Thinkers don’t just think. They revolutionise. They ignite minds with fiery ideals. Here are 8 facts about different famous thinkers –
1. Philosopher Who Put Nothing On Paper
Although the Athenian thinker Socrates (about 470 – 399 BC) is regarded the Father of Western philosophy, he never committed his ideas to paper. Our only knowledge of him comes from the writings of his Greek contemporaries – Aristophanes, Xenophon, and particularly his pupil, Plato.
Socrates appears as the main character in Plato’s “Dialogues”. Most scholars believe, however, that in the book Plato was not reporting Socrates’ views, merely using it as a mouthpiece for his own.
Condemned to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates continued to discuss philosophy with his friends and pupils in jail. He refused to take advantage of their offers to help him escape, electing instead to drink the lethal hemlock handed to him by his executioners.
2. Thinker Without Credentials
David Hume (1711 – 76), the Scottish thinker now recognized as one of the founders of empiricism – the doctrine that experience, and not reason or God, is the supreme touchstone of truth – was never able to teach philosophy because he lacked the proper academic credentials. Unable to secure the chair of philosophy at either Edinburgh or Glasgow universities, Hume worked as a general’s secretary on a military expedition to Brittany and on a diplomatic mission to Turin, and as a keeper of the Advocates Library in Edinburgh.
His major works, such as “The Treatise of Human Nature” and “An Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding”, were largely ignored during his lifetime, but later had an important influence on thinkers such as the Englishman Jeremy Bentham and the German Immanuel Kant.
3. Lasting Legacy
One of the major influences of Western philosophy has been the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 – 322 BC). Personal tutor to Alexander the Great, and later his protégé, Aristotle established a school of philosophy, called the Lyceum, outside Athens, in 336 BC. This wide-ranging research centre bequeathed to the world numerous academic disciplines, including logic, ethics, physics, rhetoric, metaphysics, economics and psychology.
4. Tycoon’s Son Who Turned Gardener
Despite a wealthy background, the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) preferred to live a simple existence. The son of a steel tycoon, Wittgenstein gave away the fortune he inherited and divided his time between an active academic life and working as a school master, gardener and hospital porter. His book, “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus”, published in 1921, took as its basic axiom, that “all philosophy is a critique of language” and attempted to construct a language system which was as precise and logical as mathematics. Although Wittgenstein became a teacher of philosophy at Cambridge University from 1929 to 1947, he never abandoned his taste for the simple life. He made a habit of wearing open-necked shirts – at a time when most teachers and students wore ties – and furnished his college rooms with nothing more luxurious than deck chairs.
5. Destitute Economist
Karl Marx (1818 – 83), who revolutionised thinking about money more than anyone else who has ever lived, was hopeless at acquiring it himself. Shortly after arriving on London as a political exile from Europe in 1849, Marx and his family were evicted from their rooms in Chelsea for non-payment of rent , losing moat of their possessions in the process. From 1851 to 1856, the Marx family rented rooms in Soho, living in such poverty that two of their children died. Although Marx worked as a journalist for “The New York Daily Tribune”, he was unable to earn enough to feed his family. They were saved from starvation only by the generosity of Marx’s friend, Friedrich Engels, who gave Marx part of his income.
After inheriting £120 from his wife’s mother in 1856, Marx moved his family to Kentish Town, North London, were he wrote most of the basic material for “Das Kapital”, the first volume of which was published in 1867.
6. A Dog’s Life
When Alexander the Great met with Greek philosopher Diogenes (about 400 – 325 BC) – who lived for a time in an earthenware tub (and not a barrel, as is often claimed) in the grounds of an Athenian temple – he asked him if there is anything he (Diogenes) wanted. Diogenes replied: “Yes, get out of my sunlight!”
Impressed by such directness, the conqueror is said to have remarked to him: “Were I not Alexander, I would wish to be Diogenes.”
Diogenes, who dressed like a beggar, lived so austerely that he was nicknamed “the dog”. As a result, his disciples came to be known sneeringly as Cynics, from the Greek word “kunikos” meaning “dog-like” – an insult they accepted proudly, saying they were watchdogs if morality. On his death, Diogenes asked to be buried like a dog; thrown into a ditch and covered with rubbish. Instead he was given a splendid funeral at Corinth – and, in memory of his nickname, his tomb was topped with a carving of a dog.
7. Death Wish
Jeremy Bentham (1748 -1832), the English Utilitarian philosopher, had very decided views on what should happen to bodies after death. He even wrote a book on the subject – “Auto-Icon, or the Uses of the Dead to the Living” – in which he suggested that “if all bodies were embalmed every man might be his own statue”.
Bentham, who had been one of the founders of University College, London, bequeathed his body to the college so that it could be used for medical research. Interpreting Bentham’s will in the widest sense, the college authorities dressed the carefully preserved corpse in a suit of Bentham’s best clothes and placed it in a glass case. Thus, for many years the deceased Bentham presided over meetings of the college committee – and was always described in the minutes as ‘present, but not voting’.
8. Victorian Bestseller
Charles Darwin’s evolutionary masterpiece, known as “The Origin of Species”, was a bestseller. Despite its length and technical nature – its full title read “On the Origin of Species, by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” – it sold out on publication day in 1859, and by 1872 had run through six more editions.