1 Biographical Briefing on Baron de Montesquieu Charles Louis de Secondat was born in Bordeaux, France in In college, he studied science and history, eventually becoming a lawyer in the local government. De Secondat's father died in 1713, and de Secondat was placed under the care of his uncle, Baron de Montesquieu. The Baron died in 1716 and left de Secondat his fortune and his title of Baron de Montesquieu. Later, the new Baron de Montesquieu became a member of the Bordeaux and French Academies of Science and studied the customs and governments of the countries of Europe. He gained fame in 1721 with his Persian Letters, which criticized the life-style and liberties of the wealthy French, as well as the church. Montesquieu was very concerned about the relationship between religion and violence. He writes in the Persian Letters, "I can assure you that no kingdom has ever had as many evil wars as the kingdom of Christ." A character in the Persian Letters states strongly, "in order to love and conform to one's religion it is not necessary to hate and persecute those who do not conform to it." Montesquieu argued not for atheism a belief that there is no God but rather for a secular (worldly) morality that is tolerant of many different religions. Despite Montesquieu's belief in religious tolerance, he did not feel that all people were equal. Montesquieu approved of slavery. He also thought that women were weaker than men and that they had to obey the commands of their husbands. At the same time, he felt that the gentler nature of women could make them valuable decision makers and participants in government. "It is against reason and against nature for women to be mistresses in the house... but not for them to govern an empire. In the first case, their weak state does not permit them to be pre-eminent (above others); in the second, their very weakness gives them more gentleness and moderation, which, rather than the harsh and ferocious virtues, can make for good government." In 1748, Montesquieu published On the Spirit of the Laws, his most famous book. It outlined his ideas on how government would best work. According to Montesquieu, there are three types of government: monarchy (rule by a king or queen), oligarchy (rule by the noble or wealthy class), and republicanism (rule by elected leaders). Montesquieu was opposed to absolute monarchy and believed that a monarch with limited powers makes countries the most stable and secure. People's role in government, Montesquieu believed, should be based on political virtue and equality. Political virtue means that citizens voluntarily put their public interests above their individual interests. States should be kept small to make it easier for people to play a role in government. The most important idea expressed by Montesquieu was that the success of a government depended upon maintaining the right balance of power between different branches. Montesquieu argued that the best government is one in which power is balanced among three separate branches of government with equal but different powers. The model government of his time was England in the eighteenth century because it divided power among three parts: the king, who enforced laws; the Parliament, which created laws; and a court system, which interpreted laws. Montesquieu called this idea of divided government rule the "separation of powers." He believed in the separation of powers because he felt that if all political power is handed over to one branch, greed and corruption inevitably result. He wrote, "When the [lawmaking] and lawenforcing powers are united in the same person... there can be no liberty." According to Montesquieu, each branch of government checks (limits) the power of the other two. This way, no branch of government can threaten the freedom of the people, and tyranny can be avoided. Montesquieu believed that the human desire for power could never be fully satisfied.
2 Accordingly, if a government has a built in system to force the powerful branches to struggle with each other, the people are protected from the concentration of power. His ideas about the separation of powers became the basis for the United States Constitution. Philosopher s Questions Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the following questions. You will discuss your responses with your group. Be specific and provide examples since information found in this reading will assist you in the creation of your project. 1. Explain how your philosopher s personal experience (upbringing, society they lived in, family, etc.) contributed to the formation of his ideas on the best way to govern. 2. What is the name of the book(s) in which your philosopher s main ideas can be found? Please provide at least one quote from the reading and give its source (if mentioned). 3. According to your philosopher, what is his view of human nature (are people born greedy, good, bad, reasonable, etc.)? 4. What is the ideal form of government, according to your philosopher, and how does his view of human nature influence this view? 5. What is his worst form of government, and why does he hold this view?
