Who was Solon?

Unknown.jpegToday’s politics hardly takes itself seriously. With weak leadership, horrible class inequality, and polarization, this generation is going through a rough time in a democracy where its voice is rarely heard, let alone acted upon. Back in Ancient Greece, politics was everybody’s business; it was every citizen’s duty to contribute to the polis and partake in its affairs. At a young age, children were taught rhetoric and advised in politics in order to prepare them for leadership, as a good leader was valued above else. The Greeks had the same struggles we have today, including the abuse of power by the rich, select few; the inept distribution of wealth; and conflicting party viewpoints. And like today, the Greeks had their fair share of bad leadership and lack of prudence, which resulted terribly. One man in 6th-century Athens, however, took his place in office and, resisting the temptations of power, tried his best to bring equality and prospering to his city, his legacy one of great wisdom mixed with triumphs and failures, a story of a man who struggled to make Athens free. Solon of Athens, although he did not create democracy, laid the necessary foundations for it.

As with most very old historical figures, the date of Solon’s birth is not exact, nor is his death, but it is generally thought to be in 638 B.C. The son of either Euphorion or Execestides, Solon was nonetheless of noble birth, an aristocrat—a eupatrid, meaning “of a good father.” Despite his upbringing, Solon was sympathetic toward the poor, with whom he shared an affinity, which would influence his views as a politician. To make ends meet, he became a merchant so he could travel and make money. Plutarch claimed he had not money in mind, but experience: “It is certain that he was a lover of Unknown-1.jpegknowledge (φιλόμαθος), for when he was old he would say, that he — ‘Each day grew older, and learnt something new.’”[1] Solon was able to travel across seas as a merchant, giving him access to all sorts of knowledge; already at a young age, he showed signs of being a devoted man of wisdom and learning. He gained his reputation as a brilliant strategist after he defeated the island of Salamis for Athens. Having been stolen by the Megarians, Salamis was heavily fortified, and many attempts had been made to take it back, but all in vain. Solon rallied the Athenians in the market and told them of a plan, which, when carried out, successfully got the island back, earning him respect from all the Athenians, who were all indebted to him. So, in 594 the Athenians unanimously voted to have Solon be the archon. The condition of Athens was horrible at the time; it was in a state of crisis: The poor could not pay for their land, so they sold themselves to the aristocrats, who treated them unfairly, causing the peasants to revolt against their masters. Precipitously close to civil war, desperate for a peaceful, bloodless resolution, the Athenians, poor and rich alike, turned their heads to the one man they knew could resolve it in all his wisdom: Solon—the single man who managed to get Salamis from the Megarians, and who defeated Crisa two years earlier. Those who lived on the coasts of Athens wanted the focus to be on the economy, those on the plains land; the Hills wanted a democracy, the Plains an oligarchy, and the Coast a mixed government. Humble, modest, and temperate, Solon was suspicious of power, fearing its ability to take control of a man’s better senses. He declined. The people insisted, and he was conferred the title of dictatorship, which allowed him to do anything at all without question. A popular poem mocks Solon’s humility:

Solon surely was a dreamer, and a man of simple mind;
When the gods would give him fortune, he of his own will declined;
When the nets was full of fishs, over-heavy thinking it,
He declined to hail it up, through want of heart and want of wit.
Had I but the chances of riches and kingship, for one day,
I would give my horse for flaying, and my house to die away.

Solon was a man of virtue. He detested wealth and greed, preferring virtue to vice, of which he thought wealth and greed were two. In one of his own poems, he disdains those of wealth, and champions those who live virtuous lives:

Some wicked men are rich, some good are poor,
We will not change our virtue for their store:
Virtue’s a thing that none can take away;
But money changes owners all the day.

Solon’s famous reforms are thought by some historians to have occurred 20 years after his election to the archonship, in the 570’s B.C., but no one knows for sure. His first, most infamous reform was known as the Seisachtheia (σεισαχθεια), the “shaking off of burdens.” Before his election, the Greek farmers had barely any money, and they could not manage to pay for their land. As a result, they became serfs and worked on the nobles’ lands, paying ⅙ of their yield every harvest, giving them the name “Hektemoroi,” (εκτημοροι) or “sixth-partner.” Some were better off than others: Those who were lucky became serfs and had to pay their debt off, while others had to sell themselves as slaves, sort of like indentured servants, and pay off their debt that way. The Hektemor system, images.jpegthen, was an early form of the feudalism that would become prevalent in Medieval Europe. Noble lords would have peasants, known as serfs or vassals, who would do all the work and pay them as a debt, just as those who live in apartments pay their landowners. This system created a lot of unhappiness and inequality. Seeing as the upper class got to get paid and have their own slaves, they were happy; but the lower class, evidently, was not, motivating them to want to revolt. Upon becoming archon, Solon cleared all debts whatsoever, allowing the poor to never have to pay a cent to their former owners. As he put it, “The mortgage-stones that covered her, by me / Removed, —the land that was a slave is free.” Solon removed all traces of serfdom, going so far as to buy back all slaves who had been sold across the ocean, claiming, “—so far their lot to roam, / They forgot the language of their home.” His closeness to and pity for the poor inspired him to bring everyone home. They had been so long, he says, they had even forgotten how to speak their birth language. Furthermore, Solon banned all future loans on the body, making it illegal for anyone to pay off a debt through slavery. One might think the Hektemoroi would be happy because they were now free men. Unfortunately, the Hektemoroi were no more pleased than when they had been enslaved, for they desired a redistribution of land, land Solon never gave back. On the other hand, the upper classes were unhappy, too, because they had lost their slaves. Solon, disappointed, reflected,

Formerly they boasted of me vainly; with averted eyes
Now they look askance upon me; friends no more, but enemies.

Even though they were quick to ask for his judgment, the Athenians ultimately ended up turning their backs to him, their hero, their miracle who was supposed to fix everything. They held expectations that were too high and too much to ask of Solon without becoming unfair, and thus he was made to live with his decision. The next thing Solon sought to reform was the government. Slow and steady, Solon transformed Athens from an oligarchy to a timocracy, replacing blood with wealth, family with property. This was known as the “timocratic principle”—the movement away from privilege to success. He Unknown-1.jpegdivided the Athenians into four classes: The Pentakosiomedimnoi (πεντακοσιομέδιμνοι), so named because they produced 500 of any product, who were of the highest rank and consequently eligible for the highest offices, such as archon, treasurer (ταμιας), and magistry; the Hippeis (Iππος), who were of the second greatest wealth and were able to afford horses (hence the name, which also means horse) with between 500-300 products in their name, making them eligible for the cavalry and magistry; the Zeugitai (ζευγίται), who produced 300-200 products and were able to fill lower offices, and were reserved for the hoplite phalanx, which back then was the infantry; and the Thetes (θητες), the lowest class, which made under 200 products and was incapable of taking office, their only options being to become a worker or join the assembly. Next, he made economic reforms that greatly benefitted Athens. First, he banned all exports of anything but olive oil. Grains were hard to grow on the mountainous, rough terrain of Greece, a region more fitted to the growing of olive trees. Hence, grains were difficult to grow and rare, and the Greeks needed it more than other cities did. As olive trees grow longer and were more abundant, they were to be the focus of the economy—and a great success it was! Thanks to Solon, the economy grew much quicker and more efficiently than before. Second, he invited artisans and craftsmen from other poleis to settle down in Athens with their families, so as to improve both the population and the tradesmanship of the city-state. Because Solon believed strongly in self-reliance and developing one’s skills, he wanted people to learn the importance of tehkne (τέχνη), an important term in Greek that refers to “knowledge of a craft” and “skill.” (Whence we get “technique” and Unknown-1.jpeg“technology.”) He promoted apprenticing, confident he could make Athens a great center for arts and crafts. It was made mandatory that a father teach his son his craft; if he did not, if the child had no craft, he was not in any way obligated to look after his father in his later years. In granting citizenship to foreigners, Solon was seen as very liberal, for citizenship was theretofore strict and reserved; such a law, however, led to the rise, historians say, to the amazing pottery we today see and admire from Athens. Metics (μέτοικος), or resident aliens, were able to get Athenian citizenship. Moving on to political reforms, Solon created a law which “disenfranchize[d] all who st[ood] neuter in a sedition.”[2] In other words, during a revolt, anyone who did not join a side was arrested. Sounds kinda counter-intuitive doesn’t it? Solon’s intention was to enforce loyalty and patriotism: Politics was everyone’s business, so Solon expected his people to fight for one side, a side they thought worthy of fighting for. Two of his greatest reforms came when he devised the Ekklesia (Eκκλησια) and Heliaia (Ηλιαία). The former was a probouleutic, 400-member council whose role was comparable to that of the assembly. As a probouleutic council, its job was to hold preliminary discussions and debates before passing them onto the main assembly. It was composed of 100 representatives from each of the four Attic tribes. The latter was a court system, of which the Thetes could be a part, but from which women, slaves, and metics were excluded. The role of the Heliaia was to handle public litigation; thitherto, cases could only be taken up which regarded familial or tribal matters, such as if one person harmed another, then only the family could get the case, not an individual. Therefore, the power of the law extended beyond the family and unto the community. If an individual was robbed, he could now litigate. Further, if one was unhappy with one’s verdict, one could appeal to the Heliaia, much as one can do today to the Supreme Court, whose equivalence was in Greece the Council of Areopagus. In this way, the court system of Athens was a nomothetic dikastery; i.e., it was a law-giving (nomothetic) institution consisting of a jury trial (dikastery). Aristotle commented that Solon “formed the courts of law out of all the citizens, thus creating the democracy.”[3] Solon went on to formulate ancient_police-greece.jpgnew laws, having removed all of Draco’s, except that regarding homicide. He thus reduced the severity of the Athenian law and granted amnesty to all criminals, save murderers. Regarding family matters, Solon was skeptical of the rich and powerful families who had held supremacy for a long time in the city. He made it so that every childless man—like himself—could give his property to whomever he wanted; formerly, the property automatically went to his relatives.  He placed stringent regulations on women and the size of funerals. Favoring the poor, he did not like seeing the rich flaunt their money in public. “In all other marriages,” wrote Plutarch, “he forbade dowries” because marriages were not supposed to be “for gain or an estate, but for pure love, kind affection, and the birth of children.”[4]  

Solon finally decided after all he had done to leave Athens for 10 years. While he claimed to have left because he wanted “to travel,” most think it was because he was trying to escape from the inevitable criticisms he would face regarding his reforms, which were unpopular with everybody. In the end, in spite of everything he did for Athens, for the Athenians, he had appeased no one; no one walked out the victor, none the loser either. “In large things,” he would say, “it is hard to please everyone.”[5]

Such power I gave the people as might do,
Abridged not what they had, now lavished new,
Those that were great in wealth and high in place
My counsel likewise kept from all disgrace.
Before them both I held my shield of might,
And let not either touch the other’s right.

