Karl Popper

Good tests kill flawed theories; we remain alive to guess again.

Unknown.jpegKarl Popper (1902- 1994) was one of the foremost philosophers of the twentieth century, specialising in the philosophy of science and modern democratic political philosophy (in particular, the importance of critical discussion about political issues).

Born and educated in Vienna, his early dalliance and disaffection with Marxism he considered a defining moment in his thinking – a theory of social order that was tested and found wanted should be discarded or amended, a thought that led to the above quote and, more importantly to search for a better process than revolution by which societies could test and adopt new systems.

Initially this led him to Psychology (then an emerging science), but his unusually brilliant doctoral work pushed him away from that field too, commenting that the unscientific nature of early psychology was a stark and damning contrast to the brilliance of physicists such as Einstein.

After achieving a break through academic position in New Zealand and some impressive (but, sadly, futile) work in opposition to facism in Europe he set about constructing a philosophical basis for science. He succeeded in this, giving a formal structure to the scientific theory, introducing principles such as the need for falsifiability (a stab at psychology), discussing induction in detail and even providing a (more questionable) basis for mathematical philosophy.

Following these landmark contributions he turned his attention to applying similar robust methods to social and political philosophy. While his work was less dramatic, his contributions to principles such as tolerance and anti-historicism are recognised as beneficial stepping stones toward a modern basis for political reasoning.

In something almost unique amongst famous twentieth century philosophers, Popper was happily married and remained devoted to his wife throughout their 55 year marriage and even moved back to Austria so that she could spend her last months with her family. Nine years later he was suddenly taken ill, diagnosed with cancer, and died two weeks later.

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Michel De Montaigne

He Who Fears Suffering Is Suffering That Which He Fears.

Michel De Montaigne (1533- 1592) was a respected French statesman and one of the most influential philosophers of the Renaissance.

Apart from periods serving in courts and as the mayor of Bordeaux, where he played a powerful role as a moderate in the arguments between humanists, protestants and the Catholic Church, he was also a well travelled unofficial representative of French interests throughout central Europe and Italy. During his lifetime, it was for his achievements in these roles that he was most highly regarded.

History, however, remembers him first and foremost for the introduction of the essay as a form of intellectual writing. Combining personal anecdote, metaphor, and robust intellectual and theological argument into digestible pieces, he dubbed them “attempts” or “essai”.

While this form was at first treated as a somewhat self-involved conceit, it rapidly increased in both popularity and intellectual valuation. Not only was this form of writing accessible but De Montaigne was very good at it – creating compelling arguments and addressing his professed subject: to describe humans (especially himself) with utter frankness. Along with his above quote, he is famous for his statement “What Do I Know?”, a literary flourish that captured his philosophy of human uncertainty and inspired the likes of Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederich Nietzsche, and even Shakespeare.

Before every student curses his name for invented the dreaded essay, it pays to remember that until De Montaigne they would have been writing the equivalent of theses instead. His contributions to education were more far reaching, encouraging questioning and the scientific method as well as social, individualised learning – a line of thought that has found renewed strength in many modern education systems.

Édouard Manet

You Must Always Remain Master Of The Situation And Do What You Please.

Manet_Self-Portrait_with_Palette_v3.jpg
Édouard Manet (1832- 1883) was a French painter who is famous for being one of the first artists to paint contemporary scenes and, more substantially, was critical in the transition from realism to impressionism throughout the 1800s.

His early works, which were extremely controversial, are widely credited as a landmark moment that heralded the arrival of modern art.

From this starting point he continued to be a major influence on the impressionist movement both through his art and through his role as a mentor and promoter to many other artists. He famously provided the quote above when asked what it took to be be a successful artist.

While his art was a remarkable leap forward, his personal life was a shambles. Having an affair with a childhood friend for over a decade while she was also having an affair with his father, he was also known for sleeping with his models and frequenting brothels. Eventually, this led to his death from complications from untreated syphilis.

Charlemagne

In Order To Do What Is Right We Must First Know What Is Right.

Charlemagne (742 – 814) was the first European Emperor since the Romans, being crowned on Christmas Day in 800. His empire covered most of modern day Western Europe apart from Great Britain, Scandinavia, and Iberia.

While born to be the King of the Franks, his coronation as Emperor by Pope Leo III was unexpected and Charlemagne had declared afterwards that had he known what was to occur he would not have entered the Church. A devout Roman Catholic, once crowned he felt compelled to assume the title despite misgiving about how his people would perceive this and the risks of being drawn into a war with the Byzantines. In the end, his negotiation skills were sufficient to avoid these concerns and, as a result, he was to become known as “The Father Of Europe”.

