Steve's Philosophy

You've got one.
So do I.

These are the people who make the most sense to me and have been an influence. Maybe they will make sense to you too.

I've read many others, but have rejected nearly all.
These are the good guys!

Arranged by birth year. Updated November 8, 2009


Philosophy:

  • Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
  • Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
  • The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs.
  • The discipline comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
  • A set of ideas or beliefs relating to a particular field or activity; an underlying theory.
  • A system of values by which one lives.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The above link offers many great thinkers throughout history.

Everyone has favorites. These are mine:
My favorites materials are in bold. Your local library probably has copies of most materials listed.

I've investigated many philosophers and found that most of the ancients, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, etc. suffered the philosophical consequences of bad science in their times. They may have seemed great for their times, but not for these times. I find very little value in the ancients other than a few interesting quotes, so my list starts with the first person I have found who makes incredibly good sense even today.


Baruch Spinoza
(1632-1677)

Baruch Spinoza TOP

If all education started with Spinoza, reason would reign!

I first read Spinoza 17 years ago and have been collecting Spinoza references ever since. The absolute best are listed below. Start with the audio tapes, then go to the books.

His writing bothers some people because it is written in the "geometric" style which arranges ideas in logical order. For example; if 1+1=2, then 2+1=3 (true, but only if we agree on what a 1 is). Using this style, conclusions are based on previous conclusions so all the pieces fit. Spinozan philosophy does not require leaps of faith yet is thorough, comprehensive and reliable. Einstein said: "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings."

Spinoza's "1", the first thing to clarify, is god. If you can't agree on what god is (or isn't), then nothing else makes sense either. Once you have god under your belt (don't assume that you already know), the rest just makes sense!

If you have already read Spinoza and are wondering what "substance" is, I'm quite sure I know. Spinoza was right and still is, but the science of the day denied him the ability to specify the definition. Our science is better today so his answer can be more clearly explained. Call me.

Hold on to your hat (to keep your brain from exploding), Spinoza is a wild and satisfying reason ride!


Immanuel Kant
(1724-1804)

Immanuel Kant TOP

Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is 700+ pages of hard core philosophy. Though daunting, I found it very valuable. Few before Kant were able to fit the pieces together so well to explain how we make choices and learn. Kant was able to logically merge the hard dichotomies of previous assumptions into a coherent unified conclusion. Are we philosophically hard wired at birth or a blank slate. How much choice do we have or should we have? Kant tackles these questions.

A key point is that we must never just go shopping for answers or adopt a popular or available perspective, we must deliberately relentlessly interrogate then judge experiences and opportunities for ourselves, against our individual values, on an individual basis, then choose. We must apply reason and make the hard choices. That is our job. To do less is to be someone else's fool.

The audio tapes listed at left are excellent and are a real shortcut to the meat of Kant's philosophy.

To be honest, I think Robert Pirsig is a modern Immanuel Kant. If you have trouble digesting Kant's 18th century translated from German writing style, read Pirsig. He takes Kant and "Reason" to the next level.


Thomas Paine
(January 29, 1737 -
June 8, 1809)

Thomas Paine? TOP

He's probably the most important but least known Revolutionary War patriot writer. After reading extensively on the Constitution and its creation I now believe that, more than anyone else, Paine was the father of the American Revolution and subsequently the French Revolution. Paine was the first match that lit up all the other names we recognize as the founding fathers. It was Paine who brought so much "Common Sense" (the title of Paine's famous pamphlet) and inspiration to the minds of colonial revolutionaries that American independence was inevitable.

In "Common Sense", Paine boldly and eloquently defined freedom for the people and exposed the pompous and unjustifiable excesses of monarchies levied on the backs of commoners. Paine was hated and hunted by the British and nearly executed by the French. He wrote eloquently without a formal education but with heart, originality, creativity and brutally beautiful logic. He almost single handedly awakened common people to their rights and rightful place in society.

During the war, when the patriot troops were demoralized, Paine's "American Crisis" was read on the battle field. It begins with the now legendary words: "These are the times that try men's souls..."

So, how can such an important, influential and articulate speaker of the truth be so ignored in elementary American history? Easy. He made just one mistake, a mistake that proved more lethal than spitting in the eye of the King of England.

