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…
Monday, 13 February 2012 06:43

African Roar 2011: African Writers Whimpering

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Adunni, my iPad just bought me African Roar 2011, an anthology of stories written by fifteen African writers, and edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor Hartmann. I don’t think Adunni wasted our precious money but I expected more; I hope this is not my Christmas present. Contrary to what the anthology implies, it is not exactly representative of African writing; the writers come from just five English speaking countries; seven are from Zimbabwe, four from Nigeria, two from South Africa, and one each from Ghana and Malawi. I loved the debut annual anthology last year and reviewed it here. Sadly…
First published January 5, 2010 Forgetting is the final instrument of genocide. To witness genocide is to feel not only the chill of your own mortality, but the degradation of all humanity… even the most brilliant photography cannot capture the landscape of genocide. - Simon Norfolk The writers Okey Ndibe and Chenjerai Hove are two of Africa’s finest thinker-writers. They are awesome wordsmiths, word cannon balls boom fiercely out of their fecund minds pulverizing their targets with uncanny accuracy. They write with an uncommon sensitivity to the issues that Africa faces. This they do with respect and compassion and one…
Suge Green: We're bringing on the author of the very hot book JERSEY BOY: The Life and Mob Slaying of Frankie DePaula. Please welcome to On the Grind Boxing, Ade Makinde. Ade, welcome to On the Grind Boxing Adeyinka Makinde: Hello, thank you very much Suge Green: It's a pleasure to have you here. We know you penned a very interesting story. A lot of people may not be up on these events because they're not exactly current events. They go back into the past. A little bit of boxing history, a little bit of Mob history and a little…
Sunday, 12 February 2012 11:44

Ali: The Evolution of a Legend

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Muhammad Ali, the ring legend and inspirer of a multitude of words; some intensely vitriolic but most fulsome in praise and admiration continues to attract the attention of books, articles, films and documentaries. This has happened with unceasing regularity since the denouement of his career in a Bahamanian ring over twenty years ago. During this time we have had various retellings, assessments and revisions of the man born Cassius Clay sixty years ago in Louisville Kentucky. The facts of the Ali tale, so familiar even to the most casual observer needs little in the manner of detailed recounting to fans…
For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria By Cheryl Johnson-Odim, Nina Emma Mba Product Description Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a Nigerian feminist who fought for suffrage and equal rights for her countrywomen long before the second wave of the women's movement in the United States. She also joined the struggle for Nigerian independence as an activist in the anticolonial movement. "For Women and the Nation" is the story of this courageous woman, one of a handful of full-length biographies of African women activists. It will be welcomed by students of women's studies, African history, and biography, as well as…
Sunday, 05 February 2012 08:07

Rene Descartes - Men of Ideas

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Rene Descartes (1596-1650) was a French Enlightenment philosopher and mathematician. Descartes made contributions in Geometry; indeed, he is considered the father of analytic geometry, the interface of geometry and calculus. He also made some seminal contributions to optics (light), such as the understanding of the nature of reflection and refraction (named after him). For his role in geometry alone his place in history is assured. However, it is his contributions in philosophy that interests me and that I will briefly review. Descartes wrote at the beginning of the French enlightenment, at a time folk were trying to approach phenomena from…
Sunday, 05 February 2012 08:01

Francis Bacon - Men of Ideas

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Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was an English aristocrat who dabbled in many things but is remembered for his insistence on inductive, as opposed to deductive, reasoning. His one claim to fame is his reminding folk to embrace the Aristotelian approach to phenomena rather than the Platonic approach. He is therefore considered the father of science in the British world. It is not for been a great scientist that he is remembered but for his philosophy of robust empiricism. Bacon insisted that if you want to talk to him that you talk to him about facts and facts only. He was not…
Sunday, 05 February 2012 07:57

Isaac Newton - Men of Ideas

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Isaac Newton (1643-1727) was an English mathematician and physicist. He presented his physical findings in his Magnus opus, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687). In that book he described the laws of gravitation and the three laws of motion. Newton’s finding constituted that part of physics called mechanics and lasted until the twentieth century when Albert Einstein’s special and general relativity finally improved on it. Newton showed that the motions of objects on earth and elsewhere in the universe are governed by the same gravitational laws. He re-confirmed that the heliocentric view of our solar system is correct and laid to…
Sunday, 05 February 2012 07:52

William Harvey - Men of Ideas

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William Harvey (1578-1657) was an English physician who described how blood is pumped in the heart and circulated throughout the body and returned to the heart via the lungs where it has picked up oxygen for re-circulation around the body. There is controversy as to who first discovered the circulation of blood in the body. There is some tentative evidence that Muslim physicians knew something about blood circulation and, additionally, that some Italian physicians may also have learned about the nature of blood circulation in the body. Harvey had studied at Padua, Italy where he might have learned about the…
Sunday, 05 February 2012 07:40

Galileo Galilei - Men of Ideas

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Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian mathematician, physicist and astronomer. He made many contributions to physics and astronomy but is primarily known for improving the telescope and for using it to observe that the earth is not the center of the universe; he empirically verified Copernicus hypothesis that the solar system is composed of one sun and many planets, and that the earth is one of the many planets; and that there are many stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, our galaxy; and that some of these stars have planets orbiting around them. Our sun, a medium star, has a…
Sunday, 05 February 2012 07:39

Thomas Hobbes - Men of Ideas

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Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is generally considered the first English social scientist. By this is meant that he was the first Englishman to dispense with theological criteria in his efforts to understand human (political) behavior. Prior to him English men attempted to explain why human beings did what they did with the perspective of God, Satan and other theological categories. Hobbes who had travelled widely in Italy was influenced by Italian renaissance and the idea of understanding human beings behavior from the perspective of pure reason (that is, Greek perspective, as opposed to religious perspective). Instead of speculating on what the…
Sunday, 05 February 2012 07:34

Niccolo Machiavelli - Men of Ideas

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Whereas Aristotle is generally considered the first social scientist, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) is considered the first political realist. Machiavelli went from merely studying politics to suggesting how politics ought to be practiced. Based on his understanding of what people do in politics, as opposed to what they say that they would do, Machiavelli advised leaders, The Prince, (in this case, the Duke of his native Florence) to behave in a certain manner that he construed as politically realistic, if he wants to accomplish his political goals, that is. Machiavelli was born in Florence (part of what is now called Italy).…
Sunday, 05 February 2012 07:28

Aristotle - Men of Ideas

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We begin our review of seminal social scientists with Aristotle (384-322 BC) not because what Aristotle said could be construed as science by today’s understanding of what science is but because of his general approach to his studies. He self consciously determined to study things empirically, as they are, not as he wants them to be. His teacher, Plato, emphasized finding out the essence of things and that inquiry led him to asking such questions that the nature of things as they are to our physical eyes were ignored and, instead, observers wanted to understand their essence before they manifested…