Harriet Martineau 1802-1876

“You better live your best and act your best and think your best today, for today is the sure preparation for tomorrow and all the other tomorrows that follow.”

Martineau wrote many books and a multitude of essays from a sociological, holistic, religious, domestic, and perhaps most controversially, feminine perspective; she also translated Auguste Comte’s Cours de philosophie positive as The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte, Freely Translated and Condensed, 2 vol. (1853). Martineau said of her own approach to writing: "when one studies a society, one must focus on all its aspects, including key political, religious, and social institutions". She believed a thorough societal analysis was necessary to understand women's status under men.

 Harriet Martineau 2018, Oil on Canvas 140x120 cm (Available for Sale)

Harriet Martineau 2018, Oil on Canvas 140x120 cm (Available for Sale)

 

Martineau began losing her senses of taste and smell at a young age, becoming increasingly deaf and having to use an ear trumpet. It was the beginning of many health problems in her life.  In 1839, during a visit to Continental Europe, Martineau was diagnosed with a uterine tumour.  She moves to a house in Tyneside to be near her brother-in-law, Thomas Michael Greenhow, who was a celebrated doctor in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Immobile and confined to a couch, her illness caused her to literally enact the social constraints of women during this time. Whilst there she wrote three works including Life in the Sickroom, considered to be one of Martineau's most under-rated works. It upset evangelical readers as they "thought it dangerous in 'its supposition of self-reliance'".

In 1845 she left Tynemouth for Ambleside in the Lake District, here she designed herself and oversaw the construction of the house called The Knoll, Ambleside, where she spent the greater part of her later life.  Diagnosed with fatal heart disease in 1855, Martineau began her autobiography in 1855 (it was published posthumously in 1877), but she lived another 21 years, producing eight more volumes of serious work, and became England's leading woman of letters, holding a kind of court at her tiny estate in Westmoreland, where she died on June 27, 1876.

 Harriet Martineau 2018, Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Harriet Martineau 2018, Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

The subsequent works offered fictional tutorials on a range of political economists such as James Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Martineau relied on the works of Thomas Malthus to form her view of the tendency of human population to exceed its means of subsistence. However, in stories such as "Weal and Woe in Garvelock", she promoted the idea of population control through what Malthus referred to as "voluntary checks" such as voluntary chastity and delayed marriages. Historically she is remembered as a tough-minded writer who fought great odds to achieve a distinguished literary career.

Edmund Husserl 1859-1938

“I Exist, and all that is not-I is mere phenomenon dissolving into phenomenal connections”

Born in Germany Edmund Husserl studied mathematics and philosophy and went on to establish the school of Phenomenology, the study of the structures of experience and consciousness.  Husserl agreed with Descartes that for each of us there is one thing whose existence is certain, and that is our own conscious awareness, therefore, if we want to build our conception of reality on sound foundations, that is the place to start.  But he also agreed with Hulme that when looking at an object my awareness is of the object, not of myself having the experience of looking at it.  I am directly aware of objects but not of myself as an object.  However, all attempts to prove that these objects exist independently of my awareness seem doomed to failure and hence on cannot prove the existence of the external world.  Husserl puts this to one side and assumes they exist as objects of consciousness for us and progress with what we are equipped to investigate.  This examination of consciousness and its objects became known as Phenomenology (1), because it treated everything as phenomena.  There is a phenomenology of everything not only our perception of material objects but also the arts, religion, the sciences and things internal to us such as pain, thought, feelings, memories etc.

 Edmund Husserl 2017, Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Private Collection)

Edmund Husserl 2017, Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Private Collection)

Husserl drafted the outline of Phenomenology as a universal philosophical science. Its fundamental methodological principle was what Husserl called the phenomenological reduction. It focuses the philosopher’s attention on uninterpreted basic experience and the quest for the essences(2) of things. On the other hand, it is also the reflection on the functions by which essences become conscious. As such, the reduction reveals the ego for which everything has meaning. Hence, Phenomenology took on the character of a new style of transcendental philosophy, which repeats and improves Kant’s mediation between Empiricism(3) and Rationalism(4) in a modern way.

 

(1) Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness.  Phenomenology, in Husserl's conception, is primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on and study of the structures of consciousness and the phenomena that appear in acts of consciousness. Phenomenology can be clearly differentiated from the Cartesian method of analysis which sees the world as objects, sets of objects, and objects acting and reacting upon one another.

