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Monday, 19 March 2012 08:36

Vilfredo Pareto: Men of Ideas

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Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian economist who did significant work on income distribution and individual choices. He demonstrated that in most economies a handful of the population, 20 percent of the population, seems to have as much as the other 80% of the population. (Actually the percentages have worsened, in the USA one percent of the population own as much as the rest of the population; CEOs of America’s top corporations make as much as all their other employees lumped together. In modern societies, wealth is concentrated in a few hands.) Basically, what Pareto contributed to economic discourse is…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:35

Joseph Schumpeter: Men of Ideas

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Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) was a Moravian economist and political scientist. His major contribution to economic discourse is his work on Business cycles (developed in his book, The Theory of Economic Development). Schumpeter talked about the absence of innovations and circular flow which ultimately leads to stagnation of economic activities (sort of like negative equilibrium) until the business entrepreneur enters the picture with his new ideas on how to do things and jump starts the economy. The entrepreneurial businesses disturb the equilibrium and generate business development in the economy. Each business cycle allegedly lasts for about fifty years before stagnation sets…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:34

John Maynard Keynes: Men of Ideas

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John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) was a British economist whose ideas on how to deal with unemployment, inflation, recession and depression have had lasting impact on the world. In his book, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) Keynes outlined his understanding of what causes unemployment, interest rate issues and money supply issues. His causal analysis is routine economic analysis; his point of departure is what he recommended to solve those problems. His recommendation was not particularly original for in one form or another, governments have been doing what he recommended. However, he was the first to systematize these ideas…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:33

Thomas Malthus: Men of Ideas

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Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) was an English economist (and Anglican pastor). He was the first formal professor of economics, which was then called Political Economy, in 1805. Malthus’ major contribution to economic discourse is his “Essay on the Principle of Population” (1798). He wrote this book to counteract the progressives’ optimism that through reason all the problems that beset mankind would be solved. Progressives like Jean Jacque Rousseau believed that through reason (French enlightenment) man and his society would become heaven like. (Rousseau was actually an idealist, a romantic rather than a realistic thinker.) Malthus set out to show that…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:32

David Ricardo: Men of Ideas

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David Ricardo (1772-1823) systematized the economic theory laid down by Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus and helped make the study of economics a formal academic discipline. In addition to systematizing the discipline, Ricardo added to the discipline with his Labor Theory of Value (explicated in his book, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation). Ricardo was not the first person to talk about labor added value but was the first to formally articulate it in an academic text book. That which exists in nature may or may not have value but it is the labor expended on it to make it…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:31

Adam Smith: Men of Ideas

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Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a Scottish economist that many believe is the founder of classical economics. Along with David Ricardo and Thomas Malthus he gave shape to what today is called the science of economics. Before his time folk studied economics, usually under philosophy; there was no separate discipline called economics. All these changed when Adam Smith published his “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations, in 1776 (the very year that the USA came into being and embraced his gospel of Laissez Faire Economics). Adam Smith wrote his book in reaction to the prevailing…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:30

Claude Levi-Strauss: Men of Ideas

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Claude Levi-Strauss (1908- ) is a French anthropologist noted for developing the concept of structuralism and functionalism for understanding so-called primitive societies. In so-called primitive societies many of the structures we take for granted in the Western world do not seem to exist. In the West, for example, when we talk of governance we talk of legislative bodies, executive bodies and judicial bodies. We talk of the legislature making laws, the executive implementing them and judges adjudicating disputes on the basis of the law. When we go to preliterate societies we might not see structures specifically called legislative, executive and…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:29

Margaret Mead: Women of Ideas

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Margaret Mead (1901-1978) was an American anthropologist. She did her field work in Samoa, in the Asian Pacific and wrote up her findings in a book called Coming of Age in Samoa. Her whole academic reputation rests on her findings during her field work in Samoa and the information she reported in the ensuing book. She claimed that the teenage girls of Samoa and their culture had a different attitude towards sex from what obtained in the West. Whereas in the Western world, the Judeo-Christian religion teaches abstinence from sex until a girl is married, Mead said that the Samoan…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:28

Bronislaw Malinowski: Men of Ideas

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Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) is considered one of the most important anthropologists of the twentieth century. Indeed, he was part of that elect group, which included Franz Boaz and Ruth Benedict that started the anthropological enterprise. His field work in what is now called Papua New Guinea and the Trobriand Islands is considered a classic of ethnographic studies. What is anthropology? Anthropology is the same as sociology. However, whereas sociologists tended to study what they called modern societies, anthropologists studied the same subjects studied by sociologists but this time on so-called primitive societies. In a manner of speaking, anthropology is sociology…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:27

Ferdinand Tonnies: Men of Ideas

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Ferdinand Tonnies (1855-1936) was a German sociologist who, along with Max Weber, founded the study of sociology in Germany. Tonnies, sometimes spelled Toennies, wrote many articles and books but is primarily known for his differentiation between two types of sociological communities: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Gemeinschaft is what we might call natural groupings of human beings, such as families, clans’ men, tribes’ men, villagers and those who perceive themselves as in some way connected. Members of such groups tend to see each other as one of them and work for their mutual interests. The survival of the group is perceived as…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:26

