Tag Archives: Will Durant

Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War and God by Will Durant

  1. The personal, distilled wisdom and beliefs of Will Durant on life’s important topics. Answered clearly, simply and imperfectly
Key Takeaways
  1. Man is always steeped in the ways and views of his youth and is almost constantly constitutionally incapable of understanding the changing world that assails him
  2. We love children because they are extensions of ourselves and because they embody unlimited potential. They are what we cannot be – uninhibited, transparently selfish, un hypocritical, spontaneous. Children and fools speak the truth and somehow find happiness in their sincerity. They learn by imitation and teach us what we really are by how they behave
  3. Childhood could be called the age of play and therefore some children are never young and some adults never old. Never give up play as this will speed up aging and lower quality of life.
  4. Every philosopher should also be an athlete. If he is not, let us examine the philosophy
  5. Health lies in action and to be busy is the secret of grace and half the secret of content. Let us ask God not for possessions but for things to do for happiness lies in making things rather than consuming them
  6. The tragedy of life is that it only gives us wisdom once it has stolen youth. If the young but knew how and the old but could
  7. Nothing learned in a book is of any use until it is used and verified in life. It is life which educates
  8. At the same time as children transition to youth and begin examining themselves, they also begin examining the world. They become afraid at learning their species’ true nature – cooperation within the family but competition with society
  9. If youth were wise they would put love above all else and not fall into the trap that so many do of trading it for money, fame or other external recognition. Making all else subordinate to it until the end. How can it matter what price we pay for love
  10. Life seems brutal because we think we are individuals when in fact we are temporary organs of the species. The individual fails but life succeeds
  11. Logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe
  12. Only one thing is certain in history, decade. Only one thing is certain in life, death
  13. Death, like style, is the removal of the superfluous
  14. One recounting of history may be recounted by the avatars of God. The replacing of one deity for another by an overtaking tribe is seen time and again and a list of the changing gods would make quite a directory for the changing of the guard
  15. Heaven and hell are not located in another world, they are simply states of mind
  16. Religions are not made by the intellect or else they would never touch the soul, reach the masses or have any longevity. The imagination must be moved and inspire courage, compassion and moral development
  17. It can be argued that morality and civilization are one. Durant defines morality as the consistency of private conduct with public interest as understood by the group
  18. Moral self-restraint is one of the surest guarantees to advancement and self-fulfillment
  19. We must respect differing opinions. Intolerance is the door to violence, brutality and dictatorship and the realization of human interdependence and solidarity is the best protection of civilization.
  20. Women generally acquire by instinct all that men acquire by intellect
  21. “I admire the architecture of woman…Her movement is poetry become flesh.”
  22. The art which has most obviously and visibly made progress over the last thousand years is the art of war
  23. The state is the soul of man enlarged under the microscope of history
  24. Greed and wealth originally arose as a hedge against starvation but later became vices as abundance and social norms no longer made them necessary for survival
  25. Prejudice is deadly to religion but vital to civilization
  26. The first law of government is self preservation, the second is self extension
  27. Peace is war by other means
  28. Humankind has waited for centuries for a cease to war through a raising of consciousness but there is no broad, humankind consciousness
  29. Character – a rational harmony and hierarchy of desires in coordination with capacity
  30. Wisdom – an application of experience to present problems
  31. Education is the perfection of life and there should be 3 tenets on which to base education and its goals:
    1. The control of life through health, character, intelligence and technology
    2. The enjoyment of life through friendship, literature, nature and art
    3. The understanding of life through history, science, religion and philosophy
  32. There is nothing Epicurean about desiring a healthy and strong body as this allows us the possibility for a happy and long life and to pursue our goals. He would have dietitians teach students an hour per day on the basics and benefits of a healthy diet and exercise
  33. The point of education is not to create scholars but to form people
  34. There is a big difference between intellect and intelligence. Intellect is the capacity for acquiring and using ideas. Intelligence is the ability to use experience, even the experience of other’s, for the clarification and attainment of one’s ends. Intelligence is garnered from experience, action, reading
  35. An intimate knowledge and experience with nature and sports should not be undervalued
  36. Learning language and culture is most natural and easiest when living and immersing yourself in it
  37. Psychology is a theory of human behavior. Philosophy is too often an ideal of human behavior. History is occasionally a record of human behavior
  38. No man is fit to lead if he cannot see his time in perspective of history
  39. Travel, if too varied and hurried, makes the mind superficial and can confirm stereotypes
  40. Much of history is bunk. However, there is an alternate view to history. History is man’s rise from savagery to civilization. History is the record of the lasting contributions made to man’s knowledge, wisdom, arts, morals, manners, skills. History is a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments in economics, religion, literature, science and government. History is our roots and our illumination as the road by which we came and the only light that can clarify our present and future. This history is not bunk and can even be considered the only true philosophy and the only true psychology
  41. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated into this moment of time
  42. We are choked with news and starved of history
  43. History is philosophy teaching by example
  44. A constant lesson from history is that revolutionists soon come to act like the men they overthrew
  45. You cannot make men equal simply by passing laws
What I got out of it
  1. At times a bit outdated, patronizing and patriarchal but chock full of wisdom and worth reading and re-reading

The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant


  1. Will and Ariel Durant provide an unparalleled multi-disciplinary recount of history, covering major themes, events and people. This 100 page book is an incredible summary of their 10,000+ page series, The Story of Civilization.

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Key Takeaways

  1. History captures how man has behaved for 6,000 years and learning this will help protect you and avoid poor decisions
  2. Through much war and tragedy man has survived and prospered – one of the main lessons to take from studying history
  3. Man competes with each other and pushed himself, others and groups as a whole to become better. This competition helps man reach new heights and learn new things. Life needs to breed in order to pass down these competitive advantages to future generations. Competition is inevitable and necessary as only the fittest survive
  4. History is only a fraction of biology
  5. History is a humorist
  6. Throughout the ages man has changed his behavior but cannot change human nature, his instincts
  7. The role of having character developed in people so they could rise to the occasion
  8. Moral codes adjust and adapt to the prevailing social conditions
  9. At one point, every vice was a virtue. Sexual promiscuity secured survival but today seen as a vice, etc.
  10. There are many more things that should enter a man’s thoughts and decisions than just reason – sentiment, tenderness, mystery, affection. Reason is just a tool but character is based on instincts and intuition and reason can therefore not be the sole defining characteristic of man
  11. Freedom is a trial, it is a terrific test. When we made ourselves free (through reason) we forgot to make ourselves intelligent
  12. Nature does not agree with man’s definition of good and bad. For nature, that which is good is what survived and that which is bad goes under
  13. Morality is dependent upon religion and religion gives man hope that he can survive life, that he can bear reality
  14. Insanity is the loss of memory
  15. God is a creative force in any way He appears. God is love too, but love is only one of many creative forces
  16. “Economics is history in motion” – Karl Marx
  17. Socialist states have been around for thousands of years – the Incas and the Chinese being the most successful
  18. The essence of beauty is order. Must balance order and liberty to have a successful state
  19. Peace is not unrealistic but you are fighting an uphill battle against history. War doesn’t really solve anything but replaces one set of problems for another
  20. Civilization is social order leading to cultural creation – human relationships, trade and commerce, art, government, etc.
