Who Were the Robber Barons? [2 of 2]

Click here to read part 1, where I talk about the rise of the Robber Barons.

Unknown.jpegNow that the Robber Barons have been introduced and explored, we can begin to look at the environment and conditions in which they grew, and how the political, economic, and ideological climate shaped them, gave them opportunities, allowed them to grow, prosper, and flourish. After the Civil War, in the late 19th-century, the dominant belief at the time was Manifest Destiny, which states that it was the destiny of the people to expand westward, into now-empty Native American lands, as manifest by God. As a result, a mass migration occurred, with both immigrants and settlers moving to occupy the West, supplying the nation with plenty of workers with empty hands. Furthermore, there was lots of open, unexplored, unclaimed land. These two conditions—lots of land and lots of people—made industrialization possible; hence, the Second Industrial Revolution. Land was provided by the government, on which laborers who immigrated would work, given Transcontinental-Railroad-e1440014161748.jpgsteel by Carnegie, and funded by Morgan. Problems occurred, however, when rampant corruption spread throughout these railroads, which were needed. Railroads were all the craze, because industrialization provided the materials, because the Civil War meant peace and Reconstruction, because people needed to travel, and because goods needed to be imported and exported. The Transcontinental Railroad was commissioned for this reason. Stretching West to East, it combined the Central Pacific line, owned by Leland Stanford, and the Union Pacific. Most of the workers who built it were immigrants, either Irish or Chinese, who underwent a lot of cruelty, suffering, and injustice, forced to overwork, in the hot sun, in extreme terrain, costing far too many innocent lives.

In terms of ideology, what allowed the Robber Barons to rise to supremacy was laissez-faire capitalism, a system that promotes individualistic entrepreneurship without interference from the government. To summarize, this economic system, created in the 18th-century, during the Enlightenment, expounded on famously by Adam Smith and images.jpegJohn Stuart Mill, said that any individual could create their own business, and they would be free to do whatever they wanted with it, and the government could neither get in the way of it nor direct it in any way, creating a free, competitive market. The reason the Robber Barons could grow so quickly was because the government could not restrict their growth. Using whatever tactics they had, they could gain more money, more property, more business. Unfortunately, laissez-faire capitalism in 19th-century America was inherently self-destructive: “Laissez-faire in the 1900’s tended to kill off competition…. And when monopoly dominated the scene, the concentration of power in the hands of the few threatened the liberty and freedom of the many.”[1] Even though capitalism is based on free competition, laissez-faire, paradoxically, limited competition, ultimately creating monopolies.

Unknown-1.jpegThis effect was compounded by the popular belief in Social Darwinism, which became widespread after Darwin’s publications that were given a social twist by fellow scientist Herbert Spencer. According to Social Darwinism, competition was inherent to all societies across all organisms, and in each society there was a Spencerian “survival of the fittest”; society is always in conflict, and it always the strongest, the smartest, the most acute, who not only does, but should, come out on top. If one is stronger than his peers, then he deserves to win at the expense of the loser, fair and square—nothing personal, just business, in other words. Predictably, this was applied to the economy, such that whoever’s business was carried out most efficiently gained all the business, squashing his competition without any conceivable threats. Those who were successful became unstoppable titans, people whose riches made them powerful.

Now, the rise of big business, expectedly, was not positive, and many people, especially the farmers and workers, tried to revolt. Workers formed unions in order to halt business and get fair treatment. These unions were obliterated by the big businesses and monopolies, which stomped on them with their big boots. These unions tried to plea with the Government, all in vain, though. Upset with their unfair treatment and pay, many protests broke out, most notably the Grange Protests of the 1870’s. While more can be said about these protests, it is enough to say that they were largely unsuccessful, SS2559332.jpgresulting in even more casualties. To demonstrate the plight of the workers, we can look at Carnegie’s business: His workers earned $10 for 84-hour weeks, despite the business earning roughly $2 million a year. Much as entrepreneurs came to Morgan for loans to start up their own businesses, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and other successful industrialists needed money to start their businesses. This purpose was fulfilled by the Government, which granted land grants left and right, applying protection tariffs to each business, so that they could grow, just like how a plant requires water and sunshine to sprout. Consequently, businesses, aided with the Government’s money, were able to get started; and yet, the protection tariffs—taxes put on imports to improve the interstate economy—were only in place to get the companies off the ground. Nothing was done, though, once the companies started. The inertia was over, and the companies started accelerating exponentially, without any brakes, and the tariffs only sped them up. It was as though the Government gave the businesses training wheels, but forgot to take them off. Thus, big businesses popped up throughout the country with unrestrained control, supported by government subsidies—financial aid.

1-2-1936-25-ExplorePAHistory-a0m0a4-a_349.jpgAll of these factors in the U.S. led to increased concentration of wealth. It is estimated that in 1865, there were only 19 millionaires, but fast-forwarding 35 years to the turn of the century, there were thousands of them! Big business overshadowed small business, virtually wiping it off the surface of the country. Monopolies owned the market, giving way to oligopolies. In the market, a monopoly is a single seller that has all the business to itself, and its name literally means “one seller.” Standard Oil, for example, was a monopoly inasmuch as it controlled and dominated the oil business, and its tendency to buy out competitors meant it had the oil business to itself. Oligopoly, on the other hand, its name meaning “few sellers,” refers to a market in which a few companies control the market, limiting competition—essentially the result of laissez-faire. An example of this is the fact that ⅔ of the railroads in the U.S. in 1900 were owned by only 7 companies. These 7 companies Unknown-5.jpegowned even smaller companies, meaning the bigger ones, the “mother companies,” the conglomerates, the ones that own the subsidiaries, formed an oligopoly. The rise of monopolies and oligopolies meant a concentration of wealth, and concentration of wealth translates into the concentration of power. Recall the quote from above: “[W]hen monopoly dominated the scene, the concentration of power in the hands of the few threatened the liberty and freedom of the many.” In recent years, movements like “Occupy Wall Street” have tried to combat the notorious “1%,” the wealthy elite that “rule the world”; and while this may be a conspiracy, it is not hard to understand the rationale from where it comes.

Moreover, this concentration of wealth led to an even greater, more abstract force: The “Gospel,” or good word, “of Wealth.” If we go back to the founding of the nation, then we find in Alexander Hamilton and James Madison the beginnings of this movement. Both Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 10.58.28 PM.pngmen believed that power deserved to be in the hands of the rich, elite few. Those who were successful with money proved to be better in management and organization than those who were not, they argued. A nation, they reasoned, needed this kind of leadership and initiative— not that ensured by the masses. They were cynical of hoi polloi, the commoners, the people. Carnegie, we discussed, popularized this view when he expressed that he foresaw a future in which America was a wealthy, industrial nation. He tried to make an example out of himself, giving future generations a guideline by which to become rich, and to use their riches to better civilization, by donating, by helping those in need. Obviously, this is a different, more optimistic message than that of Hamilton or Madison. Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” implored the masses to rise up, to become rich, and to use this opulence to become “lovers of men,” philanthropists. As with most good things, though, the “Gospel of Wealth” over time became corrupted, perverted, bastardized, popularized, dumbed-down—to a gross materialism and consumerism:

And so, the schools, the churches, the popular literature taught that to be rich was a sign of superiority, to be poor a sign of personal failure, and that the only way upward for a poor person was to climb into the ranks of the rich by extraordinary effort and extraordinary luck.[2]

Fittingly, in 1899, economist Thorstein Veblen published his famous The Theory of the Leisure Class, in which he outlined his theory of “conspicuous consumption,” according to which the new wealthy class would senselessly buy expensive things so as to images-1.jpegdistinguish themselves from the poorer classes, a way of saying, “I’m richer than you are, and for that I am better.” The capitalistic-hedonistic-materialism of the 21st-century, in which the Pursuit of Happiness really means the Pursuit of Wealth, arose initially during the Gilded Age, and has only gotten worse over time, as more and more money became concentrated. We believe and convince ourselves that “happiness = $,” and that, more foolishly, money can buy happiness. Success is nowadays defined by how much money we have, how business is running. Millions of dollars are spent on millions of books aimed at entrepreneurs, self-help books that promise us a money-filled, problem-free life if we “follow these simple principles,” which are fail-proof methods pertaining to becoming successful, get-rich-quick schemes passed off as good literature and common-sense thinking. How we live in an age of illusions and fancies! To quote George Carlin: “That’s why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Unknown.pngThe next area of focus in understanding the Gilded Age economy is the Government’s reaction, specifically in the context of regulatory laws. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 was passed by Grover Cleveland, formally creating the Interstate Commerce Commission (I.C.C.), whose objective it was to regulate railroad business, and see to it that they not engage in anything corrupt. From the start, it was doomed for failure, as it was passed more as a publicity stunt than as a serious regulation. For years, frustrated protesters demanded Congress take action against big business, and to make them happy, Cleveland passed the Act. It worked: The people were happy because it appeared to them that the Government was taking an interest in their affairs and helping them out. In reality, it was just a cover, and the I.C.C. was just a useless puppet, a nominal regulation, and it did nothing useful, unable to enforce its rules. The I.C.C. became a laughing stock, and all the senators and politicians knew it.

