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LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (December 16, 1770 – March 26, 1827) German composer and pianist. Main accomplishments:
  • Produced over 200 compositions during his lifetime, including the Piano Sonata No. 14 (“Moonlight”) (1801), Symphony No. 5 in C Minor (1804-1808), Für Elise (1810).
  • Began composing at the age of 7; continued to compose throughout his life despite losing his hearing in his mid-twenties.
  • Contributed significantly to the shift between musical Classicism to Romanticism that occurred between 1800 and 1840.
  • Dedicatee of the Beethoven Memorial in Bonn, Germany.
EARLY LIFE AND CHILDHOOD Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn (then part of Cologne, now Germany) to a musical family. His father, a particularly stern teacher to his children, sang tenor at the Electoral Court of Bonn. The maternal grandfather for whom he was named had been a musician in the court of Clemens August of Bavaria. Johann Beethoven was a strict and unloving parent with a history of alcoholism, but Ludwig’s mother Maria-Magdalena was a warm and caring woman whom he later described as “my best friend.” When Ludwig displayed talent as a young boy, his father dreamed of shaping him into a “new Mozart." He arranged further and more intense instruction for him under Tobias Pfeiffer, a family friend, and the elder Beethoven’s drinking buddy. Pfeiffer’s late nights of drinking would often end with Ludwig’s early-morning instruction—and though that may sound scandalous, certainly that instruction was competent and helped guide Beethoven in the right direction. At the age of seven and a half, Ludwig performed for the first time in Cologne. By eight, he was training on the organ, piano, and viola, and he soon began studying with the Court Organist of Bonn, Christian Neefe. At the age of 12, Beethoven unveiled his first composition, 9 Variations in C Minor. Neefe’s support for his student was unfailing, and in 1783, he wrote the following in a musical magazine: “This young genius deserves to be supported in his artistic endeavors. If he continues in the same manner he started, he is sure to become a second Wolfgang-Amadeus Mozart.” At 16, Ludwig traveled to Vienna in the hopes of meeting his idol, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who had been a child prodigy himself. Beethoven wished to study with the elder genius, but it isn’t clear whether he even succeeded in meeting him. He returned home only two weeks later because his mother had taken ill. Since the two composers are so revered, an enormous amount of attention has been paid to the possibility of this meeting taking place. Even two weeks of instruction by Mozart would have an indelible impact on young Beethoven. It seems reasonable to assume that whether or not they met, there was little significance to their meeting except in historical retrospect. EARLY CAREER Beethoven’s mother died shortly after, and he took on the principal duties of raising his younger brothers, making an immediate return to Vienna impossible. He didn’t go back there until 1792, five years later, by which time Mozart was dead. Beethoven was able to study with Joseph Haydn, Antonio Salieri, and Johann Albrechtsberger, and within a year, he was known throughout the city’s musical community. Every musician is plagued by the question of how to earn a living, especially in the days before recording. While many composers of his day sought the patronage of a church parish or a noble family, Beethoven’s income model was closer to what we might expect from a modern musician: he earned money from concerts and sales of his work (sheet music), bolstered by gifts from wealthy fans and occasional private teaching. He was not rich, and by the end of his first decade earning a living in such a fashion, he had fallen into debt. When he prepared to leave Vienna to take a job in Westphalia (Germany), various nobles pledged a substantial pension to entice him to stay; most of them never made good on their promise. RISE TO FAME Beethoven’s national fame began in 1795 with his first performance at an “Academy”—a charity event for widows and orphans. After another Academy performance, this one put on by his old teacher Haydn, Beethoven decided to take his talents on tour. He visited Prague, Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig, making acquaintances in the musical world and building his connections and musical abilities along the way. It was during this time between 1795 and 1799, commonly referred to as Beethoven’s “early period,” that Beethoven produced his famous piano sonatas. In 1800, Beethoven held an Academy of his own, during which he unveiled his first Symphony No.1. The composer had finally become recognized as one of the greatest masters of the craft in Germany- but a cruel affliction was beginning to complicate his career. DEAFNESS AND THE MIDDLE PERIOD While on tour, Beethoven had been gradually losing his hearing, which further hurt his earning potential. While he could compose without difficulty, performing a concert was much harder with hearing impairment, and by 1814, he was deaf. In the 20 years before that, he used a variety of hearing aids and “conversation books” on which friends and visitors would conduct their conversations with him in writing. He suffered from periodic bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts. While living in a small town outside Vienna in 1802, he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament—a letter to his brothers Carl and Johann in which he despaired of his deafness but resolved to continue living for the sake of his music. And continue living Beethoven did- 1802 marked the beginning of his “middle period,” during which his composing style began to change. Driven by his struggle with his hearing loss, Beethoven started to focus on more epic and “heroic” symphonies, including his famous Fifth Symphony. It is for this reason that the middle period is also commonly known as Beethoven’s “Heroic” period. His high output (six symphonies, several piano, and violin concertos, and even an opera) and shifting focus toward Romanticism marked Beethoven as one of the greatest composers of the time. FAILING HEALTH AND THE LATE PERIOD Beethoven never married but had affairs with a number of women, some of them married, many of them from the aristocratic families who were part of his fan base. His lack of lasting romantic success combined with his financial difficulties and growing health concerns led Beethoven to leave Vienna very nearly for a position as the chapel maestro at the court of the king of Westphalia. Only a pension of 4000 florins from Archduke Rudolf and other members of the nobility ultimately persuaded Beethoven to remain in the city of his success. The difficulties of his personal life, including a custody battle for his nephew Karl against the boy’s mother, had a significant impact on Beethoven’s creative output. His Late period is marked by highly emotional, personally intense pieces such as his famous Ninth Symphony. The Late period continued until 1825, with Beethoven struggling to finish his final string quartets amidst horrible illness. Beethoven finally succumbed to his ailments and died in 1827, leaving behind a vast library of work and a legacy that had altered the course of composing itself. His pieces are still commonly performed in orchestras today along with those of his idol Mozart; the two men are considered to be the greatest composers who ever lived. SUGGESTED READING [table id=33 /]

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was one of the greatest and most radical composers of all time. A tormented genius, who went deaf in later life and never heard his final works. His nine symphonies...

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE (August 15th, 1769 – May 5, 1821) Military general and the first Emperor of the French. Main accomplishments:
  • Founder of the House of Bonaparte, a vastly influential European dynasty that continues to this day.
  • Led several crucial military victories against Austria and the other European powers, greatly expanding the French empire in the process; dominated Europe both in both a military and political fashion for nearly two decades.
  • Instituted a variety of reforms in French government including the Napoleonic Code, which forbade privileges based on birth status or religion and established the concept of meritocracy, as well as the Concordat of 1801, restoring much of the Church’s power in France and winning the allegiance of French Catholics.
  • Led the expedition into Egypt that discovered the Rosetta Stone, unlocking the secrets of the ancient Egyptian language and most of what we currently know of the early Egyptian civilization.
EARLY LIFE Napoleon Bonaparte was born Napoleone Buonaparte in Corsica, one year after the island was given by Genoa (in present-day Italy) to France. He came from a family of minor Italian nobility with origins in Tuscany and Florence; his father Carlo was an attorney who represented Corsica in the court of King Louis XVI. As the son of an affluent family, Napoleon was able to attend military school from the age of nine, and although he was frequently mocked by his schoolmates for his thick Corsican accent and difficulties with French spelling, he did very well. From his first military school, he progressed to the Royal Military School of Paris, from which he graduated a year early. At only 16, he accepted a commission as second lieutenant in an artillery regiment, where he served until the French Revolution erupted four years later, in 1789. He spent several years in tumultuous Corsica, which had not been a part of France long, meaning that the various factions in the conflict were able to find supporters there. With the help of his connections, young Napoleon was able to take command of the artillery regiment attached to the Revolutionary government’s forces stamping out a reactionary revolt in Toulon, where the rebels were assisted by British troops. Bonaparte was wounded during the successful recapture of the city and promoted to brigadier-general. More importantly, his performance on the battlefield made him known to the Committee of Public Safety that reigned over France at the time. He struck up a friendship with Augustin Robespierre, younger brother of the powerful revolutionary leader, Maximilien. RISE TO MILITARY POWER The chaotic years of the Revolution were useful to Napoleon. He successfully fought off an attack by counter-revolutionaries upon the National Convention in 1795. His growing fame allowed him to be introduced to Josephine de Beauharnais, former mistress of Paul Barras, a leading politician of the time. He married her shortly after the meeting, and only days after the wedding he was given command of the French forces tasked with an invasion of Italy, which he saw through successfully. He was nicknamed “the little corporal” not only for his famously small stature but because his style of leadership encouraged camaraderie and mutual respect among the soldiers, though without compromising his authority. Napoleon refused to dethrone the Pope in conquered Italy, but was not punished for it; indeed, he soon led his armies to invade Austria, forcing a treaty there before moving on to conquer Venice, which had remained a free city for more than 1000 years. Napoleon was quickly recognized as a military genius, adaptable, creative, and extraordinarily knowledgeable about tactics and strategies.  His success brought him great fame, and the newspapers he had published for his troops were circulated among the French citizenry as well. However, when he asked to join the Directory, which held executive power in France, he was refused, undoubtedly because he was too influential as it was; he took the rejection personally. The French invasion and seizure of Egypt, Malta, and Damascus was not only led by him but was also his idea. It did not go as well as he had hoped, and in 1799 he was ordered to return to France — leaving his troops behind — because political struggles and military defeats were weakening the nation, making it vulnerable to invasion by its enemies. POLITICAL REIGN By the time he returned, the Republic was facing bankruptcy. One faction of the Directory approached Bonaparte, seeking his support for a coup to overthrow the government. That support he lent—and contrary to the expectations of those who asked for his help, he was successfully elected as First Consul (the head of state) and was made First Consul For Life the following year. He immediately began to reform the government, making it more efficient and centralized, and sought reconciliation with the Catholic Church. Perhaps most importantly, he instituted a system of codified laws—the Civil Code or Napoleonic Code, still the basis of law today in Louisiana and some other former French holdings—which was prepared by a committee of legal experts rather than merely putting into law centuries of conflicting traditions. His military success continued as well, as he re-conquered Italy, which the Austrians had taken while he was in Egypt. When war with Britain became inevitable, he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, selling French holdings in North America to the young American government. After surviving an assassination attempt launched by the Bourbons (the royal family of France), he declared himself Emperor and a hereditary monarch, so that his death would not bring the Bourbons back to power. FALL AND EXILE Over the next few years, he fought various alliances of European powers, with Britain his most dogged opponent; Britain was unwilling to recognize the validity of a republic and considered Napoleon a despot and usurper. He may well have succeeded in fending off all such attacks, except that in 1812, he made the enormous error of invading Russia, which was preparing to invade French-held territories to reclaim Poland. Military prowess did not prepare the French for the harsh Russian winter or the Russians’ startling scorched earth tactics, in which they burned their own lands as they retreated, leaving the French army with no food or other vital supplies. Though the French continually advanced, they also moved farther from friendly territory, becoming gradually more famished and weary. Even the capital city, Moscow, was burned so it would not fall into French hands. Napoleon was, for once, unprepared and the French armies withdrew from Russia. The next coalition of European powers was better able to handle France, and the French military was soon surrounded by a force that outnumbered it five to one. Napoleon abdicated, but his enemies demanded an unconditional surrender. His marshals refused to march on Paris after it was occupied by European forces. He finally accepted exile on the Mediterranean isle of Elba, still retaining the title of Emperor. On Elba, he started a small navy and an army and ran his tiny nation in exile. Back in mainland France, the royalists and European allies restored Louis XVIII to power. Napoleon was able to escape from Elba long enough to gather an army and retake Paris, but only for 100 days. He was defeated by the British Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo and surrendered at last on July 15, 1815. This time, he was exiled to the island of Saint Helena, a British territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, where he received many visitors and was considered something of a tragic romantic hero by the intellectual elite of Europe and the French-Americans of Louisiana. He died of stomach cancer six years into this second exile. SUGGESTED READING [table id=13 /]