(2) Essence is the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, which determines its character.

(3) Empiricism is the theory that all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses. Stimulated by the rise of experimental science, it developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, expounded in particular by John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume.

(4) Rationalism is the theory that reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge.

Søren Kierkegaard 1813-1855

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."

Søren Kierkegaard is generally regarded as the founder of existentialism (1).  Born in Denmark he enrolled at the University of Copenhagen in 1830 but did not complete his studies until 1841. He was studying at a time when the dominant philosopher of the age was Hegel.  Hegel, said Kierkegaard explained everything in terms of huge great sweeps of ideas in which actual things, individual entities, are unmentioned despite the fact that it is only individual things that exist. Abstractions, generalisations, do not exist in the same sense: they are our own inventions that facilitate understanding.  But in order to understand something that does not exist we have to explore coming to terms with uniquely individual entities because that is all there is.  This is especially true of human beings.  Hegel had seen the individual as fulfilling himself only when absorbed into the larger and more abstract entity of the organic state, whereas in fact, said Kierkegaard, it is the individual himself who is the supreme moral entity, and therefore it is the personal, subjective aspects of human life that are the most important.  Because of the transcending value of moral considerations the most important human activity is decision making: it is through choices we make that we create our lives and become ourselves.

 Søren Kierkegaard, 2017 Oil on Canvas 61x61cm (Available for Sale)

Søren Kierkegaard, 2017 Oil on Canvas 61x61cm (Available for Sale)

In what was perhaps his earliest major work Either / Or  (1843) he suggests that people might effectively choose to live within either of two "existence spheres". He called these "spheres" the aesthetic and the ethical.  Aesthetic lives were lives lived in search of such things as pleasure, novelty, and romantic individualism. Kierkegaard thought that these goals would eventually tend to decay or become meaningless and this would inevitably lead to much boredom and dire frustration.  Ethical lives, lived very much in line with a sense of duty to observe societal and confessional obligations would be easier to live, yet would also involve much compromise of several genuinely human faculties and potentials. Such compromise would inevitably mean that Human integrity would tend to be eroded although lives seemed to be progressing in a bourgeois-satisfactory way. 

Neither of these "existence spheres" seemed to him to offer fully satisfactory lives to Human beings and in his later works he suggested that there was a third, religious, "sphere" where people accepted that they could "live in the truth" that they were "individual before the Eternal" to which they belonged. By living in this truth people could achieve a full unity of purpose with all other people who were also, individually, living in the same truth. This is the choice that he made for himself in his own efforts to live a life which he considered to be valid.

Søren Kierkegaard passed away, possibly from tuberculosis on the 11 November 1855. His work remained limited to Scandinavia, but the 20th century saw the revival of his philosophy, although many thinkers only went along with Kierkegaard up to the point where introduces the relationship of the individual soul to God.  Consequently two parallel traditions of existentialism developed side by side.  Christian existentialism and Humanist existentialism.  The later has roots in the work of Nietzsche, who was an atheist but its most distinguished representative in the 20th century was Martin Heidegger.

(1) Existentialism is a philosophical theory or approach which emphasises the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.

Martin Heidegger 1889-1976

"Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one."

Martin Heidegger is widely acknowledged to be one of the most original and important philosophers of the 20th century, while remaining one of the most controversial.   Born in Germany and raised a Roman Catholic he studied  theology at the University of Freiburg while supported by the church, but later he switched his field of study to philosophy under Heinrich Rickert and Edmund Husserl. He received a doctorate in philosophy in 1913 and became a lecturer at Freiburg in 1919, assuming the  leadership of the movement that Husserl had founded, phenomenology (1).

 Martin Heidegger, 2018 Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Available for Sale)

Martin Heidegger, 2018 Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Available for Sale)

 

Subsequent stages of Heidegger’s early philosophical development show the influence of a number of thinkers and themes, including the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s concern with the irreducible uniqueness of the individual, which was important in Heidegger’s early existentialism; Aristotle’s conception of phronēsis, or practical wisdom, which helped Heidegger to define the peculiar “Being” of the human individual in terms of a set of worldly involvements and commitments; and the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey’s notion of “historicity,” of being historically situated and determined, which became crucial in Heidegger’s view of time and history as essential facets of human Being.  Consequently Heidegger’s main interest became ontology or the study of being.

