Gift of wisdom and happiness

PhilosophersThe core teaching of the School of Philosophy Midlands and all the other branches of the School of Philosophy and Economic Science is the philosophy of Advaita. Here are a few very succinct biographies of some of the philosophers that inform some of the idea’s presented in the School’s philosophy courses.

ALBERTI, Leon Battista Degli (1404-1472), Italian architect and writer on painting and sculpture (Della Pittura Libri) and architecture (De Re Aedificatoria). His theories had a profound influence on Renaissance and subsequent architecture.

ARISTOTLE (384-322 BC), Athenian philosopher. He was a student at the Academy of Plato until Plato’s death, and later founded his own school, the Lyceum. His thinking remained broadly speaking Platonic. His works cover many subjects, including philosophy, science, poetry and drama. In philosophy he set out a system of categories or classifications into which all things fall, differentiating for example between ‘form’ and ‘matter’. In logic he worked out a theory of systematic reasoning by syllogisms. In his Ethics he taught that virtue consists in a mean between excess and deficiency. His influence on Western civilisation has been immense. During the Middle Ages his doctrines were combined with Christian theology, notably by St. Thomas Aquinas.

AURELIUS Marcus Antoninus (AD 12l-180), Roman Emperor AD 16l-180 and religious philosopher, author of twelve books of Meditations in Greek, imbued with a Stoic philosophy. He taught that man’s duty is to obey the divine law that resides in his reason, superior to pains and pleasures; to forgive injuries and regard all men as brothers; and to await death with equanimity.

BACON, Francis, first Baron Verulam and Viscount St. Albans (1561-1626), English lawyer, scientist, essayist and philosopher. Philosophical writing: Advancement of Learning; Novum Organum; De Augmentis, it was Bacon’s ambition to create a new system of philosophy based on a right interpretation of nature, to replace that of Aristotle. He stressed the importance of experiment in establishing scientific truth, and is regarded as the father of empiricism. Literary works: best known are his Essays and New Atlantis.

BLAKE, William (1757-1827), English poet, painter, engraver, and mystic. Best known works include Poetical Sketches; Songs of Innocence, Songs of Experience, and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. In Jerusalem Blake expounds his theory of Imagination, ‘the real and eternal world of which the Vegetable Universe is but a faint shadow’.

BOETHIUS, Anicius Manlius Severinus (475-524 AD), Roman statesman and philosopher. Author of De Consolatione Philosophiae, in which the narrator holds a conversation with the goddess Philosophy, who shows him the mutability of earthly fortune, and insecurity of everything save virtue. This work was translated by, among many others. King Alfred. Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth I.

BOTTICELLI. Sandro (1444-1510), Florentine painter of the school of Fra Filippo Lippi. He produced many works on classical and biblical subjects: possibly the finest being his Birth of Venus and Primavera, both in the Uffizi in Florence.

BROOKE, Rupert (1887-1915), English Poet.

BUNYAN, John (1628-88), English preacher and author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegorical vision in which the hero, Pilgrim, journeys, through many adventures and hardships, to the Heavenly City. He is unusual among pre-twentieth century writers as having never received any kind of classical education – his entire education came from the Bible, and he was born and remained throughout his life in humble circumstances.

CHAUCER, Geoffrey (1345-1400), English poet, author of The Canterbury Tales, the first major work to be written in the English vernacular.

COLERIDCE, Samuel Taylor (1772-1834), English poet and philosopher. Best known work include The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, and a work of philosophical literary criticism, Biographia Literaria.

DA VINCI, Leonardo (1452-1519), Italian painter, sculptor, architect and engineer, a leading figure of the Renaissance.

DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265-1321). Italian Poet and author the Divina Commedia, the three parts of which describe the poet’s journey through hell, purgatory and paradise.

MEISTER ECKHART (1268-1327), German philosopher and mystic. Christian neoplatonist. One of the most profound medieval thinkers. Conceives an ultimate incomprehensible Godhead, of which the Father. Son and Holy Spirit are different manifestations. The soul of man also partakes of the essence of the Godhead, and on reaching a stage of self- awareness is reabsorbed into the Godhead from which it came.

EDDINGTON, Sir Arthur Stanley (1882-1944), British astronomer and physicist. Most important work on the evolution and constitution of stars.

