'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

15 September 2010


A little wisdom from Stephen Fry one of my Favourite People.

Not always correct and not always good, but philosophy is the search for wisdom which, although it  does not always lead to sustainable truth, at least provokes discussion and thought. If we do not test ideas we may as well have none.
Rubens  'The Four Philosophers'
Peter Paul Rubens stands behind a group seated below a bust of the Roman philosopher, tragedian and statesman Seneca (4BC-65AD). In the group is his much admired brother Philip, who died a couple of years before in 1611 and was one of the great Classicists of his age. Beside him are his teacher, the scholar Justus Lipsius, and another top student Jan Woverius.

Francis Bacon 1st Viscount St Alban, BaronVerulam (1561 - 1626) The English Lawyer, scientist, essayist and philosopher and 'Father of Modern Science' was born in London, educated at Cambridge, was briefly a diplomat and served in Parliament from 1584 to 1617. His father and he served under Elizabeth 1 and he progressed during the rule of James 1. He became Attorney General in 1613 and Lord Chancellor in 1618 but subsequently charged with bribery and corruption, imprisoned and then banished from court. He wrote on truth, adversity, death and the method for how knowledge is advanced. He tabulated affinities and deviations and by this he thought to define scientific understanding, but this proved to be of little use further down the line. He strongly supported the use of experimentation and not mere scholastic methods to understand nature. His works include 'Novum Organum' 1620 and the literary works 'The Advancement of Learning' 1605, 'The New Atlantis' 1626. Bacon did not marry until the age of forty-eight and was by preference homosexual. He had "ganymedes and favourites" The Puritan moralist Sir Simonds D'Ewes  wrote about Bacon's love for his "very effeminate-faced" servants. Bacon's relationships followed the pattern of patron/favourite. More specifically, he had a preference for young Welsh serving-men. He also wrote poetry and plays, and there is still controversy that he co-authored many of Shakespeare's plays, including Hamlet. Bacon was one of the first Englishmen to write an essay on the nature of beauty, and his models were "August Caesar, Titus Vespasianus, Philip Le Bel of France, Edward IV of England, Alcibiades of Athens, and Ismael of Persia who were the most beautiful men of their times"
"Read not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider." Bacon

Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650) The French Philosopher, Mathematician and Scientist was born in La Haye. He was schooled by Jesuits and was absorbed by the certainty of mathematics. From 1628 he lived in Holland for twenty years until he was invited to Sweden by Queen Christina, but he died a few months after his arrival in Stockholm. The Cartesian method began with undoubted premises from which rationalism and logic would describe the universe. The sole premise he could not doubt, was that he was a thinking substance "cognito ergo sum - I think, therefore I am." From there he established the existence of other substances, the universe and god. Spirit and matter were bound completely and hence one could not be influenced without the intervention of god. Animals he regarded as animated machines and open to free exploitation. Obsessed with mathematics he believed that science could proceed by mere deduction but did some experimentation. As a strict Catholic, after Galileo was condemned, he withdrew an early work supporting Copernicus' theory of the universe. His great works were 'Discourse de la Methode' (1637) and 'Meditations de priuma philosophia' (1641) and 'Principia philosophiae' (1644)

Benedict de Spinoza (1632 - 1677). The Dutch Philosopher was born in Amsterdam of Jewish parents. His education was traditional but his observance lapsed and he was expelled in 1656. He studied Latin and absorbed Western Culture. He wrote a version of Descartes 'Principles of Philosophy' in 1663 and his own 'Thological Political Treatise' in 1670 and 'Ethics' published in 1677. He believed that human passions must be obedient to the state and that substance had attributes but was not such itself The infinite possessor of attributes he identified with nature and god ( the two being the same and also an impersonal definition of God) The mind of man was part of that nature and thus lacked the ability for free will, Realisation of this oneness with nature/god was man's highest goal. His early days were spent as a glass grinder and the dust particles led to his death from lung disease. His ideas caused a ruckus but
"Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is well known to you that a thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted by many."

George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 - 1931) The German philosopher was born in Stuttgart, studied theology and later became professor of philosophy in Berlin. Much which followed his ideas were influenced by or in opposition to his Hegelianism To Hegel the spirit, either human or more all encompassing, is the true reality. The spirit or mind follows passes through strict logical stages of which a collision of opposed ideas is essential to gain a synthesis and attainment of greater knowledge. He believed that this dialectic operation dealt with reality and was the true aim of philosophy as opposed to observational analysis of the sciences and everyday activity. Marx  took this dialectic turned it around and applied it to history which he saw as a clash of contradictory social systems.
"Whatever is reasonable is true, and whatever is true is reasonable."
"We learn from history that we do not learn from history."