3 Biographical Briefing on Thomas Hobbes Thomas Hobbes was born in England in This was a time of much social unrest in England, and Hobbes later wrote that "fear and I were born twins." Hobbes' father was a clergyman, and Hobbes was educated in the classics at Oxford University. He traveled many times to meet writers, philosophers, and scientists of other European countries and to study different forms of government. The English Civil War prompted Hobbes to flee to Paris and to become a political philosopher. In 1651 Hobbes wrote his most famous work, Leviathan. In it, he argued that people are naturally wicked and cannot be trusted to govern themselves. Therefore, Hobbes believed that an absolute monarchy a government that gives all power to a king or queen is best. Hobbes' political philosophy is based on his idea that humans are essentially selfish creatures. He believed that all people are equal, and that this equality leads to competition and violence. In Leviathan, Hobbes wrote that humans are driven by a "perpetual and restless desire [for] power... that ceases only in death," and that the natural condition of humankind is a situation of "a war of every man against every man." Because he thought that people act in their own selfish interests if they are left alone, Hobbes did not believe that people should be trusted to make their own decisions. He also felt that nations, like people, are selfishly motivated and in a constant battle for power and wealth. To further prove his point, Hobbes wrote, "If men are not naturally in a state of war, why do they always carry arms and why do they have keys to lock their doors?" Governments were created, according to Hobbes, to protect people from their own selfishness and evil. He believed that it is not possible for people to have both freedom and peace, since the state of freedom is a state of unlimited greed and war. Joining together to form societies is thus humankind's only possibility for peace. The best government is one that has the great power of a leviathan, or sea monster. Hobbes believed in the absolute rule of a king or queen because he felt a country needs an authority figure to provide direction and leadership. Because the people are only interested in promoting their own interests, Hobbes believed that democracy allowing citizens to vote for government leaders would never work. Hobbes believed that without a strong government, people experience "continual fear and danger of violent death" and lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Hobbes reasoned that all people should voluntarily choose to give up their rights to the monarch, who then would protect people from one another and ensure peace. This idea was not the same as divine right the belief that monarchs are chosen by God and thus people do not have the right to question their rule. Instead, Hobbes believed that a ruler's absolute power comes not from God, but from people rationally deciding that this is in their best interests. Hobbes considered that the ruler could abuse his or her absolute power and become cruel and unfair. However, this problem could be lessened, Hobbes believed, by appointing a diverse group of people to present the problems of the common people to the king. These representatives of the people would only have the power to present opinions, since all final decisions would be made by the ruler. --over
4 Philosopher s Questions Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the following questions. You will discuss your responses with your group. Be specific and provide examples since information found in this reading will assist you in the creation of your project. 1. Explain how your philosopher s personal experience (upbringing, society they lived in, family, etc.) contributed to the formation of his ideas on the best way to govern. 2. What is the name of the book(s) in which your philosopher s main ideas can be found? Please provide at least one quote from the reading and give its source (if mentioned). 3. According to your philosopher, what is his view of human nature (are people born greedy, good, bad, reasonable, etc.)? 4. What is the ideal form of government, according to your philosopher, and how does his view of human nature influence this view? 5. What is his worst form of government, and why does he hold this view?