Here, Solon talks about how he attempted to give the Athenians what was equitable. He tried to the best of his abilities to preserve equality among the poor and rich, giving them what they needed, not what they wanted. Although he favored the poor and wanted the best for them, he also sought to remain impartial, as justice is, and give the rich what they deserved as well, careful not to imbalance the social order, the only thing standing between the two, the keeper of order, the defender of peace. Looking at the political situation after he left, it is easy to compare it to the French Revolution in a way, insofar as the poor were radical, the rich reactionary; the former wanted more than what they got, and they wanted the change to happen immediately, in hopes of erasing the visages of aristocratic life; the latter wanted to go back to the way things were, when they were in charge, when they could show off what wealth they had. Either way, no party got what they wanted, and so what seemed a failure for Solon was really a success. During his travels, Solon decreed that his laws were to stay in place for 100 years, so they were tmp903725021887725569.jpgrecorded on axones, wooden posts, in the agora for everyone to see. Of course, many of the poor were illiterate and could therefore not understand many of the laws, but those who could, and who broke them anyway, had to dedicate a golden statue to the square in their name. Meanwhile, Solon was off seeing the world. He visited Egypt and encountered a priest named Sais, through whom he learned of the tale of Atlantis, the very tale which would be told to Plato. The historian Herodotus recounted that Solon also visited Crœsus, but scholars object to this, stating it is anachronistic—the two lived during different times. Returning to Athens, Solon found Athens under the sway of the young Peisistratus; Solon proceeded to warn the Athenians not to trust him, to no avail; he had, during his travels, lost his credibility, power, and esteem. He died in 559 B.C. at about the age of 80. Solon was named one of the Seven Sages, earning the title of “sophist,” a title that, ironically, would be interpreted in a much more negative way in the next century. The famous adage “Nothing in excess”—μηδέν ἄγαν—is attributed to him. Appropriately, he said, “But the hardest thing of all is to recognize the invisible Mean of judgment, which alone contains the limits of all things.”[6] Perhaps the greatest part of Solon’s legacy is his reputation as a politician-poet, a leader who led with wisdom, grace, beauty, and eloquence. His poems, some of which have been quoted above, reveal his morals and political motives:

I gave to the mass of the people such rank as befitted their need,
I took not away their honor, and I granted naught to their greed;
While those who were rich in power, who in wealth were glorious and great,
I bethought me that naught should befall them unworthy their splendor and state;
So I stood with my shield outstretched, and both were safe in its sight,
And I would not that either should triumph, when triumph was not with right.

Dark Earth, thou best canst witness, from whose breast
I swept the pillars broadcast planted there,
And made thee free, who hadst been slave of yore.
And many a man whom fraud or law had sold
For from his god-built land, an outcast slave,
I brought back again to Athens; yea, and some,
Exiles from home through debt’s oppressive load,
Speaking no more the dear Athenian tongue,
But wandering far and wide, I brought again;
And those that here in vilest slavery
Crouched ‘neath a master’s frown, I set them free.
Thus might and right were yoked in harmony,
Since by the force of law I won my ends
And kept my promise. Equal laws I gave
To evil and to good, with even hand
Drawing straight justice for the lots of each.
But had another held the goad as I,
One in whose heart was guile and greediness,
He had not kept the people back from strife.
For had I granted, now what pleased the one,
Then what their foes devised in counterpoise,
Of many a man this state had been bereft.
Therefore I showed my might on every side,
Turning at bay like wolf among the hounds.

So popular were they, imbued with such moral value, they were customarily memorized by children. Solon’s political philosophy was centered around “Eunomia” (Ευνομια), which translates roughly to “well-government,” referring to the exact stability and equality of which Solon himself dreamed. He defined Eunomia as the goddess of “peace and harmony of the whole social cosmos”—the well-being of the people, and, in general, communal happiness.[7] Also, another large part of his philosophy was the divine principle of Justice (Δικη); Justice played the role of not divine punishment, but political and social punishment, a penalty imposed on the people when there was strife and inequality. Jæger said, “It is the first objective statement of the universal truth that the violation of justice means the disruption of the life of the community.”[8] Solon believed injustice was human-caused; he therefore believed in the responsibility of the individual Unknown-1.jpegto bear the consequences of his actions, and specifically, of his vices, which affect not only himself, but his community as a whole. Most importantly, though, Solon is revered as the founder of democracy. It would be imprecise to call him the founder per se, because it is Cleisthenes who is regarded as the founder of democracy, but it was Solon who made it possible. In giving power to the masses and opening up the rights of citizenship, he “put an end to the exclusiveness of the oligarchy, emancipated the people, established the ancient Athenian democracy, and harmonized the different elements of the state.”[9] Jæger, I feel, does Solon more justice than Aristotle in describing his impact: “Because he brought together the state and the spirit, the community and the individual, he was the first Athenian.”[10]

[1] Plutarch, Twelve Lives, p. 82
[2] Id., p. 96
[3] Aristotle, Politics, II.12.1274a1-5
[4] Plutarch, ibid. 
[5] Pomeroy, Ancient Greece, p. 187
[6] Jæger, Paideia, Vol. 1, p. 148
[7] Id., p. 141
[8] Ibid.
[9] Aristotle, op. cit., 1273b35-40
[10] Jæger, op. cit., p. 149


For further reading: Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History 2nd ed. by Sarah B. Pomeroy (2008)
The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization by Simon Hornblower (1998)
Ancient Greece and the Near East by Richard Mansfield Haywood (1968)
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece
by Nigel Rodgers (2017)
Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture 
Vol. 1 by Werner Jæger (1945)
A History of the Ancient World
by Chester C. Starr (1991)

The Story of Civilization Vol. 2 by Will Durant (1966)
A History of Greece Vol. 3 by George Grote (1899) 
Twelve Lives
by Plutarch (1950)


Summary of Leibniz’s Philosophy

Unknown.jpegBorn in 1646, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was a German polymath. He studied many subjects and wrote many essays on them, including philosophy, mathematics, science, logic, theology, and language. A contemporary of Isaac Newton, he and the natural philosopher feuded over who invented calculus. While Leibniz published his first, it was Newton who invented it first, although today, the former’s is used more. Leibniz combined philosophy with science in order to arrive at a systematic philosophy that, by today’s standards, is very modern. Some of his findings in the 17th century anticipated many of the findings of modern physics. In this post, which serves as a more concise counterpart to my other, more in-depth essay on Leibniz, I will summarize Leibniz’s main ideas regarding logic, metaphysics, and theology.

There are two types of truths according to Leibniz: truths of reason, and truths of fact. Truths of reason cannot be proven false, for they are necessary. It is impossible for a truth of reason to be any way other than it is. For example, 2+2 always equals 4. It is a necessary truth because it cannot be false. Leibniz uses the law of noncontradiction to justify these kinds of truths. It states that the opposite of such a claim is a self-contradiction. Saying that a circle has edges involves a self-contradiction because, by Unknown.pngdefinition, a circle cannot have edges—it is impossible! Accordingly, “No circles have edges,” is a truth of reason, as to say otherwise would be wrong. Truths of fact, contrariwise, are contingent, meaning they can be either true or false. Whereas truths of reason are given and innate, truths of fact are gained through experience. A claim such as “Pumpkins are orange,” is a truth of fact because it is contingent; it does not necessarily have to be orange, but can be yellow or orange, among other colors. In the case that you do find an orange pumpkin, the claim is correct. As such, the pumpkin has the possibility of being either of the aforementioned colors. For these kinds of truths, Leibniz uses the principle of sufficient reason, whereby he states that everything exists for a reason.

This world, Leibniz contends, is one of many possible worlds. When multiple truths of fact are compatible and can exist with each other, then they are called compossibilities. Having two feet is compossible with having two legs, but having two feet with one foot is not compossible, for one negates the other: only can be true. The sum total of compossibilities constitutes a possible world.

The universe is composed not of atoms, but monads, says Leibniz. Because atoms are physical, it means they can be divided in half, from there halved again, etc. If we keep on going, dividing atoms, we find that they are always made of something simpler. Leibniz claims instead that the building blocks of reality are immaterial consciousnesses. They occupy no space and are simple, which is to say that they are not made of parts. These monads are all distinct from each other and cannot interact with each other. When Leibniz says monads are immaterial, he suggests they are pure energy because they motion is intrinsic to them. Monads are substances in that they can have properties, but bear none themselves. A car can have the property of being red or blue, but it remains a car all the same.

In English, the subject is the doer and the predicate is what the doer does. Leibniz argues that all predicates are contained in their subjects due to a pre-established harmony. Unknown.jpegSaying “Socrates was born in 469 BC,” one makes the claim that the predicate “was born in 469 BC” is exclusive to the subject, “Socrates,” alone. Being born in 469 BC is unique to this particular Socrates and is what makes him Socrates. Similarly, “Socrates died in 399 BC” is contained in “Socrates” because it is a part of him. When one studies Socrates, one learns that he died in 399 BC, and he could not have died at any other time because that is the way it happened. Remember that monads cannot interact, so when Leibniz speaks of a pre-established harmony, he means that every monad is determined before it is created. Before Socrates was created, it was pre-established that he would die in 399 BC, and it happened in harmony with the other Athenians at the court who sentenced him to death. Socrates was sentenced and the Athenians sentenced Socrates even before they were created! Because none can actually interact with the other, they do not affect each other directly, but unfold at the same time.

Monads reflect the universe within themselves. Each has a unique perspective on the universe, just as how people have different perspectives. However, each perspective is necessary for creating a single, unified picture of reality. By piecing together every microcosm, Leibniz says, we can see the macrocosm.

Monads can perceive other monads unfolding according to the pre-established harmony, use appetition to change through perceptions, and engage in apperception to gain self-consciousness, although this is reserved for humans. Some monads are clearer in their perceptions than others. Bare monads are confused and are inanimate, like rocks; integral monads have the power of memory, and are made of many monads topped off with a soul, including humans, which are called “corporeal substances”; and essential monads, such as God, are truths of reason and have the most clarity.

Space and time are relative. Space is existent only when bodies are present, and time is measured based on the sequence of monads as they harmonize. In order to measure time, for example, you have to measure it relative to something; one cannot objectively measure time by itself.

we_live_in_a_happy_world___by_omg_raichu-d31l9re.pngGod, being all-good and all-powerful, has the ability to create any world He chooses. An ideal world has the minimum causes and maximum effects. Accordingly, because He is a perfect, necessary being, He must have chosen the “Best of all possible worlds”; choosing otherwise would not bear as many compossibilities. How is evil explained? The world is not perfect, and evil is the absence of good. But God has sufficient reason: Everything exists for a reason, but humans have a hard time understanding these reasons and so are convinced of evil, when in reality, this is a great world in Leibniz’s eyes.

A very simple visual showing the Leibniz’s main ideas and some of their connections:
Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 2.48.57 PM.png

Who was Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz?

