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…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:34

Gottfried Leibniz : Men of Ideas

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Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) was a German Mathematician and Philosopher. He independently discovered Calculus (Isaac Newton also did, over in England; there was debate as to who did it first). Leibniz’s notational version is the one generally used today. He also discovered the binary system, a system that underlies computer language. However, we are interested in Leibniz the philosopher, not the mathematician. He wrote few books on philosophy and the most notable ones are his Discourse on Metaphysics and Theodicee. Leibniz was a fervent Christian and was motivated to find a rational basis for his belief in Christianity and its god.…
Monday, 19 March 2012 07:31

Blaise Pascal : Men of Ideas

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Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician, physicist and theologian (religious philosopher). He made several contributions to mathematics (statistics and probability theory) and physics (he invented the first known calculator, a prelude to modern computers), but in as much as we are reviewing philosophers we shall concentrate on his philosophy rather than his mathematics and physics. Pascal wrote several books but his philosophical musing was contained in his Pensees (thoughts). Pascal apparently had an experience (in 1654), which he described as ‘fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosopher and the scholars.” This experience…
Monday, 13 February 2012 09:46

Whitney Houston

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Whitney Elizabeth Houston (born August 9, 1963) is an American recording artist, actress, and former fashion model. A relative to several prominent soul singers, including her mother Cissy Houston, cousins Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick, and godmother Aretha Franklin, Houston began singing at her New Jersey church as a member of a junior gospel choir at age eleven. After she began performing alongside her mother at night clubs in the New York City area, she was discovered by Arista Records label head Clive Davis. Houston released her debut album Whitney Houston in 1985, which became the best-selling debut album by…
Monday, 13 February 2012 06:48

Our World According to Binyavanga Wainaina

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Book Review: One Day I Will Write About This Place. By Binyavanga Wainaina. Graywolf Press; 272 pages Every African thinker should find a copy of Binyavanga Wainaina’s new book, One Day I Will Write about This Place and read it carefully from front to back. Scratch “African,” every thinker should read this enigmatic book by one of the most enigmatic thinkers I have never met. Wainaina entertains and educates with his brilliance and lunacy as displayed in the many exhilarating chapters of this unusual memoir. One is reminded repeatedly that there’s no fine line between brilliance and lunacy; Wainaina is…
Adunni my iPad just bought me an e-book, “The Granta Book of the African Short Story” published by Grantaand edited by the Nigerian writer Helon Habila. The book’s “Introduction” written by Habila alone is worth the price of the book. Adunni is happy. I am happy. It is an engaging, cerebral, thoughtful and comprehensive treatise on the short story form as practiced by African writers. Habila starts out with this bold salvo: “I often attend lectures and conferences where some distinguished speaker will give a talk on African literature that, to my disappointment, if not surprise, begins and ends with…
Monday, 13 February 2012 06:45

Of Biafra, Roses, Bullets and Valium

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The other day, Adunni my trusty iPad bought me Roses and Bullets, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s new book on the Nigerian civil war. I don’t know, iPads should not be this powerful; Adunni has unfettered access to my bank account and she is always buying me books off the Internet. I wish she would buy me books that engage and entertain me like a good bottle of cognac VSOP. I won’t lie, reading Adimora-Ezeigbo’s latest offering was pure torture. The book sent me to sleep each time I opened it on Adunni’s Kindle. I stopped reading it halfway; I won’t be back…