But big corporations were more real than any of them knew, so in 1890, Benjamin Harrison passed the legendary Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The first article of the Act goes like this: “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or John-Sherman-2.jpgconspiracy, in the restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations is hereby declared to be illegal.”[3] Legislature is eminent for its ambiguity, and the Sherman Antitrust Act is but an example of this. The most troublesome phrase, as noted by many, is “in the restraint of trade or commerce,” which would cause a lot of ruckus in future cases, having to be hashed out in further detail in specific circumstances. What the Antitrust Act basically protects against are monopolies and horizontal integration. The Act was designed to target companies like Standard Oil, which, forming trusts, were able to bypass laws that prohibited competition. By making illegal such methods, the Government hoped to disassemble these massive conglomerates. However, as we have seen, this did not work, considering Rockefeller was clever and took advantage of the Holding Company Act in New Jersey, thereby obviating the Antitrust Act. In all truth, the Act actually backfired, strengthening monopolies, instead of weakening them. Foolishly, the Government cornered the big companies, and they, being cornered animals, lashed out, coming back at them stronger, more viciously, with a vendetta. The industrialists struck back, forming oligopolies, as political-cartoon-of-monopoly-devouring-united-states,2322652.jpgmentioned in the fact that only 7 companies owned over half the railroads in the U.S. Because horizontal integration was outlawed, corporations were forced to adopt vertical integration, which worked to their behoof, increasing business. In order to disambiguate the Sherman Act, the Court introduced two important concepts: The “rule of reason” and “per se.” According to the former, a trust that restrained business “unreasonably”—that is, excessively or unfairly—was illegal. And according to the latter, a trust that engaged in activities against the Constitution were illegal per se, i.e., in themselves, without further reason. Yet another shortcoming of the Antitrust Act was that it was used against workers’ unions—correct: The law made to protect workers’ rights against big companies was used against workers in favor of big companies. Unions, the Court said, disrupted trade, and were classified as a “restraint” in commerce, so they were targeted by the Court. This widened the rift between the privileged and the underprivileged.

Next, we will look at a series of important Supreme Court cases that shaped the course of antitrust laws and businesses. The first case is Munn v. Illinois (1876), in which the Court, pestered incessantly by the Grange Movement, made up of farmers, looked into grain elevators—warehouses or storages for grain—and found that they were charging the farmers exorbitantly. Although the companies argued that they had the right to charge their own rates since they were private properties, the Court argued otherwise, requiring Antitrust-Monopoly.jpgthat private companies that served the public interest, like grain elevators, had no right to enforce their own rates, leading to the Court setting a maximum charge on grain. For once, there was a victory for the people against the big businesses. It was short-lived. A decade later, in 1886, the Wabash v. Illinois case changed the flow of the tide, in favor of the companies. Now the Supreme Court ruled that states could not regulate charged rates, that this was the job of the Federal Government. In essence, the Supreme Court went bipolar, completely overturning its earlier ruling in Munn, supporting the opposite side. The Court was just getting started; Zinn writes that in 1886 alone, about 230 proposed laws regarding corporate regulation were rejected by the Supreme Court. Then, in 1895, as a result of Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Company, Congress’ ability to tax higher incomes was deemed unconstitutional. Effectively, the Supreme Court had thus far prohibited not just state governments, but the Federal Government itself, from regulating private commercial interest. No fixed rates, no income taxes, could legally be imposed. It did not stop there. United States v. E.C. Knights antitrust.jpgCompany (1895) declared that E.C. Knights, a sugar-refining company that owned 90% of sugar production—which is surely unreasonable—was not, in fact, a monopoly at all, to the extent that manufacturing does not equal commerce. This refers to the Sherman Antitrust Act, which prohibits “restraint of … commerce.” Technically, E.C. Knights was not selling sugar to anyone; it was merely making the sugar, despite taking up pretty much the entire market in so doing. To further support this, the Supreme Court added that the Federal Government’s concern is with interstate business, the locals with intrastate (within the state). Because the manufacturing was intrastate, and because E.C. Knights never sold sugar interstate, it was outside the domain of the Federal Government; and seeing as the local governments had no power over monopolies, they, too, were utterly useless against it. One reason the big businesses managed to get cleared by the Supreme Court was due to the recent passing of the 14th Amendment. This addition to the Constitution protected persons from having their property taken away from them without a fair trial. What had this to do with anything? Well, corporations were regarded as “persons” in legal terms; therefore, corporations could not have property taken away equal-protection-560x418.jpgfrom them without a fair trial. “Supposedly, the [14th] Amendment had been passed to protect Negro rights,” Zinn writes, “but of the Fourteenth Amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court between 1890 and 1910, nineteen dealt with the Negro, 288 dealt with corporations.”[4] In other words, corporations were given priority over real persons, specifically blacks, who, it was implied hereby, were even lesser people than corporations. A business was considered more human than a black. Finally, in 1898, the last nail was put in the I.C.C.’s coffin, with Smyth v. Ames (1898), known also as the Maximum Freight Rate Case. It was here established that the I.C.C., like both the Federal and state governments, could not fix rates on railroads. Why did neither Congress nor the Supreme Court try to intervene on behalf of the people? The simple explanation is that “what is good for the economy, is good for the country.” Simply put, they believed, and rightly to an extent, that a good economy is necessary for a successful nation. On the other hand, neither of the two branches was totally pure, and both were venal at times, liable to be bribed, which is not to say that they always were, of course. Obviously, local governments are not as powerful Sherman-Anti-Trust-Act.jpegas the Federal Government, so they could not enforce their laws, and the states, too, were often bribed because they were corrupt, leading to a lack of action. As soon as the Standard Oil Trust arose, many more followed, including the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, A.K.A. AT&T. But it was not until Theodore Roosevelt became President that the Government decided to face head-on big business. For example, the most notable confrontation was in 1911, with the prominent case Standard Oil Company of New Jersey v. United States, the result of which left Standard Oil, that indomitable monopoly, diffused over the country, into separate, smaller, competing companies. It was carried out because Standard Oil was established to be a monopoly, too powerful for the market; yet one has to ask, How come it was not recognized as a monopoly earlier, when the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed?

images-3The most important takeaway, of course, is that history is alive, and that the Robber Barons are not just a thing of the past, but alive and well today, just under a new guise—that of technology. Nowadays, in the world of U.S. media, there is an uncontrollable concentration of power and wealth. If you want to read more about oligopoly and concentration of power in the media, then you can read my other blog here. To summarize, in the 21st-century, only 5 or 6 companies in America own all media networks. Compare this to the railroads in 1900, of which ⅔ were owned by 7 companies—not much has changed in a hundred years. And just as Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan dominated the business world as godlike entrepreneurs, so today there are tech titans, such as Jeff Bezos (1964- ), owner of Amazon, worth $143.1 billion; Warren Buffett (1930- ), creator of Berkshire Hathaway, a holding company like Standard Oil in the 1890’s, worth $84.7 billion; Bill Gates (1955- ), owner of Microsoft, worth $93.3 billion; and Mark Zuckerberg, the youngest of them, inventor of Facebook, worth $77.6 billion. It very difficult, indeed, to find accurate, reliable sources regarding the wealth of the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age, especially regarding what their wealth would be worth today, taking inflation into account. What can reliably be said, though, is that, if they were alive today, they would be at the top of images-4.jpegthe list stated above. Even their worth back then is hard to come by, although figures put Rockefeller at around $2 billion in his day (which would be in the hundreds of billions today), Carnegie $350 million, and Morgan $118.3 million. The latter, markedly, was less wealthy than either of his contemporaries, causing Rockefeller to lament Morgan’s rather low net worth. Going back to the current age, all the billionaires in the world have a collective $6 trillion, it is said.[5] Modern billionaires, fearing protests like those of the Grangers’ over a century ago, turn to philanthropy, worrying over their image, how they are perceived, so they donate to earn good graces, something of which Gates and Bezos are guilty. There are two ways of evaluating this: From one perspective, it is immoral, because they are donating out of guilt, in order to preserve their image, whereas they would not have donated otherwise; and from another, it is still a noble, virtuous thing, to be charitable, because donating is donating, regardless of its motive.

Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, Carnegie’s Steel Company, and Morgan’s Bank have been paralleled by the dominant tech businesses like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft, which stand tall, casting a shadow on the corporate world, indestructible giants, influencers of the world, caterers to the people. And just like the old businesses, which were tainted by tales of abuse and inequality, these new tech industries have their fair share of injustices, such as Apple’s factories in Foxconn and Pegatron, where workers suffer from overworking; and Amazon, recently, has come under fire for its Unknown-2.jpegterrible work conditions, which boast hot temperatures, high expectations, miles upon miles of walking, and low wages. More comparisons can be made between Gould and Fisk and the notorious Wall Street scandal of Stratton Oakmont, Inc. (1989-96), dramatized in the movie The Wolf on Wall Street, which depicts Jordan Belfort’s attempt to use a corrupt investment business in order to amass a great wealth using a “pump-and-dump method,” similar to Gould’s watered, highly inflated, stocks. The 21st-century, in short, is no more different than either the late 19th– or early 20th-centuries, in that both saw the rise of new industries that came to establish themselves as the de facto leaders of business, whose careers would not be challenged, by way of their clever, inventive methods that got them to the top, the top from which they could look out at the rest of the world, comfortable upon their stacks of money, free from the petty, everyday problems of the canaille.

