A History of Philosophical Pragmatism

Pragmatism originated as a philosophical movement in the United States in the late 1800s. Introduction Pragmatism is a philosophical movement that originated with Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 – 1914) (who first stated the pragmatic maxim) and came to fruition in the early twentieth-century philosophies of William James and John Dewey. Most of the thinkers who[…]

A History of Ethics since the Ancient World

In the western intellectual tradition, philosophical reflection on ethical codes began with the Greek Sophists of the fifth century BCE. Introduction Any historical overview is necessarily selective. The current article elaborates the central teachings of some of the most important ethical philosophers of the ancient, medieval and modern periods. Roughly speaking, ancient ethical thinking begins[…]

A History of Logic since the Ancient World

The history of logic cannot be separated from general philosophy and the philosophy of logic. Introduction The history of logic documents the development of logic as it occurs in various cultures and traditions in history. While many cultures have employed intricate systems of reasoning, logic as an explicit analysis of the methods of reasoning received[…]

Avicenna and His Medical Influence in Medieval Europe

Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine was used for several centuries in medieval Europe and the Arab world as a major medical textbook. Introduction Ibn Sina (980-1037 C.E.), often referred to by his Latinized name Avicenna, was a Persian physician, philosopher, and scientist. He was one of the major Islamic philosophers and his philosophical writings had a[…]

Empire in the Age of Enlightenment: The Curious Case of Baron Benyowszky

Enlightenment debates about colonialism had very little to do with what actually happened on the ground. While the period between the Seven Years’ War and the French Revolution marked an ebb tide for the fortunes of French imperialism, colonial issues loomed large in the political and philosophical discourse of the age. Statesmen such as the[…]

The Age of Enlightenment: Establishing Reason as an Authoritative System

The Enlightenment advocated reason as a means to establishing an authoritative system of aesthetics, ethics, government, and even religion. Introduction The Age of Enlightenment, sometimes called the Age of Reason, refers to the time of the guiding intellectual movement, called The Enlightenment. It covers about a century and a half in Europe, beginning with the[…]

Equaliberty: Notes on the Thought of Étienne Balibar

Balibar’s ‘portmanteau’ invites us to invent a ‘politics against politics’. Introduction It could be asserted that the spectre of Equaliberty (Égaliberté) has haunted Étienne Balibar’s work for decades. Early connotations avant-la-lettre can be found in his concept of citizenship as ‘temporary equilibrium’ (Balibar 1988: 724)—a key structural condition that also underpins ‘equaliberty’. The notion itself[…]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Social Contract Tradition

Rousseau is both one of the greatest advocates and most profound critics of the social contract tradition. By Nicola-Ann Hardwick “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau, 20072: 28). This conspicuous paradox between liberty and human oppression is reflected in Rousseau’s entire politico-moral philosophy and so it is no surprise that[…]

Ancient Chinese Philosophy

Chinese culture as a whole has been shaped by the influence of ancient intellectual leaders. Introduction Chinese philosophy is the intellectual tradition of the Chinese culture from their early recorded history to the present day. The main topics of Chinese philosophy were heavily influenced by the ideas of important figures like Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, and[…]

Tyranny, Democracy, and the Polity: Aristotle’s Politics

Aristotle argued that there were six general ways in which societies could be organized under political rule. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that questions of the state, how it should be organized, and how it should pursue its ends, were fundamental to the achievement of happiness. His text Politics is an exploration of different types of state[…]

Aristotle’s ‘Constitution of the Athenians’

Ancient accounts of Aristotle credit him with 170 Constitutions of various states. Introduction The Constitution of the Athenians is a work by Aristotle or one of his students. The work describes the constitution of Classical Athens, commonly called the Areopagite constitution. It was preserved on two leaves of a papyrus codex discovered at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt[…]

How Ancient China’s Mengzi Came Up with Something Better Than the Golden Rule

Care about me because you see how I am not really so different from others you already love. There’s something I don’t like about the ‘Golden Rule’, the admonition to do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Consider this passage from the ancient Chinese philosopher Mengzi (Mencius): That which people are[…]

Lex Naturalis: A History of ‘Natural Law’ Philosophy

Natural law theory attempts to define a “higher law” on the foundation of a universal understanding of “good” and “evil”. Introduction Natural law or the law of nature (Latin lex naturalis) is law whose content derives naturally from human nature or physical nature, and therefore has universal validity. In natural law jurisprudence, the content of[…]

Galen: Greek Physician, Author, and Philosopher in Ancient Rome

Much of our knowledge of early medicine comes from Galen’s writings. Introduction Galen (129-216 CE) was a Greek physician, author, and philosopher, working in Rome, who influenced both medical theory and practice until the middle of the 17th century CE. Owning a large, personal library, he wrote hundreds of medical treatises including anatomical, physiological, pharmaceutical,[…]