5 Biographical Briefing on Mary Wollstonecraft Mary Wollstonecraft, born in London in 1759, was one of the first during the late eighteenth century to actively call for the rights of women. Wollstonecraft, the daughter of a silk weaver, left home at the age of 19, angry that all her family's small resources went to the oldest son (she was the oldest daughter). At that time, laws supported men's control of the family's money. For instance, even if a woman entered a marriage with money inherited from her family, it was immediately turned over to her husband. If she worked, all her wages were given to her husband. Wollstonecraft did not want to get married and be controlled by her husband like many other women she knew. Instead she established her own school. Later, she left to work as a servant to a wealthy widow, then as a seamstress, schoolteacher, and finally governess to the Viscount and Lady Kingsborough in Ireland. During the French Revolution in 1789, she lived in France, where she worked and wrote about the rights of women and the French Revolution. She was not married when her first daughter, Fanny, was born in Eventually she married the famous writer William Godwin after she became pregnant with his child. Godwin, like Wollstonecraft, did not believe in the institution of marriage. He wrote that only his love for her and nothing else "could have induced me to submit to an institution which I wish to see abolished." Wollstonecraft died soon after giving birth to their daughter, Mary Shelley. Even after her marriage, society still condemned her for her unconventional behavior, and after her death she was denounced as a prostitute and a monster. During this period in England, women had virtually no rights of political participation. Women led restricted lives, something Wollstonecraft objected to. "I am about to display the mind of a woman who has thinking powers," Wollstonecraft wrote in the introduction of her book, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Men generally thought that women had an inferior intellect and considered them weak by nature. Wollstonecraft attributed human nature and behavior to environment, as opposed to heredity. She believed that all people are equal and that every person possesses the natural right to determine his or her own destiny. Human nature can be perfected if education is improved and oppression ended. Oppressive systems which include the rule of masters over slaves as well as the rule of husbands over wives corrupt both the oppressed and the oppressor. Thus, all of society would benefit from equality and the end of male domination over women. Women could not receive an education, vote, or run for public office. In addition, women were not allowed access to the court system they could not file a complaint, appear in court, or hire a lawyer. Women were not allowed to hold jobs in government, medicine, or a number of other occupations. Inequality between men and women is not the result of natural differences, Wollstonecraft believed, but rather the result of the powerful tyranny of men. Women do not have the opportunity to prove their equality because men have kept them in inferior positions. "Let men prove [that women are weaker]," she wrote. If men truly want to confirm women's inferiority, they must first treat women as equals, she believed. While most of her writing centered on issues of equality between women and men in the home as a way to improve society, Wollstonecraft was also concerned with women's role in civic life (decision making outside of the home). She believed that humanity's progress was held back by the fact that women were not allowed to fully contribute to society. She demanded that women, whether married or single, must participate in civic and political life, and that they be able to study professions such as medicine, politics, and business. Wollstonecraft compared the unjust rule of kings over their subjects to the unjust rule of husbands over their wives. She was opposed to monarchy, as well as to all patriarchal (male-dominated) systems. She believed that
6 once equality was achieved, true democracy could flourish. Power corrupts, Wollstonecraft believed, and therefore is the enemy of society. She referred to the reign of monarchs and the color symbolizing royalty as the "pestiferous (harmful) purple," and wanted to return to a state where every person was her or his own master. "Society will not be whole," Wollstonecraft wrote in Vindication of the Rights of Women, "until the last king is strangled with the guts of the last priest." Philosopher s Questions Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the following questions. You will discuss your responses with your group. Be specific and provide examples since information found in this reading will assist you in the creation of your project. 1. Explain how your philosopher s personal experience (upbringing, society they lived in, family, etc.) contributed to the formation of her ideas on the best way to govern. 2. What is the name of the book(s) in which your philosopher s main ideas can be found? Please provide at least one quote from the reading and give its source (if mentioned). 3. According to your philosopher, what is her view of human nature (are people born greedy, good, bad, reasonable, etc.)? 4. What is the ideal form of government, according to your philosopher, and how does her view of human nature influence this view? 5. What is her worst form of government, and why does she hold this view?