Unknown-3.jpegIn conclusion, as with the Sophists of 5th-century Greece, the Robber Barons of the Second Industrial Revolution ought to be studied carefully, disinterestedly, for history always has at least two sides. On the one hand, the Robber Barons were exploitative, mischievous scammers who operated through disingenuous methods, ruining local businesses, in a fight for who could come out on top, cold-blooded, calculative, greed- and money-driven, who only begrudgingly donated to the poor masses. They did not deserve their wealth because they earned it dishonorably, through vices rather than virtues. By buying out the competition, they hogged the market, not allowing anyone else to compete, like a childhood bully on the playground who blocks the slide for his own use. Yet conversely, the Robber Barons, or captains of industry, were entrepreneurs in the truest sense of the word, individuals who believed in themselves, believed in a better future, and used their newly earned wealth to work toward that future, through donations and philanthropy, advertised by the well-meaning Gospel of Wealth. People like Carnegie showed that images-5.jpegsocial mobility was possible, that anyone, no matter from where they came, could achieve their dreams, becoming rich and successful. The captains of industry transformed the U.S. into an industrial superpower, able to compete with the stronger, older European nations. Samuel Eliot Morison appropriately titled a section of his chapter on the industrialists “Hamilton wins,” in reference to the fact that it was Hamilton who envisioned an industrial America, as opposed to Jefferson’s wish for an agrarian republic. Thanks to the Robber Barons, the U.S. became what it is today. Again, we must take all the facts into account. While the industrialists are very much responsible for the standards of living we enjoy today and for making America a force to be reckoned with, they also had their moral faults. Harry S. Truman had this to say: “No one ever considered Carnegie’s libraries steeped in the blood of the Homestead steelworkers, but they are. We do not remember that the Rockefeller Foundation is founded on the dead miners of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and a dozen other performances.”[6] A populist speaker by the name of Mary Unknown-4.jpegElizabeth Lease gave a popular, oft-quoted speech around 1890 in which she denounced the power of the industrialists, whose wealth gave them power over the Senate, and it is reminiscent of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Her very relevant words are not foreign to us moderns’ ears: “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.”[7] And so, conclusively, whether or not the Robber Barons were good or bad cannot be decided objectively, because in the end, we cannot change what they did or how they did it, and it is due to their actions that we are where we are today.




[1] Dulles, The United States Since 1865, p. 64
[2] Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 256
[3] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/1
[4] Zinn, op. cit., p. 255
[5] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/26/worlds-witnessing-a-new-gilded-age-as-billionaires-wealth-swells-to-6tn
[6] Qtd. in Brinkley, History of the United States, p. 266
[7] http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/marylease.html


For further reading: 
The United States: The History of a Republic 2nd ed. by Richard Hofstadter (1967)
The Oxford History of the American People Vol. 3 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1972)
The Historians’ History of the United States 
Vol. 2 by Andrew S. Berky (1966)
The Growth of the American Republic 
Vol. 2 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1955)
A History of American Life and Thought 
by Nelson Manfred Blake (1963)
America: A Narrative History
8th ed. by George Brown Tindall (2010)

A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart (2004)
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1995)
Don’t Know Much About History
by Kenneth C. Davis (2003)

The United States Since 1865 by Foster Rhea Dulles (1959)
History of the United
 States by Douglas Brinkley (1998)


Online Reading:


Who Were the Robber Barons? [1 of 2]

Unknown.jpegLiving through the technological revolution of the 21st-century, characterized by new, groundbreaking inventions, we are experiencing the height of ingenuity here in America, navigating a post-industrial capitalist society, the home of several influential figures in technology, technological titans like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, all of whom have built up awe-inspiring businesses, and who take up the global stage, leaving us to face the overwhelming consolidation of big corporations, massive conglomerates like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, which dominate the market, providing everything we need, from social networking to searching to shopping online. Famous for its invitation to live the “American Dream,” the U.S. prides itself on its economic status, flaunting its capitalist success, making it appealing to young entrepreneurs looking to get a start and build a wealthy enterprise. But this is nothing new in American history, for just over a century ago, having recovered from its destructive Civil War, this young, promising country—a newly christened republic and “democracy”—was trying to lose the training wheels of Europe and ride on its own, without help, ushering in the Second Industrial Revolution, which heralded the so-called “Gilded Age,” which oversaw a rise in inventors and entrepreneurs. The late 19th– and early 20th-century saw the flourishing of an industrial, capitalist America. It was during this period that the big names like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan became known as “Robber Barons,” men who built Unknown-1.jpegbusinesses ruthlessly, mercilessly, for their own private profit. We are at a critical point in history, when our democratic ideals of freedom, liberty, and privacy are threatened by unstoppable businesses that are indispensable to our lives, and without which we could not imagine living, exercising a powerful hold over us. So how did we get here? History shows us the parallels between seemingly disparate ages. As such, by looking back at the Robber Barons—who they were, how they became who they were, and how they managed to prosper—and the conditions that allowed for their growth, we will gain a better understanding of this contemporary, urgent junction at which we now stand, enveloped by and subjugated to the corporate world, which at any moment threatens to swallow us whole. We will be looking at the lives and careers of the infamous Robber Barons, the environment that enabled them to expand, and the current situation and how it resembles the past.

Unknown-2.jpegAfter the Civil War, Americans began to settle down peacefully and rebuild. The growing nation had to deal with the fact that there were lots of people who needed to get places, that if the economy were to improve, it needed to be sped up. Railroads were the solution to these two problems. By constructing vast railroad lines, people could get one from state to another in a matter of days, instead of months, and commerce would be boosted because goods could be moved farther and faster. The problem was, building railroads was a big project, so it required both able workers and money—lots of money. Men eager to make a buck saw an opportunity in this opening. Early on, in 1867, when the First Transcontinental Railroad was set into action, a company was hired to build it, called Crédit Mobilier. Although the real projected cost of the endeavor was about $44 million, Crédit Mobilier managed to get the Government to pay them $94 million in order Crédit-Scandal.jpgto begin. Cons like this were not uncommon in the railroad days, as opportunists profited entirely off of land grants and construction projects which were blown way out of proportion, costing the Government millions. The scam was not noticed until several years later, and much to the public’s surprise, many of those complicit in it were notable politicians, such as Representative Oakes Ames; founder of Stanford University Leland Stanford, who was also guilty of bribing other governments for control of other railroads; future President James A. Garfield (yup, President’s are not immune to corruption by any means!); and the then-current Vice President Schuyler Colfax, among others. This was but the beginning of a long series of scandals that would plague the U.S. railroads. The fact that powerful people were involved, too, is no exception, but rather the rule of the Gilded Age.

While Crédit Mobilier was busy stealing millions from the Government, there was another controversy going on, except that this one was neither private nor peaceful. Unknown-3.jpegCornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt (1794-1877) had up until the latter part of his life worked with steamships, before the Civil War, from which he gained his nickname. Later, he moved onto railroads, seeing in them a lucrative business. He used the many openings as a way of getting rich, buying and consolidating different racks, notably the New York Central Line, which was heavily used, making him incredibly rich at the time. But as Vanderbilt devoured mile after mile of railroad, he looked back behind him to find that his enterprise was being encroached upon by a rival of his, Daniel Drew (1797-1879), who proved a tough competitor, just as meteoric in his acquisitions as Vanderbilt was. Accompanied by his two associates, Drew had two goals: To grow his business and to retard Vanderbilt’s business. The latter was most important, so Drew was determined to prevent Vanderbilt from dominating the railroad lines. In order to keep Vanderbilt from buying him out, Drew held steadfastly to the Erie Line. He refused to sell it, but kept adding onto it, stealing more and more land from Vanderbilt, rising the prices more and more outrageously, provoking his nemesis not just once, but numerous times, to put a bounty on Drew’s head, in a vicious attempt to usurp him and take his business. Both men, Drew and Vanderbilt, bribed railroad operators to obtain and add them to their collections, as if they were trophies. Vanderbilt would stop at nothing to extend his grasp over the railroads, and he constantly tried, in vain, to buy the Erie Railroad from Drew. He was known, Vanderbilt, for hosting lavish parties, showing off his wealth through ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption, proving to everyone he was the real deal. Whoever owned more railroads, whoever was richer, by whatever means necessary, was the better of the two. It became known as the Erie War.

Unbeknownst to either of the two, both of Drew’s associates were doing their own thing, independently. The most controversial of the two, Jay Gould (1836-92), was probably the most deserving of the name “Robber Baron,” and for this reason, he is like the Prodicus of 19th-century America; that is, Jay Gould was to the American public what the Sophists of 5th-century Athens were to Socrates and Plato: Good-for-nothing, 408_108567419405.jpgtalentless, swindling charlatans, imposters, who got money dishonorably, by both charging too much and deceiving their “clients,” or, more appropriately, “victims.” Gould, the Sophist of American business, bought abandoned Southern railroads, fixed them up, then sold them for way more than they were worth—essentially, Gould flipped railroads—and earned hundreds of millions of dollars from it. Thus, from 1867-72, Gould, Drew, and their third associate, James Fisk (1835-72), all vied with Vanderbilt for the railroads, each using illegitimate means to do so. Drew, to keep Vanderbilt from buying the Erie Railroad, and Gould, to make a fortune off of ruined railroads elsewhere, sold “watered stocks,” i.e., stocks whose prices were unbelievably inflated, more expensive than they actually were. Because of these watered stocks, Vanderbilt was unable to pay for the unrealistic cost of the Erie Railroad proposed by Drew, and Gould was able to make bank in a matter of years.

