Category: Philosophers

Interview with Heinz von Foerster, 1995.

This Interview was conducted by Stefano Franchi, Güven Güzeldere, and Eric Minch, representing Stanford Humanities Review. stanford humanities review: The primary goal of this special issue of SHR is to promote a multidisciplinary dialogue on Artificial Intelligence and the humanities. We think you are most qualified to facilitate such a dialogue since you have trotted along many disciplinary paths in your career, ranging from mathematics and physics to biophysics and hematology, to pioneering work on cybernetics, to philosophy, and even family therapy. One could even say that “transdisciplinarity” has been your expertise. . . . heinz von foerster: I don’t...

Michel Foucault

Foucault (1926 – 1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, and literary critic. He theorized the relationship between power and knowledge, and examined the forms of social control through societal institutions. He is often considered to be a post-structuralist and postmodernist, but he preferred to think of his work as a critical history of modernity. Here is a biographical sketch from the Stanford Encyclopedia article, as well as a timeline of his life. Biographical Sketch “Foucault was born in Poitiers, France, on October 15, 1926. His student years seem to have been psychologically tormented but were intellectually brilliant. He...

Cicero: A Remarkable Life (106 – 43 BC)

The following description of Cicero’s life is mainly quoted from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There is also a short description of his life in the context of ancient political philosophy at the Stanford Encyclopedia. The ancient historian Plutarch wrote a long biography of him in 75 CE, which you can find at the MIT Classics Archive.  Cicero’s political career was remarkable. In his times, high political offices in Rome, though technically achieved by winning elections, were almost exclusively controlled by a group of wealthy aristocratic families that had held them for many generations. Cicero’s family was aristocratic, but did...

Friedrich Schelling: System of Transcendental Philosophy. 1800

About Schelling “Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775–1854) is, along with Fichte and Hegel, one of the three most influential thinkers in the tradition of ‘German Idealism’. Since he changed his conception of philosophy often, it is hard to attribute a  clear philosophical conception to him. Schelling was a rigorous logical thinker, but in the era during which he was writing, there was so much change in philosophy that a stable, fixed point of view was impossible. Schelling’s continuing importance today is based on three aspects of his work. Schelling’s Naturphilosophie. His empirical claims are largely indefensible, but his approach...

Martin Heidegger (1889–1976)

Martin Heidegger was an important German philosopher in the 20th century, who is famous for his theories on existentialism and phenomenology. He was associated with existentialism, despite his efforts to distance himself from it. He had a strong influence on the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, for instance. He developed a phenomenological critique of Kant and wrote widely on Nietzsche and Hölderlin. His thinking influenced many other fields, such as theology, art, architecture, artificial intelligence, cultural anthropology, design, literary theory, social theory, political theory, psychiatry, and psychotherapy. His main work, a 20th century classic in philosophy, is ‘Sein und Zeit...

Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995)

Emmanuel Levinas is one of the most interesting European thinkers in the 20th Century. He is Jewish and grew up in Russia, studies philosophy with Husserl and Heidegger in Freiburg, fights with the French Army against the Germans, looses his family to the Holocaust, and is captured by the Nazis, but survives. After the war, he eventually becomes a professor at the Université de Paris Nanterre. He writes many books in his later life, and teaches at the Sorbonne as well. He integrates phenomenology, ethics, metaphyscis, and theology in a unique way, but it takes energy to understand him. He is also trying to re-think...

Descartes: Selections from Meditations. 1641

Descartes’ Life René Descartes (1596 – 1650) was born near Tours, in France, and was educated for nine years at a Jesuit college. After graduating with a law degree from Poitiers at the age of twenty-two, he traveled in Europe, and developed a passion for mathematics and philosophy. He spent most of his life after 1628 in Holland, and published in philosophy, physics, mathematics, and other sciences. In mathematics, he invented analytic geometry and the coordinate system that bears his name (“Cartesian”). He also prepared some significant works in physics, which he withdrew from publication upon discovering that his contemporary, Galileo,...

David Bohm (1917-1992)

David Joseph Bohm lived from 20 December 1917 to 27 October 1992. He was an American theoretical physicist who contributed innovative and unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, philosophy of mind, and neuro-psychology. He is considered to be one of the most significant theoretical physicists of the 20th century. He was a good friend of Einstein. Biography David Bohm was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to Jewish parents. His father owned a local furniture store. Bohm graduated from Pennsylvania State College in 1939. After attending the California Institute of Technology in 1940, he acquired a doctorate in theoretical physics at the University...

Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) was an American philosopher and political theorist. He is also knows as an abolitionist, a naturalist, a critic of development, and he resisted paying taxes. He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay Resistance to Civil Government, an argument for disobedience to an unjust state. (See below). He lived in a cabin in the woods. (you can see what was left of it in 1908.) His ideas were not popular during his lifetime, but later they influenced Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Leo Tolstoy. Quotes:...

John Stuart MILL: UTILITARIANISM (1863)

A brief overview of the reading: Jeremy Bentham’s (1748-1832) principle of utility is open to the objection that it may well sacrifice the rights of the minority for the sake of the happiness of the majority. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), himself a utilitarian, sought to rescue utilitarianism from this and other objections. In his essay Utilitarianism, Mill argues that respect for individual rights as “the most sacred and binding part of morality” is compatible with the idea that justice rests ultimately on utilitarian considerations. But is Mill right to be confident? Can the principle of utility support the notion that some...