One of the greatest military and political leaders in European history, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) is best known in the popular imagination as the short, stern general who overachieved to make u...

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (January 27, 1756 - December 5, 1791) Austrian composer and musician at the forefront of the Classical movement. Main accomplishments:
  • Composed over 600 documented symphonies, concertos, and quartets, among others. Further undocumented works could place his total number of compositions over 1000
  • Significantly influenced Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, and Tchaikovsky, among other great composers.
  • Namesake of 5 different Mozart Medals, the Vermont Mozart Festival, and the “Mozart Effect,” the theory that listening to classical music in utero can enhance a child’s intelligence.
  • His greatest works include the operas The Marriage Of Figaro (1786) and Don Giovanni (1787), the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1787), and his final composition, Requiem Mass in D Minor (1791).
EARLY LIFE Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart called Wolfgang Amade, or Wolfgang Gottlieb by his friends was baptized as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart on January 28, 1756, the day after he was born. That barely scratches the surface of the names under which he was known—it was common in the 18th century, especially among those associated with wealth or the arts, to use different forms and variations of one's name, taken from various languages. His baptismal name is a mishmash of Greek, Latin, and German; Gottlieb is the German translation of Theophilus ("loved by God"), while Amade, Amadeo, and Amadeus are all Latin versions of the name. On top of that, he sometimes playfully added a -us to his last name, signing it as Mozartus—or wrote it backward as Trazom. It was only after his death that "Amadeus," preferred by his Romantic successors, became the form of his name known to the general public. Mozart's father was the violinist and composer Leopold Mozart, who failed to distinguish himself as a composer but had a gift for musical instruction and was charged with teaching piano and violin to the boys of the Salzburg Choir. Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl (baptized Maria Anna) were both exposed to and taught music from an early age; Leopold gave up any ambitions of his own when Wolfgang's genius became apparent, devoting his free time instead to training his son. The family traveled Europe a great deal, with Wolfgang and Nannerl shown off as musical prodigies in the courts of London, Munich, and Paris. Johann Christian Bach—"the London Bach," the son of Johann Sebastian Bach who had settled in England—befriended Wolfgang during this time. In his early teens, Wolfgang accompanied his father on trips to Italy; the boy made an illegal copy of Gregorio Allegri's "Miserere," a choral composition performed in the Sistine Chapel and carefully guarded by the Vatican. Wolfgang was able—and so far as history can determine, he was the only one to do so—to write down the music after the fact based on hearing it only once, which likely surprised even his father. He began composing operas soon after, which were performed in Milan. The first of his major works was also produced during this "field trip" period: "Exsultate, jubilate," a solo cantata composed for a castrato (a castrated male singer) and these days usually performed by a soprano. CAREER AND STYLE At the age of 17, Wolfgang was taken on as a court musician by Prince-Archbishop Hieronymous Colloredo, the ruler of Salzburg. The young man rapidly became one of the centers of attention in court, his genius already evident; though often soft-spoken, and not unusually attractive thanks to the scars of childhood smallpox, his laughter and excitement were infectious, his sense of humor wicked. Far from the contemporary image of a Classical composer as someone snooty and pretentious, Mozart cracked puns and made dirty jokes, wore his hair in a mess, danced with the women of the court, and played pool with the men. But he wasn't happy in Salzburg for long. The salary was small, and there were few opportunities to write opera, one of his primary ambitions. He and his father continued scouting job opportunities elsewhere. They spent a year in Paris, but Wolfgang was unable to find long-term work—apparently because his father insisted he keep looking for someone that would pay enough to support the whole family since Leopold had given up his own ambitions in order to teach his children. He was fired from his position at the Salzburg court when he balked at the Prince-Archbishop's treatment of him, and especially his employer's forbidding him to perform for the Emperor. The argument took place in Vienna, and Mozart remained there when Colloredo returned to Salzburg. Wolfgang planned to use the city to his advantage, working as a freelance composer while befriending the aristocracy—networking, in other words. It was a common approach among composers. He soon fell in love with and married Constanze Weber, the daughter of his landlord (after a brief involvement with her older sister Aloysia). The Mozart family was cordial at best to Constanze, but resented Wolfgang for moving to Vienna without being able to provide for them. While in Vienna, Mozart studied the works of the great Baroque composers like Bach and Handel, and befriended fellow composer Joseph Haydn. He performed his own solo piano concertos, earning enough money to outfit a fine home for himself, his wife, and their two young children (four more had not survived childbirth, which was common in that era). As his focus returned to opera, he composed two of his most famous and enduring works: "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Don Giovanni." At the height of his career, he was visited by young Ludwig van Beethoven, a child prodigy himself. It's unclear what transpired during their meeting, but Mozart probably recognized the genius in the boy just as others had once recognized it in him. Mozart’s compositions remain one of the bedrocks of the Classical movement. He made heavy use of the galant style at first but soon began to re-acclimate the Baroque style into Classical music. In addition to his symphonies and operas, he helped to popularize the piano concerto and sonata along with the string quartet and quintet. No other composer of the time possessed the same command of the Classical movement as Mozart; indeed, Classical music itself seemed to parallel his own. His music was noted for its clarity and elegance, with Franz Schuman once writing: “A light, bright, fine day this will remain throughout my whole life. As from afar, the magic notes of Mozart’s music still gently haunts me.” LATE CAREER By the end of the 1780s, Austria was at war with Turkey, which was bad news for musicians. The aristocracy had less interest in music and less money to spend supporting it. Wolfgang moved his family to a simpler home in the suburbs and traveled Central Europe searching for well-paying work. He wrote, "The Magic Flute" at this time, as well as some of his finest concertos. The speed bump in his fortunes would likely have been short-lived, except that in 1791 he became very ill with fever and rash; it isn't clear what, in modern medical terminology, he suffered from, and it may have been a kidney ailment which the medicine of his era would have been unable to help him with. Three months after falling sick, he died in bed on December 5, 1791, attended by Constanze and his doctor. He had, however, managed to rouse himself long enough to conduct the premiere of "The Magic Flute." His loss was mourned greatly by the European musical community, and his works soared in popularity shortly after his death.

Considered by many to be the greatest composer of all time, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) composed hundreds of pieces of music. Among his most famous works are Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little...