Finally, in 1872, Gould and Fisk dissociated themselves from Drew and sought a new get-rich-quick scheme, this time going on a bigger scale, their eyes set on something which seemed utterly insane and dangerous, should they be exposed. Gould, who had contacts, 120.pngmanaged to befriend the President of the United States, ex-Union General Ulysses S. Grant. His goal: To “corner” the gold market. By getting close to Grant, Gould hoped to get confidential insights into the Gold Exchange, whose prices changed monthly, so that he and Fisk could jump at the right minute, buy it all up, and thereby gain control of the entire market, influencing its prices, driving them up, and getting lots and lots of money—this was what “cornering the gold market” meant. Steadily, with caution and precision, Gould and Fisk drove the prices up, remaining low-key, careful not to attract any attention. They were successful, until, that is, Grant caught on. A panicked Grant released $4 million worth of gold into the market on September 24, 1869, a day that is known as “Black Friday,” and as the day that the gold market crashed. It was a tragic event, culminating in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors and a loss of trust in Grant, who unwittingly abetted the two criminals, Gould and Fisk. While the term “Robber Baron” was used first in 1859, it was applied most trenchantly to the railroad tyrants in Charles Francis Adams, Jr.’s, book Railroads: Their Origins and Problems (1878), only then to be spread into the mainstream in 1934 by Matthew Josephson.

Now that we know from where the term “Robber Baron” originated, we will look at the Big Three of American business, three entrepreneurs who, like the trailblazers who charted the New World, first charted what would become modern-day capitalist business and corporation. When Robber Baron is mentioned, it is usually these three who come to Unknown-4.jpegmind: John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan. John Davison Rockefeller (1839-1937) was born in New York, and his father, fittingly, was a conman. At a young age, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Rockefeller was noted to be neat, organized, and highly individualistic. This last quality was especially important back in the Gilded Age, when the value of the individual was important as it is today in the U.S. The Pennsylvania Oil Rush of 1860, it is reported, was even more impactful in terms of economic boons than the California Gold Rush of 1848; it was in this context that a young Rockefeller ventured forth into the budding oil business, fresh and ready for work, confident, ready to compete for his share. Because the oil business was still in its infancy, it was easy for Rockefeller to get started. In 1870, he and a few others created the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. At the time, it was modest, but few would predict the success and legacy it would have later one. Rockefeller created a year later the South Improvement Company. The South Improvement Company was Rockefeller’s notorious method of gaining the upper hand in the oil world: He quickly assumed ownership of several railroads, from which he demanded rebates, or price reductions—basically, a discount—yet he also ordered them to raise the prices of shipping for other companies, the gains of which he himself would get. In short, he was able to assert complete control over railroads, to the extent that he could ship large freights for a reduced price, while also collecting money gotten from his rivals, procured from taxes his railroads put on them. His influence was so great that the railroads literally paid him to transport his oil. Why would the railroads agree to pay Rockefeller? Because the railroads were in competition, they needed lots of business, which Rockefeller could give them, so they accepted his terms. Another aspect of the contract signed between the South Improvement Company and the railroads was that large frights were allowed to go only Unknown-5.jpegon certain railroads, namely Rockefeller’s. He made the railroads refuse to export or import other companies’ oil. Of course, such a deal like this was outrageous, and many people knew it; unfortunately, Rockefeller could not bribe his way out of this one, and the South Improvement Company was shut down for its corruptness shortly thereafter. Other than this one instance, Rockefeller was generally able to bribe the legislature and judiciary easily, giving him a major advantage, allowing him to bypass laws to beat his opponents. Even though the South Improvement Company produced a lot of controversy, even more controversial was Rockefeller’s use of “horizontal integration,” by which Rockefeller would buy out his competition. He pressured and then eliminated other oil companies through vicious tactics, one of which was “predatory pricing,” a form of cutthroat competition. In predatory pricing, a seller lowers their prices, and everyone likes low prices, so everyone will go to that seller, forcing the competition, too, to lower their prices, in order to still have a clientele; yet smaller companies often cannot afford to keep this up for long, as they will not be able to make sufficient profits to stay functional, whereas a larger company, like Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, was able to sustain this price reduction; and ultimately, after some time, the smaller company, “driven to the wall”—forced to insufficient funds—would have two options: Go bankrupt or sell. Therefore, either way, Rockefeller gained: If his competition went bankrupt, he would have one less competitor; and if the company sold itself, then not only would Rockefeller have one less competitor, but he would add the company to his own as an asset, adding to his empire. Rockefeller can be likened to a vulture insofar as he waited for his prey to slowly die from starvation, only to sweep in at its weakest moment, when its emaciated body decayed, and eat its carcass. Between 1879 and 1890, Rockefeller owned between 90-95% of the entire refined oil business in the U.S. (only 10 years after creating his company)! Horizontal integration was frowned upon, so Rockefeller resorted to another, respectable method, “vertical integration,” in which a company produces its own Unknown-6.jpegresources needed to create its specific product. Think about it this way: If Rockefeller wanted to sell oil, he would first have to go through other companies, companies specialized in, say, refining oil or making barrels. In other words, in normal business, there is a middleman. Through vertical integration, a company gets rid of the middleman, becomes the middleman. Hence, Standard Oil, in order to become independent, in order to be fully self-sufficient, began producing resources such as barrels and cans and refineries on its own. This reduced the amount Rockefeller would pay to ship his oil, and it also expanded his business. Rockefeller also kept large amounts of reserve money in case of emergencies, lest a panic or depression come. Add to this the fact that Rockefeller, in addition to owning most of the railroads, owned a majority of the pipelines in the country. He shipped his oil more extensively as a result, and his competitors, left with barely any pipelines, had to fight amongst themselves for the limited supply that was left; and from these little wars, a victor and a loser would emerge, and Rockefeller would swoop in once more and eat the loser, while the victor, weakened from the battle, would struggle to recover, soon to be eaten itself by Rockefeller—it was only a matter of time. Because horizontal integration was so deadly, the Government caught on, and Rockefeller, with the spotlight on him, had to find some way of getting out of the spotlight while still keeping his supremacy. Subsequently, his lawyer, Samuel C.T. Dodd, devised something ingenious to counteract this obstacle: The trust. Thus, in 1882, theStandard_Oil_Trust_1883.JPG Standard Oil Trust was created. How it worked was, the trust incorporated 37 separate stockholders, some of which were in different states, and they were given certificates of trust. These interstate—in a different state—subsidiaries, or smaller companies that form a branch of the bigger company, gave these certificates to a board of nine trustees, kind of like spokespeople. A certificate showed that a company was invested in a bigger company, but it did not give the subsidiary any management over the bigger company. The trust was a clever move because it allowed Rockefeller to own interstate business, which thitherto was illegal—that is, to own a company outside of one’s own state. Accordingly, Standard Oil was not liable to be dismantled, seeing as it technically did not violate any laws. In fact, it had the added advantage of providing Rockefeller with high prices for his buyers and low wages for his workers. The state of Ohio brought the trust to court on the grounds that it was a monopoly, and the court promptly broke up the trust. But Rockefeller was not discouraged; he came back, stronger, smarter. In the late 1880’s—the date is not clear, maybe 1888—New Jersey passed the Holding Company Act, and Rockefeller saw an opportunity, swiftly moving to the state, in which he found refuge, establishing the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in 1899. Whereas Ohio, for example, prohibited both horizontal integration and trusts, New Jersey was rather Unknown-8.jpegliberal in its economy, and Rockefeller used this wisely. As a holding company, Standard Oil could own the majority of the stock of another company, enough stock to properly own it. Now, Rockefeller had a legal precedent for an interstate enterprise. By the height of his career, Rockefeller was on the board of 37 separate companies. A deeply religious man, Rockefeller believed his wealth was divine, God-given. Consequently, he wanted to give back to his fellow men. It is estimated that, throughout his lifetime, he donated $540 million to hospitals and colleges, like the University of Chicago. Another thing worth considering: If Rockefeller revolutionized the sale of kerosene, thereby reducing whaling, then did Rockefeller help save the whales, too?