7 Biographical Briefing on John Locke John Locke was born into a Puritan family in Bristol, England in Locke's father, an attorney, was part of the parliamentary army fighting against the monarchy during the English Civil War. He wanted his son to become a minister, but Locke decided against this and instead studied medicine. As a student at Oxford University, Locke was influenced by John Owen, Dean of Christ Church College. It was Owen who first introduced Locke to the idea of religious freedom and the idea that people should not be punished for having different views on religion. However, Locke, a Protestant, continued to oppose Catholic and atheist influence in England. He remained entirely tolerant only of different forms of Protestantism. He was deeply influenced by the writing of the French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes, who proclaimed that all men possess the ability to reason and could therefore determine and become good. Locke believed that when a person was born, his mind was a blank slate, which could be shaped to develop the ability to reason. Therefore, with the proper education, all people could learn to rationally settle their differences by seeking a middle ground and compromising. After college, Locke continued to study and read with a passion. He fled to Holland during the reign of King James II and returned to England in 1689 after the Glorious Revolution had forced the new British monarch to respect the authority of Parliament and accept a Bill of Rights limiting the king's power. Locke defended this revolution and the limitation of the monarch's power. In his most famous writing The Two Treatises on Government, Locke argued that people have the gift of reason, or the ability to think. Locke thought people have the natural ability to govern themselves and to look after the well-being of society. He wrote, "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which [treats] everyone [equally]. Reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind... that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, or possessions." Locke did not believe that God had chosen a group or family of people to rule countries. He rejected this idea of "Divine Right," which many kings and queens used to justify their right to rule. In his own society, Locke supported a monarchy whose power is limited to ensure that the rights of the people are respected. He argued that governments including the limited monarchy under which he lived should only operate with the consent, or approval, of the people being governed. Locke wrote, "[We have learned from] history we have reason to conclude that all peaceful beginnings of government have been laid in the consent of the people." Governments are formed, according to Locke, to protect the right to life, the right to freedom, and the right to property. These rights are absolute, belonging to all people. According to Locke s theory of the Social Contract, rulers had a responsibility to rule well and the citizens had the responsibility to their ruler and fellow citizens to serve society. But if the ruler did not rule well if he violated his part of the contract the people had the right to overthrow him and find a new ruler. This is what happened in England during the Glorious Revolution. Locke believed that ideally government power should be divided equally into different branches of government, such as legislative and executive, so that politicians do not face the "temptation... to grasp at [absolute] power." If any government abuses the rights of the people instead of protecting them, the people have the right to rebel and form a new government. He wrote, "Whenever [the preservation of life, liberty, and property for which power is given to rulers by a commonwealth] is manifestly neglected or opposed, the trust must necessarily be
8 forfeited and then [returned] into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they think best for their safety and security." This idea of Locke s is the central principle of Thomas Jefferson s Declaration of Independence. Locke's idea that only the consent of the governed gives validity to a government inspired the founders of other countries struggling with issues of the people s rights, such as was the case in the United States and France. John Locke believed that the control of any person against her or his will was unacceptable, whether in the form of an unfair government or in slavery. Locke wrote, "The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only have the law of nature for his rule." He extended his ideas about freedom to a belief in civil liberties. Locke felt that women had the ability to reason, which entitled them to an equal voice, at least in the home an unpopular idea during this time in history. Despite fearing that he might be censored, he wrote, "It may not be [wrong] to offer new... [ideas] when the old [traditions] are apt to lead men into mistakes, as this [idea] of [fatherly] power probably had done, which seems so [eager] to place the power of parents over their children wholly in the father, as if the mother had no share in it; whereas if we consult reason or [the Bible], we shall find she has an equal title." Philosopher s Questions Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the following questions. You will discuss your responses with your group. Be specific and provide examples since information found in this reading will assist you in the creation of your project. 1. Explain how your philosopher s personal experience (upbringing, society they lived in, family, etc.) contributed to the formation of his ideas on the best way to govern. 2. What is the name of the book(s) in which your philosopher s main ideas can be found? Please provide at least one quote from the reading and give its source (if mentioned). 3. According to your philosopher, what is his view of human nature (are people born greedy, good, bad, reasonable, etc.)? 4. What is the ideal form of government, according to your philosopher, and how does his view of human nature influence this view? 5. What is his worst form of government, and why does he hold this view?