As he sat waiting to be beheaded in a French prison, thinking that his remaining days could be counted on one hand, he wrote an honest and logical booklet called "Age of Reason", his thoughts about religion. With only hours to spare, James Madison got Paine released from prison. Paine returned to America. His mortal mistake was publishing "Age of Reason".

Paine, like many of the founding fathers, was a Deist, a monotheist who believed in God but not in the Trinity and not in Jesus as the son of God. Using his exceptional insight, "Age of Reason" convincingly challenged the Bible. Paine's logic could defeat the King of England and his entire army, Paine's logic illuminates gaping holes and embarrassing contradictions in the Bible, but Christians don't respect logic. Logic has no effect on the faithful. Paine was labeled an Atheist, which he wasn't, and was decried from church pulpits. When Paine entered a room, some would praise him as a Revolutionary hero, others would curse him as a devil. He became too controversial to list among the other founding fathers.

Fortunately, his writings remain and are easily accessible (thanks to the Constitution). Through them, his value to every American is obvious. Read Paine and judge for yourself. You won't regret it.


Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Thomas Jefferson TOP

I have read much by and about Jefferson. I find him fascinating as a man, important as a founding father, and intellectually indispensable. Read my essay on the Jeffersonian / Hamiltonian Debate.



Ralph Waldo Emerson
©2000 www.arttoday.com

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Ralph Waldo Emerson TOP


John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

John Stuart Mill TOP

For quite some time I've felt compelled to write to explain certain important concepts. One such topic is individual liberty. Mill's On Liberty is a wonderful booklet that says what needs to be said. I couldn't have said it better.

On Liberty asks and answers the questions everyone needs to ask themselves regarding the definition of liberty. What does liberty mean to you, to government, and to society? You might initially disagree with his conclusions but eventually you will probably agree. Mill has done mankind a favor by focusing on a word used by many but understood by few. His work has been criticized in print over the years but the criticism has fallen away and been forgotten (On Liberty has not been forgotten) leaving behind a great and important work that deserves to never be forgotten.

My only regret is that this book was written in England English in 1859. The language is sophisticated, the sentences and paragraphs are very long, but the logic is precise. This short booklet is difficult to read. I found it best to read a paragraph, then reread it to be sure I understood. Having done this throughout, I can say that it is a great and important work.

It needs to be rewritten for the paperback novel crowd who won't be able to get through it. Since this hasn't been done, it is up to those who ARE able to read it to spread the word... Liberty.


Henry David Thoreau
(1817-1862)

Henry David Thoreau TOP


Frederick Douglass
(1818-1895)

Frederick Douglass TOP

Douglass is an almost unbelievable story of a man who, starting from the most deprived and depressed situation, rose against the worst and most dangerous conditions to achieve prominence and respect. His "self made man" life is inspirational to those who feel that they cannot achieve a goal because of who they started out as or who they currently are. Douglass started life as a slave who, through sheer determination, against the odds, and at great risk, changed his own life to become one who advised U.S. presidents, spoke powerfully and helped to free millions.

While not typically considered a philosopher, I include him on my list because when you read him, his eloquence, determination and logic inspires me to be bolder and more determined in my own convictions. That is what philosophy should do. That is why he is on my philosophy page. His contribution to philosophy is boldness, conviction and is a model for self-education.

He did not seek riches. He sought justice and righteousness. His writing is masterful, cutting to the bone with grace and respect and humility. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (his autobiography) was one of the most influential pieces of literature to fuel the abolitionist movement. It deserves to be read by all and to be re-read periodically. It is as close as most of us will ever get to realizing life as a slave. His many writings are collected in an excellent single volume: Douglass: Autobiographies

He is proof that formal education doesn't make the man, men make our education.


Robert Ingersoll
(1833-1899)

The 12-volume Dresden Editions kept interest in Ingersoll's ideas alive and preserved his speeches.

Robert Ingersoll TOP

Robert Ingersoll was an American political leader and orator, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was prominent during the Golden Age of Freethought.

Ingersoll was most noted as an orator, the most popular of the age. He spoke on every subject, from Shakespeare to Reconstruction, but his most popular subjects were agnosticism and the sanctity and refuge of the family. He committed his speeches to memory although they were sometimes more than three hours long. His audiences were said never to be restless.