The next figure is the prototypical entrepreneur, called by pretty much every author on the subject the most genuine “rags-to-riches” billionaire. Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was born in Scotland, but he moved to Allegheny, Pennsylvania as a teen in 1848. He Unknown-9.jpeglived with his parents, who were poor, but he was determined to make a name for himself and his family, and his rise to power shows his sheer determination and passion. Carnegie’s first job was at a cotton mill, where he got very little pay, yet it was a start; from there, he went to work as the secretary for the Pennsylvania Railroad; later, on account of his skill, he became the superintendent, rising up the ranks, respected by his peers and superiors; and during the war, he made a telegraph system that aided the Union; but this was a temporary fix, replaced when he became a stockbroker on Wall Street, first selling bridges, then rails, and finally oil; but his real breakthrough came when he finally got into the steel and iron businesses. Then he really prospered. On a trip he took to England in 1872, Carnegie met an inventor named Sir Henry Bessemer, who revolutionized steel production with the “Bessemer converter,” which functioned by pushing air lots of air onto pig iron (from a furnace), making it into steel. The Bessemer process, as it came to be known, was both cheap and effective. Whereas theretofore making 3-5 tons of steel took a day, the Bessemer process reduced the same output to just a quarter of an hour! To put this in perspective, in 1860, the U.S. produced 13,000 tons of steel annually; twenty years later, when Carnegie utilized the Bessemer process, the U.S. produced 1.4 million tons of steel. Later, the Bessemer converter would be replaced by the open hearth furnace, which was even more effective than its predecessor. Another reference point: Once Carnegie got involved in the steel business, he single-handedly outproduced Great Britain. Schweikart, the author of A Patriot’s History of America, jokingly states that “B.C.” means “Before Carnegie,” in terms of the steel business. Before the late 1800’s, steel was hard to come by, yet highly needed, and it was Carnegie who took up this challenge. It is recorded that Carnegie’s factories made 642 tons of steel weekly. Eventually, after he Bessemer_process.jpggrounded himself in his business, quickly rising to the top as he had done at the railroad, he started investing in steel in 1873, which, conveniently, was an incredibly good time to be investing in steel, for just two years prior, in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire burned blocks upon blocks of buildings, and they needed desperately to be rebuilt, stronger, sturdier, and lighter. Seizing this opportunity, Carnegie used his massive supply of steel to build the skyscrapers that now stand today, laying the foundation for future architecture. When he was informed that his factories were out-of-date, Carnegie had them taken down then rebuilt. Competitive, industrious, sharp, efficient, pragmatic, and devoted, Carnegie differed from Rockefeller in that the former was entirely self-managed, which is to say that he owned his business solely, without any partners, and he did his work himself, without a board, because he wanted to avoid big business like Standard Oil. However, this could not last forever, so to keep up with the changing affairs, Carnegie started integrating vertically, producing, in addition to steel, things like fences made of steel—pretty much anything steel. He befriended Henry Frick, a wealthy coal and coke (fuel) investor who owned many Unknown-10plantations, which greatly benefitted Carnegie’s business endeavors. Unlike Rockefeller, Carnegie was more optimistic, and he since a young age envisioned an industrial U.S. where everyone could pursue their dreams and build their own businesses and get rich like he did, no matter the circumstances. Twice he donated $60 million, the first time to local libraries, the next to colleges, such as what would come to be called Carnegie-Mellon University, previously bearing the title of “Institute of Technology.” Further, he donated $50,000 to Marie Curie to aid her in her research. It was through the next Robber Baron that Carnegie would become one of the richest men in America.

25261-004-C26B9FA0John Pierpont Morgan, Sr., (1837-1913) was born in Hartford, Connecticut to a wealthy, aristocratic family. He attended education all throughout Europe. Morgan then worked under his father as soon as he completed his education. When the Civil War rolled around, Morgan was conscripted, but he managed to get out of service by bribing someone with $300 to take his place. In the meantime, Morgan served his country in another—let’s just say, less than honorable—way. Already economic-minded, Morgan purchased about 5,000 rifles, $3.50 each, from the Government, which he then resold, each of rifles $22, about 8 times the original price. Who did he sell these rifles to? Glad you asked: The Government from which he bought them. This scam, called arbitrage, consisting in buying something in one place then selling it for more in another, earned Morgan over $90,000 from his own government, during a time of war. Like Gould and Fisk before him, Morgan then got involved in the gold market to manipulate it, although not to the extent they attempted. He formed J. Pierpont Morgan and Company in New York in 1860 to help out his father’s bank in London. Morgan became the board director for his bank, investing in stocks and bonds. It is important to understand that, at the time, there were only a few big banks in the world, the best ones being in London and New York City, on Wall Street; therefore, any entrepreneurs looking to start a business had to begrudgingly go through Morgan, for they had no other choice, and this gave Morgan a lot of money through investments. Using this wealth from businesses that appealed to him, Morgan bought out a lot of his competition, just as Rockefeller and Carnegie had done, and he ended up owning ⅙ of the Panic_of_1893_02railroads in the nation after the Panic of 1893, during which many a railroad went bankrupt, being bought out by Morgan’s growing empire. Two years after the Panic of 1893, which was caused when the Government loaned out way too much money to corrupt railroad companies, the Federal Government itself neared bankruptcy, and seeing as desperate times call for desperate measures, the Government called on Morgan to bail them out—Morgan, who was amassing a fortune through his affluent banking, the man who bought their rifles then sold them back to them. So Morgan bailed out the Government: He delivered 3.5 million ounces of gold to President Cleveland, invested in this drop-off, then resold it, naturally, for $18 million. It should be noted that Morgan initially refused to bail out the Government since they had no collateral. Disaster struck again just over a decade later, when the Panic of 1907 deprived the nation of money once more. And just like last time, the Government, tail tucked between its legs, appealed to Morgan, who hesitatingly bailed them out for the last time, fearing the economy to be too much a burden for him to carry. Morgan over time consolidated his bank and railroad investment stocks, building up his fortune to match Rockefeller and Carnegie, placing himself on the pedestal of the rich and powerful, the elite of the Gilded Age. Some of his subsidiaries complained to him that they were facing too much opposition in the market. Like a uss-morgan-oct16protective father whose son was being bullied, he asked them with whom they were competing. Their answer: Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. With Carnegie’s steel business, Morgan’s smaller companies could barely keep up, so they asked him to deal with Carnegie. At an important meeting, Morgan talked with Carnegie’s advisor Charles Schwab, who directed the former to Carnegie, with whom he presently had a discussion. A deal was made. In 1901, Morgan bought Carnegie Steel Company for $492 million, forming the United States Steel Company, which was worth a whopping $1.4 billion—astounding due to the fact that it was the world’s first billion-dollar company, whose price nowadays would be in the hundreds of billions. Morgan’s personal share was $300 million out of the deal. At the pinnacle of his career, Morgan was on 48 boards, compared to Rockefeller’s 37. And unlike either Rockefeller or Carnegie, Morgan was not as charitable. He is said to have replied, “I owe the public nothing.”[1]





[1] Dulles, The United States Since 1865, p. 60


For further reading: 
The United States: The History of a Republic 2nd ed. by Richard Hofstadter (1967)
The Oxford History of the American People Vol. 3 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1972)
The Historians’ History of the United States 
Vol. 2 by Andrew S. Berky (1966)
The Growth of the American Republic 
Vol. 2 by Samuel Eliot Morison (1955)
A History of American Life and Thought 
by Nelson Manfred Blake (1963)
America: A Narrative History
8th ed. by George Brown Tindall (2010)

A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart (2004)
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn (1995)
Don’t Know Much About History
by Kenneth C. Davis (2003)

The United States Since 1865 by Foster Rhea Dulles (1959)
History of the United
 States by Douglas Brinkley (1998)

Plato and Plotinus on Love and Beauty

Unknown.pngWhat makes something beautiful? What is love (Baby don’t hurt me)? These are questions that we ask in our lives because we experience them both every day. They make up a large part of our experience, and without them, we know not what life would be like, nor whether it would be worth living. For this reason, these questions have been asked by philosophers, who, thinking about æsthetics, the philosophy of beauty and art, have also questioned these fundamental aspects of reality and the human condition. One of the most enduring contributions is from Plato. In today’s misguided world, many people, without having even read Plato’s principle work The Symposium, talk about “Platonic love,” throwing it about in conversations with friends and family, thinking, mistakenly, that it refers exclusively to a non-sexual relationship between two people. People like to claim that they and their coworker have a “Platonic relationship” without knowing what they are really saying, or without bothering to see what the great Greek philosopher himself had Unknown.jpegto say regarding love; for while the non-sexual aspect is important, this understanding is commonly used, but it does not capture the whole picture. Little do they know Plato originally referred to pederasty—relationships between older men and young boys, a common practice in Ancient Greece! A spiritual interpreter of Plato, Roman philosopher Plotinus continued Plato’s work in his Enneads. Together, Plato and Plotinus represent the ancient views on both beauty and love in their transcendental nature, whose ideas have shaped our understanding for ages to come.

