“Home is the nicest word there is.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder
― L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
― George Moore, The Brook Kerith
When one thinks of great philosophers (which probably isn’t too often), one most likely thinks of dead Europeans. Almost all writers studied in a philosophy class will be European, and in some classes there will be absolutely no mention of American philosophers at all. There are good reasons for this —
John Dewey was a leading scholar in the American philosophical school of pragmatism. This isn’t the same pragmatism spoken of by politicians, but is instead a rejection of the notion that thought is meant mainly to describe or mirror reality. It could be described as a realist point of view — essentially, it claims that most philosophical topics should be viewed in terms of their usefulness, as opposed to purely on their representative accuracy.
Although he made contributions to philosophy and psychology, perhaps Dewey’s greatest impact was as an educational reformer. In Dewey’s view, it’s vital that classroom activities focus on meaningful activity in place of rote learning. Students should be invested in what they are learning and the curriculum should seem relevant to their lives. He viewed learning by doing to be an important factor missing from American education. In the early days of American education there was a great focus on memorization, such as remembering all the state capitals. But the influence of Dewey and others started to move education towards focusing on teaching children how to think critically.
John Rawls was one of the most important political thinkers of the 20th century. After serving in the Pacific during World War Two, he came back and got a PhD in moral philosophy from Princeton, and would go on to teach there and atCornell, MIT and Harvard. Rawls is best known for his defense of egalitarian liberalism in his work A Theory of Justice.
In the book, he attempts to find common ground between the two seemingly conflicting concepts of liberty and equality. Rawls ultimately concludes that it’s important that we define justice as fairness. He states that “each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty,” meaning freedom of thought, freedom of expression, etc. In Rawls’ view, we have certain basic rights that should not be infringed upon. He also claims that we should have a “fair equality of opportunity.” This means society and government should be set up to give equal opportunities to each person, as best as can be done. Because of these two requirements, Rawls views both strict communism and laissez-faire capitalism as unjust. And so, we as a society must strive for a middle ground, trying our best to find a balance between liberty and equality.
Jonathan Edwards was one of the greatest influences on American protestant theology. Born in Connecticut in 1703, Edwards was one of the leaders of the Puritan movement, which seeked to distance Protestantism from Catholicism. Puritans believed that the Bible itself should be the final word on what we should do, and disliked the Catholic traditions that didn’t come from the Bible directly.
Because of this focus on the Bible, education and literacy was emphasized. Edwards himself attended Yale University at age 13, and would go on to write extensively on religious topics ranging from metaphysics to ethics. Perhaps Edwards’ most influential idea was his defense of theological determinism, within which he stated that God is the ultimate and final cause of everything that happens. This has had both positive and negative effects — if people believe God is the ultimate cause, then they will believe it vital to do what God has ordained. This could vary from something as noble as feeding poor children to something as stupid as “witch” burning. So, for both good and ill, Edwards had a huge impact on American religion and, by extension, society.
Cornel West is one of the most publicly known philosophers today, and perhaps the most well known African American philosopher. While West has taught at Harvard, Princeton and Yale, he is also a very active social commentator and political activist. His writings tend to deal with relevant real world issues — in his books, he has analyzed wide ranging social problems having to do with race, class and justice.
Many of his main beliefs stem from his Christian background, which he mixes with his belief in democratic socialism, a somewhat rare combination. Growing up he was influenced largely by the church his family attended, but also by the Black Panther Party and the writings of Karl Marx. West has sometimes come into conflict with administrators because of his activism, which eventually led to his resignation at Harvard. His most famous and influential book was Race Matters, a series of essays that came out soon after the Rodney King beating. In it, he discussed the problem of African American poverty, and argued against recommendations from black leaders that he felt were unlikely to solve the problem.
Michael Sandel, a professor of government at Harvard, is most likely the most popular living political philosopher. He is very well known for his lectures and books, even outside academia. His class on justice at Harvard routinely has more than 1000 students, and he has taken an adapted lecture version on the road, speaking in America, India and countries in East Asia. The entire course can also be viewed on Harvard’s website for free.
Sandel believes that in order for us to be good citizens we must first grapple with hard ethical choices. In his lectures he acts somewhat like Socrates did, asking questions of his audience and expecting answers. In this way, he engages the audience and encourages them to question why they believe what they believe. Sandel thinks this is especially important considering the modern emphasis on being neutral. He argues that we can’t really be neutral, and will always make value judgments of some kind. Because of this, it’s vital that we confront our beliefs and engage in deep reflection over what it means to be good.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading figure of American Transcendentalism, and had a great influence on later thinkers. Transcendentalism was largely a reaction against rationalism and Calvinism. In his book Nature, Emerson argues that nature acts as an intermediary between man and the divine. Emerson thought that it’s possible to legitimately have beliefs that are not falsifiable. He believed we should look within ourselves to gain “transcendental” knowledge, or intuitive belief we derive from our inner mentality.