Plato’s Euthyphro: Piety, Pretension, and a Playwright’s Skill

In reading Plato as Plato-the-Philosopher, one misses the nuances of Plato-the-Artist. Introduction The Dialogues of the Greek philosopher Plato (l. 428/427-348-347 BCE) have exerted such an extraordinary influence over western thought and culture for the past 2,000 years that readers in the modern day frequently approach his works as philosophical icons. The Republic is routinely taught in college classes as the blueprint for[…]

Being and Drunkenness: How to Party Like an Existentialist

Sartre loved the imaginative playfulness that alcohol facilitated. Existentialism has a reputation for being angst-ridden and gloomy mostly because of its emphasis on pondering the meaninglessness of existence, but two of the best-known existentialists knew how to have fun in the face of absurdity. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre spent a lot of time[…]

Mary Moody Emerson Was a Scholar, a Thinker, and an Inspiration

The woman Thoreau once called the “youngest person in Concord”. Henry David Thoreau isn’t usually known for flattering comments about women. But after a few hours of conversation with the 77-year-old Mary Moody Emerson, one November evening in 1851, he complimented both her intellect and her youthful spirit. The aunt of his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mary[…]

An Atheist’s Eternity

Contemporary physics aligns smoothly with the doctrine of the eternal return suggested by Nietzsche. By Duane Altheide If death is a deep sleep, then eternity is as one night Plato This philosophical letter offers atheism a solace for death based on recent support for the multiverse―a set of multiple universes. Contemporary physics aligns smoothly with[…]

Musonius Rufus: Stoic Teacher of Epictetus

Rufus is primarily known today as the teacher of Epictetus, the slave who became a famous Stoic teacher. Introduction Gaius Musonius Rufus (c. 30 CE – c. 101 CE) was an influential 1st-century CE Stoic philosopher. While in modern times he is best known for being the teacher of Epictetus (c. 50 CE – c. 130 CE),[…]

Epicurean Ideas and the Challenges of Modern Secular Life

Epicureanism competed with Stoicism to dominate Greek and Roman culture. By Temma Ehrenfeld ‘The pursuit of Happiness’ is a famous phrase in a famous document, the United States Declaration of Independence (1776). But few know that its author was inspired by an ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Thomas Jefferson considered himself an Epicurean. He probably found[…]

Why Spinoza Was Excommunicated

He was an upstanding member of the Talmud Torah congregation – until he wasn’t. Bento de Spinoza was a young merchant in Amsterdam, one of many Sephardic Jews in that city involved in overseas trade in the early 1650s. The specialty of his family’s firm, which he and his brother Gabriel had been running since their father’s death in 1654,[…]

Was the Real Socrates More Worldly and Amorous than We Knew?

The typically idealized picture of Socrates is not the whole story, and it gives us no indication of the genesis of his ideas. Socrates is widely considered to be the founding figure of Western philosophy – a thinker whose ideas, transmitted by the extensive writings of his devoted follower Plato, have shaped thinking for more[…]

The Art of Thinking in Other People’s Heads

And what is a feuilleton? Introduction The complaint that technology and media have distorted our culture, politics, our very understanding of reality is by now well-worn. They direct us to mere appearances, satisfy (and create) near-narcotic compulsions, splinter communities into defensive cells of mutual incomprehension and disgust, and generally leave us screen-addled and manipulated. These[…]

The Thinker Who Believed in Doing

William James and the philosophy of pragmatism. “Be not afraid of life, believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” “The martial type of character can be bred without fear.” —William James On a late September morning in 1891, William James walked reluctantly to his class in Harvard College’s[…]

Consulting Cicero on Steadfast Moral Fortitude

Cicero’s life was marked by a tension between the life of a politician and that of a philosopher. I’m often impressed by the fortitude displayed by some of the philosophers and statesmen of the Classical world. Socrates,Musonius Rufus, Seneca, Cato, and many others faced incredible challenges. The magnitude of the events they experienced – war, imprisonment,[…]

The Science and Biology of Aristotle

Aristotle studied developing organisms, among other things, in ancient Greece, and his writings shaped Western philosophy and natural science for greater than two thousand years. By Dorothy Regan Haskett, Valerie Racine, and Joanna Yang Aristotle spent much of his life in Greece and studied with Plato at Plato’s Academy in Athens, where he later established[…]

A History of Virtue as a Philosophy since the Ancient World

In philosophy, the notion of virtue played a central role in ethical theory up until the Enlightenment. Introduction A virtue is a trait or disposition of character that leads to good behavior, for example, wisdom, courage, modesty, generosity, and self-control. There are also public virtues that characterize the spirit of a nation, such as justice, honor, and peace. Every culture has[…]

The Lyceum: Aristotle and Beyond

The Lyceum had been used for philosophical debate long before Aristotle and stood long after. Introduction The Lyceum (Ancient Greek: Λύκειον, Lykeion) or Lycaeum was a temple dedicated to Apollo Lyceus (“Apollo the wolf-god”[1]). It was best known for the Peripatetic school of philosophy founded there by Aristotle in 334 / 335 BCE. Aristotle fled Athens in 323 BCE, but the school[…]