symposium-vase.jpgThe Symposium is one of the more fun dialogues by Plato. In it, Plato, Socrates, and Aristophanes—a famous comic playwright—join a symposium, or drinking party, in which they go around the table sharing speeches, engaging in intellectual discussion on the subject of love, each of them drunk. Pausanias’ turn comes up, and he begins his speech by identifying two types of love. According to him, the other speakers had been mistaken in not defining what kind of love they were praising. So Pausanias corrects them by asserting that there actually two kinds, aligning with the two goddesses representative of them: The Common Aphrodite and the Heavenly Aphrodite. Beginning with the Common Aphrodite, Pausanias says that this kind of love, which is purely erotic—that is to say, inspired by Eros (Έρως)—is a shallow kind of love, insofar as it is a love of the body. Of the two kinds, this is the “wrong” love. Common love is temporary; because it is of the body, and because the body is temporal, subject to change with time, impermanent, it means the love, too, will be temporary. This Common love is very common these days; we see it all the time when we hear people saying, “This person is so hot” or “They are so beautiful.” This is not to say that it is wrong to call someone beautiful; rather, the problem lies in the intent. Are you attracted to this person purely for their looks, or is that an added benefit? There is nothing wrong with saying someone is beautiful—in fact, if you think that, then you should tell them. However, the problem with loving someone for their looks, Pausanias argues, is that their body will inevitably age and deteriorate. Interestingly, in the Buddhist tradition, if you are infatuated with someone, then you are instructed to meditate upon their decaying body as a reminder that their body is not images.jpegpermanent, but will wither with time, turning your mind off of their physical beauty, and onto their spiritual beauty, which is permanent. This same line of reasoning will be used by Pausanias. So what happens when someone, loving another for their looks, years later, does not look at this person the same, but decides they love them no more since they have changed? Well, because their love was attached to something temporary, their love is temporary, and so, Pausanias continues, the lover will flee. They were just in it for the beauty, yet when the beauty is gone, so are they. Similarly, he warns against loving someone for their possessions, namely their status or wealth. As with beauty, one’s reputation and financial situation are not always going to remain the same. If you love someone, and they lose all their money one day by chance because money is unreliable and everything can change in a moment, then you will love them no longer; the attachment was to a temporary thing. One’s money is not a part of them; it is external to them. Likewise, the regards of many are fickle. Who knows if someone will retain their reputation? Love must be directed toward the right object. Such material objects are just that, and they lack significant value. A Common lover is immature. He is not emotionally prepared for a committed relationship. He is full of energy, but empty in compassion. He wants passionate, sexual love. But once he wants it no more, he will leave. He is interested in one-night stands, not a devoted romantic relationship. Common love is short-lived.

Next, he explicates Heavenly love. This kind of love, as opposed to the Common, is of the soul and, therefore, righteous. Unlike Common love, Heavenly love is not shallow, but deep, in that it is spiritual and mutual: It is spiritual because it is literally of the spirit, the breath, the soul, and it is mutual because it is reciprocated—both lovers are Unknown-1.jpegin it for the sake of the other. It is also mutual in the sense Aristotle thought it mutual, namely that the lovers, in entering a romantic pact, agree thenceforth to help perfect each other; that is, they serve both themselves and the other, each aiding the other. Say one lover is trying to form a habit, the other to break a habit. In this situation, the lovers will love each other while at the same time mutually helping and perfecting themselves. It is two-way. Heavenly love is between two lovers, two subjects, not a lover and a beloved, a subject and an object. Heavenly love is profound, and reaches to the lowest depths. Temporary and lowly is Common love; permanent and transcendent is Heavenly love. The latter is permanent because it is not of the body, but of character. One’s looks can change very easily, and while one’s character is not exempt from changes, it is much slower and intentional than the body. Psychologists (and even Socrates will eventually say the same thing) argue that character is not a permanent thing, changing with age much as looks do. For the most part, however, character is a pretty stable, consistent thing, and it takes a lot to change it dramatically. Is it really worth loving someone who is physically attractive if they have a combative, unfriendly personality? In 40 years, will they still look the same as when you first loved them? No. In 40 years, will they still be combative and unfriendly? Yes. As such, a person’s body is not righteous, whereas character, one’s soul, is. Heavenly love is also transcendent. It is transcendent because it steps over the appearance of a person, the outer boundaries, the external face, the artificial construction, and it pierces through them, gives insight, sees not outer beauty, but inner beauty. Transcendental love loves a person for who they are inside, not outside. It is a love of their essence. And in contrast to the immature Common lover, the Heavenly lover is mature, prepared, and ready. This is a devoted, long-term relationship.

To evaluate Pausanias’ position, let us look at whether his views make sense. Just as he distinguishes between two kinds of love, one short and exciting, one long and content, so psychologist Elaine Hatfield distinguishes between two types of romantic love: Unknown-2.jpegPassionate and companionate. The first, passionate, is sexual and full of intense energy, although it only lasts for a short time. This is the kind of love teens have, when they are full of idealism and optimism, expecting great things from a partner; they are excited and will jump too quickly into things in the heat of the moment. This is embodied by Common Aphrodite. The second, companionate, is calm and full of compassion. Think not of teens in love, but a couple who has been married for 20 years. Here, you will see two people deeply in love with each other, neither of whom would leave the other at the drop of the hat, but who are, at their core, devoted to each Unknown-3.jpegother, devoted to perfecting each other. They have arguments, but they resolve them. They love, and will continue to love, each other. This is embodied by Heavenly Aphrodite. It seems Pausanias was spot on! Most often, this is the paradigm that is titled “Platonic love.” Plato gets a lot of backlash for his views these days. To “love someone for their personality” has become a universal joke. This is often said facetiously, with a smile on one’s face, meant to be ironic or sarcastic. And regarding those who actually mean it—they are met with derision. Consequently, almost nobody really means it when they say it. Yet then again, this is only a fraction of what “Platonic love” truly is.

The next speaker, Aristophanes, is the favorite of many, for his speech is the most remembered, the most entertaining, and, perhaps, the most influential even today. His is the speech on soulmates. Back in the day, relates Aristophanes, man and woman walked alongside a third sex, which was a combination of the two: A half-man, half-woman. It was a single organism, with two of every body part, seeing as it was two people put Unknown-4.jpegtogether, in a perfect, rolling circle, a symbol of perfection and completion, as Nussbaum points out [1]. These humans, composed of two people, were thus twice as powerful, and twice as ambitious. They decided, like the Giants, to attack the gods, which was a bad idea; Zeus promptly split up these dual humanoids. As a result, the two halves went about looking for their other half desperately, hoping to be reunited. Filled with longing and Eros, they wandered sadly, bereaved, dejected, almost to the point of depression. The halves could not function on their own; they needed each other. Since they spent all their time moping, busying themselves with finding their other halves, they were unable to make sacrifices for the gods. Zeus took pity on them and moved their sexual organs to the front to make mating easier. When two soulmates find each other, they immediately embrace, pressing their bodies together in an attempt to become one again, to press themselves into each other. They hug and kiss, holding themselves close, wrapping their arms around the other, then pulling tightly. Yet no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard they embrace each other, they cannot put themselves together again.

It is such reunions as these that impel [lovers] to spend their lives together, although they may be hard put to it to say what they really want with one another, and indeed, the purely sexual pleasures of their friendship could hardly account for the huge delight they take in one another’s company. The fact is that both their souls are longing for a something else—a something to which they can neither of them put a name, and which they can only give an inkling of in cryptic sayings and prophetic riddles (The Symposium, 192c-d).

So what is love? As Aristophanes reports, when lovers are asked this very question, they cannot answer. If you were to ask a teacher what teaching is, then you would expect them to know—it is their business. By nature, then, should not lovers, who are held tightly in the grip of love, know in what state they are? Surely, they should. On the contrary, love is such a powerful, binding force, such an irresistible pull, such an enigmatic drive—who could possibly define it while in its throes? Well, to answer the question of that at which love aims, Aristophanes proposes the following: Say Hephæstus were to ask the two halves if they wanted to be welded together so as to be inseparable for the rest of their lives, not even “until death do they part” (as they would remain together in the Underworld), a single entity forever. No one would refuse such an offer, for they want, deep down, to be “merged … into an utter oneness with the beloved” (The Symposium, 192e). The idea of soulmates is still popular till this day. Many of us believe we are just walking through life without an aim, a sinking feeling of incompleteness pervading our being, as though there is something more to life, something, someone, out there waiting for us, our other half, who is perfect, who is everything we want them to images.jpegbe, who will make us happy, who will be the missing piece to this jigsaw puzzle we call life, the summum bonum, the most absolutely beautiful person—and it is just a matter of finding them; but until then, we remain incomplete and, therefore, unhappy. This mythological story is at once humorous and enchanting. I really like the idea of hugging as an attempt to bring the other person to oneself, to make oneself complete; it is a creative, thoughtful moral that is poetic in its presentation, and I think it is very powerful. Whether or not this story is true, many of us still believe it, and it is yet another part of “Platonic love.”