Because of this, Emerson was a great believer in the supremacy of the individual over the group, a viewpoint rarely held throughout history. Transcendentalists like Emerson believed that groups corrupt the individual, and thus it’s crucial to decide for ourselves what’s important. This focus on the individual would greatly influence the thought of American intellectuals and the public.
Charles Sanders Peirce was a mathematician, chemist, and geodist (a mixture of applied math and earth science), but he considered scientific philosophy, particularly the study of logic, to be his calling. He had an extraordinary range of interests, writing on subjects as different as astronomy and economics. In his most well known writings, he argued that the scientific method was the superior method for determining truth. Pierce is known as the founder of pragmatism, but he disliked the way others used the term. In fact, he was so concerned about misuse he relabeled his own method as pragmaticism, to distinguish it from pragmatism’s new meanings.
He also argued against determinism, the idea that all events are ultimately decided outside of will. He believed that the universe displays degrees of habit, but even with the same input there is variation. Because of his greatly varied contributions, Pierce is something different to different people. A psychologist, a logician, a physical scientist and a philosopher will all have something to learn by studying different aspects of his writing.
Thomas Jefferson is of course best known for being one of the founding fathers of the United States. He wrote much of the Declaration of Independence and served as the third President. He was a politician, but his political actions and beliefs were greatly influenced by his basic philosophical beliefs. In fact, Jefferson was a member and, for a time, the president of the American Philosophical Association.
Much of his writing described abstract principles as opposed to concrete political doctrines. Jefferson was a defender of democracy, and he argued for a will of the people. But he also realized that the majority could abuse those not in agreement with them, and so he was one of the first defenders of civil rights in America. Unfortunately, his belief that “all men are created equal” didn’t extend to non-white men, as he was a slave owner all his life. Despite this hypocrisy, his philosophical arguments for freedom put forth in the Declaration were eventually used by others in various human rights movements that extended civil rights farther than they had ever been. Because of his wide ranging influence, Jefferson is certainly one of the most important political philosophers in American history.
Henry David Thoreau held many occupations during his life — teacher, lecturer, surveyor, naturalist, head of a pencil company (seriously, his family sold pencils) — but he always thought of himself as a writer. He probably began writing poetry while in school at Harvard, but his most influential writings would be his philosophical essays and nonfiction. He is often grouped with Transcendentalism, a religious movement that promoted individualism and believed in the inherent goodness of people.
The subject of individualism is perhaps where Thoreau did his greatest writing. In an essay on civil disobedience, Thoreau argued that individuals have an obligation to determine what is right and what is wrong for themselves — just because society says something is correct doesn’t make it so. This applies both to laws and unwritten mainstream beliefs. He believed it critically important for individuals to think for themselves. Part of what differentiated Thoreau from many other philosophers is that he didn’t prescribe one form of the good life; he believed that each person had to figure it out for themselves. He told people not to emulate him, but to search inside themselves to discover what was important to them. This made him a unique modern philosopher, and one of the most important influences on American thought.
William James made important early contributions to both psychology and physiology. Those two fields were where he focused much of his life, but he always threw in some philosophical analysis and would turn increasingly towards philosophy as he aged. His 1,200 page book The Principles of Psychologylaid much of the groundwork for modern psychology, and greatly influenced both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. But it included not only pure psychology, but also philosophy and personal reflection that influenced many important later philosophers, including Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
James also wrote much about religion from a relativist position, discussing the commonalities of all religions and whether or not religion and science can coexist. He argued against extremism on both sides, coming to conclusions on his own as opposed to always agreeing with one side or the other. Because of the great diversity of subjects that he wrote about, and the ways he mixed them together, William James was one of the most influential thinkers in American history.
You may ask why an entire list is dedicated to Sigmund Freud, but the man is famous the world over. He is renowned for his theories on the unconscious and for essentially pioneering psychotherapy, even if there is some argument as to whether he was the first to actually invent it. Freud is also infamous for his theories on psychosexual development, and the fact that his worldview was fairly misogynistic even for his time.
While some of his theories may seem quite wild, the field of psychology today would not be what it is without his influence and early work. Sigmund Freud is proof positive that you can be both a genius who essentially creates an entire field and a complete quack, both at the same time.