In his fundamental treatise, Being and Time, he attempted to access ‘being’ by means of phenomenological analysis of human existence, what he called Dasein,(2) in respect to its temporal and historical character. Heidegger placed an emphasis on language as the vehicle through which the question of being can be unfolded. He turned to the interpretation of historical texts, especially of the Presocratics, but also of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Hölderlin, and to poetry, architecture, technology, and other subjects. Instead of looking for a full clarification of the meaning of being, he tried to pursue a kind of thinking which was no longer “metaphysical.”

 Martin Heidegger, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Martin Heidegger, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

He criticized the tradition of Western philosophy, which he regarded as nihilistic, for, as he claimed, the question of being as such was obliterated in it. He also stressed the nihilism of modern technological culture. By going to the Presocratic beginning of Western thought, he wanted to repeat the early Greek experience of being, so that the West could turn away from the dead end of nihilism and begin anew. His writings are notoriously difficult. Being and Time remains his most influential work and became a major source for the understanding of existentialism, a philosophic movement that was growing in importance and popularity among academics and intellectuals. Existentialist thinkers influenced by Heidegger included Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

After WWII his reputation was scarred by his affiliation with the Nazi party, he was forbidden to teach, and in 1946 was dismissed from his chair of philosophy. The ban was lifted in 1949 and during the last three decades of his life, from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s, Heidegger wrote and published much, but in comparison to earlier decades, there was no significant change in his philosophy.

(1) Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness without appeal to philosophical or scientific preconceptions about their nature, origin, or cause.

(2) Dasein (is a German word that means "being there" or "presence" and is often translated into English with the word "existence".  Heidegger uses the expression Dasein to refer to the experience of being that is peculiar to human beings. Thus it is a form of being that is aware of and must confront such issues as personhood, mortality and the dilemma or paradox of living in relationship with other humans while being ultimately alone with oneself.

Mary Wollstonecraft 1759-1797

"I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves."

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in London into a picturesquely bleak family. She had a violent alcoholic father, and a weak, unsympathetic mother. Despite her inauspicious beginnings, she dragged herself upwards, eventually becoming a self-supporting bestselling international human-rights celebrity. 

In 1784, Mary, her sister Eliza and her best friend, Fanny, established a school in in the progressive Dissenting community of Newington Green. From her experiences teaching, Wollstonecraft wrote the pamphlet Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787).

 Mary Wollstonecraft, 2018 Oil on Linen 71x61cm (Available for Sale)

Mary Wollstonecraft, 2018 Oil on Linen 71x61cm (Available for Sale)

When her friend Fanny died in 1785, Wollstonecraft took a position as governess for the Kingsborough family in Ireland. Spending her time there to mourn and recover, she eventually found she was not suited for domestic work. Three years later, she returned to London and became a translator and an adviser to Joseph Johnson, a noted publisher of radical texts. When Johnson launched the Analytical Review in 1788, Mary became a regular contributor. Within four years, she published her polemical works, A Vindication of the Rights of Men (published anonymously in 1790) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), both public letters in angry reaction to texts by men whom she considered powerful and wrong-headed. The first answered Edmund's Burke's nostalgic and conservative Reflections on the Revolution in France, which argued for the status quo because human nature could not take too much change or reality, and the second responded to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's educational work Emile, which proposed that a girl's education should aim at making her useful to and supportive of a rational man.

 Mary Wollstonecroft, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (My Collection)

Mary Wollstonecroft, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (My Collection)

When her feelings for the married painter Henri Fuseli threatened to overwhelm her, she left for France in 1792 to join other English intellectuals, such as Thomas Paine, in celebrating the French Revolution.  Having just written the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft was determined to put her ideas to the test, and in the stimulating intellectual atmosphere of the French revolution she attempted her most experimental romantic attachment yet: she met and fell passionately in love with Gilbert Imlay, an American adventurer. Wollstonecraft put her own principles in practice by sleeping with Imlay despite not being married had her first child with him.  While nursing her firstborn, Wollstonecraft wrote a conservative critique of the French Revolution in An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution. She also wrote a deeply personal travel narrative, Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, but in 1795 Imlay left her and she attempted to commit suicide.