  21. History repeats itself at large, but not in detail. All civilizations decay either from internal strife or lack of trade and commerce
  22. Durant is not an optimist and not a pessimist but a realist about the future. Hard to say if progressing or regressing – simply changing
  23. Progress is glacially slow and human nature has hardly changed in thousands of years. Progress means attaining the same ends (sex, wealth and health) through more efficient means
  24. If humans are different today than 50,000 years ago it is because our accumulated social culture is stronger and more refined than before, not because our biological nature has changed
  25. History is philosophy teaching by examples
  26. The excess of anything leads to its opposite reaction. (e.g., the excess of liberty leads to slavery)
  27. Every generation rebels against the preceding one
  28. If youth but knew and old age but could


  1. Pound for pound may have the most wisdom of any book. An amazing summary of history’s major events and themes. Social order leading to cultural creation is one of man’s defining accomplishments and without it we might still be living in caves. Also, the idea of history being philosophy in motion I thought was a great way to think about it

Heroes of History by WIll Durant

  1. Great compilation of some of the world’s most influential, powerful, innovative people of all time
Key Takeaways
  1. History is philosophy teaching by example
  2. Best way to prepare for present problems is to study the past for that is where you learn the true nature of humankind 
  3. Due to our hunter gatherer past, humans are innately promiscuous, acquisitive, innovative and pugnacious. Civilization and morality developed around and in order to keep these characteristics in check
  4. Excess generally creates its opposite. One of the most regular occurrences in history is the cycle between Puritanism and hedonism
  5. Confucius
    1. Living a simple life in accord with nature is wisdom
    2. Wisdom cannot be transferred through words, only can learn from experience
    3. Aimed to spread morality through education
  6. Buddha
    1. Return hate with love
  7. Akhenaten
    1. Egypt lasted longer than any other civilization
    2. Menes founded Memphis and built the first pyramid in order to preserve his “ka” for the afterlife
    3. Were able to achieve many miracles from their time from architecture, engineering, architecture, irrigation, science and more
  8. Old Testament
    1. Hammurabi
    2. Abraham
    3. Jacob
    4. Joseph
    5. Moses
    6. Samuel
    7. Saul – first king of the Jews
  9. Greece
    1. Succeeded in activities of the mind more than any other civilization. The establishment of a limited democracy is one of their historic achievements as is their spread of the scientific method
    2. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle
    3. Heracles – lead Athens through their Golden Age
    4. Alexander the Great
  10. Rome
    1. Jesus Christ
    2. Peter
    3. Paul
  11. Renaissance
    1. Abelard and Heloise
    2. Petrarch
    3. Dante
    4. The Renaissance was not so much a period of time but a mode of thought and ideas
    5. Lorenzo de Medici and Leonardo da Vinci were the ultimate “Renaissance men.” Da Vinci was not the best in any given field but was so well versed in every field that he will go down as one of the most talented and well rounded men in history
    6. Raphael
    7. Michelangelo – most famous for the Sistine chapel but also had many other masterpieces
    8. Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia – the state should not abide by the moral rules that it imposed upon its citizens
    9. Pontificate of Clement VII was the most disastrous in history as Rome was sacked and Christianity was severely weakened due to the English Reformation
    10. The Venetians held much power towards the end of the Renaissance
  12. Freedom is a luxury of security 
  13. Money is the root of all civilization
  14. The Reformation
    1. John Wycliffe – the church should live modestly and give away it’s great wealth
    2. A papal schism occurred in the early 1400s which nearly severed the church but a council at Constance resolved the issue and kept the church in power
    3. Erasmus – one of the most famous social critics, theologians and priests of his time
    4. Martin Luther
    5. St Theresa
    6. St Ignatius
    7. Martin Luther – began the Lutheran movement, denounced indulgences, salvation received not from good deeds but only as a free gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus
    8. Church became one of the best run organizations in history with some help from the Jesuit spirit
  15. The Enlightenment (Shakespeare and Bacon)
    1. Had hundreds of factors but England’s freedom from external control, political stability, appropriation of ecclesiastical wealth for educational purposes, growth of agriculture/navigation/finance and commerce, defeat of Spanish Armada, easy access to America, were all very important to the blossoming of intellect and art during this time
    2. Loss of faith lead to an age of pessimism best seen through English literature
    3. Bacon was one of the first to call for an age of reason, for science to focus more on observation and practical implication than simply theoretical thought. Bacon forayed into every imaginable field and became the most powerful and influential intellect of his time
    4. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed (Align with the universe!)
What I got out of it
  1. Really good overview of history and powerful people that is worth reading multiple times (as any good book should be!)

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant

  1. An amazing book detailing the lives, ideas, influences and major works of some of the world’s greatest philosophers – PlatoAristotleBaconSpinozaVoltaireKantSchopenhauerSpencerNietzsche, BergsonCroceRussellSantayanaJames and Dewey
Key Takeaways
  1. Plato
    1. Human behavior flows from 3 main sources – desire, emotion and knowledge
    2. Only three things worthwhile in this world – justice, beauty and truth
    3. Each man will perform the function for which he is best suited and shall receive the equivalent of what he produces
  2. Aristotle
    1. Aristotle contributed more to mankind’s intellect than any other person in history. Many of his ideas were flawed but they were so wide ranging and influential that they are the platform which others have built off of
    2. Socrates gave mankind philosophy and Aristotle science
    3. There is no design. The universe is a machine
    4. Aristotle’s Superman
    5. Aristotle’s motto – nil admirari (admire nothing)
  3. Francis Bacon
    1. Undertook one of the greatest enterprises in history. Besides Aristotle, the Great Reconstruction of Philosophy (Magna Instauratio) was the greatest work in the history of thought. “It would differ from every other philosophy in aiming at practice rather than at theory, at specific concrete goods rather than at speculative symmetry. Knowledge is power, not mere argument or ornament; it is not an opinion to be held…but a word to be done; and I…am laboring to lay the foundation not of any sect or doctrine, but of utility and power.”
  4. Baruch Spinoza
    1. Portuguese Jew who was excommunicated due to his beliefs
    2. Makes no separation between the Old and New Testaments and sees Judaism and Christianity as one
    3. God and nature are one
    4. Does not accept the divinity of Christ but is “first among men”
    5. The greatest good is the knowledge of the union which the mind has with the whole of nature
    6. Only knowledge is power and freedom and the only permanent happiness is the pursuit of knowledge and the joy of understanding
    7. Enjoy only pleasures which are necessary for the preservation of health and seek only enough money as is necessary for your life and health
    8. Draws a very important distinction between “temporal order” (the world of things and incidents) and the “eternal order” (world of laws and structure)
    9. Spinoza had but one desire, to reduce the chaos of the world to unity and order
    10. “To be a superman is to be free not from the restraints of social justice and amenity, but from the individualism of the instincts”
    11. “To be great is not to be placed above humanity, ruling others; but to stand above the partialities and futilities of uninformed desire, and to rule one’s self.”
    12. “…all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.”
  5. Voltaire
    1. Voltaire had every fault of his era – vain, flippant, obscene, ugly, unscrupulous, dishonest yet he was extremely kind, considerate, and generous
    2. One of the most accomplished men in all of history
    3. Believed that being idle was a terrible waste of life
    4. Never before had a writer had such influence during his own lifetime
    5. Think Enlightenment, the Encyclopedia and the Age of Reason when you think of Voltaire
  6. Immanuel Kant
    1. Author of the Critique of Pure Reason, one of the most influential books in history. Hopes to show the possibility of reason and to exalt it above the impure knowledge which comes to us through the distorting channels of sense.
