Along with the posts on RousseauPlatoBacon, Machiavelli and Locke, this post, and many to follow, are part of an upcoming project – stay tuned.

According to Wheelwright (1951) “Aristotle was born in 384 BC at Stagira, a town in Macedonia, colonized by Grecian emigrants.” Aristotleʻs father, Nichomachus (also the name of his son, for whom the Nichomachean Ethics was written) was a court doctor for the King of Macedonia. Aristotle left and  in a sense overcame the stifling provincialism of his youth and entered Plato‘s Academy at age 18, where he remained until 347 BC (Wheelwright, 1951, xv).

Aristotle (384-322 BC)

Aristotle lived, studied and taught during one of the most eventful periods of Macedonian and Greek history – he was a contemporary and was admired by Macedonian King Phillip, who invited Aristotle to tutor his thirteen-year old son, later known as Alexander the Great.

As with Plato, it is unclear exactly what we are reading when we read Aristotle, but for a different reason. As Wheelwright puts it: “the prose style is unfinished, loose, and choppy; in marked contrast to the conscientious precision with which key words are employed.”  The texts appear to be some sort of notes, and three theories exist as to how these were produced: 1) they were student notes, 2) they were Aristotle’s lecture notes, or 3) “the original Aristotelian writings were lost, recovered in a damaged condition and pieced together by incompetent editors” (Wheelwright, 1951, xviii).

Aristotle’s output was so monumental that it set the tone, in fact the content, little changed for over a thousand years in Europe, with Catholic scholastics synthesizing Aristotelian thought with Biblical scripture (although there is a fair amount of debate over the extent of his influence). His principal work can be grouped in nine basic categories:

1) Logic

2) Natural Science

3) Zoology

4) Psychology

5) Metaphysics (famously only called this because it came after the physics)

6) The Nichomachean Ethics

7) Politics (or, “On Statecraft”)

8) The art of oratory

9) The art of Poetry

It is impossible to summarize this output here, but possible to give a taste of his thought. The Metaphysics begins with questions on the nature of knowledge, and how we know (epistemology):
ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to doanything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to lightmany differences between things.

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Along with the posts on RousseauPlato Bacon and Locke, this post, and many to follow, are part of an upcoming project – stay tuned.

James Bryce of the American Political Science Association wrote in 1909:

Political Science assumes the form of a systematic statement of the most important facts belonging to the political department of history, stringing these facts (so to speak) upon the thread of the of the principles which run through them. They are so disposed and arranged as to enable us to more easily to comprehend what we call the laws that govern human nature in political communities, so that we can see these laws as a whole in their permanent action and can apply what we have learned from history to the phenomena of today and tomorrow (emphasis added).

Niccolo Machiavelli

By this definition, it could be argued that Machiavelli was the first political scientist, particularly in terms of his use of a “scientific” method.

 What I seek to understand in this post is the method by which Machiavelli extracts a political philosophy from history [I may post this method in a separate post, "Machiavelli's Method"]. Rather than a “statement” of “important facts,” Machivelli’s method amounts to an extraction of principles from facts.

Some doubt that there is any [strict] method in Machiavelli’s work, but rather only themes or concepts. But if no philosophy or formal methodology are to be found in Machiavelli, certain concepts recur constantly, both explicitly and implicitly binding together his theories into some sort of coherence. They are Necessità, Fortuna and Virtù (53). These themes form a theoretical framework for Machiavelli’s thought.



“Necessity” refers to the law-like consequences that must necessary follow in certain situations. “Necessity” is often used as a justification for [any means] to an end – this is the essence of what is often called a “pragmatic” approach. [find more]. As the title of G.R. Berridge’s book Diplomatic Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (Studies in Diplomacy) suggests, Machiavelli is viewed by many as the father of realist theory, a theory that puts necessity as [the forefront] (Berridge, Keens-Soper, Otte (Eds.) New York: Palgrave, 2001)


In The Prince, Machiavelli states that “Fortune, the woman, is ever changeable. Things rarely remain fixed for long. The politician must know this and guard against it.” (Prince, 1970, Ch 25). Fortune is chance, change or the apparent capriciousness of life. It is part of situations that require cunning. See Detienne and Vernant.


When we think of “virtue,” we think of morality. But for Machiavelli and many other writers, virtue has more to do with virtuousity or skill than morality. The Greeks spoke of virtue in this sense, as did other ancient cultures. Consider again the character of metis. Skill and morality were the same things. Being cunning and being “good” were the same concept.