His radical views on religion (strongly opposed superstition), slavery (strongly opposed), woman's suffrage (favored), and other issues of the day effectively prevented him from ever pursuing or holding political offices higher than that of Attorney General. Illinois Republicans (today's democratic party) tried to pressure him into running for Governor on the condition that Ingersoll conceal his agnosticism during the campaign. He refused the nomination because he thought concealing information from the public was immoral.

Many of Ingersoll's speeches advocated Freethought and Humanism, and challenged religious belief. For this the press often attacked him, but neither his views nor the negative press could stop his rising popularity. At the height of Ingersoll's fame, audiences would pay $1 or more to hear him speak, a giant sum for his day (late 1800s). His essay, The Improved Man, is an excellent summary.

Ingersoll died from congestive heart failure, aged 65. In 2005, Ingersoll's work was published by Steerforth Press.

Robert Green Ingersoll is frequently confused with the Ingersoll Watch Company which sold pocket watches, typically priced at $1.00. Though Robert Ingersoll and the founder of the Ingersoll Watch Company share a common ancestor, there is no other connection between them. Robert Green Ingersoll also has no connection to the Ingersoll-Rand Company.


John Burroughs (1837-1921)

John Burroughs TOP

John Burroughs was born April 3, 1837, near the town of Roxbury in the Catskill Mountains. Growing up on his parents' farm, he absorbed much of the nature and country life that he would later write about in his many volumes.

He taught briefly, married, and during the Civil War settled in Washington, D.C. where he obtained a job as a clerk in the Treasury Department. It was during his nine years in Washington that he published his first book, Wake-Robin.

In 1873 he returned to New York State and established his home "Riverby" on the west bank of the Hudson River at West Park. He began fruit farming and continued to write, publishing a new book about every two years. He died on a train while returning from California on March 29, 1921. He was buried on the farm on his eighty-fourth birthday, April 3, 1921, at the foot of Boyhood rock on which he had played as a child.

In his time he was an immensely popular nature writer. His popularity resided in the fact that readers appreciated the way of life he wrote about and came to exemplify --- the tantalizingly elusive yet universally accessible --- simple values, simple means, simple ends.

"To treat your facts with imagination is one thing, to imagine your facts is another." John Burroughs


John Muir
(1838-1914)

John Muir TOP

John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland, in 1838 and died in Los Angeles, California, in 1914. His family emigrated to Wisconsin in 1849 to work a series of hardscrabble farms under the direction of a religious zealot father, whose fire and brimstone was tempered by a loving and good humored mother. He studied the natural sciences at the University of Wisconsin, but did not take a degree. After recovering from blindness caused by an industrial accident in 1868, he began 40 years of intermittent wandering in the wilderness of North America, which produced some of the best nature writing in the English language. His works include The Mountains of California, Our National Parks, My First Summer in the Sierra, Steep Trails, Stickeen, and others.

Muir's great contribution to wilderness preservation was to successfully promote the idea that wilderness had spiritual as well as economic value. This revolutionary idea was possible only because Muir was able to publish everything he wrote in the four principal monthly magazines read by the American middle class in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Scribner's, Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and Century). This was the present day equivalent of being able to control the content of all major television networks. As power begets the respect of the powerful, Muir's good will and opinion were sought by some of the most powerful figures in his time; men such as railroad baron Edward Henry Harriman and Theodore Roosevelt. The young borax magnate, Stephen T. Mather was a disciple of Muir's and an early member of Muir's famed Sierra Club.


John Dewey
(1859-1952)

John Dewey TOP


Franklin D. Roosevelt
(1882-1945)

Franklin D. Roosevelt TOP

Second to Jefferson, FDR is my most appreciated president. He was directly responsible for the New Deal, which brought to average Americans, in times of great insecurity (The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and eventually World War II), the security they needed to stop fearing fear itself. He introduce structures that promoted the lifestyle and power of the middle classes. His strategies (Social Security, protection for unions, taxation of the wealthy, etc.) redistributed wealth and power and protected the middle classes from the concentrated power of corporations and excessive wealth. These latter two never forgave him for it.

I include him on my philosophy page because he stood on and fought for principles that benefited others, more than himself. He was born to wealth, but successfully fought for the middle people who loved him for it. That is a philosophy worth recognizing. His life and administration is worth studying.

Since he is better noted for what he did instead of books he wrote, I refer you to books and other resources so that you too can appreciate who he was and how he changed the structure of American life.