Sigmund Freud abused drugs, and when we say that, what we mean is that Freud really, really, really liked cocaine. Freud loved cocaine so much that he discussed it openly with his fiancé, and performed experiments centered on cocaine with himself as the subject. While that may be the greatest excuse for drug use ever, he also did write several papers on the wonders of this drug, touting its use in all sorts of things, including anesthesia. However, he did enjoy the high that the drug gave him, and definitely used it for more than just medicinal reasons.
Freud had a bit of a problem with the ladies, which is a bit of an understatement. A better question would probably be what problem he didn’t have with women. Freud believed that women’s problems stemmed essentially from them not having a male sex organ, and felt that women didn’t have a good sense of justice. He also considered women to be weak socially, to have a jealous nature, and to be exceedingly vain. Freud was also known to believe women to be the problem in society, especially when it came to sexual tension between the genders.
Freud had a collection of very strange theories, many of which are pretty much discredited today. His main belief was that young children, even infants, had unconscious sexual feelings. Among these were various stages of fixation, such as oral, anal and phallic. Someone with an oral fixation gained in this early stage may end up constantly needing to chew on something, or have something in their mouth, while someone who wasn’t raised properly during the anal stage could be anal-retentive, which is where the expression comes from. He also had theories involving the Oedipus Complex, which had young boys attracted to their mothers, and the Elektra Complex, which had young girls attracted to their fathers.
Many people may not realize that Freud had a very long running battle with cancer. This was mainly due to his constant habit of smoking cigars, leading to mouth cancer later in life. At one point Freud managed to actually quit for over a year, but eventually went back to the habit again full-time. According to some, he smoked as many as twenty cigars in a typical day and had to go through 34 operations, still eventually succumbing to cancer. Despite Freud’s knowledge of psychology, he was unable to ever truly break the habit.
Freud is famous for being the inventor of psychoanalysis, though some argue whether he was the first to use the method. Freud, though, was unquestionably the first to popularize the method, and influenced many great psychologists such as Carl Jung. Psychoanalysis often involves attempting to understand a patient through their childhood development and greatly involves the unconscious. His psychoanalysis has been criticized, and still enjoys a certain controversy among the psychology community today. His beliefs have always been considered controversial, but his contribution to the field of psychology and his influence cannot be denied.
Some of Freud’s contemporaries were women, and a bit more feminist than he was (then again, it sounds like just about everybody is more feminist than Freud.) In response to his belief that many of women’s ills belonged to the fact that they did not have a penis and were jealous of men for having one, a female contemporary came up with the alternate theory of womb envy. Also known as vagina envy, this is an alternate theory that states men are actually jealous of women, because they do not have a womb and thus cannot create life. To make up for this jealousy, men try to construct businesses instead so it feels like they are creating something. One feminist even makes the argument that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is essentially a story about a man with womb envy.
Sigmund Freud placed a lot of importance on the unconscious, so perhaps not all too surprisingly he had quite a hang up on dreams. Freud believed that dreams had parts that you remember, and those that you did not. His theory was that what you actually remembered was just something that represented what you were actually thinking during the dream, and that it was meant to disguise the true thought. Freud even wrote a book on dreams called, creatively titled “The Interpretation of Dreams.” His main belief at the time was that dreams are a way of fulfilling things we wish we could do while conscious, but were unable.
Freud was one of the first to really propose serious theories on the unconscious, and it was truly a cornerstone of nearly all of what he believed. The unconscious, for our purposes, is supposed to be all of the processes in our brain that we perform without really thinking. However, Freud saw it as much more than this. He believed that the unconscious drives how we behave, often acting on feelings that have been repressed inside us since he were very young. He believed very strongly that nearly all actions that people performed were the result of unconscious processes, which would mean that our free will does not perform quite the way we first thought. While it is certain that we do have an unconscious mind, it is hard to say just how many of Freud’s theories regarding it are actually true, or even have elements of truth to them.
There is a popular story that Freud was once with a class smoking one of his favorite cigars when one of his students suggested that perhaps his constant need to have something in his mouth meant that he had an oral fixation, basically pinning him with his own made-up disorder. To this, Freud famously replied “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Funnily enough, it turns out that some people have investigated this quote and discovered that the entire thing probably never even happened. However, as we mentioned earlier, Freud did indeed love his cigars. He was been quoted as saying that cigars were essential to his life, and he believed that they improved his work. In short, if oral fixation is real, he clearly had it, sassy comeback or none.
A polyglot is someone who can speak many languages, basically a super linguist. And Sigmund Freud was a serious polyglot, with a strong knowledge of German, Italian, Greek, English, Spanish, Hebrew and Latin. For those of who aren’t counting, that is a grand total of seven languages, which makes us look bad as most people are lucky to be proficient in their own language. Freud was also quite the little genius, already reading Shakespeare at the tender age of eight. He was also accepted into a prestigious high school and graduated with honors, eventually proving himself as the kookiest psychologist ever to walk the Earth.
