Francis Bacon was a legendary English philosopher, scientist, lawyer, author, statesman, jurist and father of the scientific methods. He was one of the most influential personalities in natural philosophy and was also a key thinker to develop new scientific methodologies. He served both as Attorney General as well as Lord Chancellor of England. Leaving apart the disgraceful ending of his political career, throughout his life, Bacon continued to be quite an influential politician because of his work, specifically as philosophical advocate and practitioner of the scientific method and pioneer in the scientific revolution. He has been known as the “Father of Empiricism”.
Francis Bacon’s work led and popularized inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry. These methodologies are also often denoted as Baconian method. The rhetorical and theoretical composition for science faced a new turn as a result of the Bacon’s appeal for a planned procedure of investigating all things natural, most of which still encircle ideas of proper methodology even today.
John Locke was a 17th century English philosopher and physician known as the “Father of Classical Liberalism”. Counted amongst the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers, he was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness. His writings contributed greatly to the development of the fields of political philosophy, epistemology, and education. His works inspired generations of philosophers to follow, and significantly influenced the likes of Voltaire and Rousseau. Born as the son of a country lawyer in a small town in England, he grew up to be a good student and was accepted into the prestigious Westminster School in London.
As a young man he was more drawn towards the works of modern philosophers than he was interested in studying the prescribed curriculum. Along with philosophy he developed an interest in medicine and went on to become a professional physician. He found a mentor in the famous physician Thomas Sydenham who took him under his wings and greatly influenced the development of Locke’s philosophical thinking. Along with his medical career he also served as Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords Proprietor of Carolina, and this helped shape his political thoughts. As a political theorist, he contributed immensely to classical republicanism and liberal theory which are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence.
George Berkeley, an Anglo-Irish Anglican bishop, was one of the great philosophers of the modern era. He is known for his empiricist and idealistic philosophy. Idealism is the belief that everything that exists depends upon the mind for its existence and that reality consists of whatsoever is perceived by the senses. He is regarded as one of the three most influential British Empiricists along with John Locke and David Hume. Berkeley is the major contributor to the theory of ‘Subjective Idealism’ that claims that that the only things that exist are the minds and contents perceived by the minds.
The theory is associated with ‘Immaterialism’, an assumption that material things do not exist. He was of the belief that all physical objects ‘exist’ because they are perceived to be in the minds of the individuals. He felt that perception could be the actual perception of an entity that an individual has or the possible perception if the individual perceived something in a particular manner. As a metaphysicist, he criticized the idea of materialism, and focused on the study of the relationship between mind and matter, the nature of reality, fact and value, etc. He produced many texts on philosophy, the major one being ‘A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge’.
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian and essayist known for his radical philosophical scepticism and empiricism. It is because of this he is placed amongst the likes of John Locke, Francis Bacon, George Berkeley and Thomas Hobbes. Hume is remembered for his influential system of radical philosophical empiricism, scepticism and naturalism. Hume intently believed that passion rather than reason governed human behaviour and that human knowledge was solely based on human experience. Sadly, Hume gained fame much later in his life, his works having been appreciated and considered of immense value only posthumously.
Hume began his literary journey with his masterpiece, ‘A Treatise of Human Nature’. Though the book was widely discarded and written off by the critics then, it is today considered as one of the post important works on history of western philosophy. Hume found success only later in his life when he turned into an essayist. His job as a librarian in the University of Edinburgh helped him access a lot of research materials which provided him the guided information for his massive six volume masterpiece, ‘The History of England’. The book earned favourable response and became a bestseller. It was considered as a standard history of England during its time. He is considered as a pivotal figure in the history of philosophical thought.
Thomas Hobbes was a prominent English philosopher, who is best known for his excellent work on political philosophy. His 1651 book “Leviathan” marked the foundation for numerous Western political philosophies taking in account the perspective of social contact theory. He is chiefly famous for his excellence of absolutism for the sovereign, but simultaneously he also established some fundamentals of European liberal thought.
Apart from the same, he also devoted time in various array of fields like history, geometry, physics of gases, theology, ethics, general philosophy, and political science. Hobbes take on human nature as self-interested cooperation also proved to be an enduring theory in philosophical anthropology stream. Hobbes was amongst the primary founders of materialism in philosophy.
