When was the last time you saw a job posting requesting “Philosophers Wanted”? Never, really? Well. How about writing? Thinking? Talking? Sure, but why study philosophy then?
Setting aside the numbers, test scores, and salary statistics, philosophy at its core teaches you highly marketable skills to be used at any level of a career. To think clearly, to present logically, and to write precisely are all easily transferable skills for the work environment, be that a lawyer, doctor, teacher, entrepreneur, writer, administration, editors, etc and etc and etc. Your potential is literally limitless as each profession needs employees that are well educated and applicable to the trends of today.
So, if you are looking for a major to propel you into a graduate program with an extra edge against competing students. Or, perhaps just a class or a minor to learn to write better, and add a level of understanding to your chosen field, explore what philosophy has to offer you. One day you could be in the eye of the public!
Socrates was born the son of Sophroniscus, a stone-cutter, and Phaenarete, a midwife, in about 469 BC in Athens. In his youth, he studied with the natural philosopher Archelaus, himself a student of Anaxagoras, but Socrates did not pursue research into nature. As Socrates was growing up, Athens became a thorough-going democracy in which every citizen was expected to participate. As democracies spread in Greece, there arose a demand for training in public speaking and financial management that would allow young men to become leaders in their cities. This need was filled by the sophists, itinerant teachers who offered courses in practical subjects to those who could pay for them.
Socrates did not claim to be a teacher or offer courses for money like the sophists. Instead, he asked questions of people he met, seeking to find out how they understood virtue and goodness. He did not write treatises like other philosophers, but rather conversed one-on-one with individuals—though increasingly young men followed him around to observe him and interact with him. His friend Chaerephon went to the Oracle of Apollo in Delphi to ask if anyone was wiser than Socrates, and he was told that no one was. When Chaerephon shared the good news with Socrates, the philosopher tested this report by trying to find someone wiser; but he found that those who had some expertise thought they knew everything, which they did not. Socrates came to realize that he had a kind of mission from the god to urge people to care more about their souls than about their bodies, and more about their living virtuous lives than about gaining money, power, and social status.
Socrates fought in several battles as a citizen soldier during the Peloponnesian War, and always acted bravely. He served in government positions in the democracy where he risked his life to insist that the people of Athens abide by their own laws; when a tyrannical puppet government was set up in Athens at the end of the war, he refused to collaborate with it at the risk of his life.
Gathering some of the brightest young minds around him, Socrates turned them to a life of philosophy and moral action. His most notable students were Xenophon and Plato, both of whom wrote dialogues depicting the philosophical conversations of Socrates, and both of whom became civic and intellectual leaders. From these writings and others, scholars reconstruct the life and thought of Socrates.
Socrates became known for his paradoxical views, including the claims that virtue is knowledge, but not teachable; no one desires evil; no one can harm a good man; no one does wrong willingly; one must never do harm to another; and the unexamined life is not worth living. He had plausible arguments for all his paradoxical views.
Socrates is considered to be a revolutionary thinker in that he turned the course of philosophy from studies of nature and cosmology to studies of morality and value theory. He invented the study of ethics, and embodied moral principles in his life. In 399 BC he was put on trial for impiety and corrupting the youth, and condemned. After his death, his followers waged a propaganda war to rehabilitate his reputation, and ultimately succeeded in making Socrates a hero for future generations. They also succeeded in making ethics the most important facet of philosophy.
Brought to “light” by Dan Graham
Émilie du Châtelet
Émilie du Châtelet was a French physicist and philosopher of science in the first half of the eighteenth century. After early training in mathematics, Du Châtelet’s interests turned to physics, and she wrote an essay on the behavior of light by following many of Isaac Newton’s ideas. She also wrote an essay on the nature of fire.
She published her major work, the Foundations of Physics (Institutions de physique) in 1740. In this book, Du Châtelet attempts to use the philosophy of Leibniz and Christian Wolff to provide a metaphysical foundation for Newtonian physics. She adopted metaphysical ideas like the principle of sufficient reason in order to explain the nature of scientific laws. She also developed a philosophy of the proper use of hypotheses in scientific reasoning.
A second edition of the Foundations appeared in 1742, and it was translated into German and Italian the following year. Du Châtelet’s work became a major source of ideas about science and metaphysics during the Enlightenment, and many passages were copied (without attribution) into later encyclopedias published in France.
Closer to the end of her life, Du Châtelet translated Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica into French. She finished the work shortly before her death, and her translation is still the standard edition of the text in French today.
In recent years, historians of philosophy have taken a great interest in Du Châtelet, both for her connections to important figures like Newton and Voltaire and also for the virtues of her own original work. For many philosophers, she has become a major figure of the early modern period, and one of the most important women in the history of philosophy.
Brought to “light” by Bryce Gessell
Margaret Lucas Cavendish
Margaret Lucas Cavendish was a philosopher, poet, scientist, fiction-writer, and playwright who lived in the Seventeenth Century. Her work is important for a number of reasons. One is that it lays out an early and very compelling version of the naturalism that is found in current-day philosophy and science. It also offers important insights that bear on recent discussions of the nature and characteristics of intelligence and the question of whether or not the bodies that surround us are intelligent or have an intelligent cause.
Margaret Lucas was born in 1623 in Colchester, Essex. She did not receive a formal education in disciplines such as mathematics, history, philosophy, and the classical languages, but she had access to scholarly libraries and was an avid reader. She began to put her own ideas to paper at a very early age, and although it was regarded as unseemly at the time for a woman to be publicly intellectual, she was able to be an intellectual in private in regular conversations with her middle-brother John. This is noteworthy because John was already a well-established scholar: a student of law, philosophy, and natural science, he was fluent in Hebrew, Latin and Greek, and would eventually become a founding member of the Royal Society (Whitaker 2002, 11–12).
The marriage of Margaret Lucas and William Cavendish. In the mid-seventeenth-century it was unusual for a publisher to print the philosophical and scientific work of a woman. Cavendish was a sufficiently brilliant and impressive writer that she was able to publish some of her work without assistance (Whitaker 2002, 154), including her very first work [Poems and Fancies, 1653], but some of her writings were published with the help of her well-connected husband. Also, important to mention the marriage of Lucas to Cavendish is that through the “Cavendish Circle” meetings that he organized in the 1640s, she interacted with such figures as Thomas Hobbes, Rene Descartes, Marin Mersenne, Pierre Gassendi, and Kenelm Digby (Hutton 1997a, 422–3; Whitaker 2002, 92–4; Clucas 1994, 256–64). But these philosophers would not engage with her directly.
Cavendish lived and wrote in the thick of the mechanistic revolution of the seventeenth century, though many of her views—about thinking matter, the transfer of motion, and the nature of scientific explanation—are largely anti-mechanistic, and in many respects her arguments ran against the grain. In her own age, she was regarded alternately as mad, pretentious, a curiosity, and a genius. She finally received some much-wanted recognition from her male peers in 1667, when she was offered an extremely rare invitation to participate in a meeting of the Royal Society, though to be sure she was regarded as a spectacle by many in attendance (Whitaker 2002, 291–306). She died in December 1673 and was buried at Westminster Abbey. Over the course of her short life she produced a number of important works in philosophy. These include Worlds Olio (1655), Philosophical and Physical Opinions (1656), Philosophical Letters (1664), Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy (1666), The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World (1666), and Grounds of Natural Philosophy (1668). The central tenet of Cavendish’s philosophy is that everything in the universe—including human beings and their minds—is completely material.
& brought to “light” by Katie Paxman