    2. Pure = knowledge that does not come through our senses but is independent of all sense experience
    3. Sensation is unorganized stimulus, perception is organized sensation, conception is organized perception, science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life
    4. One of the hardest to read philosopher’s due to the complex and ambiguous nature of his thoughts
  7. Arthur Schopenhauer 
    1. Best known for his book, The World as Will and Representation, where he claimed that the world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction
    2. Came to many similar conclusions as Eastern philosophies and this influenced him to choose atheism and asceticism
    3. Recognition was slow to come but slowly the middle class warmed up to him since his teachings were actionable, concrete and relatable to real life. Central is the idea as will, therefore suffering, therefore misery
    4. Action is the will objectified. Will is the essence of man
    5. The ultimate good is beauty and the ultimate joy lies in the creation or cherishing of the beautiful
  8. Herbert Spencer
    1. Never truly educated but an amazing observer. He was extremely pragmatic and did not enjoy beauty or the arts. His major work, Synthetic Philosophy, provided a system of belief which many people could relate with as religion was falling apart in the face of modern science.
    2. First Principles made Spencer almost immediately made him one of the most famous philosophers of his time but his fame and popularity disappeared as quickly as it came about – he was often caught in between different groups and didn’t conform or fit into any group
    3. He brought to philosophy a realism which was easy to relate to and summed up his age better than nearly anybody and his knowledge covered an extremely vast array of fields
  9. Friedrich Nietzsche
    1. Key ideas, topics and beliefs include perspectivism, the will to power, master-slave morality, the death of God, the Ubermensch, eternal recurrence, life-affirmation, atheism
    2. Morality lies not in kindness, but in strength and the goal of human effort should be not the elevation of all but the development of finer and stronger individuals
  10. Henri Bergson
    1. The processes of immediate experience are more significant than abstract rationalism and science for understanding reality
  11. Benedetto Croce
    1. Mind is the primary and ultimate reality (against materialism)
    2. Rejects religion and believes in the freedom of will, but not the immortality of the soul
    3. Man is an artist as soon as he imagines and long before he reasons
    4. What is beauty? Croce says it is the the mental formation of an image (or series of images) that catches the essence of the thing perceived. The beauty belongs to the inward image rather than the outward form in which it is embodied. Beauty is expression. There is nothing in the world except beauty
    5. Croce is not known for his clarity or practicality
  12. Bertrand Russell
    1. One of the founders of analytic philosophy and one of the premier logicians with influence over AI, cognitive science, computer science, metaphysics, etc.
    2. After WWI, Russell changed tremendously and showed the world his amazing courage and love for humanity
    3. Believed that the interest of the empire were not worth the millions of lives it was claiming. The cause was private property and the solution communism
  13. George Santayana
    1. Born in Spain but spent much of his life in the US – much of his European style came through in his writing
    2. Known for his letters and sayings such as “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
    3. Was a naturalist – did not believe in supernatural beings or ghosts
  14. William James
    1. One of the most influential psychologists ever to come out of the US
    2. One of the founders of pragmatism (thought is a product of the interaction between organism and environment) and functional psychology
    3. Developed radical empiricism – need to take into account both the physical object and the meaning, values and intentionality that can also be associated with that object
  15. John Dewey
    1. The other founder of functional psychology
    2. Pushed for progressive education and liberalism
    3. Best known for his papers on education and his deep belief in democracy
    4. Growth is the finest of all things. Perfection is not a final goal but the ever-enduring process of perfecting, maturing, refining is the aim in living. The bad man is the man who, no matter how good he has been, is beginning to deteriorate, to grow less good. The good man is the man who, no matter how morally unworthy he has been, is moving to become better. Goodness without ability is lame; and all virtue in the world will not save us if we lack intelligence. Ignorance is not bliss, it is unconsciousness and slavery…
What I got out of it
  1. An amazing book which helped me understand the progression of philosophy from Plato through Dewey. A long read but if philosophy interests you, I think it is well worth it – to see how these philosophers have built upon the generations before them and what their influences were.
  • Speaks of specialization and how “as men learned more about the world, they found themselves ever less capable of expressing to their educated fellow-men what it was they had learned…In the midst of unprecedented learning popular ignorance flourished…The common man found himself forced to choose between a scientific priesthood mumbling unintelligible pessimism and a theological priesthood mumbling incredible hopes.”
  • The “humanization” of knowledge, allowing the common man access to it, was first attempted by Plato’s Dialogues
  • Truth will not make us rich but it will make us free
  • Every science begins as philosophy and ends as art
  • The philosopher is not content to describe the fact; he wishes to ascertain its relation to experience in general, and thereby to get at its meaning and its worth
  • Science gives us knowledge, but only philosophy can give us wisdom
  • Philosophy includes five fields of study and discourse – logic, esthetics, ethics, politics and metaphysics
    • Logic – study of the ideal method in thought and research; observation and introspection, deduction and induction, hypothesis and experiment, analysis and synthesis
    • Esthetics – the study of ideal form or beauty, the philosophy of art
    • Ethics – the study of ideal conduct; the highest knowledge is the knowledge of good and evil
    • Politics – the study of ideal social organization
    • Metaphysics – the study of the “ultimate reality” of all things; matter (ontology), mind (philosophical psychology) and the interrelation of mind and matter in the process of perception and knowledge (epistemology)
Chapter 1 – Plato
  • Greece had a more thorough democracy than any state in history up to that point
  • Socrates
    • Nobody even in his time truly knew how he lived as he never worked and never planned ahead. He was invited to many dinners but was not very welcome at home because he neglected his wife and children
    • People loved him because of his humility of his wisdom – he was an amateur of wisdom, always seeking it lovingly
    • “One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing.” – Socrates
    • Gnothi seauton – Know thyself
    • Left two very definite answers to two of the most difficult problems – What is the meaning of virtue? and What is the best state?
    • Socrates advocated for philosophers as kings but when democracy won out he was considered the leader of the revolting party and was sentenced to death through suicide
    • Called himself the old gadfly
  • Plato’s life changed when he met Socrates – he was brought up in comfort, was a successful soldier and came to absolutely hate democracy due to Socrates’ death. He was 28 years old when Socrates died and was hellbent on establish rule by the wisest and doing away with democracy
  • Plato traveled for 12 years, soaking up every creed and wisdom as possible
  • Plato invented the dialogue and was an amazing mixture of poetry and philosophy; science and art. Often having traits in abundance that he preaches against
  • “…nothing is so difficult as definition, nor anything so severe a test and exercise of mental clarity and skill.”