Unknown-2.jpegThen comes Socrates’ turn. It is his speech which is left out of the everyday conception of “Platonic love,” despite Socrates’ being Plato’s mentor. In the dialogue, Socrates speaks on behalf of Diotima, a woman he met who taught him about the nature of love. What is love, exactly? Love is a desire, and a desire is for something, and if one already has what one desires, then it is not a desire any longer; therefore, love is a longing for something one does not have. What is this something? Is it Aristophanes’ other half? No. Love, says Socrates, is a desire for the Good, with a capital “G,” meaning the highest good, the ultimate good, that from which good things derive their goodness. Hence, what is beautiful is what is good and noble. Everyone wants goodness to an extent. This requires qualification. First, all objects of our desire, be it a living thing or a goal, are good. For example, if I want to write a blog, if my desire is to write a blog, then I am aiming at something which, if I investigate further, is essentially good since it is of benefit to me. Second, everyone, regardless of their disposition, wants the good, whether they know it or not. A doctor and a murderer both seek the good, although we say the latter is errant in his ways, or is ignorant thereof. In other words, even if we do not have an idea of what the Good is, we still want it anyway. It is natural. It is human. Nobody intentionally desires what is bad for them. But what separates desiring from loving is immortality, states Diotima. Whereas if my goal is to exercise more often, then I am seeking the Good, if I love someone, then I am seeking the Good in them, and, from what I gain therefrom: Longevity. It is a strange idea to read. However, what Socrates is saying is that we want the Good forever. We always want to have in our possession the Good—not today, not tomorrow, but for time immemorial. When we love someone, we tend to analyze them, parse them into traits, which we then classify as positive or negative. We look at people’s love-1.jpgpro’s and con’s. As is our nature, we like good traits and dislike bad traits in people. I like a person for her altruism but dislike her for her stubbornness. So when I say I like “her,” I really mean: I like the Good in her. This is similar to something Pascal wrote 2,000 years after Plato, that we love people not for themselves, but for their qualities. The reason we like good qualities in people is that they are reminiscent of the Good, and what is Good is good for us; a person’s good personality helps us to flourish. Using the previous instance, the altruism of a girl will help me, but her stubbornness will not. Furthermore, because we are mortal and fated die, and because we are terrified of death, we try to find ways to achieve immortality, at least artificially. We do this by creating something by which we will be remembered. We want a lasting name for ourselves. Some people do this by two means: Having children, so as to carry on the line, to bear one’s name, and creating art (art, here, is to be interpreted broadly as any kind of creation), so as to have a creation which manifests one’s ideas. Before continuing we can summarize Love in three points: First, love is of the Good and Beautiful (the two are synonymous); second, love is the same object for every desire and goal; third, love is for creation, be it through children or art, with the goal of longevity.

If the Beautiful is behind all things, and if we desire it so much, then how do we encounter it? What is the true purpose of love? Diotima introduces Socrates to a ladder, or ascent, of love, which leads up to Beauty. The ladder starts at the bottom and ends at Unknown.jpegthe top, rising from particulars to universals, concrete to abstract. Starting with a single, individual body we consider beautiful, we meditate upon it, find everything there is that is beautiful in it. In modern terms, we look at someone we love and find desirable traits, traits valued by our culture, traits that make someone beautiful. Having done this, we can then realize that the body of one person is just as beautiful as the body of another. There is a good message here: Everyone is beautiful in their own way. Each has their own unique beauty. While this person is beautiful for x reasons, this person is beautiful for y reasons, although they are both beautiful in the end. Once we grow accustomed to this, we can grasp that the mind and soul are more noble than the body. We move away from Commonly love and toward Heavenly love. Beauty is seen as permanent and virtuous. Next, we ascend to ideas, laws, customs, institutions. We learn to see knowledge as beautiful. Finally, once we have seen the Beautiful in all earthly and intellectual things, we can perceive Beauty as such, Beauty itself. The journey upward can be summarized thus:

And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is (The Symposium, 211c-d).

In the ascent, in other words, we abandon the individual for the absolute. Love is no longer person-centered but idea-centered. The intellect takes over for the eye. Senses are devalued to thought. Instead of the material and lower, we see the Beautiful in the higher and spiritual. Once we have loved the Good, Beauty as such, we can find Beauty in all things. In short, there is no more favoritism. What this means is: No longer do I see Unknown-1.jpegbeautiful and ugly people, but I only see the Beauty in them. There is no one more beautiful than another, since we all share in the same Beauty. A true lover of Beauty does not discriminate, but rather sees Beauty everywhere, from people to animals to nature. Beauty is no longer temporary but permanent. The lover need not depend on a specific person or artwork to see Beauty, for it is everywhere. Suppose I derive a great pleasure in van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” but in no other piece. This is an undeveloped love. However, after I have attained a vision of the Good, I soon find that every artwork is beautiful, not just “Starry Night”; for this reason, I am not dependent on a single beautiful thing to know Beauty. Universal love can be found anywhere once envisioned. And unlike the body, subject to change, Universal Beauty is changeless. Love is the guide up the ladder; it draws us toward the Beautiful through Eros, the daimon of Love. Plato compared “the soul of a philosopher, guileless and true” to “the soul of a lover, who is not devoid of philosophy” (The Phædrus, 249a). The philosopher, or lover of wisdom, is the same in purity as the lover of Beauty; for in wisdom, there is Beauty. What is the beautiful like? In this quote, Plato describes Unknown-2.jpegwhat the famous Realm of Forms is like: “There abides the very being with which true knowledge is concerned; the colourless, formless, intangible essence, visible only to mind, the pilot of the soul” (The Phædrus, 247c). From this we can gather that the Form of the Good or Beautiful is permanent and unchanging. It remains the same eternally. The Beautiful is absolute, not relative. Things are not “more beautiful” but are either beautiful or not-beautiful. Beauty, lastly, is the same to all things. A statue has as much beauty as does a shoe. It achieves this through instantiation: The partaking of instances. Explained in another way, beauty instantiates itself, by which it is meant that, a particular instance of beauty, for example Michelangelo’s “David,” is beautiful precisely because Beauty is inside of it. Love is a form of madness, Plato famously wrote. In a very poetic (and long) passage, Plato illustrates what it is like to be in love:

But he whose initiation is recent, and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees any one having a godlike face or form, which is the expression of divine beauty; and at first a shudder runs through him, and again the old awe steals over him; then looking upon the face of his beloved as of a god he reverences him, and if he were not afraid of being thought a downright madman, he would sacrifice to his beloved as to the image of a god; then while he gazes on him there is a sort of reaction, and the shudder passes into an unusual heat and perspiration; for, as he receives the effluence of beauty through the eyes, the wing moistens and he warms. And as he warms, the parts out of which the wing grew, and which had been hitherto closed and rigid, and had prevented the wing love-on-a-swing-Cropped.jpgfrom shooting forth, are melted, and as nourishment streams upon him, the lower end of the wing begins to swell and grow from the root upwards; and the growth extends under the whole soul—for once the whole was winged. During this process the whole soul is all in a state of ebullition and effervescence,—which may be compared to the irritation and uneasiness in the gums at the time of cutting teeth,—bubbles up, and has a feeling of uneasiness and tickling; but when in like manner the soul is beginning to grow wings, the beauty of the beloved meets her eye and she receives the sensible warm motion of particles which flow towards her, therefore called emotion, and is refreshed and warmed by them, and then she ceases from her pain with joy. But when she is parted from her beloved and her moisture fails, then the orifices of the passage out of which the wing shoots dry up and close, and intercept the germ of the wing; which, being shut up with the emotion, throbbing as with the pulsations of an artery, pricks the aperture which is long-distance-relationship-advice.jpgnearest, until at length the entire soul is pierced and maddened and pained, and at the recollection of beauty is again delighted. And from both of them together the soul is oppressed at the strangeness of her condition, and is in a great strait and excitement, and in her madness can neither sleep by night nor abide in her place by day. And wherever she thinks that she will behold the beautiful one, thither in her desire she runs. And when she has seen him, and bathed herself in the waters of beauty, her constraint is loosened, and she is refreshed, and has no more pangs and pains; and this is the sweetest of all pleasures at the time, and is the reason why the soul of the lover will never forsake his beautiful one, whom he esteems above all (The Phædrus, 251-2)

Anyone who has ever been in love—in other words, all of us—can appreciate the beauty with which Plato speaks here. “If … man’s life is ever worth living,” Diotima confides to Socrates, “it is when he has attained this vision of the very soul of beauty” (The Symposium, 211d).

What are we to make, then, of Platonic love? Despite all its transcendent glory, the ideal of Platonic love has its flaws. A professor of the Classics, Martha Nussbaum criticizes Plato’s account of love on three grounds: Compassion, reciprocity, and individuality.

  1. Unknown-1.jpegCompassion: According to Nussbaum, Platonic love lacks compassion. The practices for which he calls require that one look down upon “worldly” things as beneath oneself. Bodies, for example, are to be dismissed as gross presentations, renounced instead for mental pleasure. This kind of attitude instills an egotistical superiority. One thinks oneself superior to others, who are reduced to objects of desire; and these people are then devalued. The lover takes precedence. Also, suffering, which is a temporary condition, is frowned upon, demanding that the lover take on a Stoical indifference to pain, which is unnecessary. Homeless people, for example, are objectified as suffering for no reason, instead of contemplating the Forms.
  2. Unknown.jpegReciprocity: Platonic love is one-sided. To engage in this kind of love is to be egocentric. Only the self exists, and the opinions and emotions of others are not gauged, but ignored. It does not matter how the other person feels, as long as the lover, gets what they want: The Good. It is not like you love someone, and they love you back; rather, it is just you loving someone. In this sense, the beloved is not an end-in-themselves, but a means-to-an-end. You love someone not for their sake, but in order to reach the Good. The agency and autonomy of the beloved are ignored. They cannot act for themselves.  
  3. images.jpegIndividuality: Lastly, in pursuing Platonic love, the individual, the beloved, is dropped. When we say we love someone, do we ever consciously think, “I love x because in them is instantiated the Good”? No. We say we love them for who they are. The person with whom we are in love is considered unimportant in the long run, used as a stepping stone to the Good, a step ladder that will be discarded, cast away once it has been climbed. By treating the beloved as a sacrifice to reach the Good, we are, in effect, denying their faults, the things that make them different; i.e., we are denying their uniqueness, their individuality. As Nussbaum jokingly puts it, “‘I’ll love you only to the extent that you exemplify properties that I otherwise cherish.’”[2]

In short, Nussbaum argues that Platonic love is just far too objective, idealistic, and detached to be applicable. This is just one side, though. Others, like Paul Friedländer, cite that Platonic love actually does incorporate the individual beloved, and awards them a higher place. From personal experience, I agree that Platonic love tends to dismiss the beloved; but I do think the idea of Beauty manifest in individuals is quite real. Tell me your experiences in the comments, and whether or not you agree with Plato!