EINSTEIN, Albert (1879-1955). German-born mathematical physicist. Famous for his theory of relativity.

ELIOT, Thomas Stearns (1888-1965). American born English poet and playwright, best known for The Waste Land, and Four Quartets.

EMERSON, Ralph Waldo (1803-1882), American poet, philosopher and essayist. In Nature he set out his philosophy. A form of Transcendentalism, influenced partly by the German philosophy of Idealism and partly by his own Greek and Vedic studies. In his day he re-awakened America to an inspirational and idealist view of man and life. He is best known for his essays, which contain his ideas on the existence of a universal mind and of the “Over-soul”.

EPICTETUS (55-135 AD), Stoic philosopher. His teachings were collected by his pupil Arrian in the Enchiridion. Taught that one ought to escape the slavery of desire and so become free to act in accord with divine providence.

EPICURUS (342-270 BC), Greek philosopher. Epicurianism held that the senses are the only arbiters of reality. And that repose of mind, which drives from virtue, is the highest good.

FICINO, Marsilio (1433-1499), neoplatonist, close friend and correspondent of the Medicis and other leading figures of his time, founder of the Platonic Academy in Florence, chief philosophical influence behind the Italian Renaissance. Translated Plato, and achieved a synthesis of Platonic and Christian thought.

GOETHE, Johann Wolfgang von (1749-1832), Germany’s most famous poet and dramatist, best known for his dramatic poem Faust.

HEGEL, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1770-1831), German idealist philosopher, who held that spirit, conceived of as transcendental and all-encompassing, is the true reality and all else is dependent upon it.

HEISENBERG, Werner Karl (1901-1976), German theoretical physicist developed Quantum Mechanics and formulated the unified field theory.

HERMES TRISMEGISTUS, “Thrice-great Thoth”, god of the Egyptians, regarded as identical with the Grecian god Hermes. Also the name given to the supposed author of a body of philosophical texts, or Hermetic Books, dating from the first century AD. The best known text is the Poimandres, (or Pymander) a word used to signify the Divine Intelligence. Hermetic philosophy appears to derive in part from Greek sources, but also in large part from ancient Egypt. Of specifically Egyptian origin are the belief that the creation comes from the Logos, a primal Word or sound, and the concept of a Divine intelligence which is the true Self of all beings.

HIPPOCRATES, (460-357 BC), Greek physician, regarded as the father of medicine. Taught that the four humours are the primary seats of disease.

KOKOSCHKA, Oskar (1886-1980), Austrian-born British artist, Expressionist landscape painter.

LAW, William (1686-1761), English Divine, author of treatises of practical morality including A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

MILTON, John (1608-1674), English poet, author of Paradise Lost. From an early age he sensed his vocation as a poet, and spent his youth in his father’s Puritan household preparing himself for it. In Paradise Lost, which tells the story of Satan’s rebellion against God, and of the subsequent scenes in Eden and the fall of Man, he consciously set out to ‘justify the ways of God to men’.

MOZART, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791), composer. Excelled in every medium of his time and thus may be regarded as the most universal composer in the history of Western music.

NEWTON, Sir Isaac (16{.2-1727), English philosopher, scientist and mathematician. Author of Principia, in which he sought to explain all physical phenomena by a few generalised laws.

NICHOLAS of Cusa (1401-1464), German theologian, mathematician and philosopher.

PAULI, Wolfgang (1900-1958), Austrian-Swiss theoretical physicist.

PLANCK, Max Karl Ernst (1858-1947). German theoretical physicist, formulated the Quantum Theory.

PLATO (427-347 BC). Athenian philosopher disciple of Socrates, recorder of Socrates’ dialogues. His works fall into three main periods. The main doctrine of the first period is that Virtue is Knowledge, knowledge of the Good, which implies the effort to realise it, and requires a constant search. To the second period belongs the doctrine known as the ‘theory of ideas’. The idea or form of a thing, as opposed to its earthly manifestation, is the true, eternal reality behind the changing appearance. The supreme idea is that of the Good. In the final period Plato considered the nature of reality, suggesting that the only way it can be known is for the soul to withdraw from the senses into itself and there to contemplate itself. Ultimate reality is eternal and unchanging.