Machiavelli views fortune as the critical element in the success of the Roman republic:

Many (authors), among whom is that most serious writer Plutarch, have had the opinion that the Roman people in acquiring the Empire were favored more by Fortune than by Virtu. And among other reasons which he cites, he says that, by the admission of that people, it can be shown that they ascribed all their victories to Fortune, as they had built more temples to Fortune than to any other God. And it seems that Livius joined in this opinion, for he rarely makes any Roman speak where he recounts (of) Virtu, without adding Fortune. (Machivelli Book 2, Ch. 1)

Anthony Parel (1992, 87) defines virtu as the “stable disposition of an individual or group by which they are enabled to perform acts conducive to the good of the state.” In this ethics the interests of the state are promoted by any means necessary, including cruelty and vice. The strategy is only important in that it achieves honor and glory for the state. In this paradigm, moral virtue of citizens is not important, and is assumed to be absent (Machiavelli, 1952, 89).

Machiavelli puts little faith in citizens: “for it may be said of men that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. (Machiavelli, 1952, 90).” While in The Prince Machiavelli [puts] most responsibility on the prince to maintain stability and prosperity, in The Discourses, he places considerable [importance] on the opinion of a virtuous citizenry … virtu in the Machivellian sense, not the Socratic.

Machiavelli was a supporter of civic republican position/argument. His reason for choosing Rome as an exemplar is: “for if nowhere there is to be found a republic so successful as Rome, this is because there is nowhere to be found a republic so constitutes as to be able to make the conquests Rome made.”

The nature of the multitude, therefore, is not to be blamed any more than that of Princes, for they all err equally when they all are able to err without control.

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Francis Bacon

Sir Francis Bacon (1561- 1626)

Along with the posts on RousseauPlato and Locke, this post, and many to follow, are part of an upcoming project – stay tuned.

As Gordon Haight wrote in 1942, “Francis Bacon’s reputation has suffered from the world’s insistence that a moralist should follow his own advice; having recognized vice and folly, he should avoid them.” Sir Francis Bacon was born in London in 1561, the son of the Sir Nicholas, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal (a position Cromwell later held). The younger Bacon saw wealth and status as key to his true ambition, which was to integrate scientific understandings with classical (mainly Roman) wisdom. Ironically, after a meteoric rise in the court of King James I (under whom the King James bible was published), it was a swift fall that gave him the time to pursue these more cerebral goals.

King James I (1566 – 1625)

Despite having tremendous personal connections, Bacon floundered politically under Queen Elizabeth I, but James seemed to take a liking to him, knighting him and granting him several titles and positions, including his father’s, Attorney General, Viscount St. Albans, and Lord High Counsellor. A bribery scandal, which Bacon admitted to, led to a swift fall and time in the Tower of London, but also to an early retirement in which he followed his literary pursuits. Equally ironic was that Bacon’s utopia, New Atlantis, depicts an official who accepts bribes as “twice paid.”

Bacon’s goal was an Instaratio Magna (Great Restoration), which he hoped would supplant the works of Aristotle, “whose influence, particularly in the natural sciences, was impeding research” (Haight, 1942, xiii). His actual output was series of shrewd essays on the nature of “man,” not as he ought to be, but as “he” was. He intellectual preeminence in the period made him one of the first candidates for the true identity of Shakespeare. Below are pithy excerpts of one of the pithiest pieces of politico-philosophical writing from “one of the world’s greatest thinkers, and … monuments of English literature” (Haight, 1942, xvi):

Of Truth (Essay 1)

What is truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.

Of Death (Essay 2)

Men fear death as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other.

Of Riches (Essay 34)

I cannot call riches better than the baggage of virtue; the Roman word is better, impedimenta; for as baggage is to an army, so is riches to virtue; it cannot be spared nor left behind, but it hundredth the march; yea, and the care of it sometimes loseth or disturbeth the victory. Of great riches there is no real use, except it be in the distribution; the rest is conceit.

Of Ambition (Essay 36)

Ambition is like choler [bile; one of four bodily "humors" along with blood, phlegm, and "melancholy" (black bile)], which is a humor that maketh men active, earnest, full of alacrity, and stirring, if it not be stopped and cannot have its way, it becometh adust [fiery], and thereby malign and venomous. So ambitious men, if they find the way open for their rising, and still get forward, they are rather busy than dangerous; but if they be checked in their desires, they become secretly discontent, and look upon men with an evil eye, and are best pleased when things go backward; which is the worst property in a servant of a prince or state.