IMMANUEL KANT (April 22, 1724 – February 12, 1804)  German philosopher, anthropologist, and key thinker of the Enlightenment. Main accomplishments:
  • Produced over 50 philosophical volumes, including his masterpiece Critique Of Pure Reason (1781), as well as The False Subtlety Of The Four Syllogistic Figures (1762) and The Only Possible Argument In Support Of A Demonstration Of The Existence Of God (1763).
  • Established a comprehensive branch of philosophy based on the “Copernican Revolution,” which connected the external world to the perception of those viewing it.
  • Winner of the Berlin Academy Prize in 1754.
  One of the most important and most challenging philosophers of all time, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was the father of German Idealism and a lasting influence on philosophy and western thought to this day. Even though he had never left his hometown of Königsberg during his lifetime, his contributions to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics had been, and remain to this day, significant. EARLY LIFE Baptized Emanuel Kant (he changed the spelling of his name later in life), Kant was born in 1724 in eastern Prussia (present-day Germany); his hometown, Königsberg, is now part of Russia. As a boy, he was an excellent student who received a strict religious education that emphasized the literal interpretation of the Bible and fluency in Biblical languages over liberal arts subjects like science and history. When his family recognized his scholarly aptitude, he was sent to school, eventually attending the University of Königsberg, where he was introduced to German and British philosophy, science, mathematics, as well as recent advances in physics introduced by Isaac Newton. After his father had suffered a stroke, Kant supported his family by working as a tutor, and continued to pursue his studies in his free time. BURGEONING CAREER In 1749, at the age of 25, Kant published his first work, Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces, a direct outgrowth of his university studies in which he defended a position of metaphysical dualism while arguing against the beliefs of many of his contemporary German philosophers. Other works followed, in both philosophy and science (a distinction not made as sharply in the 18th century as it is now). Interestingly, although Kant is now thought of as one of the more difficult and esoteric German philosophers whose work is full of complex concepts, one of his early contributions was the Nebular Hypothesis. In 1755’s Allgemeine Naturgeschichte, rarely translated into English because it is now of interest principally to historians of science, Kant refined Emanuel Swedenborg’s 1734 hypothesis that the solar system had begun as a cloud of gaseous material, which condensed into the “clumps” of the sun and planets. Kant concluded that for this cosmological model to work, those clouds—nebulae—must rotate, with gravity gradually crunching them down into the solid state of the solar system. This remains the most widely accepted cosmological model today, with modifications and tweaks made to incorporate expanding view of the universe. What’s fascinating is that Kant and Swedenborg were able to come to this conclusion hundreds of years before satellites, probes, and other tools of modern astronomy. In that same year, Kant moved away from his tutoring job to become a more highly paid and respected university lecturer. Throughout his 30s, he wrote a variety of philosophical texts dealing with logic, emotion, and the existence of God. At the age of 45, he was made a full professor of logic and metaphysics, becoming caught up both in teaching and the response to his written work so far. Consequently, he didn’t publish again for 11 years. When he finally did, the result was Critique of Pure Reason, the most impressive work of philosophy by a single author—though perhaps because of its immense size, or possibly because Kant had been silent so long, it had little immediate impact. The first of Kant’s “three critiques,” Pure Reason is difficult to sum up. He begins by rejecting the recent conclusions of his friend and fellow philosopher David Hume, whose work argued that ideas all begin as representations of sensory (i.e., physical) experience. Kant claimed that we could have knowledge not based on empirical experience—indeed, that much important and applicable knowledge had begun as such—and spent 800 pages proving his argument. The book is dense, filled with thought experiments and specialized language that doesn’t translate well into English. The work rejuvenated Kant’s interest in publishing, or maybe just gave impetus to his writing. The 1780s were a busy time for him, with the publication of his first works on moral philosophy as well as his second and third critiques (Critique of Practical Reason and Critique of Judgment). Naturally, he attracted a good deal of criticism, but his influence was undeniable, and the school of German Idealism formed with his pupils and younger colleagues. A true workaholic, he never married. He did, however, have a big following; when he died shortly before his 80th birthday, regularly publishing until the last year of his life, he was mourned by many.

One of the most important and most challenging philosophers of all time, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was the father of German Idealism and a lasting influence on philosophy and western thought to this...

ADAM SMITH (June 16th, 1723 – July 17th, 1790) Scottish economist and philosopher. Main accomplishments:
  • Writer of two revolutionary books, Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations, the latter of which is considered the definitive text of free-market capitalism, and it coined the phrase “the invisible hand of the market.”
  • Contemporary and correspondent of David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, and François Quesnay, among others.
  • Primary influence on the formation of Western capitalism and early inspiration of such figures as Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes.
  EARLY LIFE Born in Scotland to the widowed Margaret Douglas, most of Adam Smith’s early childhood has been lost to history. At the age of fourteen, he was sent to the University of Glasgow to study moral philosophy. Glasgow at the time was the center of the “Scottish Revolution,” an 18th-century intellectual movement in which Smith would later become a major contributor. He graduated from Glasgow in 1740 and immediately made for Oxford, where he met with opposition for his support of David Hume’s supposedly “atheistic” philosophy. Facing increasing trouble at Oxford, Smith returned home to Edinburgh, where he began a series of public lectures in 1748 that brought him to Hume’s attention two years later. Smith’s idol soon became his lifelong friend, and owing to Hume’s support Smith was appointed as a professor of logic at the University of Glasgow, though he switched to moral philosophy a year later. TEACHING YEARS In 1759, Smith published the first of his two major texts, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Sentiments’ main purpose was to examine man’s moral duty critically and build upon the ideas espoused by Hume and Smith’s own teacher, Frances Hutchison. The text was majorly successful and established Smith as an international celebrity in the world of philosophy. In addition to being a substantial work in its own right, Sentiments is an essential read, as it establishes many of the moral ideas that would motivate both Smith and those who would follow him in the years to come. Riding the fame that came with Sentiments’ success, Smith obtained a high-paying position as the private tutor of the young Duke of Buccleuch, Henry Scott. He resigned from his position at Glasgow and set off on a trip to France, during which time he met François Quesnay among many other prominent French economic theorists, and was inducted into London’s Royal Society. The journey came to an end when Scott’s younger brother died in Paris, leaving Smith free to return home to Kirkcaldy. LATER LIFE The next ten years of Smith’s life were spent quietly working on his second and final major work: An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations, published in 1776. Unlike Sentiments, which dealt primarily with abstract moral philosophy, Wealth of Nations was a laborious economic tome that delved into the question of what made a country prosperous. Like Sentiments, on the other hand, Nations was a tremendous success in the Western world, and it came to be considered  Smith’s finest work. Throughout the last few decades of his life, Smith lived with his mother, to whom he had always been close. He never took advantage of his fame after the Wealth of Nations’ publication. Instead, he lived quietly in Scotland, working on private treatises. Sadly, these remain lost to time, as Smith had them burned shortly after his death. He died in 1790 after a painful illness, the specifics of which remain unknown. His library was transferred to his housemate, the Lord of Reston, having never married and lacking any children.

The author of what is widely considered to be “the Bible of capitalism,” Adam Smith (1723–1790) was a Scottish philosopher and economist who pioneered modern economic theory. A contemporary of ...

DAVID HUME (April 26th, 1711 – August 25th, 1776) Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist Main accomplishments:
  • Leading member of the Scottish Enlightenment.
  • Published philosophical and historical essays, including The History of England (1778), Essays, Moral and Political (1741-42), and Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding (1748).
  • Librarian in Advocate's Library and Secretary to Lord Hertford and General St Clair.
EARLY LIFE David Hume was born in Edinburgh on April 26th, 1711. He grew up on his father's estate, Ninewells near Berwickshire with an older brother and sister. Though his father died when he was just two, his mother was committed to educating her children, and she wanted David to pursue a career in law. But he preferred reading Cicero and studying ancient and modern philosophy, mathematics, literature, and history. His mother saw in young David a broad understanding of the world, and in 1723, when Hume was only 11, she sent him to Edinburgh University with his older brother. Hume never married but found special kinship with Nancy Orde, daughter of Chief Baron Orde of the Scottish Exchequer. CAREER At Edinburgh University, Hume began to study law, following his mother’s wishes as well as a longstanding family tradition. However, he soon lost interest, leaving the University at 15 to pursue philosophy by his own means. Hume moved to France, studying the works of philosophers Nicolas Malebranche, Jean-Baptiste Dubos, and Pierre Bayle. In 1734, he began to write A Treatise of Human Nature, which many experts consider to be his most notable work and one of the most important books in the history of philosophy In 1737, Hume returned to Scotland, and in an attempt to make A Treatise of Human Nature publishable, he deleted significant sections about religion and morals to appease the influential bishop and theologian Joseph Butler. Though this move came to nothing, in 1742, Butler recommended for publication Hume's Essays, Moral and Political. In the meantime, his works were published anonymously and weren't very popular at the time. However, Essays, Moral and Political were more successful because they were written in coherence with the popular style of the time. By 1744, Hume applied for the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University, but he was rejected. He never held an academic position, though he later also applied for the Chair of Ethics and Pneumatical Philosophy at Glasgow. Instead, Hume became the tutor of the Marquis of Annandale. However, it turned out that the estate manager was dishonest and the Marquis insane, so Hume quickly left to work as the secretary of his cousin, General St Clair, during a military expedition. In 1748, he rewrote Treatise in a more widely acceptable style and republished it as Philosophical Essays Concerning the Human Understanding (later renamed as An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding). Three years later, Philosophical Essays Concerning Principles of Morals followed. During this time, he also published Political Discourses (1751). In 1752, Hume finally gained a stable position as librarian of the Advocate's Library in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, in 1754, he ordered books that were considered inappropriate and quarreled with the library. Before he left in 1757, he was able to spend time studying and working on A History of England, which was eventually published in six volumes (1754, 1756, 1759, 1762). This work became a bestseller, bringing Hume recognition and financial stability. Also during his stint at the Library, he wrote Four Dissertations (1757), which included The Natural History of Religion, A Dissertation on the Passions, Of Tragedy, and Of the Standard of Taste. Hume's two other works at this time, Of Suicide and Of the Immortality of the Soul (1782), were criticized be the religious establishment and banned from publication but were eventually published posthumously. In 1763, Hume became the private secretary to Lord Hertford, Ambassador to France, and moved to Paris where he resided for three years. There, he also became the first Secretary of the Embassy and then its chargé d'affaires. When he returned to England in 1766, he came with Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Their friendship was fleeting, however, because Rousseau's paranoia convinced him that Hume was conspiring against him. Hume, now in London, became the Under-Secretary of State in 1767 but left after a year. LATER LIFE In 1768, Hume went home to Edinburgh, where he met Nancy Orde, daughter of Chief Baron Orde. They became close, with Nancy picking out Hume's wallpaper and chalking “St. David's Street” on the side of his house, now the name of that road. There were rumors of their engagement, but no event occurred. After his death, Hume left to Nancy 10 guineas to buy a ring in memory of their friendship. In Edinburgh during his last decade, Hume finalized his Dissertations. Upon discovering he suffered from intestinal cancer, he arranged for his nephew to publish Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779) posthumously. Hume died on August 25, 1776, and his biography My Own Life was published one year later.  