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a 19th Century English philosopher who was instrumental in the development of the moral theory of Utilitarianism and a political theory that’s goal was to maximize the personal liberty of all citizens. He was able to inspire a number of social reforms in England during his lifetime after the industrial revolution had causes huge gaps between the rich and the poor, rampant child labor and horrible health conditions.
His “Utilitarianism” of 1861 remains the classic defence of the Utilitarian view that we should aim at maximizing the welfare (or happiness) of all sentient creatures. However, he was keen to develop Utilitarianism into a more humanitarian doctrine. One of Mill’s major contributions to Utilitarianism was his argument for the qualitative separation of pleasures, his insistence that happiness should be assessed not merely by quantity but by quality and, more specifically, that intellectual and moral pleasures are superior to more physical forms of pleasure.
He went so far as to say that he would rather be a dissatisfied human being than a satisfied pig. He also turned away from Bentham’s external standard of goodness to something more subjective, arguing that altruism was as important as self-interest in deciding what ought to be done.
Bertrand Russell was one of the finest names in the list of great philosophers, logicians, mathematicians, historian, and social critics from Great Britain. He was also a proud receiver of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950. Throughout his life, Russell shuffled himself as a liberal, a socialite and a pacifist but never agreed to adapt any of these intellectually. In 1900s, Russell escorted the British “revolt against idealism”. Russell is also believed to be the founder of the analytic philosophy, accompanied by his ancestor Gottlob Frege and apprentice Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Russell’s famous philosophical essay “On Denoting” has been acknowledged as a “paradigm of philosophy”. Russell was also a remarkable anti-war activist and also imprisoned for carrying a pacifist activism during World War I. Eventually, he also raised voice against Adolf Hitler and criticized Stalinist totalitarianism. He even campaigned against the involvement of United States in the Vietnam War. Russell also acted as a blunt supporter of nuclear disarmament. The works of Bertrand Russell had a noticeable impact on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics and specifically on philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics.
G. E. Moore
The English philosopher George Edward Moore (1873-1958) was one of the originators of conceptual and linguistic analysis, the dominant trend in modern English philosophy.
His career was spent mainly at Cambridge University, where he taught alongside Bertrand Russell and, later, Ludwig Wittgenstein. The period of their overlap has been called the “golden age” of Cambridge philosophy.
Moore is remembered as a stalwart defender of commonsense realism. Rejecting skepticism on the one hand, and, on the other, metaphysical theories that would invalidate the commonsense beliefs of “ordinary people”.
A. J. Ayer
Alfred Jules Ayer was a British philosopher and educator and a leading representative of logical positivism who made mark by his widely read work Language, Truth, and Logic (1936). Although Ayer’s views changed considerably after the 1930s, becoming more moderate and increasingly subtle, he remained loyal to empiricism, convinced that all knowledge of the world derives from sense experience and that nothing in experience justifies a belief in God or in any other extravagant metaphysical entity.
His logical views alone, expressed in an elegant, crystalline prose, would have ensured him a place in the history of modern philosophy. But Ayer, playful and gregarious, was also a brilliant lecturer, a gifted teacher, and a successful broadcaster, as ready to offer his opinions on politics and sports as on logic and ethics. Named a fellow of the British Academy in 1952 and knighted in 1970, he became one of the most influential British philosophers of the 20th century.
Jeremy Bentham was a noted English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer, best remembered for his theory of utilitarianism. Born as the son of an attorney in the middle of eighteenth century in London, he was expected to follow his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in law. He was never happy with the British legal system but studied law just to please his father. Then in the very year he entered the bar he came across the writings of several radical philosophers and they helped him to decide his future course of action. Immediately he gave up the legal profession and dedicated his career to philosophy of law.
He constructed his first version of utility theory while he was still in his early twenties, though he coined the term much later and clarified it completely in his 1789 book, ‘An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation’. Very soon he became famous and gathered around him a number of young men, equally radical in their thinking. Bentham also proposed codification of law, prison reforms, a wider universal franchise, universal education, etc. Although most of his suggestions were ignored during his lifetime, they formed the foundation of later reforms.