9 Biographical Briefing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland in By the time he was 13 his mother had died and his father, a failed watchmaker, had been forced to leave Geneva to avoid being imprisoned for fighting a duel. Virtually abandoned, Rousseau was forced to serve as an apprentice to an engraver who brutally mistreated him. Partly to free himself from bitter servitude and partly to embark on an adventure, Rousseau fled the Swiss capital at the age of 16 and wandered about Europe. In his travels, Rousseau befriended several wealthy people who took him into their homes and provided the time and money for him to receive an excellent education in music and philosophy. At the age of 30, he moved to Paris and quickly established himself as one of the most outstanding philosophers of the eighteenth century. After a long and productive life, Rousseau died in Unlike most other philosophers of his time, Rousseau believed that people are born good, independent, and compassionate. If left to their own devices in a state of nature (a society with no government or laws, like on a deserted island) people would naturally live happily and peacefully. In fact, such a society would be free and ideal, much more satisfying than the inequalities brought by modern society. Influenced by the peace and stability he saw in simple, traditional Swiss villages, Rousseau believed the luxury, corruption, and greed of modern nations harm the individual, giving too few people too much power over many others. In modern countries, for example, political control ends up in huge capital cities far away from most of the people. Further, he believed that society's institutions, like government, schools, the arts, and the media, corrupt naturally good individuals. Rousseau thought that modern civilization, for all its progress, has made humans neither happier nor more virtuous. Rousseau's Swiss background had an enormous influence on the type of government he supported. Unlike its surrounding autocratic neighbors, Switzerland for centuries had been divided into small districts. Decisions were made locally, not far away in a royal palace in the capital city. The manner in which people in these traditional villages gathered regularly to make decisions was an example of direct democracy, whereby a simple majority vote by the adult male citizens enacted a law. Each adult male voted on laws himself, without anybody representing him. This form of direct democracy also flourished briefly in ancient Athens. Although direct democracy was extremely rare outside of Switzerland at that time, Rousseau believed it was the ideal way for people to make decisions. He referred to how non-democratic governments in Europe had corrupted modern people when he wrote in his book The Social Contract, "Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains." He believed that even representative democracy (where people vote for other people to represent them) as in England and the United States is corrupt. "Any law which the people has not ratified in person is void; it is not law at all. The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people is enslaved." Many philosophers during Rousseau's time believed that people must choose to enter into a "contract," or agreement, with society and be ruled by a monarch, or stay outside of society and be free. They believed that only the rule of a monarch would ensure that society is stable and secure. Freedom, for many philosophers, meant chaos or anarchy. In contrast, Rousseau believed that people can be both ruled and free if they rule themselves. He thought that governments should exist on the basis of a democratic "social contract," where people have direct say in the way their society is governed. Only through direct democracy, Rousseau felt, can people's freedom be preserved. The worst form of government would be any autocratic government where the voice of the people is silenced. While Rousseau believed that all adult males should
10 help make the laws in assemblies, those who administer or carry out the laws, like presidents and prime ministers, can be elected as representatives of the people. Philosopher s Questions Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the following questions. You will discuss your responses with your group. Be specific and provide examples since information found in this reading will assist you in the creation of your project. 1. Explain how your philosopher s personal experience (upbringing, society they lived in, family, etc.) contributed to the formation of his ideas on the best way to govern. 2. What is the name of the book(s) in which your philosopher s main ideas can be found? Please provide at least one quote from the reading and give its source (if mentioned). 3. According to your philosopher, what is his view of human nature (are people born greedy, good, bad, reasonable, etc.)? 4. What is the ideal form of government, according to your philosopher, and how does his view of human nature influence this view? 5. What is his worst form of government, and why does he hold this view?
