Philosophers

Each of the philosophers in Time’s Chariot is interviewed by Correspondent RC/1029. The ones that are named are: Avicenna, Anselm, Peter Abelard, Moses Maimonides, Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Siger, Duns Scotas, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Blaise Pascal and Gottfried Liebnitz, all of whom lived and worked between the eleventh and the eighteenth centuries.

The chapter in which the Correspondent visits Anselm of Canterbury was cut from the final book, but you can read here it here.

We only hear about most of these interviews after they have happened, but here are details of the ones we are told about in advance:

Avicenna (more properly: Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abd Allah ibn Sina, 980-1037)
Interviewed: 1029. A fluent thinker in many subjects including medicine: indeed, his medical works were still reprinted as authoritative in Europe in the seventeenth century. His Kitab ash-Shifa, the misleadingly titled Book of Healing, was a collection of treatises on Aristotelian logic, metaphysics, psychology and the natural sciences, amongst other things. One of the great but (in Europe) now largely forgotten Arab philosophers who kick started what we now tend to think of as the European way of thinking.

Anselm (1033-1109)
Interviewed: 1094. Born in Aosta, Italy: appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by the Normans in 1093. Took the view that if God had given Man an intellect, it is practically a duty of Man to use it to explore God’s nature. Wrote the Monologium, which speaks of God as the highest being and investigates his attributes, followed by the Proslogium, which sets out his ontological argument for the existence of God. (For more details of this argument, see the cut Anselm chapter: the fact is, the argument is still being used today, and even though people keep finding a way of refuting it, it keeps popping up again.) Politically, Anselm fell in and out of favour with Kings William II and Henry I over control of the church — he may have been a political appointee but he wasn’t a puppet to the state — and spent much of his later years in exile.

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
Interviewed: 1620. Also fell in and out of favour with successive monarchs — Elizabeth I and James I — but for more prosaic political reasons. Still rose to become Lord Chancellor under James, who raised him to the peerage in 1618. Three years later he was banished for taking bribes and, though pardoned, was never allowed back to Parliament or Court. Wrote the Novum Organum, an exhortation for the abandonment of prejudice and preconception, and of the need for observation and experimentation in science. The principles of the book laid the foundations for empiricist thought and influenced the whole direction that science was to take in subsequent centuries.

René Descartes (1596-1650)
Interviewed: 1646. “I think therefore I am”: what more does anyone need to know about the man? Well, he was arguably the father of modern science: the first mathematician to classify curves according to the equations that produced them; a significant contributor to the theory of equations; the devisor of the use of indices to express the powers of numbers; and a formulator of the rule of signs for finding the numbers of positive and negative roots for any algebraic equation. He also experimented in optics. Philosophically, he tried to apply the rational inductive methods of science to philosophy: he was a product of that brief, glorious period when science and philosophy were almost one and the same thing. “I think therefore I am” was his way of proving the existence of the self beyond any doubt: if you didn’t exist, who would be doing the doubting? A more cynical way of looking at it might be: “cut the crap and concentrate on what’s important”.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
Interviewed: 1657. A mathematical prodigy: invented the first mechanical adding machine, showed how a barometer worked, and starting at the age of sixteen he formulated mathematical theories — including a theory of probability — that were still in use in the twenty first century and beyond. The only philosopher to have a computing language named after him.

Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz (1446-1716)
Interviewed: 1700. Generally considered a universal genius, even by those who knew him: his work covered mathematics, philosophy, theology, law, diplomacy, politics, history and physics. Saw the universe as being composed of what he called monads, centres of spiritual energy that together formed the harmonious and perfect conclusion of a divine plan. More practically, he worked out the fundamental principles of infinitesimal calculus, coincidentally nine years after Isaac Newton had already done the same thing. A bitter row about plagiarism broke out between them, not helped by the fact that although he had worked it out last, Leibnitz’s system was published first. It was also his method of notation that was adopted universally. Leibnitz also invented a calculating machine that could multiply, divide and extract square roots, and is considered a pioneer in the development of mathematical logic. He founded the Akademie der Wissenschaft — Academy of Science — in Berlin in 1700, and was sworn in as life president.

What do any of these have to do with the goings on in Time’s Chariot? The answers is, everything. There’s a common theme running through them all: read the book and see how long it takes you to get it.