The Second Bill of Rights an excellent book written by Cass R. Sunstein, brings much of FDR's strategy to light and explains how it still applies today.


John Maynard Keynes
(1883-1946)

John Maynard Keynes TOP

Economics might seem boring, but it is THE single most important activity affecting a country, second only to the Constitution itself. Oddly, our Constitution mentions nothing about our economy. It was created by people independent from the Constitution which binds it. It evolves constantly and is dominated by those who have the most to gain from its structure.

As with most important social structures, there are competing economic ideologies. The two dominant today are Keynesian and Monetarism.

I've spent several years considering the options, debating the issues with concerned individuals, and find that Keynesian economics is the best solution for the average American.

So, despite current Monetarism trends, we need to first; study the differences between the two ideologies, then second; start putting new Keynesian economic principles in place.


Robert Pirsig
(1928-living)

Robert Pirsig TOP

Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance. No, it's NOT about Zen, nor art, nor motorcycles, nor maintenance. It IS an inquiry into values, a tour of the word "quality," masterfully crafted into a story, apparently true, about Pirsig and his young son on a cross country motorcycle trip. This book is easy to read and hooks you.

I read Zen back in the early 80s and loved it. I'm proud to say that I have successfully introduced it to others who would never have read anything like it on their own.

On a whim I reread it recently (audio book on CD from the library) while traveling alone across country by car. I was amazed how much of the book stuck with me over 20 years. In fact I can't remember if much of my value system was initiated by this book or if I liked the book because it reflected much of my existing value system. I'm really not sure anymore which came first!

I've also read Lila; an inquiry into morals. Equally important to Zen; an inquiry into values. Lila is based on the experiences of a man on a sailboat who meets a controversial woman, thus starts the inquiry into morals.

Some say that Zen is the introduction and Lila is the meat, but I found both to stand on their own as two great complementary enlightening works. Zen is widely accepted as a classic. To be honest, I think Pirsig is a modern Immanuel Kant. If you can't read Kant, read Pirsig. He takes Kant and "Reason" to the next level with a modern readable writing style.


Wendell Berry
(1934-living)

Wendell Berry TOP

American poet, novelist, essayist, philosopher and farmer.

Born, 5 August 1934, Henry County, Kentucky, where he still lives and farms on the family farm at Port Kentucky, alongside the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio.

Wendell Berry is a former professor of English at the University of Kentucky and the author of thirty-two books of essays, poetry and novels. He has worked a farm in Henry County, Kentucky since 1965. He has been a fellow of both the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. He has received numerous awards for his work, including an award from the National Institute and Academy of Arts and Letters in 1971, and most recently, the T.S. Eliot Award.

Berry is a strong defender of family, rural communities, and traditional family farms. He has developed 17 rules for the healthy functioning of sustainable local economy. The underlying principles could be described as 'the preservation of ecological diversity and integrity, and the renewal, on sound cultural and ecological principles, of local economies and local communities'


Jerry Mander (1936-living)

Four Arguments For The Elimination Of Television
1977

In The Absence Of The Sacred: The Failure Of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations
1991

The Case Against the Global Economy
1996

Many more resources

Jerry Mander TOP

Jerry Mander was president of the San Francisco advertising company Freeman, Mander & Gossage in the 1960s, but then turned his talents to environmental campaigns. He authored the 1960s Sierra Club campaigns that kept dams out of the Grand Canyon, established Redwood National Park and others, and successfully opposed production of the Supersonic Transport (SST). In 1971, Mander co-founded the country's first nonprofit advertising agency, Public Interest Communications, which served only nonprofit environmental and social action groups. Since 1980, Mander is currently a senior fellow at the nonprofit Public Media Center in San Francisco and is program director of the Foundation for Deep Ecology. He is a cofounder and chair of the International Forum on Globalization, a new international organization of activists opposed to the global economy.

  • Alternatives to Economic Globalization
    Written by a premier group of thinkers from around the world, Alternatives to Economic Globalization is the defining document of the anti globalization movement. The culmination of a three-year project by the International Forum on Globalization, whose members include Ralph Nader, David Korten, John Cavanagh, Lori Wallach, and Jerry Mander, it presents both a sober critique of globalization as well as practical, thoughtful alternatives. The authors assert ten core requirements for democratic societies, including equality, basic human rights, local decision making, and ecological sustainability, and demonstrate how globalization undermines each. Offering specific strategies for reining in corporate domination, they address alternative systems for energy, agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing; ideas for weakening or dismantling the WTO, World Bank, and IMF; and rebuilding economies that are responsive to human needs.

