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Thread: The immortality of historical intellectuals and philosophers

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    Default The immortality of historical intellectuals and philosophers

    The greatest thinkers of the past have laid down the intellectual and philosophical framework for modern civilized society. Still, they committed atrocities such as owning slaves, supporting genocides, and having many other bigoted views. They are revered because they tackled social problems by applying principals and truisms to issues in ways that lead to solutions and created justice.

    However, from a thought process perspective, what actually prevented these historical figures from applying these same principals and truisms to the issues in which they were so obviously bigoted and short-sited? Society can influence people to think a certain way, but it can't FORCE them to think a certain way. It can't FORCE them to apply a moral principal that they claim to subscribe to some situations but not others. So is it wrong to consider this a FAILURE of thought?

    Could you say in fairness that these figures didn't truly understand the morals and philosophies that they espoused, since they failed to apply them in other obvious situations that led to human rights travesties?

    Example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sw-n9w3ImVk (What Famous Men said about Jews)
    Last edited by bighead384; 02-28-2013 at 02:24 PM.
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    Maybe that's why they became philosophers and not politicians or activists.
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    I find that weird too, a lot of great people (great as in mattering much in human history) have those weird and politically incorrect views on various things. One of the most famous examples is Gandhi who was one of the biggest racists to have lived. His views on Africans were horrendous.
    The only big philosopher I can think of without any "wrong" morals according to our standard today is Marx.
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    How can people appear so smart and perceptive, but having these inexplicable disconnects when it comes to other subjects? If you're capable of some of the most groundbreaking thoughts, how can a little societal pressure force you to have this huge disconnects?
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    Quote Originally Posted by RageAndLov View Post
    I find that weird too, a lot of great people (great as in mattering much in human history) have those weird and politically incorrect views on various things. One of the most famous examples is Gandhi who was one of the biggest racists to have lived. His views on Africans were horrendous.
    The only big philosopher I can think of without any "wrong" morals according to our standard today is Marx.
    Marx is the only one I can think of, too. What's shocking is how many people wrote Freud off upon learning what a terrible person he was regarding women... yet people still respect Kant and the like. For me, it's hard to take their research regarding human philosophy seriously when they had such fucked up views toward humans.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bighead384 View Post
    How can people appear so smart and perceptive, but having these inexplicable disconnects when it comes to other subjects? If you're capable of some of the most groundbreaking thoughts, how can a little societal pressure force you to have this huge disconnects?
    I dunno, think about how often someone with autism is good at maths and science, while having no ability to interact with other people. Sociopathic people are also often very intelligent. Being smart in one area doesn't mean you're good at *everything*.
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    Nobody is infallible; most liberal/progressively minded people, particularly on social issues, probably still hold some passive racist/sexist attitudes, even without actively thinking about it.

    I'm not going to attempt to defend any of these horrific viewpoints, but ya'll should be careful in terms of letting presentism cloud your judgement. Social attitudes towards race, antisemitism, ect have hardly been consistent throughout history; so in a way it is unfair to hold some of these people to 2013 standards.

    Ie - Slavery in the time of John Locke was a perfectly legal, morally justified (albeit, in an extremely perverse way) and profitable economic institution. In his view, he wasn't a hypocrite, he was just part of the status quo of the society of the 17th Century.

    Up until 1945, antisemitism was a widespread belief that was accepted throughout the world. And let's face it; it's still fairly common in certain countries.
    Last edited by jacknife737; 03-03-2013 at 03:18 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jacknife737 View Post
    Nobody is infallible; most liberal/progressively minded people, particularly on social issues, probably still hold some passive racist/sexist attitudes, even without actively thinking about it.

    I'm not going to attempt to defend any of these horrific viewpoints, but ya'll should be careful in terms of letting presentism cloud your judgement. Social attitudes towards race, antisemitism, ect have hardly been consistent throughout history; so in a way it is unfair to hold some of these people to 2013 standards.

    Ie - Slavery in the time of John Locke was a perfectly legal, morally justified (albeit, in an extremely perverse way) and profitable economic institution. In his view, he wasn't a hypocrite, he was just part of the status quo of the society of the 17th Century.

    Up until 1945, antisemitism was a widespread belief that was accepted throughout the world. And let's face it; it's still fairly common in certain countries.
    This is something I have thought about for a while. Do we dismiss what are considered great philosophers because some of their views are not what we want today? Should we dismiss them? Or should we rather look at the good things they offered and ignore the bad parts?
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    Quote Originally Posted by RageAndLov View Post
    This is something I have thought about for a while. Do we dismiss what are considered great philosophers because some of their views are not what we want today? Should we dismiss them? Or should we rather look at the good things they offered and ignore the bad parts?
    This is a very good and relevant question, but I find the psychology/thought process of the historical figures in question to be more interesting.

    Perhaps this speaks to how easily a person can seem smart but have serious deficiencies.
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    Especially since a lot of these complaints seem rooted in racism, keep in mind that race was understood as having a scientific basis by large segments of even the expert and academic populations - there was no great troubling of that understanding until the eugenics projects' methods came under serious scrutiny in the interwar years. That's not even a hundred years ago.

    As far as most of these philosophers were concerned, they were accepting the trusted word of experts in other fields. What else are you supposed to do with the 'expert' opinions of your age? Challenge them? Disprove them, like Galileo, Copernicus or Einstein? These are only problems in retrospect - it has taken significant minds and the most motivated men and women in our modern history to knock down our biggest myths of even the last hundred years.

    What impervious myths do we fail to question even today?
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