Unknown.jpegIn the tradition of Modern philosophy, the rationalist movement was spearheaded by Descartes and then Spinoza, both of whom devised profound and logical systems built solely on reason. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, another of the great rationalists, a polymath by nature, a scientist and physicist, mathematician, logician, theologist, diplomat, linguist, geologist, politician, and, among other things, philosopher, lived in the mid 17th century and was a contemporary of the natural philosopher Isaac Newton, with whom he would feud on several key points. Besides being a brilliant philosopher, he was an amazing and talented mathematician and scientist who developed his own method of calculus, leading to one of the greatest scientific controversies in history. While Newton thought of and expounded his calculus first, for which he deserves the most credit, Leibniz published his own independent calculus several years before Newton. Unfortunately, Newton was much more revered and had a higher reputation, so Leibniz was soon forgotten and faded into history, neither his physics nor his philosophy being put in the spotlight, such that his predecessors’ names are remembered more than his. But perhaps Leibniz is most known for being the victim of Voltaire’s lampoon: He is represented as Dr. Pangloss, the unconditional optimist who claims it is the “Best of all possible worlds,” in Voltaire’s novel Candide. The following essay shall provide a succinct and, hopefully, simple and comprehensible summary of and look at Leibniz’s philosophy.

Bertrand Russell, in The History of Western Philosophy, remarked that Leibniz was one of the only philosophers to construct his whole system—even his metaphysics—using the foundations of a logic; it is thus that I shall begin. Leibniz begins by dividing all truths into two types: Those of reasoning, and those of those of fact. A truth of reason is necessary, which is to say that it has to be the way it is, that it cannot be otherwise. He uses the law of noncontradiction in order to justify them. It states that the opposite of a truth of reason results in a self-contradiction. For example, to say that 2+2=5 is a contradiction because is it not true, but rather is contradictory, for it goes against the Unknown.pngtruth, namely that 2+2=4. As such, 2+2=4 is a truth of reason: To say its opposite is a self-contradiction. Truths of reason are impossible to refute. They are incontrovertible. Later, the German philosopher Kant, having read Leibniz, would borrow this idea and call it an analytic a priori judgement. Basically, a truth of reason is true by definition, it is given, it is innate. In this manner, Leibniz stands in contrast to Locke, who claimed innate knowledge is impossible; Leibniz, then, is an innatist, in that he believes that certain truths, truths of reason, are already in our minds. Truths of fact, on the other hand, are contingent. This means they can either be true or false; it is not necessary for them to be one way over another. Whereas truths of reasons when refuted become self-contradictions and are therefore impossible to confute, the opposite of a truth of fact is possible, for truths of facts are, in essence, possibilities. An example would be saying that an apple is red. Saying an apple is not red does not result in a contradiction because it does not necessarily have to be red, but can be green as well. Being red is a possibility, but it is a possibility that an apple may be green, too. Leibniz justifies truths of fact with the principle of sufficient reason, which states that everything exists for a reason. There is a reason why one particular apple is red, another green, and this is God’s doing, according Unknown-1.jpegto Leibniz. He states that while everything has a reason, we humans are incapable of conceiving the final cause for all things—only God can. Another support for the principle of sufficient reason is the argument for metaphysical perfection, whereby Leibniz argues that existence is better than non-existence. It is better for more things to exist than for fewer things to exist. Hence, Leibniz calls upon us to always appeal to logic and reason in order to find the reason for everything. A question may come to mind right now: If God creates everything with a sufficient reason, including contingent, or possible, truths, does that imply that contingent truths are actually necessary? If there is a reason one apple is red, does that mean that that particular apple is necessarily red and cannot be green, for that possibility has not been actualized? As said earlier, God knows the sufficient reason for everything, so we do not. Just with analytic a priori judgements, Kant adapted this type of truth and turned it into synthetic a posteriori judgements, which are propositions that are gained from experience and are contingent. images.jpegSimilarly, Hume, who preceded Kant, is famous for his logical fork, which divides truths respectively into matters of fact and relations of ideas. The theme of contingency is essential to Leibniz’s philosophy. Contingent truths are everywhere, and they exist because there are sufficient reasons for them. When two or more possibilities are compatible and can co-exist without logical problems, a condition is met called compossibility, which translates to “possible with.” Problems arise when one possibility is not compatible with another. An illustration: It is a fact that humans have two eyes, but this is one of an infinity of possibilities, another being that humans have one eye, like a cyclops. It is impossible for both possibilities to co-exist: We cannot have two eyes and only one eye at the same time. If you were to look around, you would see that we have two eyes, not one. Accordingly, when one possibility is actualized, it negates the other possibility. Contrast this to a truth of reason. One cannot say “All triangles have four sides,” as this is a contradiction; it is simply impossible. Leibniz proposes that a world such as ours is the sum total of all its compossibilities. In our world, humans have two eyes, two ears, and a nose. However, Leibniz says that there are infinite possible multiverses. It is important to note that they are possible Unknown-2.jpegmultiverses, not plain multiverses, because the existence of our world negates the existence of the other universes. In another contingent universe, humans have an eye, an ear, and two noses, but because this world exists and not that one, it does not exist in actuality. One may ask the age-old question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” to which Leibniz would reply: The principle of sufficient reason. God created the world based on metaphysical perfection and the identity of indiscernibles. The identity of indiscernibles says that if A and B are completely identical and share every property, then they are indistinguishable and consequently the same thing. One can substitute A for B and B for A. Using this principle, Leibniz reasons that, in creating our world, God would be foolish in choosing here vs. there or now vs. then, insofar as they are all identical before the existence of the world. For this reason, everything is unique, and no two things are the same.

All is monads. So says Leibniz. A monad, from the Latin monas or mon, meaning “one,” is an independent, individual, and self-contained entity. The monad is defined as its own entity to the extent that it is completely separate from all other monads and contains within it its own individuality, by which it distinguishes itself from the others, as in the identity of indiscernibles. Leibniz claims monads are “windowless.” Unlike biological Unknown.jpegcells, which have a permeable membrane allowing for resources to come in and out, monads are enclosed and shut off from everything else, allowing nothing to either come in or out or affect them. Thus, when Leibniz speaks of monads as being self-contained, he means they cannot be affected from the outside, but contain inside themselves their own causality. Another thing about monads is that they are not like your average atoms, inasmuch as they are simple, indivisible “points” of consciousness. A “point” in geometry lacks any and all dimensions yet constitutes a location in space, and this is what an atom does. This proposition is countered by Leibniz, who says atoms are not the fundamental constituents of reality. Arguing against the Cartesian concept of matter, which states that matter is “extended,” which is to say that it has physical shape and size, that it is located in space, Leibniz says that anything that is extended is divisible. Like in Zeno’s paradoxes, take a line and divide it in half, then divide that half by half, and then that half, and so on: The line, which is extended, can always be broken down—it can be made simpler. Leibniz claims that atoms are the same way. Atoms are not simple, but complex. Because material atoms can be infinitely divided, Leibniz suggests that the building blocks of reality are immaterial. Such a building block would be simple because it has no parts; in fact, it is the part from which complexities, or aggregates—a grouping of simple parts into a more complex one—are made. In another argument against atomism, Leibniz tackles the physics laid down by Descartes and Newton. If an atom is a lifeless extension, then it requires an outside body or force to move it; but, Leibniz points out, mere extension offers no resistance, and so cannot be moved by outside force alone. Monads, then, are energy. Inherent in monads are inertia and force. Leibniz posits a vis Unknown-2.jpegviva, or living force, an entelechy, or internal drive, that is inherent to monads, a force which has a tendency to motion. This mirrors the concept of conatus, which is like the starting succession of motion; conatus is that initial force in the instant that makes a body move. Calculations by Leibniz showed that a certain amount of energy remains constant in a collision, a calculation he formulated into mv^2 (mass x velocity^2). Singlehandedly, Leibniz invented a formula for kinetic energy, a type of energy many knew existed, but for which there existed no mathematical proof. Leibniz states that kinetic energy, not momentum as Newton said, is the real cause of motion. And because kinetic motion is energy in action and requires potential energy first in order to be active, it must mean Unknown.jpegactivity is intrinsic to monads. Amazingly, Leibniz was the precursor to modern physics. He almost anticipated Einstein’s famous E=mc^2, and he was off on kinetic energy by ½ (the real formula is ½mv^2)! Leibniz, nearly 300 years before Einstein, was nearly able to prove through reasoning that matter is actually energy. Monads are substances. Substances, as opposed to matter, are simple. Substance is like a noun: It is a concept and a proper thing that can be described. Descriptors, adjectives, are called “accidents,” because qualities are contingent, whereas substance is necessary; contingent properties are applied to the substance, but they do not change the substance’s form, for they are additions and merely add to it. Leibniz proceeds to construct his philosophy with the aid of grammar. As in English, a subject is an actor, and a predicate is an action done thereby. He defines substance, then, as “unextended subjects… individuated by predicates”; i.e., immaterial forms are made distinct by their actions, or what is said (predicated) of them.[1] Here, Leibniz puts forth his famous idea of the “pre-established harmony.” Simply put, it is known that monads cannot interact with each other, so they are set in harmony before creation by God. In short, all predicates are contained in their subjects. This somewhat echoes predestination because it says that everything—past, present, and future—is hardwired into each monad so that they act not on each other, Unknown-1.jpegbut with each other, such that “the state of the whole universe could be read off from any one Monad.”[2] God creates monads as though they are clocks, each of which is designed to strike the same hour at the same time without cooperation between them. Because God designed them, He is the clock of which they are copies, so they mirror Him. Man is limited in his reason, so he cannot grasp this harmony in its entirety. When the monads are created, they are created with internal, self-regulatory laws that tell them what to do and when, like a clock mechanism. These monads are therefore spontaneous: They change on their own because they contain within themselves their future. Take the statement, “Leibniz was born in 1646.” Leibniz is a monad, a substance, and subsequently a subject, a self-contained entity, and the predicate “was born in 1646” is contained in the subject, Leibniz, whereby I mean that part of what makes Leibniz Leibniz is the fact that he was born in 1646, and not in 1647, for example. Yet another characteristic of monads is that they are microcosms—miniature universes that mimic the cosmos inside themselves. Each monad reflects the universe from its unique perspective. This concept is hard to grasp, but think of a room with furniture in it. A painting on the wall will have a wide view of the room, and the carpet will see everything above it; yet the fan mounted on the ceiling has a bird’s eye view, but it cannot see from the perspective of either the painting or the carpet. Thus, each monad is essential to the universe, and their perspectives are unique. But what do monads actually do? Monads are capable of three things: perception, appetition, and apperception. Perception is active and non-reflexive, or outward. It is the external representation of the unfolding of other monads. A dog perceives a squirrel running up a tree, but this perception is just a phenomena; the dog is witnessing the squirrel enacting one of its predicates, namely running up a tree; it is unfolding. Appetition is the ability to progress from one perception to the next. Apperception is reflexive and passive—it is self-consciousness, and it is reserved for man alone. Humans are examples of monads, albeit in different forms. A human is a “corporeal substance,” which is made up of a dominant monad (the soul) and an aggregate (multiple monads).[3] Regarding the mind-body problem, Leibniz rejects Cartesian dualism and the resulting interactionism and Malebranche’s occasionalism. I images.jpegthink it interesting that Newton likened God to a clockmaker who, every now and then, had to rewind the cosmic clock on the account that if he were to make the universe fully automatic, it would render him impotent; yet Leibniz claims the contrary for the exact opposite reason. Leibniz considered it silly to think that God had to continually rewind His own mechanism, which turned God into a functionary whose job was lowly, whereas He could exhibit His power by creating a self-regulatory universe. Leibniz’s solution to the mind-body problem is parallelism: The body and the mind, separate monads, work at the same time without causally interacting because of the pre-established harmony. Now, as monads are unique, it would be strange to assert that rocks are of the same order as humans, and humans God. To account for this, Leibniz creates a hierarchy of monads, the criterion of ranking being clarity of perception. There are aggregate, integral, and essential monads, which each correspond, respectively, to bare, animal, and rational/spiritual monads. Bare aggregates are composites, meaning they are composed of many monads. They are inanimate and unconscious, often with blurry or confused perceptions. An example would be a rock. Animal integral monads are, as the name says, animals that are made of an aggregate and a soul, endowed with the power of memory. Humans are integral but rational monads, which means they, like animals, are made of two parts: an aggregate, and, unlike animals, a spirit, not a soul.[4] Man is also dispensed with consciousness. What distinguishes man from animals most saliently, however, is his Unknown-2.jpegknowledge of truths of reason. Because he is self-conscious, because he has the ability to introspect, and because a priori knowledge is innate to him, man can grasp necessary truths. Lastly are essential monads, which are equivalent to truths of reason. A triangle, or God, is an essential monad because it is simple and cannot be refuted. The last thing Leibniz has to say about metaphysics is his thought regarding space and time. Newton believed space and time were absolutes. Space is an entity that extends everywhere, and time is another entity in which events happen. Leibniz disagrees, stating that space and time are relative. Recall the identity of indiscernibles. If space and time are absolutes, then no instance of either can be differentiated from the next, meaning that they are only a single point, and not independent dimensions. Space is defined as the coexistence of bodies, time the succession of monads’ eternal unfolding. As a result, space is only space when it is used in reference to two or more bodies. Time, in a like manner, cannot be objectively measured, but must be made in reference to something. Spacetime, it can be implied, is relative, in that it depends on what you are measuring; in this manner, Leibniz can be seen as predicting the modern theory of relativity, too.  