Max Weber: Men of Ideas

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Maximilian Carl Emil Weber (1864-1920) was a German scholar who has come to be called everything from sociologist to political scientist and economist. Max Weber is a traditional German thinker who, in a different age, probably would be called philosopher but in our age of specialization and categorization folk see a need to see him as a sociologist. Indeed, some even consider him as one of the founders of the discipline of sociology. He called some of his major writings the sociology of this or that (sociology of Religion, for example) but those writings appear more like philosophical treatises than…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:25

Karl Mannheim : Men of Ideas

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Karl Mannheim (1893-1947) continued the work of establishing sociology as an academic discipline. Mannheim is considered the founder of the sociology of knowledge. Generally, many folk assume that knowledge is not a social construct. Mannheim showed that what is considered knowledge, or truth, is a social variable. It is what a group of people, at least, its opinion leaders, accept as true that is seen as true in any group. What is the truth is not self evident but is the consensus of the rulers of society. Truth is a social construct and not that which we all could look…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:23

Emile Durkheim: Men of Ideas

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Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) is generally considered the father of the academic discipline of Sociology. Before him folks, of course, wrote on what might be construed as sociological, folks like Auguste Comte and George Sorel, but those could be subsumed under the rubric of philosophy. It was Emil Durkheim who made the argument that there is a particular way of looking at phenomena that is sociological. Sociology is that methodological approach to people that says that they are not free agents and that they are determined by their society. Society and its various units, such as family, siblings, peer groups, schools,…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:21

Harold Laswell: Men of Ideas

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Harold Laswell (1902-1978) was an American political scientist. Whereas he contributed immensely to most aspects of political science the aspect of his work that stands out most in this observer’s view is his political psychology. He attempted to understand the relationship of politics and the individual’s personal psychology. For example, did Adolf Hitler’s personality affect his political behavior? In his book, World Politics and Personal Insecurity (1935), he tried to show a link between the individual’s psychopathology and his pathological behavior in the political arena. In Power and Personality (1935), he continued that inquiry. It is not so much what…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:20

Henry Kissinger: Men of Ideas

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Henry Kissinger (1923- ) is a German- Jewish-American. His parents, along with him, fled Nazi Germany and settled at New York, USA. He served in the US army as an interpreter of German language during the Second World War. At the termination of the war he completed his education at Harvard and obtained a doctorate degree in political science. Thereafter, he embarked on teaching the nature of political realism at Harvard University. Kissinger's path to fame is his emphasis on political realism and geopolitics. For him, nothing should be done out of sentimental reasons but from pure calculation of self…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:18

Carl Von Clausewitz: Men of Ideas

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Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian military general who wrote the famous treatise on the military, On War (Vom Kriege). That book is considered unsurpassable in its understanding of military affairs: military strategy, military tactics and the politics of war. Von Clausewitz was a professional soldier and served in many capacities while in the army. Indeed, for a while he served in foreign armies, the Russian army; he served as the military attaché in his country’s embassies abroad. In addition to understanding military matters, planning and winning wars he also understood that militaries exist to serve non-military purposes. Human…
Prince Klemens Von Metternich (1773-1859) was an Austrian diplomat in the nineteenth century, especially during the Napoleonic wars. He was not a scholar and did not write great books. His path to historical remembrance is his political realism. He is an adept at practicing political realism. Let us therefore discuss the concept of political realism and use this dull Austrian of questionable talents as an illustration of the idea. Political realism is rooted in Machiavelli’s conception of politics and Hobbes perception of human nature. According to this realistic view, people are motivated by self interests. Nations, like people, are motivated…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:16

John Stuart Mill: Men of Ideas

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John Stuart Mill (1806-1893) was an English utilitarian thinker and prolific writer on assorted subjects, including representative democracy. We have reviewed utilitarianism while talking about Jeremy Bentham and will look at John Stuart Mill mainly in regard to his writing on representative government, though he obviously wrote extensively on utilitarianism. His book, On Liberty, is considered a classic on utilitarian approach to governance and democracy. John’s father, James Mill, apparently, subjected him to rigorous early childhood education, so that by age three he was reading and at an age most children were playing with other children he had mastered Latin,…
Monday, 19 March 2012 08:15

Jeremy Bentham: Men of Ideas

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Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was an English philosopher and jurist noted for his contribution to Utilitarian philosophy. Utilitarian philosophy asks basic questions, such as: who are human beings and what motivates their behaviors? Human beings are those animals whose bodies dispose to seek pleasure and avoid pain. If you bring noxious stimuli towards the human body, such as fire (heat), pin (prick) the body automatically moves away from it. The body moves away from whatever causes it pain. Apparently, the body has a built in mechanism (nervous system) that instinctively knows that pain leads to harm, which leads to death. Pain…
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.…