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Posts Tagged ‘history of philosophy

“The average scientist unequipped with the powerful lenses of philosophy, is a nearsighted creature, and cheerfully attacks each difficulty in the hope that it may prove to be the last”*…




There are decisive grounds for holding that we need to bring about a revolution in philosophy, a revolution in science, and then put the two together again to create a modern version of natural philosophy.

Once upon a time, it was not just that philosophy was a part of science; rather, science was a branch of philosophy. We need to remember that modern science began as natural philosophy – a development of philosophy, an admixture of philosophy and science. Today, we think of Galileo, Johannes Kepler, William Harvey, Robert Boyle, Christiaan Huygens, Robert Hooke, Edmond Halley and, of course, Isaac Newton as trailblazing scientists, while we think of Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz as philosophers. That division is, however, something we impose on the past. It is profoundly anachronistic…

Science broke away from metaphysics, from philosophy, as a result of natural philosophers adopting a profound misconception about the nature of science. As a result, natural philosophy died, the great divide between science and philosophy was born, and the decline of philosophy began.

It was Newton who inadvertently killed off natural philosophy with his claim, in the third edition of his Principia, to have derived his law of gravitation from the phenomena by induction…

Nicholas Maxwell argues that science and philosophy need to be re-joined, lest humanity seek knowledge at the expense of wisdom; only then, he suggests, can we hope to solve the urgent, fundamental problems that we face: “Natural philosophy redux.”

[Image above: source]

* Gilbert N. Lewis


As we seek ever-higher ground, we might that it was on this date in 1898 that the heirs of Alfred Nobel signed a “reconciliation agreement,” allowing his lawyers and accountants to execute his will.  The lion’s share of his estate was clearly marked for the establishment of the eponymous Prizes that are awarded each year.  But the residue, which was to be divided among descendants was the subject of much contention.


The first page of Nobel’s will [source]


“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”*…




This is my summary of the history of (Western) philosophy showing the positive/negative connections between some of the key ideas/arguments of the philosophers. It’s a never-ending work-in-progress and the current version is mainly based on Bryan Magee’s The Story of Philosophy and Thomas Baldwin’s Contemporary Philosophy, with many other references for specific philosophers/arguments. (The source is noted with the book icon that appears when you click on an argument.)…

From Deniz Cem Önduygu, a fascinating interactive tool for exploring the development of Western philosophy: “The history of philosophy, summarized and visualized.”  [TotH to friend MK]

For a different (but also engaging) visualization of some of this same history, see “The Structure of Recent Philosophy.”

* Friedrich Nietzsche


As we investigate influence, we might send deeply-thoughtful birthday greetings to Hannah Arendt; she was born on this date in 1906.  Though often categorized as a philosopher, she self-identified as a political theorist, arguing that philosophy deals with “man in the singular,” while her work centers on the fact that “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.”  One of the seminal political thinkers of the twentieth century, the power and originality of her thinking was evident in works such as The Origins of Totalitarianism, The Human Condition, On Revolution and The Life of the Mind.  Her famous New Yorker essay and later book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil— in which she raised the question of whether evil is radical or simply a function of thoughtlessness, a tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without a critical evaluation of the consequences of their actions and inaction– was controversial as it was widely misunderstood as defending Eichmann and blaming Jewish leaders for the Holocaust.  That book ended:

Just as you [Eichmann] supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.



Written by LW

October 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Originality is nothing but judicious plagiarism”*…

 click here for dynamic zoom

Readers seemed to enjoy Simon Raper’s diagrammatic history of philosophy (see “Who’s Hume“), so may also appreciate Brendan Griffen‘s even more ambitious visual essay– a depiction of the connections between every important thinker, ever: “The Graph of Ideas.”

He fields it at two levels of detail; the first (pictured at the top of this post, with a link to a zoomable version) treats roughly 850 thinkers, clustering those most closely related and showing how each is connected.  For example:

The second treats his entire set of 4,200 thinkers; it is here (it’s a 50MB file, so takes a while to load– but it’s worth it).

Read the backstory– the method used and the iterative attempts to avoid a Western bias– here.

[TotH to CoDesign]

* Voltaire


As we honor our ancestors, we might send carefully-scrawled birthday greetings to Nicolas-Jacques Conté; he was born on this date in 1755.  While Conté was an accomplished painter, balloonist, and army officer, he is best remembered for his contribution to the later contributions to the charts above: the invention of the modern pencil.



Your correspondent is off for a period of deep and serious study of the smoked and fried foods of the Low Country.  Sticky fingers being the impediment to keyboarding that they are, regular service will resume in mid-August… Y’all have fun!

Who’s Hume…

Simon Raper at Drunks & Lampposts extracted the information in the influenced by section for every philosopher on Wikipedia and used it to construct a network– a picture of whose thought formed whose.

See the full map– and read how one can easily construct one’s own network diagrams– here.

[TotH to The Stone]


As we parse our precedents, we might recall that it was on this date in 1951 that Mrs. Mary Reeser, of St Petersburg, Florida, was the victim of “spontaneous human combustion.”  Her landlady took her a telegram, found the doorknob too hot to handle, and phoned for help. Firemen discovered a blackened circle on the floors, a few coiled springs, a charred liver, a backbone fragment, a skull shrunk to size of a fist, and a black slipper enclosing a left foot burnt off at the ankle. Despite the temperature necessary to cremate a body, the rest of the apartment was virtually untouched.