A theologian, Leibniz argued for the existence of God in two main ways: That of the Ontological Argument, and that of the pre-established harmony. Borrowed from Saint Anselm, the Ontological Argument runs as so: If a perfect being is imagined, it is predicated of it that is must have all perfect qualities, one of which is existence; but this would contradict a perfect being in imagination, so it stands that this perfect being must exist in order to be such a perfect being, and this perfect being is God; therefore, God exists. The argument of pre-established harmony is similar to the Teleological Argument in that it argues that there is a clearly observable harmony in nature, and this perfect harmony must have been orchestrated by some perfect being who oversaw it—God. His most famous work, the Theodicy, seeks to explicate the Problem of Evil, which asks how a benevolent, omnipotent God could allow evil. Assuming God is benevolent and omnipotent, Leibniz writes, He must have chosen, out of all the possible worlds, the best one, this one. The best world is the one with the least causes and most effects; in a word, Unknown.jpegan optimal world. For this reason, he proclaims we live in the “Best of all possible worlds.” He reminds us that happiness is not the only measure of good, and evil is the absence of good, a remark made earlier by Augustine. This world, he admits, is not perfect. But it does not need to be. Rather, because God Himself is perfect, it would be impossible for Him to create a perfect world in His image, so evidently, this world cannot be as perfect as He, but must be at least a little bit flawed, so as to distinguish it from Himself. Again, according to the principle of sufficient reason, everything happens and exists for a reason. Humans—imperfect, rational beings—cannot comprehend every reason God decrees, so even if we experience evil and cannot justify it reasonably, then it stands that it happened for a reason, albeit one of which we are ignorant; but, coming from God, it must be so. As God is the highest, clearest monad, all monads mirror Him imperfectly. Leibniz assures us that God did not create this world out of logical or metaphysical necessity, but out of ethical necessity. God created, in the words of Leibniz, “a moral world within the natural world.”[5] Ruth L. Saw wrote bluntly, “Leibniz cannot be described as a man of great moral insight.”[6] I would agree with generalization, only to the extent that he did not produce any substantial works on Unknown-1.jpegethics. Leibniz equated knowledge with power. Happiness is correlative to clarity, so clearer monads will be happier because they are closer to perceiving God. Using this reasoning, Leibniz is able to take a jab at the ignorant, who are not actually bliss, but are rather in a stupor. Those with more understanding can follow and adhere to necessary truths, which, Leibniz says, are obligations of the moral man. Charity, in this manner, is an obligation, a necessary action. Utilitarianism was antedated by Leibniz, who devised a calculus similar to Bentham’s whose purpose it was to determine the benefits of more “perfect” (well-off) beings.[7] A problem arises which has not yet been addressed and which remains an elephant in the room: The problem of free will. The pre-established harmony certainly seems to leave no room for free will, prompting the question, In a determined world, is freedom possible? Leibniz answers yes. He argues clarifies that some predicates are contingent, leaving room for free will. For example, taking “Napoleon became emperor 1804,” it may seem that it was necessary for Napoleon to become emperor in that year, seeing as it happened that way, not otherwise; however, while the subject Napoleon contains the predicate “became emperor in 1804,” thus defining Napoleon, it is possible that God may have made him emperor a year earlier, meaning the predicate is contingent, a compossibility. But while God leaves room for free will, do we have self-determination? Are we able to actually cause things through our own causal power? Technically, yes, says Leibniz, controversially. It all depends on how what exactly self-determination entails. “The free man is one who knows why he does what he does.”[8] Our actions, mind you, are internally determined by our predicates, which are already Unknown.jpegcontained within ourselves. In this sense, we have no free will. But, if we can understand our motives, if we can understand the pre-established harmony, we can realize our thoughts and total possibilities. Because we unfold according to a pre-drawn map, if we are able to find this map, study it, then predict it, we are, in a sense, in control of our actions. We know what we will do—we are just destined to do it.

One of the lesser-appreciated and lesser-studied philosophers, Gottfried Leibniz remains an insightful and prescient Rationalist, a truly modern philosopher whose genius was far ahead of his times, and whose cleverness was realized too late. A physicist just as much as a philosopher, he remains an important figure in the history of science. In his life, he designed several inventions that were revolutionary, although none of them worked. Leibniz has gone down in history as one of the first rationalist advocates for optimism, yet despite his Panglossian philosophy, he ironically did not find much success in life. Conclusively, Leibniz is one of the great systematizers of philosophy and one of the most intelligent men in history.

A very simple visual showing some of Leibniz’s main ideas and their connections:

Screen Shot 2017-11-02 at 2.48.57 PM.png

[1] Ferm, A History of Philosophical Systems, p. 248
[2] O’Connor, A Critical History of Western Philosophy, p. 224
[3] Leibniz never really answers how immaterial points can constitute a physical body.
[4] According to Leibniz, a spirit is higher than a soul
[5] Leibniz, Monadology, §86
[6] O’Connor, op. cit., p. 234
[7] By “perfect” beings, he refers to wealthy, fortunate people. His determinism precludes simpler people, making him, arguably, an elitist.
[8] Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre, p. 250


For further reading: 
The Columbia History of Western Philosophy by Richard R. Popkin (1999)
A Critical History of Western Philosophy by D.J. O’Connor (1964)
The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (1972)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophical Systems by Vergilius Ferm (1950)
Socrates to Sartre by Samuel Enoch Stumpf (1982)
History of Philosophy by Julián Marías (1967)
The Philosophers by Ted Honderich (2001)

Who Was Giordano Bruno?

The Renaissance was one of the most groundbreaking periods in history, as it saw the revival of classical thinking, yet it also paved the way for future ideas. The time was ripe with ideas; philosophers, artists, and scientists began to break away from religion and propose new ideas, which were scientific in nature, and did not rely on the Church’s dogma. Unfortunately, countless intellectuals from the period were persecuted by the Church, which denounced them as heretics, burning their books, trying as hard as possible to stunt the growth of scientific thought. Among these thinkers was the legendary Giordano Bruno: philosopher, cosmologist, and occult mage.

unknown-6Born in 1548 to a poor family in Nola, Italy, Bruno at a young age joined the Dominican Order, which was the common thing to do in his time. Eager to learn, Bruno saw the Order as a great means through which to get an education, seeing as he could not afford a formal one. It did not take long for a young Bruno to take a disliking to Catholicism, for early on he stripped his cell of everything but the cross. Later on, he was accused of heresy, and in 1576, he was exiled from the Order, destined to a life of itinerancy, wandering from one place to another for refuge from an institution which, at the time, seemed to be everywhere, inescapable. During his time at the Order, Bruno studied the great thinkers that had come before him: Lull, Plotinus, Aquinas, Pythagoras, Parmenides, Cusa, and Copernicus, the latter of whom would imprint himself on Bruno’s thought most saliently. Bruno’s exile took him all across Europe, from Switzerland to France to England and thence to Germany. To afford his non-stop traveling, Bruno worked as both a public lecturer and private tutor. Geneva, he found, provided no safety for him, so upon receiving a letter from Henry III, King of France, who insisted he come, Bruno absquatulated to France, where he was welcomed to the court. There he taught the King and enjoyed tranquility for some time. He also lectured at a number of eminent colleges, such as the University of Paris, Oxford,[1] and Wittenberg. Bruno came into contact with many Protestants who were also hiding from the Church, although he came to dislike them, for they were, according to him, narrow-minded; likewise, the Protestants did not consider themselves sympathetic to philosophers like Bruno. Throughout his wandering, Bruno never really enjoyed any belonging, nor any peace. Unwanted, homeless, an outcast, Bruno had no place to call home—which is why he was delighted to get a letter from Giovanni Mocenigo on May 23, 1592, who was from his native Italy, whereupon Bruno quickly went to Venice, which was still heavily Catholic. Bruno was aware of the apparent danger posed by his returning to Italy, but he took Mocenigo’s amiable invitation as a sign that he was in good terms, that it was safe to come back. Mocenigo was fascinated by Bruno’s work in mnemonics. Bruno took this opportunity to also get a position at the University of Padua, at which he lectured for his stay. Unbeknownst to the philosopher, Mocenigo was convinced Bruno was actually an Occult mage trained in black magic. When he was unsatisfied with his learning, upset that Bruno was apparently holding out on teaching 310px-Galileo_before_the_Holy_Office.jpghim the dark arts, feeling betrayed, Mocenigo secretly alerted the Venice Inquisition. Locked in Mocenigo’s basement, Bruno was then taken to the Inquisition. He was tortured and forced to recant all his heretic beliefs. Bruno was pardoned, but soon the court at Rome requested his hearing. For eight years Bruno sat rotting in the prisons of Rome. The Inquisition at Rome was not as lenient as the Venetian, and much more austere. Whereas the latter let him off the hook and took pity on him, the former would listen to nothing he said. On February 17, 1600, at the Campo de’ Fiori, Giordano Bruno, after spending his whole life in exile, after spending eight years in prison, was burned alive.