Recognized as one of the most prominent thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume (1711–1776) was a great philosopher of human nature. His studies incorporated the relationships among relig...

LEONHARD EULER (April 15th, 1707 – September 18th, 1783) Swiss mathematician, physicist, and geographer. Main accomplishments:
  • One of the most prolific mathematical writers of all time, publishing over 800 papers despite having 13 children and losing his eyesight. Among these were his Introducio in analysin infinitorum(1748), Institutiones Calculi Differentialis (1755), and Anleitung zur Algebra (1770).
  • 12-time winner of the Paris Academy Prize, namesake of the 2002 asteroid “Euler”, and namesake of the Euler Medal and the Euler Book Prize.
  • Developed countless revolutionary mathematical ideas: the invention of the function, many different algebraic notations, and the binomial theorem, to name a few. His ideas have evolved into basic mathematical truths that are still taught in schools today.
  • Solved the famous “Seven Bridges of Königsberg” problem, or rather, proved that it had no logical solution; providing, in the process, the foundation of graph theory. n
EARLY LIFE Born the son of a Calvinist preacher in Basel, Switzerland, Leonhard Euler was the first of six children. He was fascinated by numbers from an early age and followed in his father’s footsteps by being tutored in math by Jacob Bernoulli. Unlike his father, however, Euler did not wish to become a theologian and elected to go into mathematics instead. Neither the first nor last son of a preacher to rebel against his father’s wishes, Euler’s passion for math won out in the end. With Bernoulli’s help, he procured a teaching position at the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences. The post was meant to apply mathematical concepts in physiology, a subject Euler knew little about; however, on the day of his arrival the Academy’s benefactress, Empress Catherine I of Russia, died. The ensuing political turmoil allowed Bernoulli to shift Euler quietly into the mathematics department. CAREER AND PERSONAL LIFE In St. Petersburg, Euler lodged with Bernoulli and served in the Russian Navy between 1727 and 1730. In 1733 Bernoulli, fed up with the censorship and corruption he faced in St. Petersburg, returned to Basel, and it was Euler who took his place as the head of the mathematics department. His newfound status granted Euler the opportunity to wed Katharina Gsell, with whom he fathered 13 children; sadly, only five survived to maturity. Euler’s work was further complicated by his frequent health problems, including a severe fever in 1735 that almost cost him his life. Beginning in 1738, he began to lose his eyesight; certain historians have suggested that he lost sight in his right eye because he stared at the sun too long while trying to solve an astronomy problem. A cataract cost him the sight in his left eye, and throughout the latter part of his life, he was blind. None of this, however, slowed his output: he continued to write his treatises about optics, algebra, and astronomy despite relying almost entirely on memory. It was while in St. Peterburg that Euler completed some of his most important work; he proved unsolvable the “Seven Bridges of Königsberg” problem that had left other mathematicians baffled by computing an equation that showed it was impossible to form a path that crossed each bridge only once. He also published papers dealing with differential equations and number theory, while at the same time performing projects for the Russian government involving cartography, machine building, and education, among others. THE BERLIN YEARS Like his mentor Bernoulli before him, Euler eventually grew fed up with Russian politics, and in 1741, he accepted an offer to teach at the Berlin Academy. Although he continued to work for and receive part of his salary from St. Petersburg, Euler was also well-loved in Germany and found happiness in his work in Berlin. It soon became apparent that St. Petersburg had only been the beginning of Euler’s output: at Berlin, he wrote over 380 papers, as well as several books in addition to the myriad academic duties he was already performing. Among these was his perhaps most famous work, the Introducio in analysin infinitorum, which dissected analytical geometry and algebraic functions in unforeseen detail. Euler’s fame led to him being appointed the tutor of Frederick the Great’s niece, the Princess of Anhalt-Dessau. His correspondence with her, Letters to a German Princess, reveals much of both Euler’s personal beliefs and his analytical theories. In 1759, Euler became the leader of the Berlin Academy, but after opposing the ideas of Voltaire fell out of favor with Frederick the Great, who referred to Euler as a “mathematical Cyclops.” In 1766 Euler returned to St. Petersburg after 25 years, and almost immediately afterward would lose his eyesight for good. LATER LIFE Euler’s return to Russia saw almost half of his output being produced despite the loss of his eyesight, writing from dictation. After Katharina’s death, Euler married her half-sister, with whom he would stay for the remainder of his life. He continued writing and teaching until the day of his death in 1783 when he suffered a brain hemorrhage after a day spent teaching. The Academy at St. Petersburg continued to publish his works for up to 50 more years following his death. WORKS Throughout the 20th century, the definitive archive of Euler’s work was compiled in the Opera Omnia by the Euler Commission of Switzerland. 76 volumes of the Omnia have been published, which contain not only Euler’s published work but also volumes of his correspondence including Letters to a German Princess. Currently, the main body of Leonhard Euler’s works can be found online at the Euler Archive. Some of his most famous published works include:
  • Theoria Motuum Planetarum et Cometarum (1744)
  • Introductio in Analysin Infinitorum (1748)
  • Theoria Motus Lunaris (1753)
  • Institutiones Calculi Differentialis (1755)
  • Anleitung zur Algebra (1770)
  • Theoria Motuum Lunae (1772)

One of the greatest mathematicians of all time with over 800 publications to his name, Leonhard Euler (1707–1783) also played a decisive role in the development of geometry, calculus, mechanics and ...

GOTTFRIED WILLHELM VON LEIBNIZ (July 1st, 1646 — November 14th, 1716) German mathematician, philosopher, and political adviser. Main accomplishments:
  • Independently developed differential and integral calculus.
  • Known as one of the most influential thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries for establishing the principle of sufficient reason and the principle of pre-established harmony.
  • Composed multiple philosophical essays, including On the Art of Combination (1666) and Discourse on Metaphysics (1686).
  Despite never having produced a magnum opus to rival René Descartes’ Discours de la méthode or Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716) is considered a universal genius and one of the most original thinkers of the early modern period. His major contribution to mathematics was discovering the fundamental principles of infinitesimal calculus, independently of Newton. An individual of extraordinary breadth of knowledge, he made significant contributions to optics, mechanics (especially the theory of momentum), statistics, and probability theory and was a pioneer in the use of binary systems and modern symbolic logic. EARLY LIFE Known as the last universal genius, Gottfried Leibniz was born in Leipzig, Germany on July 1st, 1646. His family belonged to the educated elite: his mother was the daughter of a law professor and his father, who died before Leibniz was six, was a professor of law at the University of Leipzig as well as a jurist. Leibniz was sent to the Nicolai School but was mostly self-taught from his father's vast library. At age twelve, he had taught himself to read Latin and Greek, and by age twenty, he had learned everything in the standard textbooks of mathematics, philosophy, theology, and law. In 1661, Leibniz was accepted into the University of Leipzig to study law. Here, he learned the philosophies of Galileo, Hobbes, and Descartes. After completing his baccalaureate thesis On the Principle of the Individual in 1663, he was refused his law doctorate on the grounds of being too young. CAREER  In 1666, Leibniz moved to Nuremberg to continue his studies at the University of Altdorf. That same year, he completed On the Art of Combination and was consequently offered a faculty position in 1667 when he completed his doctorate. He then began to focus on natural philosophy, composing New Physical Hypothesis (1671) and Discourse on Metaphysics (1686) as a two-part essay. During this time, Leibniz procured a position with the Elector of Mainz. In 1672, the Elector sent Leibniz to Paris on a diplomatic mission, which worked out very well for him because, at the time, Paris was leading scientific research. Here, he met intellects such as Antoine Arnauld, Nicolas Malebranche, and Christiaan Huygens, who studied philosophy, physics, and mathematics with him. He developed a design for a simple calculator and in 1673 took a trip to London to present it to the Royal Society. Leibniz developed the idea that time and space are not substances but imaginary, and that extension and motion are the results of force. In 1676, he discovered the formula for dynamics, which substitutes kinetic energy for the conservation of movement. Later that year, he was appointed Leibniz librarian to Duke John Frederick. By 1678, Leibniz was serving as a councilor. During this time, he researched hydraulic presses, windmills, mechanical devices such as clocks, submarines, engineering for mining, as well as keeping up with his philosophy and dynamics. Leibniz was perfecting his ideas about metaphysics and calculus, and in 1684, he published New Method for the Greatest and the Least, an exposition on differential calculus. Two years later, he completed Discourse on Metaphysics (1686). During this time, he was developing the philosophy of monadology, which he then defined in The Monadology (1714). LATER LIFE In 1700, Leibniz was inaugurated into the Academy of Sciences in Paris. In 1710, he published Theodicy and in 1714, The Monadology. When George I ascended the throne of England in 1714, he exiled Leibniz from the country, partly because of the war and partly because Leibniz was being accused of stealing ideas from Newton, though he had developed them independently. By 1716, he was suffering so badly from gout that he was confined to bed rest. He died on November 14th, 1716.

