The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Thought

The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Thought

The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Thought

The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Thought


This highly readable volume offers a broad introduction to modern philosophy and philosophers. Ben-Ami Scharfstein contends that personal experience, especially that of childhood, affects philosophers' sense of reality and hence the content of their philosophies. He bases his argumenton biographical studies of twenty great philosophers, beginning with Descartes and ending with Wittgenstein and Sartre. Taken together, these studies provide the beginnings of a psychological history of the philosophy of the period. Scharfstein first focuses on the philosophers' efforts to arrive at the objective truth and to persuade themselves and others of its existence. He then explores truth and relevance, both proposing the broadening of the traditional philosophical conception of relevance and consideringphilosophers' need to create something that belongs to and transcends them as individuals.


The first words of a book begin a long and possibly difficult adventure. The adventure I am now undertaking is an appraisal of my profession, philosophy, of my fellow professionals, the philosophers, and, finally, of myself, at least as a person who philosophizes. When I reflect on my motives for writing this book, I am inclined to give an answer that is good, I think, for philosophers in general, though much of it, coming here at the beginning, can be only preliminary.

My answer has three parts, all related to the human nature I have assumed we share with philosophers. I am writing this book, first, because I want to persuade you; secondly, because I feel that what I have to say is essentially true and important; and, thirdly, because after prolonged thought and equally prolonged delay, I feel the need to express myself on the subject.

I notice that in stating my answer I have already paired the subjective with the objective, as I mean to continue pairing them, and to pair, as well, the irrational with the rational Joining the members of the one and the other pair, there is the I, which, as certainly as it is subjective, aspires to rise above mere subjectivity. This is the I that we know and do not know, depending on the notion of 'knowing' that we adopt, on our degree of understanding of ourselves, and on our closeness to or estrangement from ourselves. This is the omnipresent human I in which everything we feel, think, and do is joined, and which, if we are able and lucky enough, externalizes itself into a somehow detachable, I-transcending form.

Let me give a slow, separate explanation of each of the three parts of my answer, beginning with my attempt, or any attempt, to persuade. Persuasion, then, is the subject of this first chapter.

Persuasion as Mutuality and Disagreement

I want, of course, to persuade you; but the reasons for this desire are not all self-evident. I am writing with a certain anticipatory pleasure. I do not . . .

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