  • According to Plato, just is a relation among individuals, depending on social organization; and that in consequence it can be studied better as part of the structure of a community than as a quality of personal conduct
  • Believes that utopias never succeed because of greed and luxury – men are not content with a simple life, soon get bored with what they have and desire what they have not and seldom desire anything unless it belongs to others
  • Argues that when one is sick one does not call for the most eloquent doctor, likewise when the state is sick you should not call on the most eloquent politician – should desire the most able
  • Human behavior flows from 3 main sources – desire, emotion and knowledge and each man varies in its degree and allocation
  • Only a philosopher-king is fit to guide a nation
  • First step is universal education – must give every child the same educational opportunity as you never know where talent or genius will come from
  • Utopia must begin in the body of man – first 10 years should be dedicated to sports and athletics
  • Plato believes that a nation cannot be strong unless it believes in God since God can stir or frighten men int some moderation. The hope of another life gives us courage to meet our own death
  • Mathematics is an indispensable prelude to philosophy
  • Should institute life tests and only those who pass are allowed to go to the next level – cream of the crop rising and only those at the very top eligible to rule
  • Appeals for a democratic aristocracy – all men given same universal education and opportunity to rise through the ranks
  • The philosopher kings should have no possessions beyond what is absolutely necessary, given a set pay to cover expenses but no more, have common meals and live together and their sole reward honor and a sense of service to the group
  • Supports eugenics (specific breeding) in order to get brighter and more able people
  • Children should be taken soon after birth in order to start learning and training – all women are mothers to all guardian children…
  • Trade and industry will be regulated by the guardians to prevent excessive wealth/poverty/war. Anybody acquiring more than 4x the average possession of the citizens must relinquish the excess to the state
  • A just state – Wants a state where each class and unit does the work to which its nature and aptitude is fit, where no individual or class interferes with others but all would cooperate to produce an efficient and harmonious whole
  • Only three things worthwhile in this world – justice, beauty and truth
    • Plato defines justice as “having and doing what is one’s own”
      • Each man will perform the function for which he is best suited and shall receive the equivalent of what he produces 
      • When men are out of their natural places, coordination is destroyed and society disintegrates. Justice is effective coordination
    • “Truth changes her garments frequently, but under the new habit she remains always the same”
    • Morality is the harmony of the whole
  • Societies resembling Plato’s Utopia have sprung up sparingly throughout history – Ancient Egypt, Middle Ages, Communist Russia, Sparta (small, ruling class)
  • Criticism – if everything belongs to everybody, nobody will take care of anything; would leave no room for privacy or individuality; would destroy the idea of the family; not many people are capable of this type of patience and cooperation
    • Plato agrees with many of these things which is why he recognizes that only a very small portion of any society will be considered one of these guardians
  • Agriculture lead to worship since men were scared and reliant on the whim of nature but when industry and commerce man became more terrestrial and realistic and the power of the church began to crumble. Political power must repeatedly readjust itself to the changing balance of economic forces
  • Plato understood that his Utopia is not very realistic
Chapter 2 – Aristotle and Greek Science
  • Aristotle had a bit of a wild youth but soon found himself under the tutelage of Plato where he studied with him between 8 and 20 years. However, as both were geniuses it wasn’t always peaceful
  • “Life is the gift of nature but beautiful living is the gift of wisdom”
  • Aristotle worked and tried to tame Alexander the Great but without great avail
  • Established his school, the Lyceum, when he was 33 and there was amazing demand. Focused more on biology and natural sciences than Plato’s school which was more focused on math and speculative/political philosophy
    • The first example of large scale financing of science by public wealth. Collected thousands of different specimens and created the first zoological garden
  • Aristotle worked in more areas than anybody in history – many errors but mostly due to lack of tools during his time than anything else
  • Aristotle is credited with the creation of a new science – Logic. “Nothing is so dull as logic, and nothing is so important.”
    • At the heart of logic is defining the terms. “…every important term in serious discourse shall be subjected to strictest scrutiny and definition. It is difficult, and ruthlessly tests the mind; but once done it is half of any task.”
    • A definition has two parts – assigns the object in question to a class or group whose general characteristics are also its own (man is an animal) and secondly it indicates wherein the object differs from all the other members of its class (man is a rational animal)
    • Universals are anything capable of universal application to the members of a class – nomina (names) and not res (things) such as animal, man, book, tree. The universal is much more important than the individual
  • “We always have a goodly stock in us of that which we condemn…Aristotle is so ruthless with Plato because there is so much of Plato in him; he too remains a lover of abstractions and generalities, repeatedly betraying the simple fact for some speciously bedizened theory, and compelled to a continuous struggle to conquer his philosophic passion for exploring the empyrean.”
  • Socrates gave mankind philosophy and Aristotle science
  • There is no design. The universe is a machine
  • Aristotle had many errors in his observations and thinking but also some of the widest ranging in all of history – from identifying monkeys and man to be of the same group, birds and reptiles having very similar biological structures, etc.
  • “To ask is already to know half”
  • Matter in its widest sense is the possibility of form; form is the actuality, the finished reality, of matter
  • Everything is guided from within, by its nature and structure and the realization of its potential
  • Aristotle does not accept that motion is beginning-less. “God does not create, but He moves, the world; and he moves it not as a mechanical force but as the total motive of all operations in the world…He is pure energy…He is not so much a person as a magnetic power.”
  • “Yet with his usual inconsistency, Aristotle represents God as self-conscious spirit. A rather mysterious spirit; for Aristotle’s God never does anything; he has no desires, no will, no purpose; he is activity so pure that he never acts. He is absolutely perfect; therefore he cannot desire anything; therefore he does nothing. His only occupation is to contemplate the essence of things; and since he himself is the essence of all things, the form of all forms, his sole employment is the contemplation of himself.”
  • In psychology, argues against determinism in that “we can choose what we shall be, by choosing now the environment that shall mold us; so we are free in the sense that we mold our own characters by our choice of friends, books, occupations, and amusements.”
  • Aristotle’s definition of the soul says that the soul is the entire vital principle of any organism, the sum of its powers and processes. It can exist only in its own body and cannot completely die. What survives is not the personality (memories, desires, etc.) but the mind in its most abstract and impersonal form – pure thought
  • Art is essentially imitation of reality but the aim is to represent its inward significance; for this, and not the external mannerism and detail, is their reality
  • “…the function of art is catharsis, purification…”
  • The ideal of life is not goodness for its own sake, but happiness. Happiness is reached through a life of reason. Virtue, or rather excellence, will depend on clear judgment, self-control, symmetry of desire, artistry of means.
  • “Right, then, in ethics or conduct, is not different from “right” in mathematics or engineering, it means correct, fit, what works best to the best result.” – the Golden Mean (between secrecy and loquacity, honesty)
  • Excellence is an art won by training and habituation – we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit
  • If the young commit a fault it is always on the side of excess and exaggeration
  • If you tend to be at one extreme, aim for the other and that way you end up somewhere near the middle
  • Happiness is multiplied by being shared. Few worldly goods are necessary, but friendship is one of them
  • Inner happiness is reached with rounded knowledge and clarity of soul. Happiness must be a pleasure of the mind and we may trust it only when it comes from the pursuit or the capture of truth
  • Aristotle’s “Superman” – He does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since there are few things for which he cares sufficiently; but he is willing, in great crises, to give even his life–knowing that under certain conditions it is not worth while to live. He is of a disposition to do men service, though he is ashamed to have a service done to him. To confer a kindness is a mark of superiority; to receive one is a mark of subordination…..He does not take part in public displays…He is open in his dislikes and preferences; he talks and acts frankly, because of his contempt for men and things…He is never fired with admiration, since there is nothing great in his eyes. He cannot live in complaisance with others, except it be a friend. Complaisance is the characteristic of a slave…He never feels malice, and always forgets and passes over injuries…He is not fond of talking…It is no concern of his that he should be praised, or that others should be blamed. He does not speak evil of others, even of his enemies, unless it be to themselves. His carriage is sedate, his voice deep, his speech measured; he is not given to hurry, for he is concerned only about a few things; he is never prone to vehemence, for he thinks nothing very important. A shrill voice and hasty steps come to a man through care…He bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of his circumstances, like a skillful general who marshals his limited forces with all the strategy of war…He is his own best friend, and takes delight in privacy whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy, and is afraid of solitude. (Ethics, iv,3)
  • Aristotle disagrees with Plato a bit in terms of politics – he values individual quality, privacy and liberty above social efficiency and power (as demonstrated by Plato’s guardians)
  • Communism breaks down because it provides no adequate incentive for the exertion of superior abilities
  • The slave is to the master as the body is to the mind. Looked down at manual labor and saw it only fit for slaves
  • “Woman is to man as the slave to the master…an unfinished man, left standing on a lower step in the scale of development.”
