that he thought that he saw in the British form of government, the division of governmental powers into the three natural branches of governance: legislative, executive and judiciary. He believed that this trend boded well for England. He extrapolated from the English experience to make a universal argument that division of the powers of government into the three branches of government and having different actors man each, and each defending its powers would be one way to avoid tyranny in a polity.…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:10

John Locke: Men of Ideas

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John Locke (1632-1704) probably has had the greatest influence on English political thought? Certainly, he had profound influence on the American Revolution; in fact, the founding fathers of America, such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin etc carried his Second Treaty on Government with them and freely quoted from him and saw him as their source of inspiration. Locke’s influence did not end in the world of politics but extended to the world of philosophy. His essay on human understanding is considered by many the foundation of psychology, especially what is today called nurture, as opposed to nature, approach to human…
Monday, 19 March 2012 02:03

Is Western Philosophy Useful For Africans?

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Recently, I revisited Western philosophy. I said revisited for as a school boy I was interested in it and studied it but as an adult have had little to do with it. I revisited it and read some of it to see if it would make sense to me. What I found is that though I could allow myself to get lost reading Western philosophical categories when I put a little distance between what I read and think about it I see no use for it. Honestly, I do not see the utility of much of Western philosophy. To me,…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:01

Ayn Rand: Women of Ideas

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Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a Russian Jew turned American popular philosopher. She wrote novels and later founded a movement that she called objectivists hence qualifies as either a philosopher or a religious fanatic or an insane cult leader. This woman fled Russian communism and came to America. She believed that she saw freedom in America. Everything America, to her, seemed honky-dory, the action of free men. She set out to preach pro-Americanism, the America of her fantasy, not the real America. In real America African-Americas are relegated to second class citizenship but to her that America is heaven on earth.…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:00

Hannah Arendt: Women of Ideas

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Hanna Arendt (1906-1975) was a German Jewish political philosopher. Arendt was primarily interested in the nature of power and freedom and her work would seem to fall under the rubric of political science rather than philosophy. In The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) she seemed to argue that Stalin’s totalitarianism and Hitler totalitarianism have similar roots. She saw both systems rooted in imperialism and anti Semitism. (As a Jew, she saw the world from the prism of her Jewish interests hence she could say such outrageous thing that Russian communism was rooted in anti Semitism; Trotsky, one of the leaders of…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:58

Jurgen Habermas: Men of Ideas

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Jurgen Habermas (1929- ) was born in Germany. He is noted for his critical theory or should we say criticism of liberalism. Habermas is a college professor and does what college professors are supposed to do: teach extant knowledge and criticize them and seem to be saying something important but from a distance are saying nothing; they are not contributing new ideas to intellectual discourse. Haberman seems to be trying to show that human beings, that is, Western human beings are rational beings after all and are capable of rational communication with one another and are capable of constructing rational…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:57

Bertrand Russell: Men of Ideas

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Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British mathematician and Philosopher. He wrote books on both subjects, books that were well received by the public, including his Principia Mathematica and A History of Western Philosophy. In both books he summarized what was known in the field, sort of textbook fashion, and many students and lay folk benefitted from his writing. In philosophy Russell considered himself an analytical philosopher. Whatever that is, what is evident is that he insisted on a philosophy that gave rise to what latter was called logical positivism, the emphasis on that which is verifiable and also influenced Karl…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:55

Jean Paul Sartre: Men of Ideas

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Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was a French existential philosopher. It is difficult to know exactly what Sartre meant by existentialism. His book, Being and Nothingness would seem to explicate the nature of existentialism but made matters worse. Like Heidegger his philosophical writing is difficult to understand (his novels such as No Exit, Nausea etc are easier to understand. I am not sure that Sartre himself knew what he was writing about. I am not sure that he knew what existentialism means. Saying that Existence precedes essence means nothing, it is just a play of words. Instead of worrying about what…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:54

Herbert Marcuse: Men of Ideas

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Herbert Marcuse (1878-1979) was a German Jewish sociologist and philosopher. He was a Marxist and wrote what was calculated to appeal to those on the left of the political spectrum. His major works are One Dimensional Man and Eros and Civilization. Basically, Marcuse wrote critiques of the capitalist economy from the perspective of Marxism. This critical approach to the West appealed to the 1960s and 1970s generation and Marcuse was an idol for that generation. He was a campus guru of sorts, invited by many students and colleges to give talks, lectures. These talks were leftist in nature and appealed…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:52

Martin Heidegger: Men of Ideas

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Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was a German philosopher. Heidegger’s fame rests on his book, Being and Time. In it he introduced the concept of Desein. Heidegger argues that philosophy addresses its self to superfluous issues and forgets to address itself to the real issue that human beings want addressed. People ask: what is being? Building on the philosopher Edmund Husserl, Heidegger argues that philosophy ought to concern itself with actual human beings experience of life on earth. This leads to phenomenological approach to people. In effect, Heidegger criticized philosophy’s tendency to seek abstract answers while not concerning itself with actual human…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:51

Karl Jaspers: Men of Ideas

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Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) was a German Jewish psychiatrist and existential philosopher. Jaspers worked in clinical psychology, with the mentally ill, but eventually left clinical work and settled for an academic career in philosophy. While working in the mental health field, Jaspers grappled with efforts to understand whether psychopathology is biological in origin or developed as part of personality development. He did not provide us with acceptable answers to his question. To the present no one has found a definite answer to that question. There are those who see mental disorder as biological in etiology and those who think that it…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:50