During the Middle Ages, Demons were everywhere. Blamed for everything from hoarse speaking voices to public nudity, demons were once an omnipresent force and a viable culprit for all ill-favored aspects of human nature. Medieval demonologists wrote entire encyclopedias, including, The Lesser Key of Solomon, Compendium Maleficarum, Admirable History and Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, dedicated to the classification of demons and their contributions to mortal affectations. As people have drifted from belief in these malevolent forces, we have admitted responsibility for our own bad behavior. Here is a list of demons responsible for various maladies in the human condition, if you ever feel that burden of responsibility is too much to bear on your own.
If you have ever taken a vacation and had trouble finding your hotel, car, map, anxiety medication or the rest of your family, you’ve probably had an encounter or two with Ardad, the demon who leads travelers astray. Ardad is not that powerful of a demon, which is why his job is seducing, a behavior that most mortals have no trouble doing on their own. He most often possesses men into being adamantly against asking for directions, and responsible for GPS malfunction in major cities.
It’s 9 am and you are walking into your business meeting with a fresh cup of coffee from the break room. The room is still bustling with the conversations of your peers, which you would engage in if you hadn’t just started last week and were still acquainting yourself with folks around the office. You sit down, and just as the fervor of communication dies down to near silent, you spill hot coffee all over your new suit and yell out a loud and audible #*$@! You look up and are met with dead silence, and disgust in the eyes of your new workmates at your lack of professionalism. You want nothing more than to run right out of the room, but your feet are frozen to the floor. Fortunately, you can tell them all you are battling with the demon Agares, and that should make it all okay.
Agares is a grand duke of Hell and presides over 31 legions of demons. He particularly enjoys destroying dignities, teaching foul language, and makes those who run stand still. Agares can also cause earthquakes. Surprising that, with such power, he took the time to ruin your morning meeting and your chances of upward mobility.
After waking up at 11:30, to lazilyto walk to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal, you flip open the laptop at your bedside and order breakfast for delivery on Grubhub. Awaiting delivery, you proceed to watch Grey’s Anatomy on Hulu, only to be disturbed by the delivery of your Chinese food. As you continue to watch the doctors of Seattle Grace for the next seven hours, grazing at your General Tsao’s chicken, you can’t help but imagine if you were on staff there, you would definitely be labeled as Dr. McHottiepants, and verify it to yourself by a giving a long and loving glance to the compact mirror by your bedside. When six o’clock rolls around and the day is over, you tell yourself that was a perfectly appropriate way to spend your day, since you’ve been working so hard lately, and barely get a chance to rest. You wake up the next day and do the same thing, only this time with Dexter.
If you’ve found yourself in this situation before, you are most likely being plagued by the demon Astaroth, who provokes laziness, vanity and rationalization. He does, however, give power over serpents, which is good news for the slovenly owners of boa constrictors. Best remedy to an Astaroth infection is a solid helping of prayer to his arch nemesis St Bartholomew, who will teach how not to succumb to Astaroth’s temptations.
You have real particular problems if the night demon Ose possesses you, in that you will truly believe you are a King, Pope or creature. Most people would label this sort of behavior as insanity, which is exactly what Ose plans to keep his cover. Others just believe the game, which is exactly why Ose seems to have a pretty strong hold on many political figures, and probably some of your former bosses.
Ose is a president of Hell and rules thirty legions of demons. If you do have a problem with this demon you most likely don’t know it, as he even transforms the thoughts of inflicted mortals to believe they are the shape he chooses, but I would say it is a pretty good bet if you are a ferret using the Internet.
Sitri makes men and women reveal themselves naked, and mockingly reveals the secrets of women. Sitri’s presence is found lurking in most fraternities and sorority houses around America, and his power is particularly strong in Daytona Beach around Spring Break, especially if Girls Gone Wild is in town. For those who commonly make a public mockery of himself, or herself, when inebriation is involved, or every girl who has taken a walk of shame after an embarrassing one night stand, it may be comforting to know you have someone to blame besides your own poor life choices.
In The Lesser Key of Solomon, he is a great prince of Hell, reigning over 60 legions of demons. A good remedy for Sitri’s possession is leaving the house wearing plenty of layers and abstaining from alcohol.