Despite never having produced a magnum opus to rival René Descartes’ Discours de la méthode or Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646–1716) is considered a u...

ISAAC NEWTON (January 4th, 1643 – March 31st, 1727) English scientist, natural philosopher, theologian, and mathematician. Main accomplishments:
  • Wrote five different scientific textbooks including his famous Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687) and Optiks(1704). Also wrote several scientific essays and religious dissertations.
  • Developed both the Three Laws of Motion and the Universal Theory of Gravitation, the latter of which was said to have been inspired by watching an apple fall from a tree. Shaped the way scientists would examine physics and its laws.
  • Knighted by Queen Anne and appointed Warden of the Royal Mint and President of the Royal Society.
  One of the most important and influential scientific minds of all time, Isaac Newton stands among the ranks of Galileo and Copernicus as men who changed the face of scientific discovery forever. The creator of the “three laws of motion” was not only a scientist, but a natural philosopher, mathematician, and theologian whose writings would significantly influence the coming Enlightenment. EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION Perhaps as an indication of his being ahead of his time, Isaac Newton was born prematurely on January 4th, 1643, as an infant so tiny he was said to have been able to fit into a quart pot. His father, also named Isaac, died three months prior to his son’s birth. When he was only three years old, Hanna Newton remarried to the rector Barnabas Smith and left her young son in the care of his grandmother in order to go live with her new husband. Growing up, Newton loathed his stepfather and resented his mother for abandoning him; later in life, he would admit to threatening to burn their house down with them in it. Not incidentally, Newton was an unhappy child who suffered frequent bouts of anger and depression throughout his youth. When Smith died in 1654, Hanna pulled Isaac from school in an attempt to make him the inheritor of his biological father’s estate. Thankfully, her brother William recognized Isaac’s academic potential and convinced Hanna to allow Isaac to return to school with hopes of attending university. Newton’s studies paid off when he was accepted to Trinity College Cambridge in 1660 as a sizar—a sort of 17th-century precursor to modern-day work-study programs. It was here that Newton studied Euclid, Aristotle, Descartes, and Hobbes; Newton’s desire for knowledge continued to grow throughout his education. ACADEMIC CAREER Newton earned his bachelor’s degree in 1665, but the outbreak of the plague forced Cambridge to close for the next two years before he could further his education. Newton returned home to Woolsthorpe, where he used his newfound free time to put the things he’d learned at Cambridge to work. Newton later remarked that, during these two years, he was “in my prime of age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since.” Indeed, it was during the “plague years” that Newton developed his theories of optics, planetary motion, and “fluxions”- what we know today as calculus. When Cambridge reopened in 1667, Newton returned to the college as a fellow and later professor of mathematics. In 1668, his name was brought to the attention of the scientific community when he invented the reflecting telescope and donated it to the Royal Society in 1672. This was also the year that Newton published his first scientific paper, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Newton began to use his newfound position as a fellow in the Royal Society to conduct experiments in light, optics, and color, but found himself clashing with the Society’s curator of experiments, Robert Hooke, whom Newton was falsely accused of plagiarizing. Although the debate was settled peacefully, the stress of the period caused Newton to withdraw from the Society. His reclusiveness was hastened in 1678 when his mother died, triggering a nervous breakdown in Newton. He withdrew from the world and began to study alchemy. SCIENTIFIC STUDIES Newton was responsible for launching many scientific theories that we hold as common knowledge today. It was Newton who first proposed that Earth’s gravity influenced the positioning of the moon, and who first devised the three laws of motion. Supposedly in 1666, Newton witnessed an apple falling from a tree- an incident that would kick-start his interest in gravity that would eventually culminate in his theory of universal gravitation in the early 1680s. In 1687, Newton produced his first and probably most important major scientific work: Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica. In this three-volume set, Newton examined the laws of mathematics and devised what would eventually become known as calculus. The importance of the Principia cannot be overstated. Newton’s application of the scientific method to mathematics was revolutionary, and the book itself radically altered the way scientists performed experiments. The Principia has been cited as a significant influence on the theories of John Locke and Adam Smith, who in turn would have a heavy hand in influencing the formation of the United States government! Even though Newton was viewed as an opponent of the Catholic Church, he was very religious, albeit as an unorthodox Christian. He believed fervently that the intricacies of the natural world were evidence of the hand of an intelligent being at work, and once remarked that “the Supreme God exists necessarily, and by the same necessity he exists always and everywhere.” He was also, however, something of an occult hobbyist: he frequently experimented with alchemy and believed very strongly in the coming Biblical apocalypse. Despite the fact that Newton was viewed as an opponent of the Catholic Church, he was actually very religious, albeit as an unorthodox Christian. He believed fervently that the intricacies of the natural world were evidence of the hand of an intelligent being at work, and once remarked that “the Supreme God exists necessarily, and by the same necessity he exists always and everywhere.” He was, however, also something of an occult hobbyist: he frequently experimented with alchemy and believed very strongly in the coming Biblical apocalypse. LATER LIFE After a second breakdown in 1693, Newton left Cambridge for London, taking a position as Warden (and later Master) of the Mint. In 1703, he was elected President of the Royal Society, and the following year he published his book Optiks. In 1705, he was the first scientist to be knighted. The later years of Newton’s life were as unhappy as the earlier ones. His reign as President of the Royal Society was described as “tyrannical”, and he dominated the scientific work of his subordinates. The last years of his life were consumed with arguments against Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, over which of them was the real inventor of calculus. A lifelong bachelor, Newton died in his sleep in 1727 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

One of the most important and influential scientific minds of all time, Isaac Newton (1643–1727) stands among the ranks of Galileo and Copernicus as men who changed the face of scientific discovery...

RENÉ DESCARTES (March 31st, 1596 – February 11, 1650) French physicist, philosopher, and mathematician, commonly referred to as the “Father of Modern Philosophy.” Main accomplishments:
  • Developed the concept of Cartesian geometry, which used algebraic symbols and logic to represent geometric concepts. Cartesian geometry was one of the earliest efforts to push towards “universal mathematics.” The term “Cartesian” is now applied to several different branches of mathematics.
  • Wrote several discourses on mathematics and philosophy, including his three most famous works: Discourse on the Method (1637), La Géométrie (1937), and Meditations on First Philosophy (1641). It was in Part IV of Meditations that he coined the phrase “Cogito ergo sum,” or in English, “I think, therefore I am.”
  • Among the first to apply mathematic concepts to science and philosophy, using logic and reason to tackle philosophic queries; this laid the bedrock for modern methods of philosophical study.
  • Provided the first systematic account of the metaphysical connection between the mind and the body, known as “dualism.” Commonly credited as the founder of reflex theory, which accounted for the automatic human reflex to sensations such as pain (recoiling away from fire without thinking about it, for example).
  The "Father of Modern Philosophy", René Descartes was one of the most prominent voices of the Scientific Revolution. A key philosopher of the 17th century, he developed a connection between algebraic logic and philosophical concepts—a practice that would eventually lead to the creation of modern philosophic study. His landmark works such as Meditations on First Philosophy established him as one of the most influential philosophers of all time. EARLY LIFE The son of a French judge, René Descartes studied law at his father’s behest but was never a practicing lawyer. Of all the unlikely things to do after law school, he actually became a mercenary soldier in 1618, during the Thirty Years’ War that was fought among most of the European powers over the territory of the German states—a war that originated predominantly from a Catholic/Protestant conflict. Descartes fought for the United Provinces of Netherlands and intended to leave temporarily behind the life of letters to see the world. It’s uncertain in what capacity he served, but there’s a good chance he served in the Corps of Engineers, constructing and maintaining the artillery of the day. During a temporary truce, Descartes was living a peaceful life in a small village on the banks of the Danube when he experienced three dreams that propelled him towards mathematics and philosophy. He soon found himself thinking about the relationship between mathematics and physics, and by 1622 he had finished his military career, returning to France for a few years before moving to the Netherlands, where he spent most of his life and wrote most of his major work. BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN MATH AND PHILOSOPHY His “Treatise on the World,” sometimes referred to by its French abbreviation “Le Monde”, was written between 1629 and 1633, and was intended as a complete overview of his philosophy as he had then formulated it, with a particular emphasis on what was then called natural philosophy (the modern sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology). But Descartes subscribed to the Copernican view of the cosmos—which had the Earth revolving around the Sun, not the other way around, in contrary to Catholic teaching. Galileo had just been excommunicated for those very views, and so Descartes put “Le Monde” aside for the time being. It was eventually published decades after his death, though substantial parts of it had been revised in the interim and published as parts of other works. He immediately began work on his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Searching for Truth in the Sciences, which was to become one of the cornerstones of modern science. Descartes’ aims in this book are made clear by the first chapter title: “How To Think Correctly.” It was not enough to be intelligent, Descartes said—a good mind, like a healthy body, still had to be used correctly. From there, he calls for rigor in the scientific method, including a focus on experimentation—the same standards adhered to today, but flouted for most of history. Above all, be skeptical, Descartes advised. Accept as true nothing you are not certain of and to become certain, test the claim as strictly as possible. This was an especially influential recommendation on the scientists and philosophers to come after him. One of the appendices in the Discourse is La Geometrie, which introduced the Cartesian coordinate system familiar to all geometry students (you remember all that graph paper, plotting x and y coordinates). Descartes was the first to combine algebra and geometry into the discipline of analytic geometry, which was a stepping stone towards the development of Newton and Leibniz’s calculus. By focusing so much on the method, Descartes managed to contribute to the sciences that outlived his era. Particular discoveries in science are so often refined, reformulated, disproven, that it is a rare scientist—a Newton, an Einstein, a Darwin—who makes such a contribution that remains relevant centuries later. But the methodology is sound even once our understanding of the facts has changed. The foundation of his method, that skepticism, and demand for a rigorous proof, is applicable to all sciences—like a sturdy box that will perform equally well no matter what you put into it. “Cogito ergo sum” comes out of this discussion of methodology too: the full quote is “Dubito, ergo Cogito, ergo sum.” I doubt, therefore, I think, therefore, I am: Descartes argues that because he is skeptical, he is thinking; because he is thinking, he must exist. But everything else must be proven. Even the senses can be deceived, so the only thing that can be known beyond a shadow of a doubt is his own existence as a thinking person. This discussion, in turn, led to Descartes’ formulation of what cognitive science calls “the mind-body problem.” Like many of the continental rationalists—a popular school of philosophy in his day—Descartes saw the body as a machine; advances in anatomical study of humans and animals had led to a better understanding of how musculature and the cardiovascular system worked, for instance. But the mind—or soul, a term used pretty interchangeably in philosophical writings of the time—was without material existence; the brain was not well understood, and because Descartes thought only humans had pineal glands, he saw that gland as the physical “seat” of the soul, whose operations were otherwise not limited by physical mechanism. In this, his science was clearly wrong—but cognitive science continues to pursue the matter of interactions between the nonmaterial mind and the physical body. “Le Monde” and its sequel “L’homme” (Man) were published after Descartes' death but were his earliest major works, presenting the fundamental aspects of his philosophy. Discourse on the Method follows, and his thoughts on mind-body dualism are further explored in Meditations on First Philosophy and The Description of the Human Body, though at times his remarks are informed by since-disproved beliefs about human anatomy.  An especially interesting work is Passions of the Soul, which combines Descartes’ mind-body dualism with the philosophical tradition of expounding on the nature of “passions” or emotions. This work was dedicated to his student, Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, a lifelong patron of the arts and sciences. LATER LIFE Descartes died in 1650 while serving in Sweden as a tutor for the Queen. He seems to have struggled with and succumbed to pneumonia in his last days, possibly as a result of overworking himself. A dozen years after his death, his books were condemned by the Catholic Church as he had often feared might happen. Nevertheless, he remained an important figure in science—never needing to be “rediscovered,” as Descartes’ works simply never went away. The breadth and depth of his contributions to modern thought are rivaled only by such giants as Newton and Leonardo da Vinci.

