Genius - in Their Own Words: The Intellectual Journeys of Seven Great 20th Century Thinkers

Genius - in Their Own Words: The Intellectual Journeys of Seven Great 20th Century Thinkers

Genius - in Their Own Words: The Intellectual Journeys of Seven Great 20th Century Thinkers

Genius - in Their Own Words: The Intellectual Journeys of Seven Great 20th Century Thinkers

Synopsis

"The violent cataclysms and ideological upheavals of the last 100 years are uniquely captured in this compelling mosaic of personal testimonies from outstanding thinkers: these autobiographical accounts by seven of the most profound and influential minds of recent history are individual voices, highly contrasted in manner and message. Taken together, they give us a remarkable perspective on the ruling ideas of our epoch." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Philosophical Autobiography

In one of the innumerable digressions that make up the texture of Arthur Schopenhauer’s masterpiece, The World as Will and Idea, he addresses the topic of geniuses almost en passant. “These appear singly and sparingly in the course of centuries,” he writes, appealing to an image from Virgil that one can never again encounter without being reminded of the metaphoric use that Schopenhauer made of it: “Singly they appear, swimming by in the vast waste of the waves.”

In Virgil’s poem, this passage occurs as part of a famous set piece—a disaster at sea, where a vindictive goddess seeks to thwart an expedition of Trojans who have set out to establish a new homeland in Italy. It is a scene of terror and destruction, where masts break and ropes snap, and men are blown overboard to drown in the tempest-tost sea.

But Schopenhauer changes the optics of the scene, almost as if it were seen from a great distance, and turns it into a poetic representation of solitary figures tracing a path in the vast unknown. It is difficult not to believe that he has himself as a thinker in mind, alone and struggling—one of the sparse company of original philosophical minds, like Plato and Kant, who appear “singly and sparingly” down the ages. In Schopenhauer’s century, for example, there were in all perhaps half a dozen such solitary swimmers, mostly German, as it happens: Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and Nietzsche. In the previous century there was Kant, of course, as well as Berkeley and Hume, everyone else being relatively minor. But in no century have there been very many, and in most centuries none at all.

The lives of the philosophers has been a subject of natural curiosity, beginning in ancient times, and we have a magnificent example of a paradigmatic philosophical life in Plato’s portrait of Socrates. Plato even gives . . .

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