Roger Bacon: On Experimental Science, 1268

Roger Bacon (not Francis, who is another philosopher) is an early philosopher and scientist. He reflects on the scientific method, and struggles with the balance between science and religion. Biography of Roger Bacon (From the Stanford Encyclopedia) “Roger Bacon (1214/1220–1292), Master of Arts, contemporary of Robert Kilwardby, Peter of Spain, and Albert the Great at the University of Paris in the 1240s, was one of the early Masters who taught Aristotle’s works on natural philosophy and metaphysics. Sometime after 1248–49, he became an independent scholar with an interest in languages and experimental-scientific concerns. Between 1247 and 1267, Bacon mastered most...

Charles Peirce: How to Make our Ideas Clear. 1878

Source: How to make our Ideas Clear (1878), from: Writings of Charles S Peirce, Volume 3, Indiana University Press. I am quoting sections 2,3, and 4. II The principles set forth in the first of these papers lead, at once, to a method of reaching a clearness of thought of a far higher grade than the “distinctness” of the logicians. We have there found that the action of thought is excited by the irritation of doubt, and ceases when belief is attained; so that the production of belief is the sole function of thought. All these words, however, are too...

Edmund Husserl: The Crisis of European Sciences. 1937

LET US GO BACK to the times in which modern man and the modern philosopher still believed in themselves and in a philosophy, when, in the context of the transcendental motivation, they struggled for a new philosophy with the responsible seriousness of an inner, absolute calling that one senses in every word of the genuine philosopher, Even after the so-called collapse of the Hegelian philosophy, in which the line of development determined by Kant culminated, this seriousness remained intact for a time in the philosophies reacting against Hegel

Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Structure of Behavior. 1942

Source: The Structure of Behavior, published by Beacon Press, 1967. I am quoting some passages from the introduction and the conclusion. Introduction: The problem of the relations of consciousness and nature Our goal is to understand the relations of consciousness and nature: organic, psychological or even social. By nature we understand here a multiplicity of events external to each other and bound together by relations of causality. With respect to physical nature, critical thought brings a well-known solution to this problem: reflection reveals that physical analysis is ‘not a decomposition into real elements and that causality in its actual meaning...

Moritz Schlick: Epistemology & Modern Physics. 1925

Source: The Emergence of Logical Empiricism (1996). There is no longer any doubt nowadays, that theoretical philosophy has standing only in close connection with the sciences, whether it seeks in them a basis on which it attempts to build further, or whether they form for it merely the subject-matter of its own analyses, whereby it then makes individual inquiry into the first principles of knowledge. This is very much the case if, as I believe, philosophy can be nothing else whatever but the activity whereby we clarify all our concepts. And it is also beyond doubt that, of all the...

John Dewey: The Ego as Cause. 1894

This short article by Dewey was first published in Philosophical Review, 3, 337-341. Pretty much all libertarians nowadays insist that their doctrine of freedom of will is quite distinct from the older theory of indifferent choice. They suggest that their opponents are quite out of date in devoting their attention to the latter doctrine, which, under present conditions, is wholly a man of straw; they profess themselves quite as devoted adherents of the doctrine of causation as are the determinists, holding that the sole difference is as to the nature of the cause involved in volition.[1] Now, in one sense,...

Auguste Comte: What is Positivism? (1856)

Source: General View of Positivism (1830-42). from A General View of Positivism, translated by J H Bridges, Robert Speller and Sons, 1957. The excerpt is from Chapter 1: “Its Intellectual Character.“ Our doctrine, therefore, is one which renders hypocrisy and oppression alike impossible. And it now stands forward as the result of all the efforts of the past, for the regeneration of order, which, whether considered individually or socially, is so deeply compromised by the anarchy of the present time. It establishes a fundamental principle by which true philosophy and sound polity are brought into correlation; a principle which can...

William James: Does Consciousness Exist?

 First published in Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, 1, 477-491. 1904. ‘Thoughts’ and ‘things’ are names for two sorts of object, which common sense will always find contrasted and will always practically oppose to each other. Philosophy, reflecting on the contrast, has varied in the past in her explanations of it, and may be expected to vary in the future. At first, ‘spirit and matter,’ ‘soul and body,’ stood for a pair of equipollent substances quite on a par in weight and interest. But one day Kant undermined the soul and brought in the transcendental ego, and ever...

Aristotle – Metaphysics

This text is a foundational text of Western philosophy; it was written in 350 B.C.E. In it, Aristotle defines the nature of philosophy in relation to scientific knowledge. He starts with human curiosity – the desire to know does not need any further explanation.His approach differs from Plato: knowledge starts with the senses, but the senses do not tell us the “why” of anything. Wisdom is not just experience or knowledge about things in the world, it is knowledge about the principles and causes of things. Here is the beginning of Metaphysics: Book I: Part 1 “ALL men by nature...

Heidegger – Spiegel Interview

SPIEGEL: Professor Heidegger, we have noticed again and again that your philosophical work is somewhat overshadowed by incidents in your life that, although they didn’t last very long, were never clarified, either because you were too proud or because you did not find it expedient to comment on them.
HEIDEGGER: You mean 1933?
SPIEGEL: Yes, before and afterward. We would like to place it in a greater context and then to move on from there to a few questions that seem important to us, such as: What possibilities does philosophy have to influence reality, including political reality? Does this possibility still exist at all? And if so, what is it composed of?