11 Biographical Briefing on Plato Plato was born into a wealthy family in Athens, Greece in 428 B.C. When he was 23, he witnessed Sparta's defeat of Athens and the end of the Athenian empire. After seeing a great deal of violence, he decided that all wars are fought over money. During his youth, Plato became a close friend of Socrates, a Greek philosopher, and was influenced by Socrates' search for the meaning of life. Plato planned to become a politician but decided against it when the Athenian democracy put Socrates on trial and executed him. Thereafter, Plato focused his energy on the search for how society could be structured so as to bring out the best in people. Plato was very interested in promoting the study of mathematics, philosophy, and government. In 387 B.C. he founded the Academy in Athens, the first university, where Aristotle, another famous Greek philosopher, became one of his students. Plato died in 347 B.C. In his book The Republic, Plato discussed his ideal form of government, in which a society could be constructed to bring out the best behavior of its citizens. Plato believed that different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and that the ideal society is one in which each member understands and performs her or his proper role. Talent not wealth, gender, or noble birthright determines a citizen's proper role. The strong and courageous should become soldiers, those skilled with their hands should become artisans and laborers, and those with wisdom and virtue should become leaders. Plato believed this assigning of appropriate roles encourages citizens to lead a good and just life and to serve the society as a whole. Not surprisingly, he believed that education is absolutely essential for good government, since it is important to teach people how to be good citizens. As president of the first university, he hoped to instill the kind of values in future leaders that would influence them to seek wisdom and justice rather than wealth and power. After witnessing his friend Socrates be condemned to death by a democratic government, Plato decided that democracy is "tragically inadequate" as a form of government. He criticized democracy as "mob rule" where the ignorant and uneducated majority govern, rather than the wise and virtuous. But he also recognized the dangers of a state ruled by autocracy, where a single ruler is tempted to make decisions based on his or her own greed and self-interest rather than on the good of the people. A cruel tyranny results, he thought, when the three most powerful drives ambition, fear, and greed become stronger motivations than reason and humanity. In order for the state to maintain its focus on caring for the people, the rulers must not be allowed to pursue personal ambitions for power and wealth. Plato wrote that the evil of existing governments is present because power and wisdom are not united in the same person. Evil governments will only end, Plato thought, when philosophers are kings. By "philosopher-kings" Plato meant that the smartest the lover of knowledge, wisdom, and virtue should govern. Therefore, the best form of government, according to Plato, would be one where these philosopher kings would rule with near absolute power, however, their selection would not be hereditary. Instead the rise would result from their being the wisest of all in the society. In The Republic, he wrote, "unless philosophers are kings, or those now called kings and chiefs genuinely philosophize... there is no rest from ills for cities... nor, I think, for human kind." Plato rejected both democracy and autocracy as they existed in his day in favor of creating his own ideal society, which he describes in The Republic. In Plato's republic, the state would be unified and self-sufficient. Each person would be put to the best use for which nature prepared him or her. All children would be the property of the government and would owe primary loyalty to the state rather than to their mother and father. In this way, power would never be hereditary; and each person would be educated and judged suitable for a certain role based
12 only on her or his own skills and merits. There would be a careful division of labor so that the rulers would never also be warriors, and vice versa. Philosopher-kings would make the laws, and those skilled in administration would enforce them. The philosopher-kings would be chosen for their intelligence. All rulers would live communally; they would receive no pay and would not be allowed to own property. This rule would prevent them from making decisions based on greed and thus guard against the possibility of tyranny. Another group in Plato's republic was the populace, the majority of people. Although the state was supposed to exist based on their consent and to act in their interests, Plato assigned to the populace the primary duty of obedience, required always to perform the tasks that the most wise assigned to them. Philosopher s Questions Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the questions below with your group. Please record your on a separate sheet of paper. Give examples and be thorough as this sheet will assist you in the creation of your project. Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the following questions. You will discuss your responses with your group. Be specific and provide examples since information found in this reading will assist you in the creation of your project. 1. Explain how your philosopher s personal experience (upbringing, society they lived in, family, etc.) contributed to the formation of his ideas on the best way to govern. 2. What is the name of the book(s) in which your philosopher s main ideas can be found? Please provide at least one quote from the reading and give its source (if mentioned). 3. According to your philosopher, what is his view of human nature (are people born greedy, good, bad, reasonable, etc.)? 4. What is the ideal form of government, according to your philosopher, and how does his view of human nature influence this view? 5. What is his worst form of government, and why does he hold this view?