Bruno had an unorthodox education, having read, in addition to the classic philosophers, Egyptian mystical works and Hermetic writings. He read the Hermetic Corpus, a mystical work written by a supposed Hermes Trismegistus, a prophet of Egyptian religion. From Unknown-1.jpeghis readings in Hermeticism he derived the ideas of metempsychosis (from Orphism), or transmigration of the soul, and pantheism, from which he came to the conclusion, “God in all things.”[2] Another important belief he got was that movement was equivalent to energy. Where there was energy, there was movement, and vice versa. Before the 19th-century, scholars and historians, based on superficial reading, considered Bruno to be a deist and magician; both conceptions have still carried on today and hang over his name, but have mostly been rejected through serious reading. He read Aristotle, whom he thought pedantic and dry; Copernicus, whose cosmological theory impacted Bruno; Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura, from which he borrowed the doctrine of infinite world; and Nicholas of Cusa, who provided for Bruno theological inspiration.

Unknown-2.jpegThe Art of Memory and On the Shadows of Ideas were published in 1582. These two works were written by Bruno on mnemonics and were considered to be alchemical and occult in nature. With seemingly divine inspiration, Bruno devised secret techniques to memorize things, allowing him, it is said, to visualize and draw out a mental map of the entire cosmos in his head. The art of memory, as he put it, was reserved for mystics and was conceived of as obscure, a practice only for those trained in it, people like Paracelsus. This is the main reason many compared him to a mage-like figure, as the art of mnemonics was comparable to magic. Bruno ascribed to the cosmos a system of relativism, asserting that there was no “center of the Universe.” Despite increasing infinitely, the Universe had no center; center, for Bruno, was relative to where a spectator was standing. At any point in the Universe a person could say he is at the center. Just as there is no fixed center, there is no absolute motion or time. Motion, it is important to remember, requires a reference point. An object is in motion insofar as it is moving in relation to an object, meaning that motion is relative. Similarly, time is not some absolute unit of measurement, but is rather used to measure something in reference to something else, usually motion. Epicurus, interestingly, offered a similar view: “As for unbounded space, we should not predicate ‘above’ or ‘below’ of any parts of it in the sense of a highest or lowest point. We can refer to what is over our heads relative to where we stand.”[3] Further, Aristotle was wrong about absolute weight, Bruno said. There is no intrinsic heaviness or lightness of a Heliocentric.jpgplanet, as Aristotle said; rather, every planet’s weight was to be determined respective to itself. Bruno was a champion of Heliocentrism, the belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not the other way around. This theory was first propounded by Aristarchus of Samos, but was taken up most memorably by Copernicus, who revolutionized it. The Roman astronomer Ptolemy wrote that the Earth was the body around which the Sun revolved, and it stuck, ultimately being taken up by the Church, which it held to be factual. Thus, Bruno made himself a target to the Church, but he would be proven right centuries later. He claimed, albeit incorrectly, that all planetary bodies had a  circular course. Aristotle posed the question of a Prime Mover, taken by some to be an argument for God, to account for the motion of the Celestial bodies: If causation is based on some prior cause, what was the first cause that started it all? According to Aristotle, some kind of Supreme being must have caused the first thing in the Universe, giving way to the rest of the Universe. Bruno, however, disagreed with this notion, relying instead on his Hermeticism and Hylozoism—the belief that matter is alive, which he borrowed from Aristotle, incidentally—to explain that the planets had their own intrinsic movement. Bruno thought energy and movement were related, so he stated that the planets moved by themselves, as though they had their own impetus. There is no need for a Prime Mover in Bruno’s world because the planets move themselves. Most famously, Bruno supported the idea that there is a plurality of worlds out there in space. His magnum 3-plurality-of-worlds-leonhard-euler-science-source.jpgopuses On the Infinite Universe and Worlds (1591) and On the Immeasurable and Countless Worlds outline his theory in detail. In them Bruno argues that if the Universe is infinite and always growing, there must be infinite planets and habitable Earths like ours. He also said that Copernicus could only make out eight planets in the solar system; but if the senses are limited in their capacities, Bruno argued, that would mean they could not grasp the possibly unlimited planets beyond us. Some mistakenly attribute to Bruno the creation of this theory; however, Epicurus again sets the precedent: “And the number of worlds is infinite, some worlds being similar to this one, while other worlds are very different.”[4] Medieval scholars believed the Heavenly bodies were composed of the fifth element, Æther, which they borrowed from Aristotle. Bruno thought otherwise: He maintained they there composed of the four classical elements; there was no need for the unbounded Æther. This placed him at odds, once more, with the Church, considering this conception completely opposed Genesis. The central idea in Bruno’s philosophy is God. Combining Neoplatonism with Egyptian mysticism, Bruno’s pantheism declared God to be causa immanens, or immanent cause; in other words, God is self-caused, independent of any external causation. God exists in essence of himself. As though anticipating Leibniz, Bruno produced a theory of monadology, basically saying that reality is composed of infinite, self-contained entities called monads. God was, of course, the monas monadum—the highest monad. From this vision of God, Bruno deduced that all substance—that is to say, matter—is One, i.e., all matter is derived from the being of God; matter and God are one and the same. Particulars (circonstanzie) are explained as being specific manifestations of substance. To use an example to clarify: A chair is made of substance, substance being permeated by God, and chairs may come in many shapes and sizes, many particulars, in other words, of the one substance that is chair. Another statement Bruno makes is that God is the Universe, and the Universe God. The Universe has always existed and shall always continue to exist. There was no creation of the Universe; it did not just go poof! and appear, as it did in the Big Bang. Here, one can see the blatant influence of Parmenides. God is eternal, having no beginning, nor end; He simply has been and will be.

giordano_bruno.jpgMoments before his auto-da-fé, Bruno was offered the cross, to which he replied, “Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.”[5] These fearless words uttered from a man who was about to die carry immense heroism. Here, a man who stood up against the Church, his fate in their hands, as he says these words. What he meant by saying this was that he, Bruno, was dying for a greater cause. He devoted his life to and died in the name of Truth, knowing that while he was but a mortal man, transient in nature, Truth was undying and eternal, an ideal he fought for till the end. The Church, on the other hand, was stubborn and eschewed Truth. They say you can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea—Bruno’s judges knew this. By killing Bruno in an attempt to cover up the Truth, they were not making things better, but rather released something greater and beyond their control. While he is not remembered today despite his ingenious thought regarding the cosmos, Bruno remains a martyr for science, belonging up there with Galileo. In the words of John Addington Symonds, “Bruno was a hero in the battle for freedom of the conscience, for the right of man to think and speak in liberty.”[6]


[1] He despised Oxford and its professors, describing them as pedantic; he got into a quarrel over an accusation of plagiarism.
[2] EdwardsThe Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1, p. 406
[3] Epicurus, Letters and Sayings of Epicurus, “Letter to Herodotus,” p. 13
[4] Id., p. 6
[5] Hecht, Doubt: A History, p. 295
[6] Symonds, Renaissance in Italy, Vol. 2, p. 799


For further reading: An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World Vol. 2 by Harry Elmer Barnes (1965)
Renaissance in Italy Vol. 2 by John Addington Symonds (1935)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Vol. 1 by Paul Edwards (1967)

Doubt: A History by Jennifer Michael Hecht (2003)
The Idea of Nature by R.G. Collingwood (1960)
History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)

Philosophers’ Eponyms: Early and Late Modern

An eponymous adjective is a type of adjective that refers to and is named after a specific person and can be used to denote their work. When describing a philosophical system, when categorizing a type of metaphysics or ethics, one might say, “That is Platonic,” meaning it resembles Plato’s philosophy. While some are better known, such as Socratic or Buddhist, others are more obscure, so here is a list—somewhat chronological—of philosophers’ eponyms! (Of course, seeing as there are hundreds of philosophers, some will not be mentioned).


Petrarchan: Pertaining to Petrarch

Erasmian: Pertaining to Desiderius Erasmus

Machiavellian: Pertaining to Niccolò Machiavelli

Early Modern

Baconian: Pertaining to Francis Bacon

Cartesian: Pertaining to René Descartes

Hobbesian: Pertaining to Thomas Hobbes

Leibnizian: Pertaining to Gottfried Leibniz

Spinozan: Pertaining to Baruch Spinoza

Pascalian: Pertaining to Blaise Pascal

Lockean: Pertaining to John Locke

Humean: Pertaining to David Hume


Voltairean: Pertaining to Voltaire

Rousseauian: Pertaining to Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Kantian: Pertaining to Immanuel Kant


Fichtean: Pertaining to Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Hegelian: Pertaining to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Marxist: Pertaining to Karl Marx

Kierkegaardian: Pertaining to Søren Kierkegaard

Schopenhauerian: Pertaining to Arthur Schopenhauer

Emersonian: Pertaining to Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thoreauvian: Pertaining to Henry David Thoreau

Nietzschean: Pertaining to Friedrich Nietzsche



Philosophers’ Eponyms: Greco-Roman

An eponymous adjective is a type of adjective that refers to and is named after a specific person and can be used to denote their work. When describing a philosophical system, when categorizing a type of metaphysics or ethics, one might say, “That is Platonic,” meaning it resembles Plato’s philosophy. While some are better known, such as Socratic or Buddhist, others are more obscure, so here is a list—somewhat chronological—of philosophers’ eponyms! (Of course, seeing as there are hundreds of philosophers, some will not be mentioned).


Xenophanic: Pertaining to Xenophanes of Colon

Pythagorean: Pertaining to Pythagoras of Samos

Buddhist: Pertaining to The Buddha

Heraclitean: Pertaining to Heraclitus

Confucian: Pertaining to Confucius

Parmenidean: Pertaining to Parmenides

Empedoclean: Pertaining to Empedocles of Acragas

Democritean: Pertaining to Democritus of Abdera

Prodicean: Pertaining to Prodicus

Protagorean: Pertaining to Protagoras


Socratic: Pertaining to Socrates

Platonic: Pertaining to Plato

Aristotelian: Pertaining to Aristotle


Stoic: Pertaining to Stoics

Epicurean: Pertaining to Epicurus

Cynic: Pertaining to Cynics

Pyrrhonian: Pertaining to Pyrrho

Plotinian: Pertaining to Plotinus


Ciceronian: Pertaining to Cicero

Senecan: Pertaining to Seneca the Younger

Lucretian: Pertaining to Lucretius

Plutarchian: Pertaining to Plutarch

Augustinian: Pertaining to St. Augustine


Who was Pierre Hadot?

Unknown-1.jpegPierre Hadot was born in Reims, France on February 21, 1922, to a Catholic family. Raised in a Catholic household, Hadot would be influenced in his views later in life by such beliefs, although he soon renounced his religious beliefs, finding them incompatible with his life. His experience with Catholicism, however, would not be completely over, as it would play a bigger role when he began studying mysticism. When studying at college, Hadot befriended the eminent Aquinas scholar Jacques Maritain, who was prolific in his works. Thomism is a combination of Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism, and through working with Maritain, Hadot developed a fascination with ancient and medieval philosophy and mysticism. It was around this time in Hadot’s life that he began questioning his faith. He got started in Biblical criticism, asking himself whether Catholicism was viable as a way of life and whether ancient manuscripts could still be understood in the modern age.