PLOTINTUS (205-269 AD), one of the first neo-platonic philosophers. His system, set down in the Enneads, combines many strands of Creek philosophy, as well as elements of Eastern teachings. He regarded all souls as one with a World Soul, all intelligences as one with a World Mind, the source of both being the light of God within us, which he called the One or the Good.

PUROHIT SWAMI (1882-1942), translator into English, with W.B. Yeats, of The Ten Principal Upanishads, and also of The Geeta. The Upanishads are India’s most ancient and profound spiritual writings, and form the essence of Vedanta. They teach that there is an underlying Reality behind all created things, the power which creates and sustains the universe; that this Reality is the Self. Or essence, of all beings: that this same divine Reality is our real Self; and that each one of us can realise directly our oneness with it. The Bhagavad Gita, which is an extract from the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata. is a dialogue between the Lord Shri Krishna, an incarnation of God, and the great hero-archer, Arjuna, in which Shri Krishna teaches Arjuna the secret of life – the science of the Supreme Spirit and the art of Self-Knowledge.

PYTHAGORAS (6th century BC), Greek philosopher and mathematician, founder of a moral and religious school, famous for its investigation into the relations of numbers. He conceived of the universe as governed by mathematical laws, related to the laws of music. By the contemplation of harmony man achieves virtue.

RAMAKRISHNA (1834-1886), Indian saint whose practical teachings on Self realisation were influential in awakening interest in Indian philosophy among Americans and Europeans.

CHIEF SEATTLE (1790-1866), chief of tribes around Puget Sound who befriended white settlers, converted to Roman Catholicism and gave his name to the city.

SHANKARA (6th or 7th century though some place him much earlier), Indian philosopher and leading teacher of advaita, the perennial philosophy of unity or non-duality. In a life span of 32 years he revitalised and reorganised the system of Vedanta – the Upanishad teachings on Iiberation – which had degenerated into confusion and dispute. Throughout his brief life he travelled the length and breadth of India, engaging in discourse with the learned and the holy, and overcoming all obstacles to the truth of advaita. The four monasteries he founded to uphold the system of advaita are each presided over by a Shankaracharya (see below). Shankar’s commentaries on the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita are works of the most rigorous philosophical reasoning, as well as being practical guides for the realisation of the Self.

SCHOPENHAUER, Artur (1788-1860), German philosopher, best known for his view that will is the “thing in itself’, the only reality.

SCHRODINGER, Erwin (1887-1961), Austrian physicist, largely responsible for the development of wave mechanics.

SHAKESPEARE William ( 1564-1616), England’s greatest poet and dramatist, In his hands blank verse became an instrument of great delicacy whether for dialogue, narrative, description or argument; adaptable equally to any plot or situation, tragic or comic. His characters are household names: no writer has given more continuous delight or shown greater insight into the heart and mind of man.

SHANTANAND SARASWATI, Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math in Northern India from 1953 until his retirement in 1980, one of India greatest living saints and teacher of the ancient philosophy of Advaita, or non-duality. Today he lives in the Himalayas, but continues to guide and help people from many different philosophical and religious traditions.

SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe (1792-1827), English Romantic Poet.

SIDNEY, Sir Philip (1554-1586). English poet.

SOCRATES (c.469-39 BC), Athenian philosopher, known as ‘the wisest of the Greeks”. Left no writings, but two of his friends, Plato and Xenophon wrote of his life and philosophy. The aim of his dialectical method of question and answer was that each of his disciples should learn to know himself.

SPENSER, Edmund (1552-1599), English poet author of The Faerie Queene.

SPINOZA, Baruch (1632-1677), Dutch-Jewish philosopher and theologian. Taught that nature is identical with God, and that man’s mind is part of the divine mind.

ST. FRANCIS of Assisi (1181-1226) founder of the Franciscan Order. The special note of his teaching was joyousness and love of nature.

SUSO, Heinrich (1295-1366), German mystic and visionary, a Dominican, disciple of Eckhart and member of the society known as the Friends of God, from which also emanated the anonymous Theologica Germanica.

TRAHERNE, Thomas (1636-1674), English poet, author of Centuries of Meditations.

WORDSWORTH, William (1770-1850), English Romantic poet author of The Prelude and with Coleridge of Lyrical Ballads.

YEATS, William Butler (1865-1939), Irish poet and dramatist and translator, with Shri Purohit Swami of The Ten Principal Upanishads.

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