Carrying the World on Your Shoulders: It’s All About the Ink, Part Two…


Tattoos have been with us since Prehistoric times; indeed, early tattoos were a kind of prehistory:  for example, 5th century BCE Iron Age corpses found preserved in frozen tombs (on the Ukok plateau in the Altai mountains in Siberia) are festooned with depictions of hunting and prey. Tattoos have been capturing world views and memorializing events (along with more personal passions, of course) ever since.

For much of the modern era in the West, tattoos were the preserve of outliers (e.g., seamen) and outlaws– until the latter half of the 20th century: in 1936, only 6% of Americans had a tattoo; in 2003, that percentage had risen to 16%; and by 2008, 36% of Americans 18 to 25 had a tattoo, rising to 40% for 26- to 40-year-olds.

As tattoos have become more common, their subjects have become more varied.  Part One of “It’s All About the Ink” looked at mathematically-themed tattoos.  But what about the physical world?

Our old friends at Strange Maps look at cartographic tattoos



As we contemplate getting from here to there, we might send thoughtful birthday greeting to the co-founder of Western philosophy, Socrates; today’s date– June 4– is the best guess* as to the date of his birth in 469 BCE.

I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.

– Socrates, quoted by Plutarch


* Socrates’s birthday was specified by Apollodoros the Chronographer:  the fourth year of the 77th Olympiad, the Archonship of Apsephionos, the Sixth day of the Attic Month Thargelion (i.e. the birthday of the goddess Artemis).  Athenian months ran from New Moon to New Moon (roughly mid month to mid month), so Thargelion overlapped May and June. The Julian date was established by Eusebius.  (All this said, lunar calendars were sufficiently inaccurate– and Greeks, sufficiently unconcerned with precise birth records– that it was common practice to ascribe all children born in a twelve-month cycle the same “birthday,” which was actually just a “birth-year”; even then, some historians suggest that Socrates was born in 470 BCE, not 469.)

Written by LW

June 4, 2012 at 1:01 am

Period, Full Start…

Computersherpa at DeviantART has taken the collected wisdom at TV Tropes and that site’s “Story Idea Generator” and organized them into an amazing Periodic Table of Storytelling

click here (and again) for a larger image

[TotH to Brainpickings]

Along these same lines, readers might also be interested in the “Perpetual Notion Machine” (which includes, as a bonus, the story of Dmitri Mendeleev and the “real” Periodic Table…)  See also the Periodic Table of Typefaces (“‘There are now about as many different varieties of letters as there are different kinds of fools…’“) and the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods (“Now See Here…“).

As we constructively stack our writers’ blocks, we might wish a thoughtful Happy Birthday to Immanuel Kant; he was born on this date in 1724 in Königsberg, Prussia (which is now Kaliningrad, Russia).  Kant is of course celebrated as a philosopher, the author of Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and Critique of Judgment (1790), and father of German Idealism (et al.).

But less well remembered are the contributions he made to science, perhaps especially to astronomy, before turning fully to philosophy.  For example, his General History of Nature and Theory of the Heavens (1755) contained three anticipations important to the field: 1) Kant made the nebula hypothesis ahead of Laplace. 2) He described the Milky Way as a lens-shaped collection of stars that represented only one of many “island universes,” later shown by Herschel. 3) He suggested that friction from tides slowed the rotation of the earth, which was confirmed a century later.  Similarly, Kant’s writings on mathematics were cited as an important influence by Einstein.


Vin Extraordinaire…

As if Vietnamese snake wine—prepared by steeping a snake (preferably a venomous one) in rice wine—weren’t disconcerting enough, there’s snake bile wine. The forbidding drink is prepared by mixing rice wine with the greenish-black bile taken from the gallbladder of a freshly sliced cobra.

More oenophilic out-of-the-ordinariness at Food & Wine’s “World’s Weirdest Wines.”

As we reconsider temperance, we might recall that it was on this date in 1619, after the Vigil of the Feast of St. Martin of Tours, that Rene Descartes had his famous dream (actually a series of three dreams that night)– that ignited his commitment to treat all systems of thought developed to date, especially Scholasticism, as “pre-philosophical,” and– starting from scratch (“Cogito, ergo sum”)– to create anew.

Of these three dreams, it is the third that best expresses the original thought and intention of Rene Descartes’ rationalism. During the dream that William Temple aptly refers to as, “the most disastrous moment in the history of Europe,” Descartes saw before him two books. One was a dictionary, which appeared to him to be of little interest and use. The other was a compendium of poetry entitled Corpus Poetarum in which there appeared to be a union of philosophy with wisdom. Moreover, the way in which Descartes interpreted this dream set the stage for the rest of his life-long philosophical endeavors. For Descartes, the dictionary stood merely for the sciences gathered together in their sterile and dry disconnection; the collection of poems marked more particularly and expressly the union of philosophy with wisdom. He indicates that one should not be astonished that poets abound in utterances more weighty, more full of meaning and better expressed, than those found in the writings of philosophers. In utterances which appear odd when coming from a man who would go down in history as the father of Rationalism, Descartes ascribes the “marvel” of the wisdom of the poets to the divine nature of inspiration and to the might of phantasy, which “strikes out” the seeds of wisdom (existing in the minds of all men like the sparks of fire in flints) far more easily and directly than does reason in the philosophers. The writings of the professional philosophers of his time, struck Descartes as failing to supply that certitude, human urgency, and attractive presentation which we associate with a wise vision capable of organizing our knowledge and influencing our conduct.  (Peter Chojnowski)

And so was born the Modern Age in the West, and the particular form of Rationalism that characterizes it.

Many scholars suggest that Descartes probably “protests too much” when he insists in his autobiographical writings that he had abstained from wine for some time before the night of his oh-so-significant slumber.

Rene Descartes (source)


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