The "Father of Modern Philosophy", René Descartes (1596–1650) was one of the most prominent voices of the Scientific Revolution. A key philosopher of the 17th century, he developed a connection b...

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (April 23, 1564 - April 23, 1616) British playwright, dramatist, and poet. Widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. Main accomplishments:
  • Easily the most recognizable and world-famous playwright and poet in history; considered to be the greatest writer in history.
  • Author of 154 poems and 37 plays, which are still performed and studied around the world.
  • Invented over 400 words commonly used today.
  Considered by many to be the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare was an English playwright and poet. His plays, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, and Midsummer Night’s Dream among others, have been performed in many languages around the world. EARLY LIFE William Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and seems to have spent most of his life there and in London. He married Anne Hathaway when he was 18, and they had three children, Susanna (with whom Anne was pregnant at the wedding), Judith, and Hamnet. His actual date of birth is unknown—churches kept records of baptisms more frequently than births, and he was baptized on April 26. April 23 is traditionally celebrated as his birthday, both because it coincides with the date of his death and because that day is the feast day of Saint George, the patron saint of England. If it’s wrong, it’s only off by a few days—English baptisms were nearly always performed within a week of a child’s birth. Beyond his birth, marriage, and death, most of the details of Shakespeare’s non-professional life are a matter of speculation. His parents were John and Mary, either or both of who may have come from Catholic families (England was at this time Protestant by law, following the creation of the Church of England), and he was the third of eight children. Though not prosperous, his family didn’t struggle: his mother came from an upper-class family, and his father served as an alderman in Avon for a time. William almost certainly attended grammar school (the local school was open for free to all boys), where he would have received instruction in Latin and literature, accounting for the knowledge of the classics and Romantic language he displays in his work. From 1585 to 1592, referred to by historians as the “lost years,” no record of Shakespeare survives. Though this fact fascinates some readers and historians, it’s about what you’d expect for most residents of England at the time—even when records were kept, many of them wouldn’t have survived to the present day, being vulnerable to fire, water damage, and simple neglect. Though well-known, Shakespeare was never as famous in his lifetime as he has become, and even if he were, history as an academic field just wasn’t pursued in the same way at the time—preserving records of commoners for posterity would have been a strange notion, especially during a cold winter when papers could have been burned for fuel. Various traditions have developed around Shakespeare’s life—he is supposed to have worked as a teacher, to have done odd jobs related to the London theater, and to have been arrested for poaching deer (just as Robin Hood was)—but there is no mention of these things until long after his death, and are probably the equivalent of George Washington and the cherry tree. We know that by 1592, he was a playwright—because well-known writer Robert Greene dismissed him as "an upstart crow," deriding his play Henry VI. Interestingly—given Shakespeare’s lack of serious education—what Greene seems most upset by is the Bard’s attempt to rise above his station by writing serious work, rather than just entertainments for the masses. WORK AS A PLAYWRIGHT In 1592, an outbreak of the plague closed down theaters and forced Shakespeare to divert attention to his poetry. His poems eventually caught the attention of the Earl of Southampton the following year, and the Earl became Shakespeare’s patron. With the Earl backing him financially, Shakespeare was able formally to copyright his poem Venus and Adonis in the Stationers' Registrar in 1593; the poem was gratefully dedicated to the Earl for his support. Throughout the 1590s and the first decade of the seventeenth century, Shakespeare worked as a playwright and actor on the London stage. He was part-owner of Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of actors later known as the King’s Men when King James I took over Chamberlain’s sponsorship. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men enjoyed unprecedented popularity throughout the early 1600s, with many of Shakespeare’s plays being printed during his lifetime in small pamphlets costing sixpence. But Shakespeare was not only a writer; he acted both in his own plays and in those of others, and as part-owner of the Chamberlain’s Men he made a fair profit off of the company’s work. He finally retired in 1613, returning to Stratford, where he died three years later. THE BARD’S THEMES We know a good deal more about his plays and poetry than his personal life—though even then, there are plays we are not sure Shakespeare wrote and plays he wrote which have not survived to the present day. Perhaps the most prominent aspect of Shakespeare’s work is one that has been emulated by many writers to follow him (notably Mark Twain, who supported the "Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare" theories): he wrote for the educated man and the "masses" simultaneously. His plays are full of sexual allusions, puns and dirty jokes, violence, revenge, ghosts and witches, romance, betrayal, slapstick, magic, and just plain goofiness—but they also draw on history, on previous plays, and from Greek and Roman legend. Those puns may provide an easy laugh, but they’re also part of a larger approach to language, a deep understanding of it. Shakespeare committed to print hundreds of words, which had never been seen before—more than all other writers of his generation combined. Now, "committed to print" needs some explanation and demonstrates what makes Shakespeare so interesting. Some of these words were probably in use at the time—in speech. A writer with an excellent ear for dialogue, Shakespeare wrote down a good many words and phrases which were used in informal conversation, but had never before been used in print. But on top of that, he also invented a great many words—not out of whole cloth, but by deriving adjectives from nouns, verbs from adjectives, combining parts of words in ways that simply made sense to him. This was a fluid time in the history of the English language—Shakespeare didn’t even spell his own name the same all the time, nor did anyone else—and people were very receptive to these neologisms, just as new words and slang are introduced every week in the present day, thanks to television, music, and text messaging. In addition to being the first to coin, record, or popularize such words, many of the phrases he used have caught on and become a common feature of English even among people who’ve never read his plays. "A foregone conclusion" is one such phrase. To vanish into "thin air" is another, as well as "mum’s the word," "in a pickle," and "love is blind." THE LEGACY The impact of Shakespeare’s influence on the English literary world cannot be overstated. Dozens of famous writers have cited him as an influence, including Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, and John Keats, who kept a bust of Shakespeare beside his bed, hoping it would inspire his writings. He inspired as much criticism as he did praise: Leo Tolstoy, Voltaire, and George Bernard Shaw were all well-known for their loathing of the Bard’s works. Shaw, in particular, was fiercely opposed to the worship of Shakespeare that he referred to as “bardolatry.” Shakespeare’s plays have been translated into 80 languages and performed around the world, and his work has been extensively studied and dissected for nearly 400 years. With films such as 2011’s Anonymous being released, the debate over whether Shakespeare was, in fact, the actual author of his works continues to rage on. As famous author James Barry once remarked: "I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not it seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life."

Considered by many to be the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was an English playwright and poet. His plays, Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, a...

NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI (May 3rd, 1469 – June 21st, 1527) Italian political philosopher, playwright, and diplomat. Father of modern political theory. Main accomplishments:
  • Writer of several poems, plays, fictional novels, and historical accounts, but better known for his political non-fiction works, including his masterpiece The Prince (first circulated in 1513, not published until 1532), as well as Discourses On Livy (1517).
  • Named as an influence on such figures as Sir Francis Bacon and Adam Smith, as well as the founding fathers of the United States; John Adams praised Machiavelli’s works in his writing, and it is believed that the other founding fathers were influenced by Machiavelli when writing the Federalist Papers.
  • One of the earliest advocates of “realpolitik,” the separation of politics from morality in which practicality trumps moral ethics. Later followers of this design would include Otto von Bismarck, Alexander III, and Henry Kissinger.
EARLY LIFE Little is known of Niccolo Machiavelli’s life outside of his career, though he almost certainly had a thorough university education. He was born in Florence on May 3, 1469, in the middle of the Renaissance—both chronologically and geographically, as Florence was the central city-state involved in that cultural flourishing, and it was from here that new and revived ideas were spread. When Niccolo was born, the Medici family had recently come to power in Florence, displacing the Albizzi family, and would remain in control for the next three hundred years. Lorenzo de Medici, who took charge of the city in 1469, was the first of the family to receive a humanist education at university, and became a patron of the city’s arts—as well as the subject of an unsuccessful assassination plot carried out by the Catholic Church. When Lorenzo died, he was succeeded by his bungling son Piero II, under whose reign the family was expelled from Florence from 1498 to 1512. It was during that time that Machiavelli first came to prominence, working for Florence’s ruling council as a diplomat. In the course of this career, he traveled among the courts of Ferdinand II of Aragon, Louis VII of France, and the Pope in Rome, and became familiar with Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI and a deeply ambitious, charismatic military leader. In his pursuit of power, Borgia had become the first Cardinal in history to resign from the Church, in order to accept his appointment as Duke of Valentinois. Machiavelli served at Borgia’s court as a representative of Florence from 1502 to 1503, a brief period that made an enormous impact on the diplomat. WORK AS A WRITER The Medicis returned to power in 1512, and as a member of the interim government, Machiavelli was arrested and tortured on the rack on charges of conspiracy. He was eventually released, having denied any involvement in the actions that had originally expelled the family from the city. It was at this point that he retired from public life and turned to writing, while constantly asking his friends to use their political connections to help him win the favor of the Medicis and return to court. In this exile, he wrote The Prince, his first major work. Inspired directly by Cesare Borgia and informed by Machiavelli’s experiences in the noble courts of Europe, The Prince was written quickly in his first year away from court, and was intended as a gift for the Medicis. It was not actually published for the public until after his death, so although it is now his best-known work, it had little effect on his reputation in life. The Prince emphasizes the need for stability in the domain overseen by a prince (or duke, or king, or any other ruler); Machiavelli had come of political age in an unstable time filled with backstabbing and intricate plots, and so focused on pure political survival to a degree little seen in political theory. Because of this, The Prince explicitly approves of cruelty and betrayal, so long as the stability and health of the state is preserved—for that is the greater moral good. “Many have imagined republics or principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality,” Machiavelli says in Chapter 15, in reference to the many works of philosophy which discuss hypothetical states. The Prince, in contrast, deals with concrete reality, but generalizes from the specific—it is not simply a book about Italian politics. “A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise,” Machiavelli says in Chapter 18, summing up much of the book’s ethos. The book is a study of power, and was offered to the Medicis in no small part to make up for his participation in Florence’s government during their exile—as though Machiavelli was saying, not only am I glad to see you back, but here’s a guidebook on how to increase and preserve your power. Rather than praise them for being merciful or kind, he says quite clearly that no good prince should be those things—they should only appear to be since a reputation for mercy can be a useful thing. A good prince needs to avoid being hated, but must retain respect by keeping enough of the right people intimidated. He would never have called himself a philosopher, and, in fact, was disdainful of the philosophers of his generation and ignored the standards that would have been expected of philosophical writing—but Niccolo Machiavelli nevertheless stands as one of the most significant writers of political philosophy, of his era or any other. Certainly, Locke and Rousseau, the giants of the field, were heavily influenced by him, and just as importantly, he popularized political philosophy among people outside philosophy’s usual audience. Machiavelli’s disdain for philosophy may have been a dislike of the abstract. His writings were much more concrete, dealing not with hypothetical societies or the “state of nature” but the world around him. Often, as with his best-known work, The Prince, his work was written as instructions, with his on human behavior only implicit in them. The Prince was widely circulated after Machiavelli’s death, even in places where it was illegal, like Shakespeare’s England. The Bard read the book and used it as the basis for the characters of such infamous villains as Iago and Richard III, who epitomize the amoral genius Machiavelli commended. Nevertheless, Machiavelli never returned to his diplomatic career, and it’s not clear if the Medicis even bothered to read his gift. They chose to employ him as a writer instead of as a diplomat, commissioning a history of Florence from him. He wrote a number of plays, comedies, and poems, and died in 1527 outside of Florence.

Though his own political aspirations never quite took off, the writings of the Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) established him as one of if not the most brilliant pol...

LEONARDO DA VINCI (April 15th, 1452 – May 2nd, 1519) Italian artist, inventor, writer, and polymath. One of the foremost minds of the Italian Renaissance. Main accomplishments:
  • Created working diagrams of prototype machines including the helicopter, submarine, parachute, tank, scuba gear, and even crude robots! Roboticist Mark Rosheim used da Vinci’s sketches as a reference when designing robots to give to NASA, over 500 years after da Vinci’s death. Sadly, many of da Vinci’s scientific papers went unpublished, meaning that his ideas would not be put into practice until centuries later.
  • Produced roughly 15-20 paintings (unsigned), including Madonna Litta (c. 1490), The Last Supper (c. 1498), and the Mona Lisa (c. 1503). Also produced a series of sketches, including the Vitruvian Man (c. 1487) and La Bella Principessa (c. 1490).
  • Studied the anatomy of both humans and animals; produced one of the earliest sketches of a fetus in the womb.
  • Served as a living example of the “Renaissance man” ideal, mastering many different fields from art to science to engineering; invented new painting techniques involving light and shade that would revolutionize the way painters used realism.
  EARLY LIFE Very little is known about the early years of da Vinci’s life: we know that he was born out of wedlock between the notary Piero da Vinci and a local peasant woman named Caterina, in the small town of Vinci in the Republic of Florence. He was educated from a young age, and at fifteen he was apprenticed as a garzone (studio boy) to Andrea del Verrocchio, a famous painter/sculptor who was at the forefront of the early Renaissance. It was during his apprenticeship to del Verrocchio that Leonardo picked up many elements that would become prominent in his own work, primarily recognizing the intricacy of the human physical design. In 1472 da Vinci was entered in the painter’s guild in his own right, but even after completing his apprenticeship he continued to work in del Verrocchio’s workshop for several years, collaborating with his master on a few paintings. At the age of 22, Leonardo was accused and acquitted of sodomy; his sexuality remains a hotly debated topic today. His writings paint him as a deeply sensitive man; he once wrote that he disliked even taking the milk from cows, considering it as stealing from the calves. He frequently wrote about the moral and ethical issues of his day, and according to biographers would sometimes purchase caged birds for the express purpose of setting them free. EARLY CAREER It was not until 1478 that da Vinci struck out on his own, setting up his own studio. In 1481, he received his first commission: to paint an altarpiece for the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto. This first painting, Adoration of the Magi, was left unfinished when Leonardo decided to travel to Milan. He was notorious for being unable to finish paintings, finding the physical act of painting itself to be tedious. Leonardo’s journey to Milan was commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici, a prominent Florentine nobleman who wanted da Vinci to craft a silver lyre and bring it to the Duke of Milan as a peace offering. Leonardo fulfilled the request, but also wrote the Duke a letter explaining his engineering and technical prowess. The Duke, impressed, took Leonardo into his service as an architect and military engineer. FLORENCE AND MILAN Between 1482 and 1499, Leonardo lived in Milan and completed some of his greatest projects, including The Last Supper and The Virgin on the Rocks. The Duke commissioned him to work on several other non-painting projects as well, including a large bronze equestrian monument known as the “Gran Cavallo.” The monument was never finished, as it was eventually destroyed by invading French troops who used it as target practice. The unfinished monument was a source of ridicule towards Leonardo by Michelangelo; according to their biographer Vasari, the two great painters had an “intense dislike” towards one another. The French invasion of Milan in 1499 led Leonardo and his associates to flee to Venice, where he again found work as a military engineer. The following year he returned home to Florence, where he entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander, and accompanied his patron on his travels throughout Italy. It was during this second Florentine period that Leonardo produced perhaps his most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. In 1506 Leonardo found himself again returning to Milan, this time entering into the service of the city’s new French ruler, King Louis XII. For the next six years, Leonardo split his time between Milan and Florence, frequently traveling between the two cities along with his pupils. LATER YEARS In 1513, the French were expelled from Milan, and Leonardo decided to make it to the Vatican, where the likes of Raphael and Leonardo’s rival Michelangelo were already working. His friend Giuliano de Medici offered him living space, but Leonardo did not receive much work in Rome— his only contribution of note was to be part of a committee that relocated Michelangelo’s David statue against the artist’s will. In 1515 Leonardo left Italy for good, having been called for by the King of France himself, Francis I. Leonardo served as the king’s personal painter and engineer while living in the small village of Cloux, where he eventually died in 1519—supposedly in the arms of the king himself. Leonardo was buried in the church of Saint Florentin, which was destroyed during the French Revolution; today da Vinci’s gravesite remains unknown.

Throughout human history, perhaps no man has ever displayed as much creative genius as the Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). An inspired painter, inventor, and writer, Leonardo is wide...