Of Usury [Money lending with interest] (Essay 41)

… the usurer is the drone that Virgil speakest of:

Drive from their hives the drones, a lazy herd;

[Ignavum fucos pecus a praesibus arcent]

that the usurer breaketh the first law that was made for mankind after the fall, which was, in the sweat of the thy face should thou eat thy bread; not in the sweat of another’s face … I say this only, that usury is a concession to the hardness of men’s hearts; for, since there must be borrowing and lending, and men are so hard of heart as they will not lend freely, usury must be permitted … [however] few have spoken of usury usefully.

Of Vainglory (Essay 54)

They that are glorious must needs be factious [belligerant]; for all bravery stands upon comparisons.

…according to the French proverb, Beaucoup be bruit, pen de fruit;-much bruit [noise], little fruit. 

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Locke and Property

This post, along with the one on Rousseau, Plato and many to follow, are part of an upcoming project – stay tuned.

The United States incorporated a Lockean notion of relation of individual to state, a notion that was “dominant at the time when the [US] Constitution was adopted.” In common parlance, the term property is used as a noun. One is said to own “property,” i.e., a piece of property, an object. Locke’s time used property as a right, as in “I have a property in that land.” This shift occurred sometime in the seventeenth century [see Appleby] in Europe, and was present at the founding of the US, but in Hawaiʻi, it was more visible, occurring in the time period in question, the 1840s and 1850s. So in addressing the question of the transition from property as a right to property as an object, some of the associated trauma can be attributed to the fact that the shift was both later and more rapid in Hawaiʻi than in Europe.

John Locke

Locke expounded his notion of property in his Two Treatises of Government, Second Treatise (1690):

… every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body had any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with, and joyned to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property. It being by him removed from the common state Nature placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other Men. For this Labour being the unquestionable Property of the Labourer, no Man but he can have a right to what that is once joyned to, at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others.

Sec. 43. . . . . ‘Tis Labour then which puts the greatest part of Value upon Land, without which it would scarcely be worth any thing . . . . For ’tis not barely the Plough-man’s Pains, the Reaper’s and Thresher’s Toil, and the Bakers [sic.] Sweat, is to be counted into the Bread we eat …

Sec. 45. Thus Labour, in the Beginning, gave a Right of Property, where-ever any one was pleased to imploy it, upon what was common, which remained, a long while, the far greater part, and is yet more than Mankind makes use of.

The application of Lockean ideals in Hawaiʻi was premised on a particular psychology subcribed to by missionaries:

In some ways the missionaries … were equipped with a full-fledged theory of the human mind and society … Their psychology started with the empiricist idea od the mind as filled with custom, hence subject to outside influence and change. The follies and whims of the human mind, perpetuated by custom, as Locke and the enlightenment thinkers would say, are a result of insufficient use of the reason due to social circumstances (Mykkänen, 2003, 80).

Responding to Hobbes’ more radical notion that “everyman” has a right to everything, Locke held that it was a “ridiculous trifling to call that power a Right, which should we attempt to exercise, all other Men have an equal Right to obstruct or prevent us” (Tully, 1980, 74). This separation of rights represented a building of consensus over rights in property that the state was being encouraged to protect.

The foundation of the debate rested on the notion of natural rights, on the existence of which there was considerable agreement. The debate centered, instead, on the manifestation of natural rights in the actual world of property ownership. The interpretation of these rights rested, in turn, on the idea of the social contract. Pufendorf held, in response to Hobbes, that “rights of property have no higher sanction than the laws which men consent to in entering political society” (Tully, 1980, 75).

            Ivison, Patton and Sanders summarize the larger picture of interaction between “Western” political thought and Indigenous societies, values and systems of property:

Western political thought has often embodied a series of culturally specific assumptions and judgments about the relative worth of other cultures, ways of life, value systems, social and political institutions, and ways of organizing property. As a result, egalitarian political theory has often ended up justifying inegalitarian institutions and practices” (Ivison, Patton and Sanders, 2).

They contend that “finding appropriate political expression for a just relationship with colonised indigenous peoples is one of the most important issues confronting political theory today” (Ivison, Patton and Sanders, 2).

Defining “rights” as that “securing or protecting fundamental human interests, for example, those to do with property or bodily integrity,” they note that recognition of Indigenous rights will entail a fundamental alteration of those rights. Further, the note the failure of western political theory to enter into dialog with Indigenous peoples over the issue of rights in general, and, I would add, property rights in particular.

Ivison, Patton and Sanders also address the issue of indigenous title, and hold that it is “more about the continual definition and redefinition of relationships rather than the simple vindication of a property right.” This notion suggests the primacy of communal title and further its contrast with individual title. In fact, New Zealand’s Maori Land Court had as its primary task the “individualisation” of Maori title – a practice viewed as facilitating alienation of Maori lands.