  • Wants men to marry at 37 to a woman in her 20’s, wants states to control the population and to determine the minimum, maximum ages to marry for each sex, best seasons for conceptions, etc.
  • The best form of politics is aristocracy – the rule of the informed and capable few but a combination of aristocracy and democracy is needed – constitutional government. Not the best possible government, but the best possible state. The community should determine the ends to be pursued but only experts should select and apply the means
  • Aristotle’s motto – nil admirari (admire nothing)
  • Determined many of his scientific findings without experiments or thorough hypotheses and that lead to a lot of incomplete observations. His specialty includes collection and classification of data
  • Aristotle was known for his immoderate moderation but was a bit of a dichotomy as he was not always as cold and rational as what he argued for
  • May have had a bigger impact on furthering intellectuality than any other man in history
  • Once Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, Aristotle decided to choose exile over death as he was being charged with teaching that prayer and sacrifice were useless
  • Aristotle died a few months after leaving Athens in 322 BC by drinking hemlock – within one year Greece lost her greatest ruler (Alexander), her greatest orator (Demosthenes) and her greatest philosopher (Aristotle)
Chapter 3 – Francis Bacon
  • The secret of peace is not to make our achievements equal to our desires, but to lower our desires to the level of our achievements
  • Opposites in philosophy have always existed – Stoicism and Epicureanism (philosophic indifference vs. not avoiding pleasures but selecting them)
  • Epicurus termed Epicureanism which is often mistaken with living solely for pleasure but he advised carefully selecting which pleasures to enjoy and to seek ataraxia
  • Ataraxia – tranquility which arises from freedom of worry and stress
  • The awakening began with Roger Bacon, Leonardo, Copernicus, Galileo, Gilbert, Vesalius and Harvey. As knowledge grew, fear decreased; men thought less of worshiping the unknown, and more of overcoming it
  • Francis Bacon was born January 22, 1561 in London and born into a very smart family but more importantly a booming England. America had just been discovered and this influx of money and culture helped spawn an unprecedented intellectual boom
  • Bacon decided to go into politics instead of philosophy. His father died unexpectedly and left him penniless. He worked his way up through the political ranks but spent lavishly and was even arrested due to his debt. However, in 1618 at 57 years he finally become Lord Chancellor
  • Knowledge unapplied in action is a pale academic vanity
  • His most famous work, the Essays, shows how torn he is between his two loves – philosophy and politics
  • Bacon hated padding, to waste words. He packed so much genius into few sentences that it is hard to tell what is more impressive, the matter or the manner in which he conveys it
  • Nature is often hidden; sometimes overcome; seldom extinguished
  • Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed some few to be chewed and digested
  • Bacon was skeptical of love and sometimes even friendship. Looked at friendship more of as a means to power, almost Machiavellian and Durant suspects that this was in part what lead to Bacon’s fall from power
  • Was in favor of monarchy and thought that increased centralization of power only helped the efficiency and effectiveness of the state
  • Undertook one of the greatest enterprises in history. Besides Aristotle, the Great Reconstruction of Philosophy (Magna Instauratio) was the greatest work in the history of thought. “It would differ from every other philosophy in aiming at practice rather than at theory, at specific concrete goods rather than at speculative symmetry. Knowledge is power, not mere argument or ornament; it is not an opinion to be held…but a word to be done; and I…am laboring to lay the foundation not of any sect or doctrine, but of utility and power.”
  • Nature cannot be commanded except by being obeyed
  • The Advancement of Learning was first published in 1605 and was the most complete categorization and systemization of the whole range of human knowledge – an early precursor to the Encyclopedia Brittanica
  • Pretty much invented social psychology as he was the first to probe into men’s customs habits, exercises, education, etc.
  • Knowing thyself is valuable chiefly as a means of knowing others
  • A bit of wisdom is a joy forever
  • One of the first to realize the importance of specialization in science and research and in organizing science
  • Bacon’s downfall was his desire to tackle so much and in spending lavishly – he spread himself too thin and eventually had to give up his position as Chancellor. However, in the five years following his dismissal he wrote his greatest Latin work – De Augmentis Scientarium
Chapter 4 – Spinoza
  • Spinoza is a Portuguese Jew and is considered one of the great modern philosophers
  • A great scholar from a young age who was very interested in religion and his Jewish heritage. The more he read and learned the more confused he became
  • Spinoza was influenced by the atomists (Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius) by Filippo Bruno and mostly by Rene Descartes (subjective and idealistic vs Bacon who was objective and realistic)
  • What attracted Spinoza most to Descartes was his idea that underlying all matter was a uniform substance and another underlying all forms of mind. Believing that everything but God and the soul can be explained by mechanical and mathematical laws
  • Spinoza was excommunicated in 1656 from the Hebrew community after indicating that he believed that God might have a body (all matter), the Old Testament said nothing of immortality, angels are hallucinations, etc.
  • Spinoza was quite bitter after being excommunicated and thereafter lived a modest, quiet, peaceful and thoughtful life – turning out some of the best philosophical works in history
  • Spinoza died early with none of his papers published but after his death they became an immediate sensation
  • Tractus Theologico-Politicus – the language of the Bible is deliberately metaphorical or allegorical for the understanding and inspiration of the masses. God and the processes of nature are one
  • Three key terms in Spinoza’s system – substance (underlying, eternal reality; essence), attribute and mode (any thing or event which reality transiently assumes – you, your body, your thoughts)
  • The terms good and bad indicate nothing in and of themselves – for the same thing can at the same time be good, bad and indifferent
  • “The mind of God is all the mentality that is scattered over space and time, the diffused consciousness that animates the world…Neither mind nor matter is God; but the mental processes and the molecular processes which constitute the double history of the world – these, and their causes and their laws, are God.”
  • Mind and matter are inextricably united – “For there are not two processes [mind and matter], and there are not two entities; there is but one process, seen now inwardly as thought, and now outwardly as motion; there is but one entity, seen now inwardly as mind, now outwardly as matter, but in reality an inextricable mixture and unity of both. Mind and body do not act upon each other, because they are not other, they are one”
  • Intellect is merely an abstract and short-hand term for a series of ideas and will an abstract term for a series of actions or volitions. Will and intellect are one and the same
  • What we usually call will should be called desire and desire is the essence of man
  • “Pleasure and pain are the satisfaction or the hindrance of an instinct;
  • “Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire.”