220px-Plotinus.jpgFrom hence we move to Plotinus, the Egyptian-Roman founder of Neoplatonism, whose spiritual ideas were based on Plato’s theories, and who influenced a nascent Christianity. Although we have covered the argument that Plato’s conception of love is idealistic, looking at Plotinus’ views makes Plato sound like a common-sense realist. Plotinus is even more spiritual than Plato, and even more contemptuous of the physical world, which he viewed as a hindrance. It is recorded that Plotinus constantly remarked that his body was ugly and that he looked forward to being released from it. In one anecdote, his student Porphyry wrote that an artist came to Plotinus’ school because he wanted to make a portrait of Plotinus; but Plotinus turned him away, ashamed to be seen in his body—how ghastly it would be to have a representation of such a hideous thing! Love for Plotinus is a unio mystica, a mystical union, drawing upon similar imagery to that of Aristophanes, but with God, whom he calls “the One.” Beauty lies in symmetry, in wholeness. When it comes to a certain instance of beauty, the whole is both greater than and equal to the sum of its parts—but this does not make a whole lot of sense. The whole is greater because it partakes in the Beautiful. It is equal because it must be constituted by only what is Beautiful. His reasoning is that all parts must be beautiful in order to be Beautiful. Beauty + beauty = Beauty, but beauty + ugly ≠ Beautiful. Therefore, a Beautiful Unknown.pngthing must be greater than its parts, but must also be composed of all-Beautiful parts. Put together, they all form a harmony in union. Evidently, Plotinus borrows Plato’s theory of instantiation: “[T]he material thing becomes beautiful—by communicating in the thought (Reason, Logos) that flows from the Divine” (The Enneads, I.VI.2). Put another way, a beautiful thing is beautiful because Beauty is in it. If there is no Beauty in it, then it is not beautiful. The things which make up the art are not beautiful in themselves; it depends on their symmetry in an arrangement. The Idea of Beauty is thus imposed on Matter itself. Imagine a blank canvas. It is not beautiful. Then, a bucket of different colors of paint is thrown onto the canvas. In this image, the canvas is matter, and the paint is Beauty. It is only when the canvas is so arranged that the paint can make it beautiful that it becomes Beautiful. Plotinus also references Plato’s ascent up the ladder, with a little change:

It [the Realm of Ideas] is to be reached by those who, born with the nature of the lover, are also authentically philosophic by inherent temper; in pain of love towards beauty but not held by material loveliness, taking refuge from that in things whose beauty is of the soul- such things as virtue, knowledge, institutions, law and custom- and thence, rising still a step, reach to the source of this loveliness of the Soul, thence to whatever be above that again, until the uttermost is reached. The First, the Principle whose beauty is self-springing: this attained, there is an end to the pain inassuageable before (The Enneads, V.IX.2).

istock-653098388-b874e6221d237c909723bbf13f388fadaa20e281-s900-c85.jpgJust like Plato, Plotinus believes the philosopher is most inclined toward love of the Beautiful. Also, the two agree that love ascends from the soul to virtue to knowledge to customs to Beauty itself. The difference lies in the starting point. For Plato, the lover begins with a person with whom they are in love; for Plotinus, the lover begins by shunning the person, by turning away from all things physical and material, jumping straight to the soul. Why does one jump immediately to the soul? Because the soul, Plotinus claims, is itself beautiful. There is a metaphor of “falling” in Plato and Plotinus, which mirrors that of Adam and Eve’s fall in The Bible, in which the immortal souls of men lived in the Realm of Forms, only to succumb to temptation, thereby causing it to fall into the material world of change and impermanence. This means that, just as Adam and Eve received Wisdom right before the Fall and retained some of it, so the souls of men received a vision of the Beautiful right before the Fall and retained some of it. By falling into the physical world, the soul became impure, ugly. As Plotinus puts it, “[A] soul becomes ugly … by a fall, a descent into the body, into Matter” (The Enneads, I.VI.5). The religious metaphors here are obvious. The soul thus becomes “ugly,” associated with grime and dirt. In my blog about Orphism and its influence on Pythagoreanism, we see the same kind of thinking: The body (σωμα) as a tomb (σημα), the pure trapped in the impure, seeking release, yearning for reunion with the World-soul, or, in this case, the self-love.jpeg.pngOne. Despite being a radical purist, Plotinus is a very wise guy with a lot of good things to say, and we should heed him. The following is a much-celebrated excerpt of Plotinus, one read and admired by many who find in it a beautiful and inspiring message, written with much the same elegance as Plato, considered the best of his writing. In it, he tells us all to look inside ourselves and realize that, deep down, beneath our appearances, we all have an inner beauty. Sometimes, we just need some self-love, and Plotinus reminds us to give ourselves this much-needed assurance. Read it for yourself:

Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smooths there, he makes this line lighter, his other purer, until a lovely face has grown upon his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labour to make all one glow of beauty and never cease chiselling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendour of virtue, until you shall see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine (The Enneads, I.VI.9).

Unknown-1.pngWhat have we learned today? Well, what we have not learned for certain is what love and beauty are. Despite the brilliance of these thinkers, they are no closer to the truth than we are. As to what love and beauty are—my guess is as good as yours, and that is not a bad thing; I think it is rather a good thing, really, and perhaps it should stay that way. We should all ask ourselves what love and beauty are, because they are essential to a well-lived life. To ask what love and beauty are, and to experience them fully and intimately—this is a part of the examined images.pnglife. Plato and Plotinus’ ideas have survived for ages and shall continue to influence us in the future. Yet their wisdom is not perfect, and their theories are not flawless either. It has been shown that their views, debatably, are impractical. From soulmates to the Ancient Christians with their agape to the modern philosophers like Pascal to contemporary man seeking love in an unloving world, we are all asking the same question as Haddaway: What is love? A most mysterious emotion it is, one we barely beginning to understand. What is life without love? Without beauty? As soon as we start asking these questions, we are on the way to wisdom. To actively pursue the answers to these questions requires that we all be philosophers. If we want to know beauty and love, we must be lovers of wisdom, philo-sophers.  



[1] Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought, p. 483
[2] Id., p. 499


For further reading: The Greek Thinkers Vol. 2 by Theodor Gomperz (1964)
Upheavals of Thought by Martha Nussbaum (2001)
Plato: An Introduction by Paul Friedländer (1958)
On Plotinus by C. Wayne Mayhall (2004)
The Enneads by Plotinus (1991)
The Symposium by Plato (1973)
The Phædrus by Plato (1973) 

Philosopher Clerihews

Invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, the clerihew is a poem form composed of two rhyming couplets with the scheme AABB, wherein a famous person is mentioned in the first line, and the last three complete an accomplishment, failure, biography, anecdote, rumor, or joke about them. Contrived, silly, and fun to read, these humorous poems can actually be quite educational while still being entertaining. I was inspired after reading some of Jacques Barzun’s clerihews on philosophers to write my own. Following are 16 clerihews on different philosophers. I have tried my best to make them concise summaries of their philosophies!






Henry David Thoreau
Was a very thorough
Observer of nature
Who used botanical nomenclature


Martin Heidegger
Conceived upon his ledger,
That what was once concealed
Would in a new beginning be revealed


Michel Henry
Did French phenomenology
And he into life inquired
Whence he from interiority acquired


Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Tried to preach the
Death of God, and of the slave morality
Favoring instead: Übermensch mentality


Arthur Schopenhauer
Believed in the instinctive power
Of the blind Will-to-Life,
So his pessimism was rife


Had to accede this:
Some things are outside our control
So with the punches we must roll


Edmund Husserl
Made unfurl
In his phenomenological prolegomena
The bracketing of experienced phenomena


Plato, or Aristocles,
Had found the keys
To the fundamental reality,
Which was actually ideality


Did not like Apologies
So he rushed out of the cave
And made dialectic all the rave


John Stuart Mill
Had had his fill
Of individual liberty:
He used it as a Utility


Thomas Kuhn—
Why’d you have to ruin
All of scientific history
By reducing it to anomalistic mystery?


Søren Kierkegaard
Was the first of Existential regard
Whose melancholy made him weep
And whose faith made him take a Leap


Thomas Hobbes
Was moved to sobs
When he found life was short
And served the Leviathan’s royal court


Blaise Pascal
Was a real ras-cal
Who liked to gamble
In his theological preamble


John Locke
Pictured a rock
And said it was qualities, primarily
Conceived on a blank slate, summarily


George Berkeley
Said, “Esse est percipi,”
Meaning he couldn’t find
Anything outside his mind

Should I write more philosophical clerihews? Maybe in other subjects as well, like history, literature, and psychology? Make sure to leave your own in the comments, and I’ll be sure to read them!


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