You are in one of those relationships. You know, the one where you are absolutely so passionately in love, but no one can spend even five minutes with the two of you because you fight incessantly over everything. First, it was deciding where to eat lunch, then it was deciding where to put the cello when you two moved in together, you eat too fast, they talk too loud, you spend too much time with your friends, they leave food in the sink. The petty quarrels and disharmony are never ending. Everyone tells you that the two of you need to break up, which you just cannot understand because you love them so much, even if he or she may sometimes inch you towards committing homicide. The truth is, your relationship needs a good old-fashioned exorcism.
Pruflas, as told by the demonology of Johann Weyer in Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, is a Duke of Hell with 26 legions of demons under his rule. He promotes discord, quarrels and falsehood. Bear in mind, the infidelities and lies cannot be blamed on either party, its Pruflas’ fault.
You know you are battling Beezelbub when, after your third trip up to the all you can eat buffet, returning to a table of full friends with an equally full plate of food, you can’t help but think about how great it will be to go get a triple banana split with whipped cream and nuts when you’re finished feasting on your macaroni and cheese covered chicken leg. After all of this, you probably still don’t realize why it’s impossible for you to lose weight. Pregnancy is possible, but more likely is the presence of the patron demon of gluttony feasting on your soul. And you should be flattered. Beezelbub is a big deal demon. In fact, he is one of the three most prominent and powerful of the fallen angels, next to only Satan and Leviathan, and made strong showing during the Salem witch trials. But, when he’s not causing jealous murders and enticing war, he’s making you eat more Cheetos with your Denny’s Grand Slam.
The new bartender at the place across from your office is starting to look pretty sexy, and it isn’t just the alcohol. You find yourself tipping this bartender extra cash with a wink and a seductive smile, hoping for a chance to really do a number on them in the bathroom. The problem is, you are married, or at least involved. Images of the bartender scantily clad plague your entire afternoons, and sometimes leaking into the evening with strange fantasies of you, the bartender, and a collection of Russian nesting dolls. These strange sexual desires and your near demise by the overpowering nature of your own lust is easily pinned on Asmodeus, the patron demon of that lethal sin.
Keep your pants on, however, for those who fall for the seduction of Asmodeus spend eternity banished to the second level of hell. He is King of hell, and responsible for Lust of the seven deadly sins, his power strongest in November. He can easily be shooed away by the smell generated from placing a fish’s heart and liver on burning cinders, as proven in the Book of Tobit.
On the way to your car, which is annoyingly parked a block away, you are accosted by some environmentalist trying to convince you to save the whales, but as you have no time for the salvation of aquatic animals, and less patience for whiny do-gooders, you grab the pamphlet which is practically shoved into your throat and make a point to rip it up right in front of the irritating activist, and openly littering. Once you are in your car you are lambasted with an unwelcome turn of an elderly gentleman in front of your car. After much honking, which is only making the confused grandpa, who is probably dealing with the beginnings of senility, go slower, you cross into the lane of opposite traffic to make a point of passing him, your middle finger out the window screaming about how there needs to be a maximum driving age to prevent assholes like him from getting in your way. Finally parked, and almost to your destination, you stop for a latte at the Starbucks nearby. Huge mistake. You wait over five minutes for your latte, which you specifically ordered at 172 degrees with no foam, receiving a beverage, which is clearly 168 degrees and topped with a foam mountain. Livid, you throw your drink at the barista, who is still in training, and remove two dollars from the tip jar exclaiming that people like them do not deserve the charity of others.
Everyone you’ve seen today might already suspect you are inflicted with a demonic presence, and its name is Verrine, responsible for impatience. Verrine is a prince of thrones, and is listed in the first hierarchy of demons, as explained by Sebastien Michaelis in Admirable History, with a demon classification apparently shared with him by the demon Berith during an exorcism on a nun. Praying to St Dominic may help you rid this Demon; of course it would probably help if everyone around you weren’t an idiot.
As far as the seven deadly sins are concerned, Lucifer is responsible for pride in mortals. This sin comes from Lucifer’s own pride resulting in his downfall from Heaven. Lucifer loved himself above anything, and without ignorance as an excuse. Ranked highest of angels, with his seat in Heaven next to God, God allowed him power over earth. When God left his seat, however, Lucifer sat himself on the heavenly throne. This outlandish display of Lucifer’s pride started a war among Angels, and when Michael finally succeeded in banishing Lucifer from heaven he was cast down to Earth and called Satan. The angels that followed him in the fall became the demons currently causing all the afflictions of human nature, with Lucifer as the reigning King.
Mere plebeians need not to worry too much about Lucifer’s strong hold on Earth, as he targets more prominent figures to be victims of his direct company. Historically his presence has been seen in the prideful tyrannical rulers of Rome, but some could make arguments that his charisma is making a resurgence in more recent world leaders.