His devotion to the Church extended to many more matters, with most of his invasions stemming from perceived threat to the Papacy, most notably from Lombardy and the Moors. This led to both the high and low points of his rule, with the massacre of pagans at Verden a particularly bloody moment while his insistence of latin writings being reproduced by scholars has provided modern times with most of the known historical documents of Roman antiquity.

His legacy already considered great (his name is a Norman derivation from “Charles The Great”), he has undergone a further renaissance with the advent of the European Union. The move to the Euro echoes Charlemagne’s monetary unification while his government also experienced a credit crunch when he was compelled to ban moneylending to appease his constituents. His education and religious reforms also were significant, suggesting that a king cannot rule well without a strong ethical foundation, with many of his known quotes (including the one above) addressing the idea of the “good king”.

One of the truly unifying figures of European history, Charlemagne’s failings were few. His illiteracy and propensity for concubines were both minor matters at this time, and in fact his disdain for jewellery and lavish dress was seen as more controversial by contemporaries. When he died (of natural causes) in 814 he was greatly mourned by almost all the subjects in his empire.

Nero

I Wish I Could Not Write.

Nerō Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (37 – 68) was Roman Emperor from the age of 16 until shortly before his death by suicide. History has viewed him as a tyrannical fool with a penchant for finding new and interesting ways of torturing Christians to death while being unable to hold together the empire.

Accused of burning down most of Rome in order to clear land for his planned palace, he was very unpopular with the nobles and thinkers (religious or otherwise) whose opinions valued as little as their property (including the quote above). He was quite popular in most of the Eastern parts of the Empire, but far less so at home and in the Western Empire where he suffered major losses in Gaul and Hispania – losses that eventually led to him relinquishing the crown.

There’s not a lot to like about Nero as a man, either. His litany of sins include executing his own mother, conspiring to poison his step-father, framing three of his advisors for conspiracy, setting christians on fire as a party trick, stealing other senior Roman officials’ wives as a show of power, and incest. He was very busy in his 31 years, so busy he did not have time to bathe and was described as “malodorous”.

 

Sultan Suleiman I

“Everyone Aims At The Same Meaning, But Many Are The Versions Of The Story.”

Suleiman Bin Selim Khan (1494 – 1566), known as “The Magnificent” and “The Lawgiver” was the longest reigning Ottoman ruler and oversaw the heights of the Turkish empire. Responsible for conquering most of Eastern Europe and North Africa and solidifying the Ottoman holdings in the Middle East, he is famous for both his military achievements and his domestic governance.

Responsible for the codification of Turkish law that remained largely unchanged for 400 years and the creation and institutionalisation of educational and artistic ideals, he re-established Constantinople as a global cultural city and is responsible for much of the most spectacular architecture of Turkey, Syria, and Damascus.

His military conquests, which led him to the gates of Vienna, terrified Christian Europe, but he was in fact quite fair in dealing with Christians and Jews within his empire. As great as his military accomplishments were, it was his ability to govern vast and newly acquired territories that made him not just Suleiman the Conqueror, but Suleiman the Magnificent.

Colonel Sanders

There’s No Reason To Be The Richest Man In The Cemetery.

Harland Sanders (1890 – 1980) was an American business and personality, known throughout the world by his Kentucky honorific: Colonel Sanders. Responsible for the creation of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chain and the long-time brand ambassador for the business, he nevertheless would often drop by his own franchisee restaurants and describe their food as rubbish, eventually leading to him being sued unsuccessfully by the company he sold to for suggesting that the gravy was “wallpaper paste with sludge added”.

Prior to his career as a cook Sanders had engaged in a large variety of jobs, ranging from insurance salesman to ferryboat entrepreneur (in amongst with he was involved with shooting one of his competitors). A successful businessman prior to the Great Depression, he started selling chicken at a roadside diner and gas station in the early 1930s and, after realising the power of franchising to provide an income he tried a number of times to get his chain off the ground, eventually succeeding and leading to his establishment as a worldwide icon of fried chicken.

Apart from secret recipes, he is also known for his evangelical Christianity, misogyny, womanising, and “Southern hospitality” (not the famously polite type; he was often drunk). This possibly contributed to his bargain basement sale price for his chain, though at the time he was quoted above, indicating it was all getting a bit too much for someone who was, by then, a septuagenarian.