CHINGGIS KHAN (Circa 1162 - August 18, 1227) One of the most famous conquerors in history who united the steppes under the banner of his reign. He was a brutal general who was willing to engage with any foe who stood in his way.  Main Accomplishments:
  • Established an empire that covered approximately 12,000,000 square miles.
  • United all nomadic tribes under Mongol rule.
  • Some estimates suggest he is an ancestor of about 0.5% of the world’s population.
  Founder of the Mongol Empire and one of the most feared conquerors of all time, Chinggis Khan created the largest empire in the world by destroying individual tribes in Northeast Asia. EARLY LIFE Chinggis Khan (or as popularly known, Genghis Khan) was born circa 1162, near Lake Baikal, Mongolia. He received his name, Temuchin, after a ruler his father defeated in battle. Legends claim he exited the womb holding a blood clot in his hand. This image of the young Chinggis certainly proved to be prescient for his future life.  When Temuchin was nine-years-old, a rival nomadic band called the Tartars poisoned his father, Yesügei. Following his father's death, Temuchin's tribe quickly fell into chaos and abandoned him and his siblings. Subject to frequent hunger, the young Temuchin's diet consisted of roots and the rare fish he could gather.  From his youth, Chinggis Khan was brutal. During his suffering, he sought justice for any wrongful action taken against him or his family. In one horrific instance, his half-brother had scavenged food and hoarded it, refusing to share it with his family. Temuchin took justice into his own hands and killed him for his selfish deed.  In another instance of vengeance, a rival family, called the Taychiut, held him captive in their camp. They kept him bound by a wooden collar around his neck. One night, Temuchin sought to escape the camp. Utilizing the collar, he struck the guard who was assigned to him, knocking him to the ground. He quickly ran away but was spotted by a member of the tribe. Upon seeing Temuchin's expression of intensity, the Taychiut member assisted him in his daring escape.  YEARS AS EMPEROR His wife, Borte, was captured by the Merkit people. Since Temuchin's father had taken his wife from this tribe, they subsequently sought revenge for his actions. Temuchin asked the khan of the Kereit tribe, Toghril, for assistance in retrieving his lost wife.  Temuchin could not offer much to Toghril except a sable skin he received as a wedding gift. In return, Toghril promised Temuchin that he would reunite his tribe. This lofty promise came with tens of thousands of soldiers fighting on Temuchin's behalf. Temuchin then attacked the Merkit tribe and slaughtered them.  He also defeated the Jürkin clan before attempting to overtake the Tartar clan, who murdered his father. He won the battle against the Tartars and killed every adult member of the tribe. He assumed that the children were still impressionable; therefore, he could train them into Mongol soldiers in the future.  The future khan was creating an empire of his own. The final clan he needed to defeat to rule the steppe was his ally, the Kereit people. Upon the collapse of the alliance between Temuchin and Toghril, the Mongols attacked and defeated the Kereit army. Temuchin had his soldiers kill the remaining aristocracies to stamp out any potential rebellion. Temuchin then dispersed the remaining Kereit tribesmen as servants and soldiers among his people.  Now with the final clan dissolved, Temuchin reigned with authority and no external rivals. He established his plan to rid the steppes of their clan-based fragmentation and unite all tribes under Mongol rule.  The members called an assembly by the River Onan in 1206 to name Temuchin the sole ruler of the steppes. It was here where they granted him the famous title, Chinggis Khan. With a united nation and more soldiers than before, he was ready for world conquest.  Chinggis continued conquering, expanding westward from the steppes. He overtook the remaining tribes and formed alliances with a few. His system of government, although somewhat primal at its outset, developed with time. With the help of the minister to the khan of Naiman, Chinggis learned the importance of writing. The minister assisted the Mongols in transforming their verbal language into a written one.  With the advent of Mongol writing, culture quickly evolved within the empire. Chinggis allowed his subjects to have religious freedom and exempted select places of worship from taxes. Men soon took jobs as craftsmen as opposed to being a soldier. Mongol villages became Mongol towns.  Circa 1211, Chinggis and his army set out to conquer China. They dominated the Chinese empire in battle by means of their developed warfare tactics. As opposed to charging at the opposing army with melee weapons, the Mongols often diverted rivers, launched projectiles with catapults, and flanked their enemies to catch them by surprise. After conquering a Chinese city, the Mongols would destroy buildings, records, irrigation systems, and other property.  After defeating much of his opposition in China, Chinggis withdrew in 1223. END OF LIFE After three years, Chinggis Khan led his army into China once again. They fought against the northwestern Xixia from 1126 to 1227. On August 18, 1227, during their campaign against Xixia, Chinggis Khan died. Many myths surround his death. People proposed he died from an arrow to the knee, while others said it was a wound during sex or a fall from his horse.  Chinggis' burial location is unknown to this day. Legends say that something or someone slaughtered all who attended his funeral and diverted a river to cover the Great Khan's grave. 

CHINGGIS KHAN (Circa 1162 – August 18, 1227) One of the most famous conquerors in history who united the steppes under the banner of his reign. He was a brutal general who was willing to engage ...

ARISTOTLE (384 B.C.E. – 322 B.C.E.) Greek philosopher, one of the key intellectual figures of the ancient world. Main accomplishments:
  • Arguably the first practitioner of the scientific method; developed the idea of using existing truths to infer new truths. His writings were the philosophical basis for both early Christian and Islamic scholastic thought.
  • Known as the “Father of Biology” for being the first to classify and study animals, drawing parallels between natural anatomical development and philosophy.
  • Tutored Alexander the Great in philosophy and science, installing a “violent thirst for passion and learning” in the young conqueror.
  • Founded his school in Athens known as the Lyceum, which would eventually evolve into the Peripatetic School—the teachings of which would massively influence the Renaissance.
  The third and final member of a chain of Athenian philosophers who would shape the foundation of Western philosophy, Aristotle (384 B.C.E.–322 B.C.E.) was a student of Plato, who would eventually go on to mentor Alexander the Great. Nicknamed “The Reader” by Plato, Aristotle’s writings on science, ethics, and politics dominated Western society for centuries and had a profound impact on the development of Western culture. With his subjects ranging from natural science to metaphysical and ethical philosophy, Aristotle formalized logic and devised the scientific method as we know it today. EARLY LIFE Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. in the Greek colony of Stagirus. His father, Nicomachus, was the court physician to the king of Macedonia, and young Aristotle was raised in a mostly aristocratic environment. Although not much is known about Aristotle’s childhood, it is probable that, as a physician’s son, he was highly educated and immersed in the world of science as it existed to that point. Nicomachus died when Aristotle was 10, and his brother-in-law Proxenus became his guardian. At the age of 17, he departed Stagirus for Athens to join Plato’s Academy, where he would remain for the next 20 years. LIFE AT THE ACADEMY Just as Plato himself had come to an aged Socrates as a young student, so did Aristotle come to Plato. For the next twenty years, Aristotle attended Plato’s lectures and studied under him, but their relationship was anything but polite and professional: their philosophies were widely different, and the two men frequently clashed, leaving behind an extensive catalogue of literary arguments. Where Plato dealt with metaphysical abstracts and disdained arts and sciences, Aristotle was concerned more with the material world and valued those same practices. The more fervent followers of Plato, among them the famous philosopher Xenocrates, would develop a lasting semi-friendly rivalry with Aristotle that continued long after their master’s death. When Plato died in 347-8 B.C., his nephew Speusippus succeeded him as the head of the Academy. Aristotle and Xenocrates elected to travel to Assos to visit their mutual friend Hermias, a former slave and member of the Academy, who was also the king of Atarneus and Assos. During his three-year stay in Assos, Aristotle met Pythias, Hermias’ adopted daughter, and married her. Despite his own marriage, Aristotle’s views on women were hardly progressive; he thought of them as deformed men and inferior to their male counterparts and passed his views down to later philosophers as well as Christian and Islamic dogma. When Speusippus suffered a stroke, Xenocrates succeeded him as the head of the Academy instead of Aristotle, whom many had expected would take the position. Aristotle, however, had a different future ahead of him: that of Alexander the Great’s tutor. TUTORING THE CONQUEROR In 343 B.C., Aristotle was invited to become the tutor of Alexander, the son of Philip II of Macedon- the same ruler who had conquered and destroyed Aristotle’s hometown of Stagirus a few years back! The position would bring prestige and wealth to Aristotle, but before accepting he also demanded that Philip rebuild Stagirus and free all of its former citizens who had been enslaved during the town’s conquest. Philip agreed, and Aristotle was assigned to tutor the young prince. Aristotle tutored the young prince in a variety of subjects, including medicine, a field that interested Alexander throughout his life. Most importantly, however, it was Aristotle who fueled Alexander’s already-existing anti-Persian sentiment and prodded him into invading the East. For three years, Alexander studied under Aristotle before being called to serve as Macedonia’s regent, freeing Aristotle from his position. LATER LIFE In 335 B.C. Aristotle, perhaps feeling some lingering bitterness towards Plato’s Academy, decided to create a school of his own in Athens called the “Lyceum” and conducted in a former gymnasium; the school served as Aristotle’s main project for the next twelve years. He taught, lectured, and produced many of his most famous writings during this period. Unfortunately for Aristotle, not all of his teachings had stuck with Alexander, whose anti-Persian sentiments faded after his conquest. Alexander grew highly suspicious of his former teacher and even had Aristotle’s grandnephew executed. Meanwhile, the citizens of Athens were becoming fed up with the pro-Macedonian government; when Alexander died in 323 B.C., this regime was overthrown, and Aristotle was charged with impiety. Unlike Socrates before him, Aristotle refused to take his impending execution lying down, and instead fled to Chalcis, where he remained until 322 B.C. when he died of natural causes.

The third and final member of a chain of Athenian philosophers who would shape the foundation of Western philosophy, Aristotle (384 B.C.E.–322 B.C.E.) was a student of Plato, who would eventually go...