From 1942-6, Hadot claimed he went through a “metaphysical phase,” in which he turned his attention to religious mysticism, specifically the Gnosticism of Plotinus, a post-Unknown-2.jpegPlatonic philosopher who had a considerable influence on Christianity. Hadot went to the Sorbonne for two years, from 1946-7, where he found Existentialism, Marxism, and Bergsonism, each of which would have a profound effect on his thinking. Some important lessons Hadot learned from his times there were praxis, perception, and experience, respectively. It was important to Hadot that philosophy be centered around action, and that we pay attention to how we perceive the world, how we experience it individually. In the same year, Hadot collaborated with Paul Henry on a translation and commentary of a work by the Neoplatonist Marius Victorinus, a thitherto untranslated author, earning him acclaim in the intellectual world. Hadot had the honor of writing the commentary by himself, which sparked his love for philology—the study of ancient texts—and the works of ancient philosophers. Just as with the Bible, Hadot wondered whether old texts could be used in daily life.

Hadot’s early writings took place between the period of 1957-68. He read Heidegger and Wittgenstein in the late 1950’s, and the latter again in 1960; he was particularly
influenced by Wittgenstein’s
Tractatus, a favorite quote of his being, “There is indeed the inexpressible. This shows itself; it is the mystical.” Hadot was the first author to introduce Wittgenstein to French audiences. It was in 1957 that Hadot got into Plotinian philosophy, and his first book came out six years later, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision, at the urging of his colleagues. From there, he continued writing commentaries on Plato and Plotinus before switching to Hellenistic philosophy. He moved away from Plato, focusing instead on Stoicism and Epicureanism—two schools that offered a practical way of life, he felt. Hadot received his diploma from the École Pratique de Hautes Études (The Practical School of Higher Studies) in 1961. The same year, he was elected to the Fifth Section: Religious Sciences; three years later, he became the director thereof. Then, in 1982, Hadot was awarded the prestigious position of chair of History of Hellenistic and Roman Thought at the Collège de France; he got this position without going to the École Normale Supérieure, to which most professors are expected to go before getting such a title.

Hadot did not like the way philosophy was taught in school. Too much time and effort was wasted on the theoretical and the abstract, rather than the practical and the concrete. Dialectic and discussion were valued more than practice. The scholarly Unknown-4.jpegenvironment of schools, he thought, created a cloud of obscurity over the name of philosophy. Hadot believed in living in harmony with the world and with others, a view he adopted from his extensive studies of Stoicism. When asked about how to use spiritual exercises in our daily life, Hadot replied, “We must … use striking formulations of ideas in order to exhort ourselves. We must create habits, and fortify ourselves by preparing ourselves against hardships in advance.”[1] This quote also expresses Hadot’s opinions on reason. According to Hadot, man should use his reason to perfect himself, to “exercise” himself, so to say. Spiritual exercises, for Hadot, were about perfecting the character and living life to its fullest.

At the age of 88, Pierre Hadot died on April 24, 2010, with 15 books to his name. His most famous works are Philosophy as a Way of Life, What is Ancient Philosophy?, The Inner Citadel, and, of course, his first book, Plotinus or the Simplicity of Vision. Thanks to Hadot, philosophy has been studied in a new direction, a direction of which he would be proud, which sees philosophy not as abstract reasoning, but as a manière de vivre, a way of life. Through his brilliant interpretation of ancient manuscripts, insightful commentaries on obscure authors, and fresh style of writing, Hadot reinvented the study of philosophy, making it accessible to all readers. Philosophy, the love of wisdom, was, in Hadot’s eyes, an endless quest for the truth, for the best way of living, from Socrates to Foucault. Overall, looking at Hadot’s life, it is evident philosophy was, for him, a way of life.


[1] Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, p. 284


For further reading: Philosophy as a Way of Life by Pierre Hadot (1995)

Who Was Jonathan Edwards?

During the 1740’s in America, there was a massive movement that swept through New England called the “Great Awakening,” in which religious fervor reached soaring heights. As a result, the colonies became heavily influenced by Protestantism, with families going to church to hear the itinerant preachers, leading to the domination of religious feelings. However, the Great Awakening is also responsible for giving rise to one of the first and greatest philosophers in American history: Jonathan Edwards. Despite being strictly Calvinist, Edwards has gone down in philosophical history as one of the greatest minds in America as well as one of the defining figures in the tradition of idealism.

Unknown-1.jpegEdwards was born in 1703, and it was evident he was destined for great things; at the age of 13, he was admitted to Yale. The young Edwards was always curious, nearly as bright and prolific as any professional writer, for he wrote numerous essays before going to college, his interests ranging from biology to philosophy, from spiders to metaphysics. Edwards was introduced to Newton and Locke a year after coming to Yale, diving head first into the most recent groundbreaking thought, committing himself to both men’s ideas. Three years later, when he was only 17, Edwards graduated, and in 1734, he began preaching in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he stayed until 1748, when he was forced out of his position by angry churchgoers, finally becoming a missionary for the Native Americans. From sources we know that Edwards was intensely passionate about his work—so dedicated was he that on summer mornings he would wake up at four, and in winter, at four. It worked out that Edwards became head of the Congregationalist Church since his grandfather was Solomon Stoddard, the former pastor. In 1662 the Half-Way Covenant was put into effect. This rule made it so that only select people could attain church membership, and if they baptized their children, they, too, could be members of the church. Stoddard removed the covenant while pastor, but Edwards had different ideas, so he reversed his grandfather’s decision and made it stricter than the covenant, for he wesley.jpgrestricted church membership to saints and saint alone, reserving communion only for the elects. Edwards was a notorious speaker. His sermons were not traditional, insofar as he ruled through fear. H.W. Brands writes, “[H]is auditors shrieked and moaned, their horror exceeded only by the exquisiteness of their agony…. At least one listener was so moved that he decided to end his life rather than continue his torment.”[1] It is no surprise, then, why his outraged followers kicked him out of the church. And, interestingly, he was the grandfather of Aaron Burr, and the writer O. Henry was a descendant of his. 

Having read Locke at a young age, Edwards’ metaphysics were based on his education. His thought mirrors closely that of George Berkeley’s, but it is generally agreed that Edwards did not read his works but rather thought of his system on his own. Edwards concurred with Berkeley, claiming that secondary qualities—like color, texture, and smell—were conceived in the mind. He reasoned that primary qualities were really just different applications of resistance: solidity was pure resistance, figure is the termination of resistance, and motion is the communication between two resistances. This raises the question of how resistance comes to be, how resistance can exist outside the mind. According to Edwards, resistance is God’s doing, and if resistance is not resisting anything, which, he thinks, is irrational, then it is simply resistance. Therefore, if resistance is external to men’s minds, and if resistance is the work of God, then it must Unknown-2.jpegfollow that this world in which we live is God’s creation—his mental creation, that is. Like Berkeley, Edwards conceived of a unique subjective idealism, since he saw reality as the mental creation of God. A contemporary group at the time, the Cambridge Platonists, spread Platonic thought to America, where Edwards absorbed it, using it in his own philosophy. The corporeal, physical world is imperfect, flawed, illusory, a phantasmagoria, a faulty reflection of the otherwise perfect spiritual reality wherein God resides. Similar to the Allegory of the Cave, Edwards believed salvation was like getting out of the cave: man, rescued from his chains of illusion, sees the magnificence that is God. Regarding the nature of God, Edwards acknowledged the impossibility of there existing any being outside of Being, which Edwards interprets as existence in all that it encompasses. But because God is Being, He is non-solid; and he asserted alongside Parmenides that nothingness cannot exist, so God is space, God is omnipresent. Further, since God created reality, it means that nature is God manifest, and since God is beautiful, nature is beautiful. Edwards adopted Malebranche’s causal theory of Occasionalism, stating that events happen in coordination with God’s will. For example, if an object is dropped, it just happened to drop at the same time God willed it to drop. Edwards took it further and distinguished two causal necessities: natural and moral. Natural necessity is an external hindrance, one that is external, and it must happen; the latter is an internal inhibition, and while it seems out of our control, it really is not. A natural necessity would be hunger, as it is out of power and must happen, whereas a moral necessity might be gluttony, as while feeding ourselves is necessary, overindulging is not. Impulses, therefore, are common moral necessities. Edwards’ most famous sermon is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God (1741), in which he says that, because God created this world and us, we owe it to him to be faithful, otherwise he will destroy us all—it also created the strongest uproar:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath toward you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours.

You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment;…

adam-eve5.jpgIn his essay The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1757), Edwards defends the idea that man is, by nature, sinful. Carrying the burden of Adam upon his back, man has fallen from grace. Originally given two motives, self-love and benevolence, man was stripped of the latter when he upset God, meaning man acts purely out of self-interest, which, although some good can come of it and is to some extent necessary, is primarily bad. His next essay, A Dissertation Concerning the Nature of True Virtue (1765), draws a connection between virtue and beauty, stating that the former is a form of the latter, particularly in the form of benevolence, which, as Edwards said, was taken away from us. But of beauty he distinguishes two types: natural and divine. Natural beauty is that which occurs in the world, and it comprises unity, harmony, and variety. This beauty is acquired through the senses. When we see, hear, smell, touch, or taste anything which has unity, harmony, or variety, we think it beautiful. Harmony, he posits, is proportional to an object’s Being. A nobler object will have more Being than an ignoble object, and thus more harmony. But Edwards does not see beauty as a property that objects have but a relationship between subject and object. An object cannot be beautiful unless it is seen as agreeable by a viewer. Divine beauty, on the other hand, is knowledge of God in nature. Benevolence, the most sought after virtue according to Edwards, is defined as the love Being, of existence, in all its entirety. Benevolence to Edwards is not how it is to us, traditionally, for Edwards sees it as Unknown-1.jpegintransitive rather than transitive; in essence, Edwards thinks of benevolence not as directed toward a person, nor even as being directed, but as openness to everything. Instead of being benevolent toward this person, or toward that tree, we must be benevolent of Being. This is troublesome, though, because Edwards says we do not have the capability of being benevolent, despite its being the highest virtue. Edwards insisted that grace is what enables us to be virtuous, and grace comes from God himself; therefore, only a few people have the fortune of being endowed with grace, and so with benevolence. A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746) deals with what Edwards calls the “religious feeling,” which he defines as the total dependence on God. (This view is astoundingly prescient of Friedrich Schleiermacher’s theory of Abhängigkeitsgefühl, or absolute dependence). Edwards rejected the compartmentalization of the mind, but he kept the idea that there were two faculties—understanding, or heart, or sensation, and inclination, or volition, or will. In addition to the five senses, Edwards explored the idea of an incredibly rare sixth sense: divination. He did say, however, that we all are given a moral conscience which allows us to share a common view of justice, similar to a collective unconscious. Just as Edwards and Schleiermacher shared views on dependence, so they had in common the idea that emotion is superior to intellect. The religious life was man’s only end, thought Edwards; as such, the religious life could not be lived through the mind but through the heart. Emotion, he claimed, is God-given, so we ought to use.