Richard Dawkins
(1941-living)

 

Richard Dawkins TOP

The concept of evolution has been around since Origin of Species in 1867, but the debate never ends. As I've learned and debated the concept, I've concluded that most of the opposition comes from those who don't know how evolution works and those who simply don't want to know.

Dawkins explains evolution in common terms. He integrates human behavior with genetic logic in an easy style. For those who know at least a little about genetics and DNA, Dawkins clears up confusion generated by nay sayers. He makes much more sense than the opposition.

Dawkins is on my list because his explanation of the evolutionary process is easy to accept and even easier to apply to everyday life. Armed with his logic, human behavior makes more sense. Interacting with others is easier and more predictable. Diversity is justified and it becomes obvious that we are genetically influenced far more than most want to admit.

Richard Dawkins's first book, The Selfish Gene (1976; second edition, 1989), became an immediate international bestseller and, like The Blind Watchmaker, was translated into all the major languages. Its sequel, The Extended Phenotype, followed in 1982. His other bestsellers include River Out of Eden (1995), Climbing Mount Improbable (1996), and Unweaving the Rainbow (1998).

Since he became notorious on the subject of evolution, he was regularly challenged by creationists or Intelligent Designers. In response, Dawkins has risen to the challenge and become an advocate of Atheism. Starting with The Blind Watchmaker and continuing through The God Delusion, he is gaining renewed recognition for convincingly debunking religious dogma and is becoming today what Ingersoll was a century ago.


Howard Gardner
(1943-living)

Howard Gardner TOP

Gardner helped me understand very clearly that there is more than one way to be intelligent. This makes nearly everyone valuable, differently. Snobbery and class distinction has no justification. How we each learn is different and what we each learn from an experience is different. Not right or wrong, just different.

Howard Gardner is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, a critique of the notion that there exists one single human intelligence that can be assessed by standard psychometric instruments. The work of Howard Gardner has changed the way people think and work in education, in the arts, in cognitive psychology, and in medicine.

Gardner is currently Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education; Professor of Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine; and Co-Director of Harvard Project Zero, a long-term study of human intellectual and creative development.

Gardner’s 17 books, numerous edited volumes, and over 400 articles and book reviews have served diverse audiences, drawing praise from such disparate sources as Isaac Asimov, E.O. Wilson, and Diane Ravitch. In many influential books, he introduced readers around the world to the complex ideas of structuralism and cognitive science. He also explored the concepts of creativity and intelligence and the parts they play in children’s learning, including the major role that arts education should have in developing basic cognitive skills.


Steven Pinker
(1954-living)

Steven Pinker TOP

The best-selling author and Harvard professor argues that evolution, more than environment, has shaped the human mind -- echoing Charles Darwin's famous contention that natural development, occurring over centuries, altered the makeup of the human body.

In The Blank Slate, Pinker takes aim at the theory that people are born with minds that are blank, to be filled by experiences and lessons. Instead, he contends, many human behaviors are the product of genes and, thus, innate.

A native of Montreal, Canada, Pinker has spent most of his adult life studying and teaching in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Three years after earning his doctorate at Harvard University in 1979, he began a 21-year stint at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Last year, he returned to Harvard as a psychology professor.

He expanded on his linguistic theory in 1997's critically praised How the Mind Works, which proposed that emotions and other brain functions stem from an evolutionary process, too. In the book, he used evolution to explain a range of everyday behaviors, such as why people find something funny, how they can appreciate art, or the mechanics behind falling in love.

With 2002's The Blank Slate, Pinker used pop culture and psychology references to show that people's conceptions of human nature affect everything from child-rearing to politics to morality to the arts.

Pinker's way with words has earned him finalist nods for the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and 2003 (for How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate, respectively), as well as the Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize (for How the Mind Works). In 1984, the American Psychology Association awarded him its Early Career Award. In addition to his duties at Harvard, Pinker currently serves as an adviser for The American Heritage Dictionary.

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