  • Ultimately only three systems of ethics, three conceptions of the ideal character and the moral life
    • Buddha and Jesus stress the feminine; all men equally precious; resist evil only by returning good; identifies virtue with love; unlimited democracy
    • Machiavelli and Nietzsche stress the masculine; accept inequality in life; relish risks of combat, conquest and rule; identify virtue with power; hereditary aristocracy
    • Socrates, Plato and Aristotle deny the universal applicability of either feminine or masculine; consider only the informed and mature mind can judge; when love should rule and when power should rule; identify virtue with intelligence; mixture of aristocracy and democracy
  • Happiness is the goal of conduct and happiness is the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain but both are relative and not absolute. They are also not states, but transitions
  • No one ever neglects anything which he judges to be good, except with the hope of gaining a greater good
  • A system of morals that teaches a man to be weak is worthless
  • Dislikes humility but admires modesty
  • “To hate is to acknowledge our inferiority and our fear; we do not hate a foe whom we are confident we can overcome.”
  • Passion without reason is blind, reason without passion is dead
  • A passion ceases to be a passion once we create a clear and distinct idea of it
  • “To be a superman is to be free not from the restraints of social justice and amenity, but from the individualism of the instincts”
  • “To be great is not to be placed above humanity, ruling others; but to stand above the partialities and futilities of uninformed desire, and to rule one’s self.”
  • Amor Fati – love of fate – is the basis of all wisdom and strength
  • “Blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself.”
  • “…all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.”
  • Good and bad does not exist in a natural state. Therefore, sin evolves out of a civil, organized state
  • Men are not born ready to fit into society – they must be trained and reinforced. Most men are individualistic rebels and are not “good by nature”
  • The perfect state would only take away liberties when it adds more to the society at large. Freedom is the goal of the state because the function of the state is to promote growth and growth depends on capacity finding freedom
  • The less control the state has over the mind (free speech), the better for both the citizen and the state
  • Speaking of democracy – “Equality of power is an unstable condition; men are by nature unequal; and he who seeks equality between unequal’s seeks an absurdity.”
  • Spinoza died early and with many of his brilliant thoughts unfinished
Chapter 5 – Voltaire and the French Enlightenment
  • Voltaire had every fault of his era – vain, flippant, obscene, ugly, unscrupulous, dishonest yet he was extremely kind, considerate, and generous
  • One of the most accomplished men in all of history
  • Believed that being idle was a terrible waste of life
  • Never before had a writer had such influence during his own lifetime
  • Along with Rousseau, helped France transition from a feudal aristocracy to the rule of the middle class
  • At an early age was taught the art of proving anything and therefore the habit of believing nothing
  • He was imprisoned in the Bastille for nearly a year for accusing the Regent of attempting to take over the crown. It was during this time he penned the name Voltaire
  • Wrote an extremely successful play, Henriade, that made him the toast of Paris and made poetry fashionable
  • Went to the Bastille again for challenging a Lord to a duel but was soon released and exiled to England
  • In 1750 went to Berlin to be with Frederick the Great
  • Wrote one of the most complete histories of his time – reading over thousands of volumes and detailing the “progress of the mind” instead of kings or wars. However, Voltaire’s greatest work offended too many people and it lead to his exile
  • Voltaire’s philosophy was different than all others in its clarity and was therefore read by more people than any other pamphlet
  • Wrote against theology and thought that is where many of man’s problems come from. Is not atheistic but against theology
  • Denies free will and is agnostic towards the soul
  • Believes that belief in God is necessary in order for societies to function – without an avenging God people would rebel and chaos would ensue
  • “War is the greatest of all crimes; and yet there is no aggressor who does not color his crime with the pretext of justice.”
  • Rousseau, Robespierre and Marat, leaders of the French revolution, wanted equality for the people, even at the expense of liberty
  • Rousseau and Voltaire clashed – instinct vs. intellect, action vs. reason
  • Universally beloved, Voltaire decided to go back to Paris to die. He was visited by hundreds of people, including Benjamin Franklin
Chapter 6 – Immanuel Kant and German Idealism
  • Dominated thought in the 19th century like nobody has dominated an epoch before
  • “His essential theorems are the axioms of all mature philosophy”
  • Wrote in such an abstract term that only professional philosophers should read his work directly
  • Move from Voltaire to Kant – from theoretical reason without religions faith to religious faith without theoretical reason
  • One of his greatest works was Critique of Pure Reason and the time was right for reason to come under the microscope
  • Berkeley argued that matter does not exist and Hume argued that the mind does not exist
  • Rousseau argued against materialism, rationalism – instinct and feeling more trustworthy than reason
  • Born in Prussia and was raised extremely religious but was still very influenced by Frederick and Voltaire. Important that he was in Prussia because without Frederick’s forward thinking, it is unlikely that he would have been able to safely publish Critique of Pure Reason
  • Extremely regimented and never married
  • Was successful but nothing notable up until the age of 57 – he began writing his magnum opus 15 years earlier at the age of 42
  • Critique of Pure Reason – hopes to show the possibility of reason and to exalt it above the impure knowledge which comes to us through the distorting channels of sense. Pure = knowledge that does not come through our senses but is independent of all sense experience
  • Only if man can have knowledge whose truth is certain even before experience can there be absolute truth, absolute science
  • General truths cannot come from experience. Experiences such as 2×2 = 4 are true even before our experience
  • The mind of man is not passive wax upon which experience and sensation write their absolute will; nor is it a mere abstract name for the series of groups of mental states; it is an active organ which molds and coordinates sensations into ideas, an organ which transforms the chaotic multiplicity of experience into the ordered unity of thought.”
  • Ideas and sensations are our servants, they await our call. On top of sensations and ideas there is the mind
  • Space and time are organs of perception – used to put sense into sensations. They are a priori because all experience involves and presuppoes them – without them, sensations could never become perceptions
  • Mind is the coordination of experience
  • Sensation is unorganized stimulus, perception is organized sensation, conception is organized perception, science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life
  • The generalized principles of science are necessary because they are ultimately laws of thought that are involved and presupposed in every experience, past, present and to come. Science is absolute and truth is everlasting
  • Religion cannot be proved by theoretical reason. Kant came under huge scrutiny for this belief as he had undermined the most precious arguments of theology
  • “To achieve perfection in yourself and happiness in others, so act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of another, in every case as an end, never only as a means.”