There was a distinction drawn between goodness and godliness, for Edwards thought the two obfuscated the definition of virtue. Goodness can be achieved by anyone and therefore is not true virtue. Goodness can be viewed as Aristotelian virtues, such as bravery, temperance, and prudence. Benevolence is true virtue, and it is an example of godliness, as it is synonymous with sublimity. Only saints are endowed with grace, meaning only saints can be virtuous, or benevolent. The spiritual life, in addition, is a lifelong commitment, lived until death, so it was up to the saint to take care of his “gracious sincerity.” Edwards was certain that normal people can be good and will be remorseful on Judgment Day; saints, however, can be godly and will repent on Judgment Day. This is the reason Edwards reserved church membership for saints. Saints were predestined to achieve salvation, and they had access to benevolence. Edwards then tackled the Problem Unknown-3.jpegof Free Will in his essay The Freedom of the Will (1754). The difficult thing for Edwards was reconciling Calvinist predestination and Newtonian determinism with Lockean freedom. Edwards began by defining “will” as “choice.” He subscribed to folk psychology, which states that words like will, preference, desire, and inclination all mean the same thing and refer to volition, the will to do things. Will was a passive force, influenced the active force of God. When we are faced with a decision, Edwards said we choose the greatest good, strongest urge at the time. Basically, Edwards took the side of Schopenhauer, who said, “Man can do what he will, but he cannot will what he does,” by which he means that our choices are determined, but we ourselves are free to act upon them. Freedom was synchronicity with God’s will in the eyes of Edwards. This supports his Occasionalism: if what we choose to do coincides with what God willed us to do, then we have done something morally done, but if we choose something contrary to God’s will, we have committed sin. Choices, Edwards thought, were open to praise and blame, as we have our own motives on which we act; a wicked motive, for instance, means a bad choice, so we deserve blame, and vice versa.


[1] Brands, The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, p. 147


For further reading: 
The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands (2000)
The Growth of the American Republic Vol. 1 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1956)
Men and Movements in American Philosophy by Joseph L. Blau (1952)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy Vol. 2 by Paul Edwards (1967)
Don’t Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis (2003)
American Philosophy by Marcus G. Singer (1985)

The German Romantic Philosophers (5 of 5)

And so at last we arrive at the finale of the overview of German Idealism, and, more generally, Romanticism. In the previous part, I looked at Humboldt, whose work in linguistics and education has carried over to today, and Schleiermacher, whose notion of Absolute dependence advocated a unique sense of individualism, a common theme throughout Romanticism, along with the already-discussed opposites, such as faith and reason, intuition and logic. Finally, we look at philosophy itself and the defining nature of it with Schlegel and Schelling.

Unknown-4.jpegIt is safe to say that Karl Friedrich Wilhelm von Schlegel (1772-1829), brother to August Wilhelm von Schlegel, another eminent Romantic figure, is more literary critic than philosopher; yet I have included him, for his contribution to philosophy, albeit small in extent, has indelibly directed the trajectory in which philosophy itself was heading. Because there is a lack of information regarding his philosophical background, I feel it appropriate to focus more on his career, which played out as follows: Schlegel was born to a literary family, evidenced by his and his brother’s place in Romanticism, with Friedrich studying European history, Ancient and Modern literature, and the philosophy of history, all of which plays a part in his role as a philosopher. Schiller classified two types of poets: the Naïve and the Sentimental, the former practical, the latter idealistic; Schlegel studied Schiller, and he took this distinction further, applying it to the Romantic and the Classicist, perhaps the turning point in the self-consciousness of Romanticism, insofar as Schlegel was one of the first Romantics to lead the movement by defining it against something else, in this case Classicism, which was identified with the rational Enlightenment period. Of all philosophical branches, there exists one which is incredibly introspective: metaphilosophy. Metaphilosophy, associated with Schlegel, who is sometimes called the first “metaphilosopher,” is quite literally the philosophy of philosophy. Schlegel began by dismissing first principles–the fundamental proposition on which all other propositions are founded. For example, Fichte’s pure ego and Descartes’
cogito ergo sum are all first principles, in that it is impossible to assert anything without first asserting the pure ego or cogito, as they are the foundations of philosophy, at least in the systems of Fichte and Descartes, respectively. It was pointed out by Schlegel that first principles are misleading, since they are not truly first principles: they too are propositions that require another, prior proposition, therefore creating an infinite regress, an infinite sUnknown-7.jpegeries of statements with no clear, reducible beginning. “Philosophizing was primarily a matter of intuitive insights, not of deductive reasoning or of proof.”[1] Once more there is the valuing of intuition contra “deductive reasoning,” inasmuch as proofs will always require proof, whereas intuition is direct and without need of explanation. Reasoning is to intuition as conception is to perception. Another notion Schlegel was enthralled by was irony, the intentional contradiction of that which is reasonable, of that which is real, of that which is ordered. If one statement must be built upon another before it, then it goes without saying that there exist other statements contrary to it, tens of them. In this sense, the ironist transcends his limits; the ironist rises above order, above the world. Just as every person can have a separate opinion, so every statement can have a contradiction; therefore, we arrive at the conclusion that there is no absolute answer, no starting point of philosophy, for philosophy “must start in the middle…. It is no straight line but a circle.”[2] Schlegel is saying that philosophy has no starting line; philosophy is not linear; it does not go from one point to the other; and for that matter, there is no end point, rather a loop that connects it all, running round and round, with no real goal in mind. Metaphilosophy, then, serves as the first holistic analysis of philosophy, the first check of many on the limits of philosophy and its intentions.

Unknown-3.jpegWhat is more fitting than to end this series with a look at its most shaping character, one whose philosophy encompasses all others I have previously explained, whose philosophy captures the true definition of Romanticism, whose philosophy has influenced countless poets and philosophers after him? I speak here of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), the last German Idealist we will be looking at. The other major metaphysician beside Fichte, Schelling created the more accepted of the two theories and has thus been welcomed with open arms. The philosophy of Schelling is appropriately called Naturphilosophie, as it revolves around the core concept of, you guessed it: Nature. Should you seek to read more about Schelling, you will find that historians tend to describe his system of thought in stages, four of them in most cases, each describing a different change in his thought since he did change his thought quite a bit; however, in organizing this section, about which I thought heavily as to how I should best explain it, I decided to go chronologically in terms of the creation of the world to the goal of the world; as such, I will be explaining one aspect, then jumping to a new one which builds upon it. Accordingly, Schelling begins with the creation of the world, a Cosmic Fall, as it is referred. Mirroring the Fall of Man outlined in the Bible, Schelling identifies this period as Man’s break with God. This God, which is sometimes used interchangeably with Nature in Schelling, is essentially the physical manifestation of chaos, ungrund, initially. At this stage God is indistinguishable, for He is literally an amorphous energy, with a great evil lurking within Him. Essence, or spirit, and ground, or matter, dual elements, compose God. In the beginning, there is more ground in God than essence, and hence there is a lack of balance, resulting in evil. When spirit is subordinate to ground, there can be no good, just pure anarchy and amorality. Evil has a reason for existing, though: evil exists solely to 'Adam's_Creation_Sistine_Chapel_ceiling'_by_Michelangelo_JBU33cut.jpgbe separated, inasmuch as there can be no good unless there is evil from which it can spring forth. Man then separates from God in a period of Genesis, where Man is expelled, cast out, broken off, an act called Abbrechen, or Sprung, from God. Since God is evil, since Man springs from God, Man is inherently evil, and so there exists deep within him a great darkness. From this point on, I will be referring to God as the Absolute spirit, or the Absolute, which at this stage is synonymous with Nature. The Absolute comprises a symbiosis between life and spirit, matter and nature, all of which are equivalent. If this is the case, then the Absolute pervades all, is all, thereby making Schelling’s philosophy one of pantheism. The goal of the Absolute is ultimate self-recognition. The Absolute does not know itself, yet it seeks to; within it is a yearning, a desire for self-consciousness, for recognition, for actualization. Were the Absolute to reach its end, were it to become aware of itself eventually, there would be no distinction between that which is the Absolute and that which is not, meaning everything would be made void; hence self-recognition is impossible for the Absolute, so its striving for awareness is infinite, with no end; while it can get closer and closer to recognizing itself with each adaption, it will never completely grasp itself. Such is a metaphor for Romanticism itself and the atmosphere it created–a yearning for something, something that is missing yet unknowable, a never-ending ambition for that which can never be attained, an unquenchable feeling known as Sehnsucht. As a result, the Absolute is never static but dynamic, in constant flux, more like the flowing river than the immobile rock. The process whereby the Absolute seeks itself is what Schelling calls Absolute abstraction, a process in which the Absolutes ego finds itself in opposition to the non-ego in hopes of finding itself. It is pretty much ripped right out of Fichte’s writing, this absolute abstraction, and not by accident, as Schelling read and was remarkably influenced by Fichte, but the former eventually divorced himself from the latter in his later writings. From the viewpoint of humans, the Absolute is not knowable through reason but intuition. “The nature of the Absolute itself… cannot be known by explanation, but only through intuition. For it is only the composite which can be known by description. The simple must be intuited.”[3] Jacobi is brought to mind here, his use of faith instead of reason to perceive things-in-themselves, his insistence on the simple rather than the complex. We arrive now at perhaps one of the most fascinating stages of images-1.jpegSchelling: the idea of a primitive evolution of sorts. He explains it in this way: “History as a whole is a continual revelation of the Absolute, a revelation which gradually discloses it.”[4] Tying in with the notion of self-recognition, the entire course of history has, since its beginning, worked its way up to now, constantly evolving, never stopping, increasingly becoming more and more sentient, more receptive. “Gradually,” Schelling says, the Absolute “discloses” as its complexity grows greater than before. Evolution moves from death to life, from the inorganic to the organic, and from the organic to spirit, and from spirit to freedom, which the highest point of an organism’s potential. Interestingly, while he is not correct according to today’s scientific standards, Schelling based this creation of his on the latest scientific findings of his day, making his idea of evolution, albeit prototypical, the most accurate for his time. The world began, then abiotic (inorganic) things, like rocks, began to spring up, followed by biotic (organic) things, like trees, leading to animals (spirit), and finally freedom (what the manifestation of this stage is will be saved for later). After this, Schelling, angered by Hegel, whom he accused of stealing his ideas, inspiring an irresoluble grudge between the two despite their being roommates in college, thought it necessary to distinguish two types of philosophies: positive philosophy, the correct type, in which Schelling placed himself, and negative philosophy, the wrong type, in which he placed Hegel. The difference between the two was that positive philosophy was dedicated to existence, whereas negative philosophy was dedicated to the speculative, the logical, which as we know, was considered contemptible during the Romantic period. Schelling has led some to think him an early proponent of Existentialism as a result of this stage in his philosophy, stage characterized by his question of “Why is there anything at all? Why not nothing?”[5] Schelling’s epistemology consisted of a four-part flow: sensation, perception, reflection, and will. Starting with sensation, the individual, á la Fichte, limits himself, opening himself to the world, to that which he is not; i.e., he differentiates his self from the world, therefore receiving it. This leads to perception, where the individual then recognizes the external world and makes sense out it. Now that the individual has a sense of the external, he must engage in the internal, or introspection, looking inside of himself. It is with this dual knowledge, inside and out, that he can will, which allows for him to act upon this knowledge as well as interact with other minds, other people. Schelling’s metaphysics, I said, have impacted many a fine Unknown-6.jpegpoet, most notably, mayhap, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was enchanted with this image of a living, pantheistic Nature, serving as the impetus for a number of his poems. Now we will talk about Schelling’s views on aesthetics and how Man fits into it all. We have spoken about God, the Absolute, and we have touched on the individual, specifically his origin and his source of knowledge; howbeit, we have not actually talked in depth about the nature of Man himself. In Schelling’s evolution, the final stage is freedom. Just below freedom is spirit, which is the creation of animals. Freedom, then, this final step in evolution, the most perfect organism, that which can have no superior, is none other than Man. But what makes humans different from animals? Are not we animals, after all? What makes humans different from and superior to animals is his ability to introspect. Recall that humans, through reflection, can internalize empirical information. Remember, too, that matter and nature are synonymous. Man happens to be actualized matter in the ladder of evolution, giving us the following syllogism:

