Marcus Tullius Cicero is widely considered Rome’s greatest orator and verse writer but he was also an influential statesman, successful lawyer and philosopher. He has greatly influenced the Western thought and philosophy despite the fact that his own contribution to the discipline is generally considered of lesser importance. However, thanks to Cicero, Western philosophers gained access to many important ancient philosophical works that would otherwise be lost forever.
Although Cicero is considered one of the most important Western philosophers, he did not make any major contributions to the discipline as such. All his works are written in outstanding Latin prose, proving his brilliance with words but do not offer much originality. However, it is important to note that Cicero was primarily a politician and considered politics a priority. Ironically, he turned out to be the least successful in politics which was directly responsible for his premature death. Cicero’s philosophical works are mostly reproductions of the prominent Greek philosophers, mostly stoic. However, his works “De amicitia” (On Friendship), “De senectute” (On Old Age), “De officiis” (On Duty), “De natural deorum” (On the Nature of the Gods), to mention only a few are a priceless source of ancient Greek philosophy, while rediscovery of Cicero’s letters by Petrarch in the 14th century is by some thought to gave rise to Renaissance. Cicero’s writings also had a major influence on the Enlightenment philosophers, particularly Montesquieu, John Locke and David Hume.
Other Works Cicero is best known for his speeches (of which 57 have survived) and political philosophy. He is also known to have been a highly respected poet, however, none of his poetry survived. The works that did survived including hundreds of letters he wrote to various correspondents came to be regarded as a synonym for Latin as well as a priceless source for history of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire.
A Scottish-born historian, economist, and philosopher, Hume is often grouped with thinkers such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Sir Francis Bacon as part of a movement called British Empiricism. He was focused on creating a “naturalistic science of man” that delves into the psychological conditions defining human nature. In contrast to rationalists such as Descartes, Hume was preoccupied with the way that passions (as opposed to reason) govern human behavior. This, Hume argued, predisposed human beings to knowledge founded not on the existence of certain absolutes but on personal experience. As a consequence of these ideas, Hume would be among the first major thinkers to refute dogmatic religious and moral ideals in favor of a more sentimentalist approach to human nature. His belief system would help to inform the future movements of utilitarianism and logical positivism, and would have a profound impact on scientific and theological discourse thereafter.
Hume’s Big Ideas ~Articulated the “problem of induction,” suggesting we cannot rationally justify our belief in causality, that our perception only allows us to experience events that are typically conjoined, and that causality cannot be empirically asserted as the connecting force in that relationship; ~Assessed that human beings lack the capacity to achieve a true conception of the self, that our conception is merely a “bundle of sensations” that we connect to formulate the idea of the self; ~Hume argued against moral absolutes, instead positing that our ethical behavior and treatment of others is compelled by emotion, sentiment, and internal passions, that we are inclined to positive behaviors by their likely desirable outcomes.
Hume’s Key Works ~A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) ~An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) ~The History Of England (1754–62)
An English physicist and philosopher, John Locke was a prominent thinker during the Enlightenment period. Part of the movement of British Empiricism alongside fellow countrymen David Hume, Thomas Hobbes, and Sir Francis Bacon, Locke is regarded as an important contributor to the development of the social contract theory and is sometimes identified as the father of liberalism. Indeed, his discourses on identity, the self, and the impact of sensory experience would be essential revelations to many Enlightenment thinkers and, consequently, to real revolutionaries. His philosophy is said to have figured prominently into the formulation of the Declaration of Independence that initiated America’s war for independence from the British.
Locke’s Big Ideas
Coined the term tabula rasa (blank slate) to denote that the human mind is born unformed, and that ideas and rules are only enforced through experience thereafter;
Established the method of introspection, focusing on one’s own emotions and behaviors in search of a better understanding of the self;
Argued that in order to be true, something must be capable of repeated testing, a view that girded his ideology with the intent of scientific rigor.
A Boston-born writer, philosopher, and poet, Ralph Waldo Emerson is the father of the transcendentalist movement. This was a distinctly American philosophical orientation that rejected the pressures imposed by society, materialism, and organized religion in favor of the ideals of individualism, freedom, and a personal emphasis on the soul’s relationship with the surrounding natural world. Though not explicitly a “naturalist” himself, Emerson’s ideals were taken up by this 20th century movement. He was also seen as a key figure in the American romantic movement.
Emerson’s Big Ideas ~Wrote on the importance of subjects such as self-reliance, experiential living, and the preeminence of the soul; ~Referred to “the infinitude of the private man” as his central doctrine; ~Was a mentor and friend to fellow influential transcendentalist Henry David Thoureau.
Emerson’s Key Works ~Nature and Other Essays (1836) ~Essays: First and Second Series (1841,1844)
Aristotle is among the most important and influential thinkers and teachers in human history, often considered — alongside his mentor, Plato — to be a father of Western Philosophy.” Born in the northern part of ancient Greece, his writings and ideas on metaphysics, ethics, knowledge, and methodological inquiry are at the very root of human thought. Most philosophers who followed — both those who echoed and those who opposed his ideas — owed a direct debt to his wide-ranging influence. Aristotle’s enormous impact was a consequence both of the breadth of his writing and his personal reach during his lifetime.
In addition to being a philosopher, Aristotle was also a scientist, which led him to consider an enormous array of topics, and largely through the view that all concepts and knowledge are ultimately based on perception. A small sampling of topics covered in Aristotle’s writing includes physics, biology, psychology, linguistics, logic, ethics, rhetoric, politics, government, music, theatre, poetry, and metaphysics. He was also in a unique position to prevail directly over thinking throughout the known world, tutoring a young Alexander the Great at the request of the future conqueror’s father, Phillip II of Macedon. This position of influence gave Aristotle the means to establish the library at Lyceum, where he produced hundreds of writings on papyrus scrolls. And of course, it also gave him direct sway over the mind of a man who would one day command an empire stretching from Greece to northwestern India. The result was an enormous sphere of influence for Aristotle’s ideas, one that only began to be challenged by Renaissance thinkers nearly 2,000 years later.
Aristotle’s Big Ideas
Asserted the use of logic as a method of argument and offered the basic methodological template for analytical discourse;
Espoused the understanding that knowledge is built from the study of things that happen in the world, and that some knowledge is universal — a prevailing set of ideas throughout Western Civilization thereafter;
Defined metaphysics as “the knowledge of immaterial being,” and used this framework to examine the relationship between substance (a combination of matter and form) and essence, from which he devises that man is comprised from a unity of the two.
Aristotle’s Key Works ~ ~The Metaphysics ~Nicomachean Ethics ~Poetics
The mind-body problem arises because mental phenomena arguably differ, qualitatively or substantially, from the physical body on which they apparently depend. There are a few major theories on the resolution of the problem. Dualism is the theory that the mind and body are two distinct substances, and monism is the theory that they are, in reality, just one substance. Monist materialists/physicalists take the view that they are both matter, and monist idealists take the view that they are both in the mind. The absence of an empirically identifiable meeting point between the non-physical mind and its physical extension has proven problematic to dualism and many modern philosophers maintain that the mind is not something separate from the body.