  • Must place morality above happiness, duty above beauty in order to rise above beasts and begin to be gods
  • Although it is sometimes against man’s profit, he tends to do good. Religion therefore based on moral faith rather than reason
  • Churches and dogmas have value only in so far as they assist the moral development of the race. The real church is a community of people, however scattered and divided, who are united by devotion to the common moral law
  • Struggle is the indispensable accompaniment of progress
  • Calls for equality – not of ability, but of opportunity. Rejects all prerogatives of birth and class
  • “The great achievement of Kant is to have shown, once and for all, that the external world is known to us only as sensation; and that the mind is no mere helpless tabula rasa, the inactive victim of sensation, but a positive agent…”
  • Morals are not absolute, they are a code of conduct more or less haphazardly develop for group survival
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was heavily influenced by Kant and considered one of his successors
  • He lived a Stoic life with few luxuries and his works were often very  obscure
    • The Logic consists of concepts used in reasoning – Being, Quality, Quantity, Relation
  • Every idea is a group of relations – we can think of something only by related it to something else and perceiving its similarities and differences
    • This “dialectical movement” (that everything contains an opposite and creates a more complex whole) runs through all of Hegel’s works
    • The dialectical process makes change the cardinal principle of life
    • Whatever is, is right
  • Thesis, antithesis and synthesis constitute the formula and secret of all development and all reality
    • The movement of thought, then, is the same as the movement of things; in each there is a dialectical progression from unity through diversity to diversity-in-unity. Thought and being follow the same law; and logic and metaphysics are one
    • The function of the mind, and the task of philosophy, is to discover the unity that lies potential in diversity; the task of ethics is to unify character and conduct; and the task of politics is to unify individuals into a state; the task of religion is to reach and feel that Absolute in which all opposites are resolved into unity, that great sum of being in which matter and mind, subject and object, good and evil, are one
  • A man can only reach his full height through suffering
  • Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion
  • Life is not made for happiness but for achievement
  • Hegel laid the groundwork for Marx and socialism
Chapter 7 – Schopenhauer
  • The first half of the nineteenth century created a group of pessimists – Byron, Pushkin, Chopin, Beethoven and a profoundly pessimistic philosopher – Schopenhauer
    • Stemmed from the Battle of Waterloo, the French Revolution, and the exile of Napoleon. These battles had laid waste to countries and governments all over Europe – leaving a wake of misery and meaninglessness
  • Only the young can live in the future and only the old can live in the past
  • The devastation after this time left many to return back to religion but others determined that there was no divide order after all, that God was blind (if he existed at all) and evil was everywhere
  • Had issues with his mother who was a famous author and was a bit paranoid, sleeping with a gun underneath his pillow. This lack of love helped him turn towards pessimism – he had no mother, no wife, no child, no family, no country
  • Although his greatest work, The World as Will and Idea, would influence every philosopher after him, it was received with little acclaim as the world was too poor and exhausted to read about its poverty and exhaustion
  • Recognition was slow to come but slowly the middle class warmed up to him since his teachings were actionable, concrete and relatable to real life. Central is the idea as will, therefore suffering, therefore misery
  • Echoed Kant’s sentiments that the external world is known to us only through our sensations and ideas. We can never arrive at the real nature of things from without
  • “Consciousness is the mere surface of our minds, of which, as of the earth, we do not know the inside but only the crust.”
  • We do not want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we find reasons for it because we want it…Hence the uselessness of logic…To convince a man, you must appeal to his self-interest, his desires, his will
  • No one is more liable to mistakes than he who acts only on reflection
  • Character lies in the will and not in the intellect
  • The action of the body is nothing but the act of the will objectified
  • Sleep is a morsel of death borrowed to keep up and renew that part of life which has been exhausted by the day
  • Will, then, is the essence of man and perhaps all of life
  • The will is a will to live and a will to maximum life. The will can “cheat” death through reproduction
  • Desire is infinite, fulfillment is limited…And fulfillment never satisfies; nothing is so fatal to an ideal as its realization
  • Life is evil because pain is its basic stimulus and reality, and pleasure is merely a negative cessation of pain. Aristotle said that the wise man seeks not pleasure but freedom from care and pain
  • Suffering is essential to life and even if every evil were removed and strife was ended, boredom would soon become as intolerable as pain
  • The higher the organism the grater the suffering. The growth of knowledge is no solution
  • He that increaseth knowledge, therefore increaseth sorrowy. Even memory and foresight add to human misery; for most of our suffering lies in retrospect or anticipation; pain itself is brief
  • To be happy, one must be as ignorant as youth. Youth think that willing and striving are joys; it has not yet discovered the weary insatiableness of desire, and the fruitlessness of fulfillment; it does not yet see the inevitableness of defeat
  • The fear of death is the beginning of philosophy and the final cause of religion
  • Theology is a refuge from death and insanity is a refuge from pain
  • What a man is contributes infinitely more to his happiness than what he has
  • Nothing will protect us from external compulsion so much as the control of ourselves
  • Read original works, directly from the source and not critics or others
  • Genius is simply the completest objectivity. Genius is the power of leaving one’s own interests, wishes and aims entirely out of sight, of entirely renouncing one’s own personality for a time, so as to remain pure knowing subject, clear vision of the world
  • Freed from will, the intellect can see the object as it is. The secret of a genius, then, lies in the clear and impartial perception of the objective, the essential, and the universal. It is this removal of the personal equation which leaves the genius so maladapted to in the world of will-fill, practical, personal activity
  • The object of science is the universal that contains many particulars; the object of art is the particular that contains the universal. Great art portrays the universal (the prototypical lion, man, vase, etc.). Art alleviates the ills of life by showing us the eternal and universal behind the transitory and the individual
  • Music is the most powerful form of art as it is the “the copy of will itself.” Other arts are merely shadows of things, music speaks to the things itself
  • The intellect divides everything, intuition unites everything
  • One must have leisure to be a pessimist; an active life almost always brings good spirits in body and in mind
  • Schopenhauer didn’t think it was better to have fought and lost than not to have fought at all – he did not believe there was any glory in strife and instead preferred peace
  • Happiness lies rather in achievement than in possession or satiation
  • The ultimate good is beauty and the ultimate joy lies in the creation or cherishing of the beautiful
  • Criticism – man needs resistance in order to grow and fly; yes, more knowledge increases sorrow but also joy; Schopenhauer criticizes women and marriage and children but it is because he did not see or understand the joys that come along with “continuing the species”
Chapter 8 – Herbert Spencer
  • Went almost totally uneducated until he was nearly 40 and this is the most famous English philosopher of the 1800’s. He hardly read anything and developed no interest in Philosophy until his 30s
  • Although he was little educated he was one of the most observant individuals and learned this way
  • Was extremely practical and a realist and failed to see the beauty of music and art, had few relationships and was no romantic
  • Became extremely popular and widely read because he could take very controversial and complex topics and make them clear and easy to follow for the masses
  • It came to Spencer that the idea of evolution can be applied much more broadly than just biology – social and political history, planets and strata, moral and esthetic conceptions
  • “Life is the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations”
  • His greatest work which took nearly 40 years is Synthetic Philosophy and within it he discusses evolution, sociology, philosophy, politics
  • Like militarism, socialism involves the development of centralization, the extension of government power, the decay of initiative and the subordination of the individual
  • Morality, like art, is the achievement of unity in diversity; the highest type of man is he who effectively unites in himself the widest variety, complexity and completeness of life
  • Every generation of social living deepens the impulses to mutual aid. Over time, altruistic actions will become instinctive
  • Criticism
    • Spencer underestimated the complexity and intelligence of early man
    • Makes many hypotheses but very few experiments and was selective in which data he focused on
    • Argued that industrial societies are more moral than militant feudalism system which preceded it but history shows this is unclear
  • He unfortunately grew old alone and while his views became more moderate as he aged, he came to believe that his life’s work had been done in vain
Chapter 9 – Friedrich Nietzsche
  • “If life is a struggle for existence in which the fittest survive, then strength is the ultimate virtue, and weakness the only fault. Good is that which survives, which wins; bad is that which gives way and fails.”
  • Both his parents were in the clergy but his father died young, leaving Friedrich to a house full of women which made him very sensitive and delicate. However, he spent his life trying to find physical and intellectual means of hardening himself into an idealized masculinity
  • Was very influenced by Schopenhauer
  • Although he was injured very quickly and therefore disqualified to be a soldier, he came to idolize them and their lifestyle
  • After a near death experience, he came to life and started appreciating art and beauty. During this time he found his philosophy of Zoroaster, of Superman and of eternal recurrence
  • Thus Spake Zarathustra was his seminal work and one of the greatest works of the 19th century but hardly anybody even recognized it – says God is dead and the next step is this Superman who is immortal through Eternal Recurrence (things will repeat an infinite number of times)
  • Believes that behind morality is a secret will to power – “Love itself is only a desire for possession; courtship is combat and mating is mastery.”