Tully (99) notes that, for Locke, “it is never the case that … property is independent of a social function.” He distinguishes between property as a natural right and “political property,” which succeeds it and is only then private property. Locke opposes Filmer, Grotius and Pufendorf on this point. He holds that the natural property rights in the state of nature precede “the systems of property that arise later with the introduction of money and the creation of government.”

This, of course, is subject to critique, as the notion of a state of nature prior to government was what facilitated the doctrine of terra nullius. Thus the notion of a state of nature itself is contingent on one’s ability to see a government – which settlers in Australia claimed not to be able to do. Locke had a similar blind spot when it came to the “new world.” Locke worked as an aide to the Lord Proprietor for the Carolina colonies. His work justified slavery in the Carolinas and he was a shareholder in the Royal African Company, which was involved in the African slave trade. Locke clearly believed in property, but his belief in liberty was more constrained. Farr (2008), however, holds that Locke forwarded a just-war model justifying slavery, but one that did not apply in the Americas, but only in Stuart England.

Between Locke’s Eurocentric notions of property and government and inconsistent position on slavery, the implementation of a Lockean private property regime in Hawai’i was indeed problematic.

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This post, along with the one on Rousseau, and many to follow, are part of an upcoming project – stay tuned.

When we read Plato we can’t be sure whether it is the philosopher himself, or his teacher Socrates. Sometimes this “voice” is called Platosocrates. Socrates called himself a “gadfly,” a kind of hindrance or pest who questions those who are said to have knowledge. I.F. Stone has criticized Socrates for his lack of commitment to a philosophy and says it represents instead a method of doing philosophy.


Socrates was convicted in Athens of corrupting  the youth and was sentenced to death, which traumatized Plato, who seemed to lose faith in Athenian democracy, and dedicated three dialogs to the trial, the most famous of which is The Apologywhich is not much of an apology, but rather an argument that those who claim to know, in fact know nothing, whereas he, knowing he knows nothing is wiser than all of them. Socrates was in a sense trying to prove the oracle of Delphi right – the oracle had proclaimed Socrates the wisest of all men.

Plato is called the philosopher and with Socrates sent philosophy off course after 200 years of its existence by undermining its authority. As Paul Strathern (1996, 7) put it:

Plato was the ruin of philosophy, or so some modern thinker would have us believe. According to both Nietzsche and Heidegger, philosophy never recovered from the attentions of Socrates and Plato in the fifth century BC. Philosophy had been under way for less than two hundred years, and in many ways it had scarcely started . But this is where seemingly it went wrong.

The Republic is perhaps the most famous Book on philosophy of all time. It tells of an ideal Republic led by philosopher kings. It undermines family structures in away reminiscent of Marx. But the most famous passage in this most famous work of Plato is the allegory of the cave, which I contend is an illustration of the nature of knowledge and possibly the way to enlightenment:

THE ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE (360 BCE, Benjamin Jowett translation)

let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: –Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow it’ the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he now

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?


Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.


He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

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The Generalists

Today is the age of the super-specialist. In a technical age, while we get technical wonders, we also get what comes with it: technicians. The age of the generalist is long gone, it seems. That time when people would dive headlong into an endeavor with the healthy attitude of the amateur – now that’s a bad word. Technicians know everything about a very small field, but have little in terms of an understanding of the bigger picture. In an age when problems cross boundaries – both national and mental – this puts us all in peril. But a few thinkers have retained this attitude, and form a small group of what I call generalists. Their work has incredible potential to bridge the expertise of the specialist with the perspective of the generalist.


Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel was a runaway international bestseller and cultural phenomenon. His thesis, that colonialism was the result of an admixture of factors, but was mainly geographical rather than a product of any racial superiority, was both politically correct and explanatorily powerful. It also withstood critiques (from specialists, or course) of geographic determinism among other things. It even had its beginning in the   deceptively complex question of a Papua New Guinean: “Why do white people have so much cargo?” (This referred to the sheer volume of stuff that the West was able to export, and came to be fetishised in “cargo cults” in New Guinea.)

If Guns, Germs and Steel had been Diamond’s one hit wonder, it could be considered a fluke, and he might not be thought of as a true generalist. But Diamond followed with generalist offerings such as Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and The World before Yesterday, which continued his synthesizing prowess. Diamond’s warnings are as relevant as any specialist’s about what needs to be done to avoid a civilizational collapse of our own.


Quinn’s Ishmael was a semi-underground cultural phenomenon. In its essence, it taught a generation of disillusioned seekers that the world isn’t here for us. This seems simple, but the amount of data that Quinn had to sift through in order to reach this conclusion was somewhat staggering.

