Who: father of western philosophy. Wrote the Socratic dialogs.
One-Liner: “Our discussion is about no ordinary matter, but about the right way to conduct our lives”
Need to know: The theory of forms. (The objective essence of something).
Tome: “The Republic”
Tome in one sentence: We are deluded cavemen watching shadows flickering on the wall, mistaking them for real life.
Who: Greek all rounder, top of class in ethics, politics, physics, logic, marine biology.
One-Liner: “One swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day”. “Education is the best provision for the journey into old age.”
Need to know: Father of politics (democracy) and ethics. (The need to be good for a lifetime).
Tome in one sentence: Happiness comes not from self-indulgence, but from acting virtuously.
Who: Founder of British moral philosophy.
One-Liner: “The life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”
Need to know: A scholar of pleasure and passions. Argued that there were materialist reasons for emotions.
Tome in one sentence: Life needn’t be brutish and short if you create a stable society.
Who: Came up with X,Y and Cartesian logic.
One-Liner: “Cogit, ego sum” or “je pense, donc je suis”
Need to know: Thought exists, as does the person doing the thinking.
Tome: “Discourse de la Methode”
Tome in one sentence: Advanced philosophy from “what is objectively true?” to “what can I be sure of?”
Who: Founder of Pascal’s Wager – If God exists and your believe in him, you are going to heaven; if he doesn’t, you don’t miss out on much.
One-Liner: “I’ve made this letter longer than usual because I didn’t have the time to make it shorter”
Need to know: Scientist who discovered the vacuum. Creator of a religious philosophy that proposes there can be no vacuum in heaven.
Tome in one sentence: Bet the farm on God and you needn’t lose your shirt.
Who: Oxbridge liberal who dreamt up the political philosophy of the USA. Founding fathers copied much of his manifesto for the Declaration of Independence.
One-Liner: “Man being by nature a power to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men”
Need to know: First modern libertarian. All for separation of powers and separation of Church and State.
Tome: “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”
Tome in one sentence: We know nothing when we’re born: knowledge is experience.
Who: Novelist, playwright and philosopher, and keen Anglophile. Lived in exile in Covent Garden.
One-Liner: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”
Need to know: Early deist, however he attacked the excesses of both the First and Second Estates – the Clergy and the Aristocracy.
Tome: “Candide, or Optimism”
Tome in one sentence: Attacked Leibnitz via Dr. Pangloss, the relentless optimist who repeatedly said “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”
Who: Scotsman who put passion into philosophy. Tory, monarchist, and anti-Presbyterian.
One-Liner: “It is not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger.”
Need to know: Reason is a slave of the passions, as is morality. Did not have enough faith to be sure there was no God.
Tome: “A Treatise on Human Nature”
Tome in one sentence: We are simple creatures, our simple ideas produced by simple impressions; and more complicated ideas, such as the idea of God, do not need a god to create them.
Who: Renaissance man, philosopher, musician and novelist. Pin-up of the French Revolution. Convinced that all society was decadent, he was all for the “noble savage”.
One-Liner: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”
Need to know: Took refuge in Staffordshire after his books were banned in Geneva and France. Recommended sticking to whatever religion you were raised in, as all religions encourage virtue. Further developed Hobbes’ social contract theory.
Tome: “The Social Contract”
Tome in one sentence: The paradox of democracy: the only way to break out of the chains of sufferidge is to submit to the authority of popular will.
Who: German master of the Enlightment, enemy of the white lie.
One-Liner: “Sapere aude!” (Dare to know); “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing can ever be made.”
Need to know: Originator of the categorical imperative: “Act only according to the maxim which you can, at the same time, will to be a Universal Law”. Left no room for white lies.
Tome: “Critique of Pure Reason”
Tome in one sentence: Experience isn’t enough to explain the ways of the world.
Who: Nihilist. Fan of Arthur Schopenhauer’s pessimistic school of philosophy.
One-Liner: “God is dead.” Decided that God’s funeral had been brought on by science and a secular society.
Need to know: Creator of the Übermensch – The superman who lives a higher, creative, energetic life, unlike the dreary masses. Also believed in the will to power.
Tome: “Thus spoke Zarathustra”
Tome in one sentence: Don’t look on the bright side of life – unless you are an übermensch.
Who: Blue-blooded atheist mathematician, pacifist and CND pioneer. Covered everything from math to epistemology and metaphysics.
One-Liner: “Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist, since half the sins of mankind are caused by fear of it.”
Need to know: Dreamt up logical atomism. The world is an accumulation of logical facts that cannot be broken down any further.
Tome: “Mathematica Principia”
Tome in one sentence: All math is logic.
Who: Austrian analytical philosopher. Had three brothers who all committed suicide. Gave away his inheritance. Taught at Cambridge, where he published a single book.
One-Liner: “What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak therefore one must be silent.” Also, “The world is all that is the case.”
Need to know: Philosophical conversations on religion, ethics and morality are just nonsensical chitchat.
Tome: “Tractus Logico-Philosophicus”
Tome in one sentence: Once you’ve read my ideas, throw them away, much as you would discard a ladder that takes you to a higher plane.
Who: Novelist, playwright, and cafe-creeping, pipe-smoking Parisian existentialist. Married to Simone de Beauvoir.
One-Liner: “Hell is other people.”
Need to know: Hell is also the utter independence of being a human being. Because there’s no God, we are condemned to be free, and we have no excuse for our actions.
Tome: “Being and Nothingness”
Tome in one sentence:Freedom isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be; nor sex.