  • Conscious thinking is the weakest – instinct is the most intelligent of all kinds of intelligence
  • Believes that evil is a type of good or else it would have been extinguished by now, men need evil to prosper
  • The true test of a man, group, species is energy, capacity and power
  • Morality lies not in kindness, but in strength and the goal of human effort should be not the elevation of all but the development of finer and stronger individuals. Superman, not mankind, is the goal
  • Should separate love and marriage – the best should only marry the best
  • Superman would also need a different type of education – one which makes him strong and powerful. To discipline one’s self, that is the highest thing
  • What is good? – all that increaseth power, power itself, in a man
  • What is bad? – all that comes from weakness
  • To have a purpose for which one will do almost anything except betray a friend, that is the final patent of nobility, the last formula of the Superman
  • Believes democracy and religion is making Germany weak and dimwitted
  • The ideal society would be split into three classes – producers (farmers, proleterians, business men), officials (soldiers and functionaries) and rulers (philosopher-statesmen, much like Plato imagined them to be
  • Toward the end of his life, he began losing his mind a bit – a bit paranoid and delusions of grandeur
Chapter 10 – Contemporary European Philosophers; Bergson, Croce and Bertrand Russel
  • Bergson
    • For a conscious being, to exist is to change, to change is to mature to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly
    • Free will is a corollary of consciousness; to say that we are free is merely to mean that we know what we are doing
    • Mind is not identical with the brain. Consciousness depends upon the brain and falls with it but it is still distinct from it
    • One of his major works is Creative Evolution. Life is more than its machinery; it is a power that can grow, that can restore itself, that can mold to its own will some measure of environing circumstance. Life is that which makes efforts, which pushes upwards and outwards and on
      • The persistently creative life, of which every individual and every species is an experiment is God. God and Life are one
      • Creation is not a mystery, we experience it in ourselves when we act freely
      • Life can conquer anything given enough time
    • Helped rid the world of the notion that life was pre-determined  and our efforts worthless but after him people believed they could change their destiny
  • Croce
    • Put out an internationally famous periodical – La Critica – in which he dissects the world of thought
    • Utility is a combination of goodness, beauty and truth
    • Mind is the primary and ultimate  reality (against materialism)
    • An idealist – all reality is idea; we know nothing except in the form it takes in our sensations and our thoughts
    • Wants every idea to be as pure as possible – as abstract and unpragmatic as possible
    • Pure concept = universal concept (evolution, quantity, quality)
    • Rejects religion and believes in the freedom of will, but not the immortality o the soul
    • Knowledge is either intuitive or logical – knowledge obtained through the imagination or knowledge obtained through the intellect and knowledge of the individual or universal
    • Man is an artist as soon as he imagines and long before he reasons
    • What is beauty? Croce says it is the the mental formation of an image (or series of images) that catches the essence of the thing perceived. The beauty belongs to the inward image rather than the outward form in which it is embodied. Beauty is expression. There is nothing in the world except beauty
    • Croce is not known for his clarity or practicality
  • Bertrand Russell
    • His family is one of the oldest and most famous families in England
    • Attacks mysticism and glorifies science and mathematics
    • Admires men who challenge “self-evident truths” and insist upon the demonstration of the obvious
    • As Christianity could not be fit into his mathematical models, he abandoned everything except for its moral code
    • After WWI, Russell changed tremendously and showed the world his amazing courage and love for humanity
    • The interest of the empire were not worth the millions of lives it was claiming. The cause was private property and the cure was communism
    • Freedom is the supreme good for without it personality is impossible
    • Hatred and war come largely of fixed ideas or dogmatic faith
    • The distinctive feature of the unintelligent man is the hastiness and absoluteness of his opinions; the scientist is slow to believe and never speaks without modification
    • Believes that human instinct is very malleable and is optimistic that with the right upbringing, education and values man can overcome violence and rise above. Our schools are the key to Utopia
    • His belief in communism was dampened if not destroyed by his time in Russia and seeing the failures there. He came to believe that people most likely would not take proper care of their land if they were not passing it down to their children
    • After teaching in China he realizes that White/European civilization may not be the pinnacle of man and if they destroy themselves China would be ready to take over
Chapter 11 – Contemporary American Philosophers: Santayana, James and Dewey
  • Santayana
    • Spanish originally but considered himself American even though he moved back to Spain in the latter portion of his life
    • His great work was The Life of Reason of which there were five volumes – Reason in Common Sense, Reason on Society, Reason in Religion, Reason in Art and Reason in Science and these gave him immediate fame
    • The great snare of thought is the uncritical acceptance of traditional assumptions. He is willing to doubt almost everything
    • Reason is man’s imitation of divinity 
    • Believes that religion stemmed from man’s fear and not being able to explain/understand things around him. “Religion is human experience interpreted by human imagination.”
    • Society and government is one big “bad” but is better than having many smaller bads. One supremely powerful ruler would be great for all the world
    • Dislikes the ideal of equality – the equality of unequal’s is inequality
    • The first principle of politics should be that a society is to be judged by the measure in which it enhances the life and capacities of its constituent individuals
    • Despises the chaos and haste of modern life
  • James
    • Very American in his thinking and writing – direct, pragmatic
    • Taught anatomy, physiology, philosophy and psychology at Harvard from 1872-1910
    • One of his greatest achievements was The Principles of Psychology 
    • Consciousness is not an entity, not a thing but a flux and system of relations
    • Disliked the German metaphysics as they were so abstract and he thought little meaning
    • The true is whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief. It is a process
    • Men accept or reject philosophies according to their needs and temperaments, not according to “objective truth.”
      • Tender minded and tough-minded temperaments. Tender minded is religious and takes to free will and optimism. Tough minded is materialistic, not religious, fatalistic and skeptical
    • Philosophers hunger for unity, not for truth
    • Believed that there was a higher realm, a spiritual realm
    • No problems had value unless they can provide actionable steps
    • Only the individual has value – everything else is a means
    • Wanted to refresh old ideas by making them clearer and more accessible
  • Dewey
    • Born in Vermont but spent twenty years teaching in the Midwest
    • Helped reform the school system and pushed for more experiential learning than book-based learning
    • Believed wholeheartedly in Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Everything, body and mind is an organ evolved. His starting point in every field is Darwinian. Things are to be explained by their place and function in their environment and not by supernatural phenomena
    • Divinity is within us and not in the neutral cosmic powers
    • The individual is as much a product of society as society the individual
    • In general the role of instinct has been overrated and of early education underrated
    • Growth is the finest of all things. Perfection is not a final goal but the ever-enduring process of perfecting, maturing, refining is the aim in living. The bad man is the man who, no matter how good he has been, is beginning to deteriorate, to grow less good. The good man is the man who, no matter how morally unworthy he has been, is moving to become better. Goodness without ability is lame; and all virtue in the world will not save us if we lack intelligence. Ignorance is not bliss, it is unconsciousness and slavery…

The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time by William Durant

  1. Durant lays out the smartest and most influential people and ideas in history.
Key Takeaways:
  1. An amazing list of thinkers, poets, authors, influencers, dates in history, books, etc. that have had a tremendous impact on history
What I got out of it:
  1. I have made it a personal goal to get through as many of these lists as possible and learn what I can about all of them. Stand on the shoulders of giant

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