Back in England Mary recovered, finding new hope in a relationship with William Godwin, the founder of philosophical anarchism. Despite their belief in the tyranny of marriage, the couple eventually wed due to her pregnancy. In 1797, their daughter Mary (who would grow up to be Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein), was born. Ten days later, due to complications of childbirth, Wollstonecraft died of Septicaemia aged 38.  For many years, the scandalous aspects of her life (such as her two children born out of wedlock) were more noted than her works.  After her death Godwin published her last most radical novel Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798), as well as a memoir of her life. This revealed the fact that Mary had not been married while having a sexual relationship with Imlay. As a result her demand for rational female education, which had been accepted by most thinking women, became almost forgotten in the light of her implied demand for sexual freedom.  Overnight she became toxic and Wollstonecraft’s enemies couldn’t contain their glee: here was proof irrefutable that she was a whore, a “hyena in petticoats” as Horace Walpole described her.

Wollstonecraft’s legacy was trashed for well over a century and even today, despite a number of outstanding modern biographies, there’s still no significant memorial to her anywhere although Maggi Hambling, the British artist was commissioned in May 2018 for a commemorative statue.  It will be erected in Newington Green, London,  which is known as the birthplace of feminism because of Wollstonecraft’s roots there.

Sources:

https://www.biography.com/people/mary-wollstonecraft-9535967

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/wollstonecraft_01.shtml

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778

“Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains”

Swiss born Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the greatest European thinkers of the 18th century and his work inspired the leaders of the French Revolution and influenced what became known as the Romantic generation.  His mother died soon after his birth and he only had a little formal education from his father before he went into exile and Rousseau was parceled out to a country minister and then an uncle.  He led an itinerant lifestyle wandering from job to job and having five illegitimate children by an uneducated serving girl.

 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2017 Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Available for Sale)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2017 Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Available for Sale)

 

Rousseau reached Paris in 1742 and met Denis Diderot, another provincial man seeking literary fame. He contributed an article about music to Diderot’s Encyclopedia but it was his prose that brought him his lasting reputation.  In 1750 he published his first important work 'A Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts' with the central theme that human beings were born good but become corrupted by society and civilisation. In 'Discourse on the Origin of Inequality' he claimed that original man, while solitary, was happy, good and free. The vices dated from the formation of societies, which brought comparisons and, with that, pride. 'The Social Contract' of 1762 suggested how man might recover his freedom in the future. It argued that a state based on a genuine social contract would give men real freedom in exchange for their obedience to a self-imposed law. Rousseau described his civil society as united by a general will, furthering the common interest while occasionally clashing with personal interest. 

 

 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Rousseau’s political philosophy has had an enormous influence providing the movements leading up to the French Revolution with their emotional and intellectual fuel.  It offered a different conception of democracy from John Locke’s, one which flourished and was actively followed until the late 20th century. This forcible imposition of the general will is the opposite of the Locke model preserving individual free will, and became the basic idea underlying the totalitarian movements of Fascism and Communism.  His philosophy claimed to represent the will of the people while denying individual rights, allotting a key role to charismatic leaders.

Émilie du Châtelet 1706-1749

“If I were king, I would redress an abuse which cuts back, as it were, one half of human kind. I would have women participate in all human rights, especially those of the mind.”

Émilie Du Châtelet was born in Paris and married Marquis Florent-Claude de Châtelet-Lomont in 1725. In 1733, she met Voltaire who became her lover and life-long intellectual companion. They retired to Du Châtelet's husband's estate—Cirey—which was remodeled to include a laboratory with several instruments for their on-going scientific experiments.  Together they spearheaded Newton’s revolution in France and without her contributions, the French Enlightenment of the 1700s would have looked very different.

 Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Canvas 109x91cm (Available for Sale)

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Canvas 109x91cm (Available for Sale)

In her intellectual work, Du Châtelet focused on natural philosophy, particularly that of Newton, Leibniz and Christian Wolff. Her advanced abilities in physics and mathematics made her especially able to write capably about Newton's physics. She thus contributed to the shift in France away from an acceptance of Cartesian physics and toward the embrace of Newtonian physics. Nonetheless, she was more than just an expositor of others' works, and she was not interested in physics alone. Indeed, still squarely in the tradition of natural philosophy, Du Châtelet sought a metaphysical basis for the Newtonian physics she embraced upon rejecting Cartesianism.

 Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Canvas 140x100cm (Available for Sale)

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Canvas 140x100cm (Available for Sale)

As a feminist she pulled no punches and wrote of her struggle to educate herself in higher mathematics and physics (because girls were denied access to good schools, let alone universities): “If I were king,” she wrote, “I would reform an abuse which effectively cuts back half of humanity. I would have women participate in all human rights, and above all, those of the mind.”

Emilie died at the age of forty-three but despite her short life, Emilie was a truly unique woman and scholar. Among her greatest achievements were her Institutions du physique and the translation of Newton's Principia, which was published after her death along with a "Preface historique" by Voltaire.

 Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Émilie du Châtelet, 2018 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Voltaire 1694-1778

"The superfluous is very necessary"

Voltaire was educated by the Jesuits in Paris and took to satirical writing at an early age.  He had to go into exile in Holland at the age of 19 and was imprisoned in the Bastille for nearly a year in his mid-twenties.  Despite these setbacks he established himself as the best playwright in France and used this as his vehicle to bombard the world non-stop with advanced views on society, religion and politics with humour and intelligence.

 Voltaire, 2018 Oil on Canvas 109x91cm (Available for Sale)

Voltaire, 2018 Oil on Canvas 109x91cm (Available for Sale)

After a second term of imprisonment in the Bastille he was forced into exile in England where he enjoyed a level of freedom and respect for the individual lacking in France.  He learned English and immersed himself in the serious study of the new science, with the assistance of Émilie Du Châtelet, as represented by Isaac Newton, and the new liberal philosophy as represented by John Locke.  He didn’t contribute to the body of ideas in these fields but used them as the intellectual content behind his plays, novels, biographies, historical works, pamphlets and critical reviews such that they became known throughout Western Europe.

 Voltaire, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Voltaire, 2017 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Most significantly he propounded Locke’s idea that the confidence we have in religious beliefs needs to relate to evidence rather than the authority of Church and State.  This insistence on viewing everything in the light of reason became known as the “Enlightenment”and  Liberalism became a revolutionary creed.  In intellectual matters liberals advocated the use of reason and the right of individual dissent as against conformism and obedience to tradition and authority.  Voltaire believed these battles could be won without violence but many of his followers came to the view that revolutionary violence was necessary to sweep away the ancien regime.  Thus Voltaire is seen as the godfather of revolutionary freethinking in 18th century France, the kind of thinking that did so much to bring about the French Revolution of 1789.

Denis Diderot 1713-1784

"The word Freedom has no meaning"

Denis Diderot was born in Langres, France in 1713 and died Paris in 1784.  Educated by the Jesuits as a young man, he was awarded the degree of master of arts in the University of Paris in 1732.  Diderot decided to become a writer rather than enter one of the learned professions and led a disordered and bohemian existence, progressing from Roman Catholicism to atheism and then philosophical materialism. From his earliest original work he attacked Christianity and challenged religious authority, making publication difficult to secure and many of his writings on which his fame now rests only came out after his death.

 Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Linen 71x61cm (Available for Sale)

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Linen 71x61cm (Available for Sale)

From 1745 to 1772, Diderot served as chief editor of the Encyclopédie, one of the principal works of the Age of Enlightenment.  Begun as an attempt to translate the Chambers Cyclopedia of 1728 from English into French the project grew and expanded until the complete work ran to 35 volumes.  This massive publishing venture embodied the new scientific approach to knowledge that Voltaire had imported to France from England based on the work of Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton and the philosophical thinking of John Locke.

However, the Encyclopedia went against all the basic social, political and religious orthodoxies of the day and brought Diderot even more trouble with official censorship from the authorities until finally in 1759 it was suppressed by Royal decree.  Diderot and his contributors, who included  Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, and the printers continued to work in secret until the project was completed making Diderot the editor of the most influential Encyclopedia ever.

 Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Available for Sale)

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Linen 35x30cm (Available for Sale)

 Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)

Denis Diderot, 2018 Oil on Paper 28x28cm (Available for Sale)