13 Biographical Briefing on Aristotle Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. in Stagira, a small township in northern Greece. His father, a physician at the royal court of Macedonia, died while his son was still young. Aristotle then left Stagira to study at Plato's Academy in Athens. For the next 20 years, Aristotle studied with Plato, a renowned Greek philosopher, and the circle of philosophers at the Academy. After Plato's death in 347 B.C., Aristotle left the Academy and traveled in Greece and Asia Minor, writing and studying in academic circles. His writings cover a wide range of subjects: logic, physics, astronomy, biology, ethics, politics, rhetoric (or public speaking), and literary criticism. In 342 B.C., King Philip of Macedonia asked Aristotle to become the tutor of Philip's son, Alexander, who later became the conqueror Alexander the Great. When Alexander became king, Aristotle left Macedonia and returned to Athens, where he began his own school named the Lyceum. After Alexander's death in 323 B.C., the Athenians became hostile to Macedonian rule. Because of his connections with Alexander and the Macedonian government, Aristotle fled Athens in 324 B.C. in fear for his life. Aristotle died the next year on the island of Euboea. Aristotle considered language and speech to be critically important since the ability to reason comes from the use of language. Reason, Aristotle claimed, is what distinguishes humans from animals. Aristotle thought that people are not born good and virtuous but learn to be good. Parents teach children right from wrong by punishing them for wrong actions. It is through reason, he proposed, that children learn to separate right from wrong and are able to learn moral values. Aristotle believed that over time, humankind has evolved to higher and higher forms of development. The development of the polis (political community or society in ancient Greece) represents the highest stage in this development. People exercising reason can join together in societies through their understanding that the common good is more important than individual good. The welfare of the group is more important than the individual. In the absence of society and law and order, Aristotle thought, humans become selfish and evil. Yet when unified in a polis, humans can be the best of all creatures. Aristotle believed that only through society and government can people realize their full potential. In his work Politics, Aristotle described three forms of government: monarchy (rule by a king or queen), oligarchy (rule by the noble or wealthy class), and democracy (rule by the people). He believed that monarchy and oligarchy can be good forms of government as long as the rulers are virtuous. If the rulers are not virtuous, monarchy and oligarchy become negative and dangerous. This happens when rulers selfishly use their power to increase their own wealth, rather than to support the common good. Aristotle believed that democracy is the least dangerous form of government. His main concern with democracy was that because people have equal freedom, they might think they are equal in every way and fail to recognize their different strengths and weaknesses. Since some people are better educated and more suited to have political power, Aristotle argued that a belief in total equality would harm the society in general. When the majority of people select the most qualified to govern as their representatives, democracy functions best. Aristotle believed that the ideal society is one in which everyone is educated to be morally virtuous, and all citizens participate in political society. He thought that the best form of government would be rule by properly educated members of the middle class. Power, he believed, should be given to the middle class because people in this class are free of the excesses found in the upper and lower classes. He thought that while the rich are too arrogant and the poor may be vengeful, the middle class can more easily be stable and rational. However, he also
14 realized that this ideal is almost impossible to achieve. In a monarchy, an oligarchy, or a democracy, Aristotle hoped that philosophers, as the most intelligent, would remain influential, guiding those with power. These philosophers should never gain wealth, though. He felt that if the philosophers could not become wealthy from a position of direct power, they would be more honest. Philosopher s Questions Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the following questions. You will discuss your responses with your group. Be specific and provide examples since information found in this reading will assist you in the creation of your project. 1. Explain how your philosopher s personal experience (upbringing, society they lived in, family, etc.) contributed to the formation of his ideas on the best way to govern. 2. What is the name of the book(s) in which your philosopher s main ideas can be found? Please provide at least one quote from the reading and give its source (if mentioned). 3. According to your philosopher, what is his view of human nature (are people born greedy, good, bad, reasonable, etc.)? 4. What is the ideal form of government, according to your philosopher, and how does his view of human nature influence this view? 5. What is his worst form of government, and why does he hold this view?
