Biographies of Famous Philosophers
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Ralph Waldo Emerson
John Stuart Mill
Baron de Montesquieu
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Henry David Thoreau
We aim to have a biography for each of the philosophers listed above.
Nicolo Machiavelli (May 3rd, 1469 – June 21, 1527) was not only one of the most influential philosophers of the 15th century, but continues to hold influence even today on political science. Machiavelli’s most famous works are The Prince, Discourses On The First Ten Books of Titus Livy, and The Art of War, all being blunt “how-to” books on acquiring and maintaining principality and using military forces effectively. His seemingly vituperative views in The Prince gave him the reputation of being manipulative and deceiving, and at one point was imprisoned and tortured for accusations of conspiracy against the Medici rule. He was released shortly after, but his reputation still succeeds him with the accepted term “Machiavellianism” used to describe deceitful and manipulative behavior.
Zeno was born in the year 333 BC, in the Greek town of Citium. The son of a merchant, Zeno himself worked as merchant for much of his early years. His career changed direction when he became a book aficionado, particularly interested in Socrates. With Crates (the cynic) as his teacher, Zeno became the founder and originator of Stoicism – the philosophy that emphasizes self-control, and a disregard for distracting emotions.
Unfortunately, none of Zeno’s works are with us today, but a few of his quotations and teachings have survived thanks to his followers and critics. Zeno is also known as the first anarchist, where Zeno believed that a utopia would not need a justice system, temples, or money, as these things are not necessary for rational beings.
Zeno’s idea of indifference to pain and pleasure truly brought forth the Stoic philosophy. Once this level of stoicism is attained, man can not only conquer himself, but the world. Zeno of Citium died in 264 BC.
Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord Massachussets. As a Harvard man, Thoreau was very skeptical of his Harvard education; so much so, that he would not even buy the $5 Harvard Diploma. Shortly are graduating, Thoreau went under the wing of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a prominent transcendentalist. Thoreau’s most notable works are: On the duty of Civil Disobedience (1849), and Walden (1854). In Walden, or Life in the Woods, Thoreau details his two year exploits at Walden Pond. Living a life of simplicity and individuality, away from the massive conformity of society, Thoreau ultimately returned back to Concord. Perhaps even the individual needs the company of his fellow man?
Henry David Thoreau died on May 6, 1862 due to his long tribulations with tuberculosis, but his influence and ideas live on. It is no secret of the numerous people Henry Thoreau has influenced – Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Leo Tolstoy, John F. Kennedy, Ernest Hemmingway, and William Butler Yeats.
The son of Praxagoras and Philinna, Theocritus was born during the time of Ptolemy II, in Syracuse. Not much is known about his life, and even his origins are speculative. Theocritus is accredited with inventing Ancient Greek bucolic poetry. This type of poetry glorifies the rural way of life, while criticizing the city and the corruption of nature. Theocritus’ best known work is the Idylls, which Virgil copied in style.
The son of Neocles and Carian or Thracian, Themistocles was born in a village named Phrearrhioi in 525 BC. Little is known about Themistocles, other than what his biographer Plutarch lets us know: "Themistocles was of a vehement and impetuous nature, of a quick apprehension, and a strong and aspiring bent for action and great affairs". Themistocles was a firm proponent of enlarging the Athenian navy, and because of him, it grew from 70 to 200 ships. Themistocles died in 460 BC to suicide by poison, because he could not fulfill promises to Xerxes. After a life of advocating democracy, Themistocles was succeeded by Pericles.
Baruch Spinoza was born in Amsterdam, in November 24, 1632, to Jewish refugees of the Spanish Inquisition. Even early on, Spinoza showed opposition to the Jewish Orthodoxy, and was thus excommunicated. While working as a lens grinder, Baruch Spinoza would become a prominent 17th century Rationalist philosopher. Spinoza’s greatest work Ethics was not published until after his death. Ethics reveals just how much Spinoza was a determinist. In 1687, Spinoza anonymously published Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Spinonza contended that God and nature were both infinite. Furthermore, Spinoza claimed that the concept of a personal relationship with God comes from the position that you are a part of an infinite interdependent organism. Baruch Spinoza died on February 21, 1677, possibly due to the dust inhalation from lens grinding.
Girolamo Savonarola was born on September 21, 1452 in Florence Italy. Savonarola is best known for setting up a democratic republic in Florence Italy after the end of the Medici rule in 1494. Largely due to Savonarola, the Bonfire of the Vanities took place on February 7th 1497. Thousands of items including mirrors, nice dresses, artwork, books, pictures, and other items of pulchritude were burned in this bonfire. The great Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli was forced to burn a few of his own masterpieces. Eventually the people of Florence became tired of Girolamo Savonarola, and rioted in the streets, taverns reopened, and people gambled on the streets. On May 13, 1497, the Pope Alexander VI excommunicated Savonarola. Girolamo Savonarola was hung on May 23, 1498.
John Ruskin was born on February 8, 1819 in London, England. Ruskin attended Oxford University where he was awarded a poetry award. John Ruskin inspired famous men such as Leo Tolstoy, and Mahatma Gandhi. Ruskin married Effie Gray in 1848, but latter divorced her. Ruskin fell in love with the 9-year-old Rose la Touche, in 1858, but was rejected by her in 1872. Ruskin take on atheism was “the unfortunate persistence of the clergy in teaching children what they cannot understand, and in employing young consecrate persons to assert in pulpits what they do not know”. John Ruskin’s works include: The Ethics of the Dust, Val d’Arno, Giotto and his works in Padua, The Two Paths, The King of the Golden River, Stones of Venice, Mornings in Florence, Sesame and Lilies, The pleasures of England, The Queen of the Air, The Poetry of Architecture, and Proserpina. Ruskin gained huge popularity when Columbia professor John Rosenberg wrote The Darkening Glass, and The Genius of John Ruskin. John Ruskin died on January 20, 1900.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was born on June 28, 1712, in Geneva, Switzerland. Rousseau had a tough early life because his mother died a week after giving him birth, and his father left him after fighting a duel. After this abandonment by his father, Rousseau was treated very poorly. Rousseau would later become an apprentice to a notary and an engraver. After this apprenticeship, Rousseau met his lover Francoise-Lousie de Warens, a French Catholic baroness. Because of her, Rousseau converted to Catholicism. After inventing a new musical notation system in 1742, Rousseau went to Paris. Unfortunately, his system was rejected as both useless and unoriginal. Rousseau met with much more success in philosophy. In his Nature vs. Society, Rousseau argued that man was a noble savage, and was good by nature, but society corrupts him. Rousseau made tremendous contributions to political philosophy with his The Social Contract. In this work, Rousseau contended that sovereignty should be in the hands of the people. People should have the laws directly. Moreover, if people go with the general will, they will be free. Rousseau was an advocate of direct democracy rather than representative democracy. Jean Jacques Rousseau died on July 2 1778.
Plato was born in Athens Greece, around 427-429 BC. Plato was born to an aristocratic family. He is known for the range and breadth of his philosophical writings. In fact, few other philosophers were able to achieve such breadth. Plato was a student of the famous Socrates, and even attended his trail, but not his execution. Plato is most famous for The Republic, in which
Plato died around 347 BC.
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