Philosophy: Introduction

The first person thought to have used the word ‘philosophy’ was Pythagoras, the discoverer of mathematics at the dawn of Greek history. The word comes from ‘philo’, meaning ‘love’, and ‘sophia’, meaning ‘wisdom’. Thus, a philosopher is a lover of wisdom.
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Plato

Socrates fuelled a thirst for knowledge in Plato (born 427BC), who saw ‘mind’ as more fundamental than matter, trying to understand the world through argument.
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Aristotle

Aristotle (born 384BC), who at one point was tutor to Alexander the Great, thought human happiness was only achieved by living in conformity with nature. This symbiotic ideal he transferred to society with mutual aid being fundamental to a moral life, and through this one is self-fulfilled.
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Rene Descartes

Known as the Father of western philosophy, Rene Descartes (born 1596) realized the pointlessness of debating issues with the fundamentally religious, causing him to leave Catholic influenced Europe and find a home in the north west, where Protestantism ruled, with its greater spirit of inquiry.
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John Locke

Devising ’empiricism’ in its modern sense, John Locke was fascinated by what we could really know of the outside world. Throwing holism and spirit out of the window, he declared man is born with no innate ideas. Each mind is a clean slate. He then fills the mind with experiences. These experiences produce sensations, upon which we reflect and conceive ideas of the outside world.
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Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant disagreed with both the rationalist and empiricist, especially concerning knowledge. To Kant the mind was active in the world. This opposed Locke, who thought the mind was simply a passive receptor of information and experience.
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Friedrick Nietzsche

Friedrick Nietzsche looked at the world and asked: what is truth? In a world where harmony is unattainable, he could have only one answer. In a world where conflict was guaranteed, truth can only be power.
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William James

James transferred the knowledge gained from empiricism from private mental experience to a knowledge system geared purely to solve problems. To James, if an idea made no difference to everyday life, then that idea was unimportant.
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