Henri Bergson: Men of Ideas

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Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was a French philosopher. Like many European philosophers, he had his say on abstract subjects like ontology, epistemology, ethics and metaphysics. More importantly, he grappled with the logic of empiricism, especially the consequences of its atheistic propensities. Somehow, he understood William James conclusion that though pure reasoning would seem to suggest a world without God hence the need for atheistic and empirical approach to phenomena that such an approach is filled with problems for real human beings. Real human beings are afraid of finitude; people do not want to die; people want to live forever. If they…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:49

William James: Men of Ideas

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William James (1842-1910) was an American medical doctor, psychologist and philosopher. He is credited with starting the first department of psychology at an American university, Harvard University. He wrote a well received book on psychology called the Principles of psychology. At some point James claimed to have had what he called mystical experience and wrote a book on The Varieties of Religious Experience. In that book he pointed out that the essence of religion is mystical experience, the sense of oneness with God, rather than the formalities of religion. Folk go to Church and go through certain ceremonial motions but…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:48

Freidrich Nietzsche: Men of Ideas

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Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German Philologist and philosopher. Nietzsche wrote many books and aphorisms. It appears that his mission was to say it as it is, as he believed that he saw it. He particularly did not like what he called Christian sentimentality, and wanted to show that human existence is not what Christians made it out to be. Christians made life to seem benign; as if there is a god that protects people and that if they lived ethical lives they would be rewarded by that god. Nietzsche set out to show that there is no such God…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:46

Herbert Spencer: Men of Ideas

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Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was an English engineer turned philosopher. He built on Charles Darwin’s ideas (Origin of Species) and tried to construct a universal ethics based on the notion that animals evolve and adapt to changes in their environment or die. He went beyond Darwin’s views (according to Darwin changes take place in the environment and animals adapt to them, and those who adapt survive and they do so by making changes in their physiology, and those who do not successfully change their genetic configuration to adapt die out; the world is littered with died out species of animals, dinosaurs,…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:45

Soren Kierkegaard: Men of Ideas

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Soren Kierkegaard Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was a Swedish writer later dubbed philosopher. He wrote a series of books that seem to have philosophical discourses in them. He made the characters in his fictional books talk about the subjects that normally exercise the minds of philosophers, such as ontology, epistemology, metaphysics etc and that would seem to make him a philosopher. He did not take direct responsibility for his philosophical views but, instead, made them seem like the views of his fictional characters. In so far that he is a serious philosopher it is his views on religion that is of…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:43

Ludwig Feuerbach : Men of Ideas

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Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (1804-1872) was a German naturalistic philosopher. His one contribution to philosophical discourse is his belief that human beings are part of nature, that there is no soul in them that survives when they die; that there is no immortality, that they are just part of nature. Nature, as manifested in animals and tress, blooms and dies (actually, changes form, from form of energy to another). The human beady is composed of the same materials in animals and trees. Like animals and trees people live and die. Their bodies decompose into the various elements, atoms, particles and sub…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:42

Arthur Schopenhauer: Men of Ideas

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Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was a German philosopher. Schopenhauer wrote many books but is primarily known for his book, The World as Will and Idea. In that book he elaborated on his understanding of what motivates human beings to live and do what they do. He called the primary motivator, will, the desire to live. Today we would call it instinct. As Schopenhauer sees it, we, human beings, desire to live. This desire to live is irrational and cannot be understood in rational terms. If you asked: why do people live and or why do people desire to live you would…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:39

George Hegel: Men of Ideas

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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) was a German idealistic philosopher. Right off the bat I must confess that I find this man not a real philosopher. It seems to me that he wrote verbiage, word salad and reminds me of the psychotic patients I used to work with at psychiatric hospitals. He writes volumes (confabulation) and when you close his book (say, Phenomenology of Spirit/mind) and ask: what has this guy said, you find that he has said very little of worth or if you are generous that he said one or two things that seem to make sense. You…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:38

David Hume: Men of Ideas

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David Hume (1711-1776) was a Scottish historian and philosopher. His text, The History of England was for many decades the standard text book on British History. However, we are interested in his philosophical musing. Hume was an uncompromising empiricist. His book, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, argues that we can only understand the empirical world through our five senses and that any other type of understanding is speculative and not real understanding. We can only understand the world through our five senses; any other claim to understanding of the world is spurious and cannot be demonstrated as true, believed yes…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:37

George Berkeley: Men of Ideas

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George Berkeley (1685-1753) was an Irish physicist, philosopher and Bishop. Along with Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and David Hume he established the English empiricist school, the basis of modern science. As an empiricist, a scientist, Berkeley studied mathematics and light and made seminal contributions to optics and perception. However, despite his insistence on empiricism, Berkeley has come to represent immaterialist approach to phenomena. In his earlier writings, like the empiricist, he attempted to demonstrate that perception of the world is done through our five senses and that there is no other way of understanding the world. As it were, we…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:36

Immanuel Kant: Men of Ideas

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Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher. Perhaps, no German philosopher has had more influence on Western philosophical thinking than Kant. Though he denied calling himself an idealist he is actually the father of German idealistic philosophy. Reading him is reading idealism at work. His philosophy is purely a mental construct and has nothing to do with the empirical world we live in. Though he tried to differentiate between nature (phenomena) and spirit (what he called Noumenon) he was really a mentalistic philosopher who used his mind to construct reality as he imagines that it is. He and Hegel used…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:35

Baruch Spinoza: Men of Ideas

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Baruch Spinoza (1732-1677 was a Dutch Jewish mathematician and philosopher. Baruch’s ancestors were kicked out of Portugal and eventually settled in Holland. They were kicked out because of their Judaism and they held fast to that religion. Baruch was offered the usual Jewish education but at some point declared himself not a believer in the Judeo-Christian personal God. Fearing that the Christians, among whom they lived, would not take kindly to this rejection of their personal God, the Jewish community of Amsterdam excommunicated Baruch and sent him packing from their community. Apparently, the Jews were grateful to the Dutch Christian…