Early in my own history of internalizing theories, I came across Quinn’s, and even attended retreats on his thought and its applications. The understanding came over me just as Quinn describes in his books – like a mosaic that slowly takes form and gains clarity. An understanding of ecology is here blended with history and social science in a way that only someone like Quinn could do – he was an editor of encyclopedias. Quinn’s generalist thought does for social organization what Diamond’s did for the history of colonization: it gave clarity to its past and the way forward.


The way forward was a central piece of a book it seems I grew up hearing about: Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. A review in 1987 said:

Its reconstruction of our past, present and future is based on neglected (and even suppressed) as well as long-established findings from a wide range of fields, and … this reconstruction differs greatly from traditional views.

The book offered the controversial (at the time) view that there was a “golden age” of gender equity, when gods and goddesses shared the pantheon. This view is firmly established in many fields of endeavor, has in a sense been popularized by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and took a very wide-arching view and a study of many fields to produce.


The founder of Integral theory, Ken Wilber created a map that integrates the major domains of reality: the physical (biology, physics), the social (sociology, anthropology, political science), and what could be called our interior (psychology, religion, philosophy), into a meta-system. And here is where it collides with one of the prevailing approaches of academia: postmodernism. Postmodernism is a view that allows for the simultaneous existence of multiple worldviews, even within an individual. It is suspicious of meta narratives, or grand narratives that claim to be independent of their cultural context.

Because Integral makes this claim to be cross-cultural, it violates postmodernism’s prime directive. And yet Integral sees postmodernism as a high level of consciousness development, and it is this development that makes up the next component of Integral theory.

Ken Wilber

As Wilber wrote of his theory in the Journal of Consciousness Studies:

An extensive data search among various types of developmental and evolutionary sequences yielded a `four quadrant’ model of consciousness and its development (the four quadrants being intentional, behavioural, cultural, and social). Each of these dimensions was found to unfold in a sequence of at least a dozen major stages or levels. Combining the four quadrants with the dozen or so major levels in each quadrant yields an integral theory of consciousness that is quite comprehensive in its nature and scope. This model is used to indicate how a general synthesis and integration of twelve of the most influential schools of consciousness studies can be effected, and to highlight some of the most significant areas of future research. The conclusion is that an `all-quadrant, all-level’ approach is the minimum degree of sophistication that we need into order to secure anything resembling a genuinely integral theory of consciousness.

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Man is born free and he is everywhere in chains

-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau biographer Leo Damrosch (2005, 1) wrote that the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau “developed a theory that deeply influenced the American founding fathers and the French revolutionaries, helped invent modern anthropology, and advanced a concept of education that remains challenging and inspiring to this day.”

Jean Starobinski (in Damrosch, 2005, 2) said “it took Kant to think Rousseau’s thoughts and Freud to think Rousseau’s feelings.” This only begins to hint at how important Rousseau’s ideas were in Western thought.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712 at a site that is now a department store. His family immigrated to France to escape Protestant persecution. They were quite comfortable until falling on financial difficulty, which seemed to plague Rousseau for most of his life. His meeting and relationship with Mme. De Warrens was so consequential that a marker lies at the spot of their first meeting.

Madame De Warrens

Rousseau was apprenticed to the engraver Ducommum, but abandoned this apprenticeship and became a private tutor in Lyon, France. He came to know Denis Diderot, editor of the first encyclopedia and the Scottish philosopher David Hume. In 1762, two of his most famous works appeared: his seminal work The Social Contract  and Emile, a book that had effects on fields as disparate as education and public health.

In 1767, under threat of impiety, he took on an assumed name. Rousseau died of cerebral bleeding outside Paris in 1778. In addition to his famous quote, “Man is born free and he is everywhere in chains,” Rousseau also noted that “the strongest man is never strong enough to be master all the time, unless he transforms force into right and obedience into duty.”

The Social Contract

The importance of his ideas to the development of both the American and French revolutions is well-known, and is seen in The Social Contract, which most clearly elucidated the idea the consent of the governed:

As soon as [a people] can shake off the yoke, and shakes it off, it does better; for since it regains its freedom by the same right as that which removed it, a people is either justified in taking back its freedom, or there is no justifying those who took it away.

What does this have to do with Hawaiian history, you ask? Kamehameha III was reading guys like this (and Montesquieu, who’s next up) while constructing the modern Hawaiian nation-state – in this age when the very meaning of democracy seems to be being forgotten, we would do well to do the same.

This post is part of a new website Iʻll be launching in a few months – stay tuned.

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