Matter is Nature
Man is actualized Matter
Therefore Man is Nature

Man can thus do what the Absolute can only wish of doing: become self-aware. According to Schelling’s evolution, Man is the physical manifestation of freedom; Man is freedom in the physical embodiment of freedom! Since Man is self-conscious, and Man is Nature, it means Nature, too, is conscious; so Man, Nature, is able to discover himself, Nature. We come to the conclusion that Man is the highest being, evidently, and is necessary for the Absolute. “Nature is nothing more than the lifeless aggregate of an indeterminable crowd of objects…. Or the space in which… he [the artist] imagines things placed,”[6] writes Schelling. Nature is defined here as the place in which the artist acts, similar to Fichte’s theory of the world. He adds: “To philosophize about nature is to create nature.”[7] For this reason, Nature exists so we can shape it, so we can mold it to our liking. Just as there can be perfect art, so there can imperfect art, asserts Schelling. Imitation is seen as deplorable, like Plato said in the Republic, since it shames and blemishes Nature. Even worse are frauds, who say Nature is “not merely a dumb, but an altogether lifeless image.”[8] Such are enemies of beauty. Fine art, on the other hand, Schelling pairs with a Unknown-8.jpegbalance of form and soul, each of which is essential, meaning no one can be more dominant than the other. (As in the preponderance of ground over essence in God, imbalance results in evil.) The balance between the two necessities is achieved by grace, which Schelling finds to be the most important part of a work of art. On the act of creating art, of being a divine artist, Schelling writes: “Art springs only from that powerful striving of the inmost powers of the heart and spirit, which we call inspiration.”[9] Heart and spirit can be likened to the very relation of form and spirit, with emotion paired with faith. “Art, therefore, prefers to grasp immediately at the highest and most developed, the human form.” [10] Unfortunately, the greatest artists of the past, be they Homer, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, or van Gogh, will only come around once, according to Schelling. No one will ever emulate their greatness, nor will anyone be able to do what they did; but there will be new ones, now and in the future. While we may not recreate the great Greek sculptures or Sistine frescoes, we can create new works of art that will be looked upon and admired. The final sentence of Schelling’s essay “On the Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature” is equally haunting as it is inspiring: “Nature never repeats herself.”[11]



[1] Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 7, p. 19
[2] Schlegel, Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, Vol. 18, p. 518
[3] Schelling, Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 15-6
[4] Schelling, Werke, Vol. 2, p. 603
[5] Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 7, p. 309
[6] Adams, Critical Theory Since Plato, p. 446
[7] Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 369
[8] Adams, op. cit., p. 446
[9] Id., p. 457
[10] Id., p. 450
[11] Id., p. 468



For further reading: 
The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Nietzsche by Lawrence Cahoone (2010)
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
 by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
 Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Friedrich Schlegel
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
Critical Theory Since Plato
 by Hazard Adams (1971)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)

History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)
Story of Philosophy by Brian Magee (1998)

The German Romantic Philosophers (4 of 5)

Having gone over Schiller’s writings on aesthetics and their relation to humanity and freedom, having examined Fichte’s extensive metaphysical and ethical theories, which were inspired by Kant, we will briefly look at the educational and religious advancements made during Romanticism. Schiller thought art was humanity’s greatest achievement and was integral to being free, and in Fichte we saw a move toward the subjective and active, with emphasis on the individual and the world he creates for himself. Now we discuss Humboldt and Schleiermacher.

Unknown.jpegWilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was the esteemed brother of Alexander von Humboldt, an explorer and scientist, with Charles Darwin being an admirer of his, who traveled the world collecting new plants and studying temperatures around the globe. This blog is not about his brother, though; but it does not go without saying that the Humboldts were a talented bunch, given that Wilhelm was a philosopher, educator, diplomat, political theorist, and linguist. The most lasting impression left by Wilhelm is his contribution to education, earning him the title of “the Francis Bacon of revival learning,”[1] in the words of Will Durant. During Wilhelm’s time, there were several high-ranked universities, the famous University of Jena, where Fichte and Schiller studied, among them. Assigned the duty of reforming the Prussian education system, Humboldt sought to secularize the university, taking the emphasis off of religious studies and placing it on more liberal arts. The Humboldt University of Berlin, formerly the University of Berlin, was founded by Humboldt in 1811. A fan of the Humanities, Humboldt required their teaching in his school, his interests in Ancient Greece prevailing, especially with the introduction of philosophy as a main course. In addition to philosophy, Humboldt required within the curriculum chemistry, history, and various other social sciences which he felt were more practical, more beneficial to the student, so as to prepare them for life, to educate them thoroughly and revitalize their curiosity. History was largely neglected, but by making it a mainstream topic, Humboldt allowed for more development in the subject. Hegel likely would have never systematized his theory of history had Humboldt not done this, and for this we owe a great respect to Humboldt. The school was no longer a place for students to merely listen to lectures and take notes but was now transformed into a Unknown-1.jpegprofessional, top-quality institution, with students now partaking in actual research that got them involved, that got them to see their work firsthand. Humboldt also made it incredibly hard to become a teacher without credentials, therefore ensuring that students got a quality education, one that taught them memorably, effectively. It was around this time, too, that the Ph.d. was created, although it cannot be said to be created by Humboldt himself. Not only did Humboldt introduce new material into schools, but he also pioneered a new subject: philology–the interpretation of texts. As avid a linguist as Herder, Humboldt was fascinated by different languages, studying the classics, both Western and Eastern, for there was a massive surge of interest in the East at this time while their works were being discovered and passed around. In particular, Humboldt, and Schleiermacher too, was intrigued by Indian texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, which he translated and thereby popularized. This interest in experimenting with different languages led to his studies in comparative linguistics, a study continued today. Like Herder, Humboldt thought language’s place in civilization was unique, likening it to a Volksgeist, a spirit of the people (he never used Volksgeist, but it is attributed to him). He served as the Prussian diplomat to Rome and subsequently to Vienna, and he played a large role in the Napoleonic Wars toward the end, persuading several nations to unite against the French, greatly influencing the rest of the war. Humboldt was a liberal, and like Mill, he valued individual rights above the government, which he thought should be small and limited so it would not infringe on the people’s rights.

Unknown-2.jpegThe greatest theologian of Romanticism was Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834). At the core of Schleiermacher’s philosophy is Absolute dependence, Abhängigkeitsgefühl, what he calls the “religious feeling,” since the feeling, once achieved and properly perpetuated, inspires awe and a deep sense of faith. This faith is invested entirely in God and in nothing else, like Martin Luther. He reserved religious practice, not for transcendental knowledge but Absolute dependence; in other words, were a Neoplatonist or Christian to meditate with the end of reaching the Good, of seeing God, or of awakening to reality as, say, a Buddhist would, then they are doing it for the wrong reason, insofar as Schleiermacher thought religious activity was meant to strengthen one’s belief, to establish one’s piety, to place one’s life in the hands of God, i.e., to make them dependent on Him, absolutely, wholly; therefore, dependence is not to be placed on anything outside of the world, on some other reality, but on God Himself. Absolute dependence can only be achieved by looking inward, not by rationalizing, nor by acting. It is a sensation deep within the individual, and it must be found through self-consciousness and intuition. Faith and faith alone is the tool for being pious to God. If thought comes to fruition in being, as in knowledge, then it becomes Nature; and if being comes to fruition in thought, as in moral law, then it becomes spirit. Essentially, God is a combination of Nature and spirit who can be depended upon by means of intuition, for he is so vast that reason cannot envisage Him. Intuition allows us to embrace the Absolute, to feel it, and to understand the Universe, notwithstanding its infinitude. The relation between God and Universe is complicated, as God is not synonymous with Universe, yet He is also not anonymous with Universe; rather, they are correlative and work in the same sphere, so to speak. Schleiermacher can be considered a pantheist, in that he believed God is immanent; God permeates our reality. In fact, he says we are each unique parts of God Himself, Eigentümlichkeit, individual descendants of His, with special characteristics and talents. This individualistic doctrine is interesting coming from a theologian, for he not only expressing our relation with God, but he is also expressing our uniqueness, both in personality and in talent, which he thought we should look for, perfect, and flaunt in our own ways. Furthermore, this sets up an axiomatic relationship between the individual and the community: uniqueness implies that it is unique compared to other things, meaning there must be a community of other unique individuals, and community implies there are different people within it, meaning there must be uniqueness. Both Schleiermacher and Humboldt innovated their own disciplines: Humboldt innovated philology, and Schleiermacher hermeneutics, which has the same premise as philology, except that it focuses primarily on religious, spiritual, and philosophical works than language in general. Another similarity between Humboldt and Schleiermacher is their love of Eastern images.jpegtexts. “For Schleiermacher… the source of all religion ‘can be found’ in the unconscious or in the Orient, from whence all religions came.”[2] Hermeneutics is all about interpretation, be it of the book, the history, or the author. Schleiermacher is credited with engineering the hermeneutic circle, a method whereby an interpreter can study the work effectively. The first step is to understand the background or context of the work. One must find when the work was written, where it was written, and why it was written. Once the background is researched, one then studies the grammatical and psychological aspects of it, which means analyzing the language, syntax, and grammar of the work and the mental attitude of he who wrote it. Understanding what beliefs the author had at the time and what he was thinking allows for a personal connection with the text and allows the reader deeper within the text. Lastly, the interpreter looks at the piece in sections and holistically, switching between the two to get a better grasp of the general structure and specific details. This method has been adapted into editing in writing, for it has proved effective in finding organization and finding information the writer is trying to convey.


[1] Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 10, p. 606
[2] Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Discovery of India and the East, 1680-1880, p. 219

For further reading:
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
 Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
The Story of Civilization 
Vol. 10 by Will Durant (1967)
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)