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860) The German metaphysical philosopher was born in Danzig, and became a lecturer in Berlin in 1820, gained little acceptance until old age and spent his final thirty years in isolation at Frankfurt am Main. His major work was 'The World as Will and Idea'. To Schopenhauer 'will' was the great reality, an active principle, a blind impulse which encompassed gravity or motivation. The 'idea' referred to, he saw simply as an image received without intellectual intuition by the brain. He was influenced by Eastern philosophy and  the existence of human suffering. Sometimes his thought was referred to as the philosophy of pessimism. Sympathy and in particular asceticism were seen as paramount to bring subjugation of the will and allow the intellect to see beyond the veil of illusion.
"Compassion is the basis of all morality."
"A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants."
"We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people."

Frederich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 - 1900). The German Philosopher was born in Rocken, the son of a pastor. He began his studies in Bonn and Leipzig and became a professor at Basle University even before graduation. Joining the military during the Franco-Prussian War he developed an illness which eventually led to insanity at the end of his life. He dedicated his first work 'The Birth of Tragedy' to Wagner whose influence and and that of Schopenhaur led him early on to develop the idea of the 'superman' by stating that it is not the movement of masses that is historically significant but the deeds of the great. Although he despised nationalism and racialism, his ideas such as democracy being no more than a mechanism by which mediocre quantity prevails over quality, were claimed as justification by the nationalists (Nazis) and socialists. Symbolically he described the last 2000 years of history as primarily a conflict between Rome and Judea or the hero and the mild slave. His sister who was his nurse and biographer once belonged to a failed Arian colony and became an early follower of Hitler.

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell (1872 - 1970)  The English philosopher and mathematician was born in Wales, studied mathematics at Trinity College Cambridge. In Collaboration with Alfred North Whitehead (1861 - 1947)  he wrote 'Principia Mathematica' in an attempt to show that the truths of mathematics can be derived from the basic truths of logic. Russell went to jail in 1918-1919 for sedition and again in 1961. Disillusioned with Communism he wrote 'The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism'. He was not a Christian, supported women's suffrage,  sexual freedom including homosexual law reform, established his own progressive school, married four times and had many affairs, was sacked for lectures on sexuality, campaigned for Nuclear Disarmament and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. He also wrote the popular 'A History of Western Philosophy'. He also developed Wittgenstein as a protege but had very little in common.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889 - 1951 (right) The Austrian philosopher was born in Vienna of a Jewish family who had become Catholic in the 1830's. He was a student at the Linz Realschule the same time as Hitler. He went on to do engineering at Manchester University and then Mathematics at Cambridge where he worked with Bertrand Russell. After serving in the Austrian army in WW1 he became a naturalised Britain in 1938 and then professor of philosophy at Cambridge. His earlier work 'Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus' argued that language is a series of propositions that picture simple understandable facts. Later he rejected this in favour of language having many functions which overlap without a common character. He believed that philosophy should attempt to clear up problems that have arisen because of linguistic and other confusions. Much of  'Tractatus' was modelled after Otto Weininger's (1880–1903) (above left) mystical philosophy of logic from 'Sex and Character.'  ashamed of being gay, feeling that it made them like women, whom they believed to be inferior. They also saw Jews as an effeminate race and both were anti-Semitic although both were of Jewish descent.

Auguste Isidore Marle Franciois Comte (1798 - 1857) French philosopher and mathematician. He was a lecturer at the Ecole Polytechnique from 1833 until his retirement in 1851,due to bouts of insanity. After a long illness he eventually died of cancer. He taught that mankind and the individual passes through intellectual phases of the theological and the Positive ( a hope for the future). His important wark was 'The Course of Positive Philosophy'. He was an extreme humanist and believed in Logical Positivism, i.e. that nothing could be learned beyond the physical, human knowledge is relative and not absolute and morality should be sought in the perfection of humanity by scientific means and not by recourse to an unknowable god. He was eventually excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Originally committed to observation and experimentation, in his later years he became involved in mysticism, to the point where Positivism became more of a religion, than anything else.

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