15 Biographical Briefing on Voltaire Of all the great names in the Enlightenment, perhaps the greatest was Francois- Marie Arouet, known simply as Voltaire. A resident of the French city of Paris, Voltaire came from a prosperous middle-class family. He wrote an almost endless stream of pamphlets, novels, plays, letters, essays, and histories, which brought him both fame and wealth. In 1726, when he was 32, Voltaire clashed with a nobleman in France, who was offended by an insult Voltaire had directed at him in one of his writings. The nobleman had powerful connections and succeeded in having Voltaire imprisoned. Voltaire was released only when he agreed to leave France and go into exile in England. This experience affected Voltaire deeply. After his release from prison, he often spoke out against censorship and unjust laws. In the three years he spent in England, he saw a society that he felt was superior. As a man of ideas, he liked the freer air in England for the most part, men and women could express their opinions openly. On his return to France, he published a work that criticized French institutions as compared to the English. The French king banned the book immediately. For the rest of his life, Voltaire fought for the rights of free speech and free press, which remained a passion for him. Voltaire was a strong opponent of the Catholic Church. His opposition had a lot to do with the fact that the Church in France supported absolute monarchy. Voltaire opposed all sects of Christianity, too, however, because he believed it did not encourage people to think rationally. He mocked what he termed superstition wherever he saw it and campaigned for religious toleration. His Treatise on Toleration of 1763 reminded governments that "all men are brothers under God." Voltaire himself was a deist. Deism is based on reason and natural law. According to deists, the Supreme Being is not a personal God, but an impersonal being. Deists imagined that God had created a world-machine that was perfect. Once set in motion, the universe ran according to natural laws, without the need for constant supervision or occasional miracles. Only through rational thought, an open mind, and a free and unregulated exchange of ideas could humans begin to understand the laws of Nature. Voltaire s views on government evolved during his life. He thought the French middle class was too small and ineffective to govern a nation, and the aristocracy (nobility) was too selfish and corrupt to be trusted with power. At the same time he distrusted the commoners who he saw as ignorant and superstitious. They could be too easily influenced by the Church or impressed by wealth or by those who were members of the nobility. He strongly opposed church rule because he saw it as an oppressive force. Still, Voltaire distrusted democracy, which he saw as promoting the idiocy of the masses. For much of his life, Voltaire thought only an enlightened monarch could bring about change, given the social structures of his time and the extremely high rates of illiteracy. It was in the enlightened king's interest, he believed, to improve the education and welfare of his subjects. However, later in life, Voltaire changed his views on enlightened monarchs. Frederick the Great of Prussia, who Voltaire saw as the model enlightened monarch, disappointed him in the end by acting with brutality and oppression to maintain his position as monarch. Perhaps, Voltaire s novella, Candide, ou l'optimisme (Candide, or Optimism, 1759), best reflects his final view on what type of government society needed to progress. Candide concludes with the phrase: It is up to us to cultivate our garden. In other words, he believed people must act, as rational beings, to provide for themselves the best government which will secure their liberties and stop oppression of their fellow citizens.
16 Philosopher s Questions Directions: After reading the handout on your philosopher, please answer the following questions. You will discuss your responses with your group. Be specific and provide examples since information found in this reading will assist you in the creation of your project. 1. Explain how your philosopher s personal experience (upbringing, society they lived in, family, etc.) contributed to the formation of his ideas on the best way to govern. 2. What is the name of the book(s) in which your philosopher s main ideas can be found? Please provide at least one quote from the reading and give its source (if mentioned). 3. According to your philosopher, what is his view of human nature (are people born greedy, good, bad, reasonable, etc.)? 4. What is the ideal form of government, according to your philosopher, and how does his view of human nature influence this view? 5. What is his worst form of government, and why does he hold this view?
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