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


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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…