November 06, 2005

Boethius, Baumgarten, Berdyaev, Buber

Boethius (c.480-c.525 CE) was philosopher, poet, politician, and (perhaps) martyr. His Consolation of Philosophy was unremarked in its own time and a late-blooming best-seller three hundred years later. Its vogue lasted most of a thousand years. Boethius was one of the main sources of material for the quadrivium, an educational course introduced into monasteries consisting of four topics: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and the theory of music. On this last topic Boethius wrote on the relation of music to science, suggesting that the pitch of a note one hears is related to the frequency of sound. He embarked on an ambitious project to translate and write commentaries on all the works of both Plato and Aristotle but he died before he could translate Plato's work and fulfil his aim of harmonising the two philosophies. He did, however, make Latin translations of Aristotle's Categories and De interpretatione and of Porphyry's Isagoge with two commentaries, which were widely used throughout the Middle Ages. Up to the 12th century his writings and translations were the main works on logic in Europe.

Baumgarten, Alexander Gottlieb (1714-1762) was a disciple of Leibnitz and Wolff, and was particularly distinguished as having been the first to establish the Theory of the Beautiful as an independent science. Baumgarten did good service in severing aesthetics (q.v.) from the other philosophic disciplines, and in marking out a definite object for its researches. The very name (Aesthetics), which Baumgarten was the first to use, indicates the imperfect and partial nature of his analysis, pointing as it does to an element so variable as feeling or sensation as the ultimate ground of judgment in questions pertaining to beauty. It is important to notice that Baumgartens first work preceded those of Burke, Diderot, and P. Andr, and that Kant had a great admiration for him.

Berdyaev, Nicholas, 1874–1948, Russian theologian and religious philosopher. After an early period as a Marxist, Berdyaev became prominent in a brilliant circle of Russian intellectuals famous in their time for their interest in Russian Orthodoxy. Forced into exile in 1922, Berdyaev attracted similar circles in Berlin and Paris. He wrote prolifically and gained wide recognition. He decried the dehumanization of man by modern technology and believed that man fulfills himself in the free, creative act. Fond of dichotomies, Berdyaev discussed history in terms of eschatology and the human in terms of the divine. He believed in the ideal of the Godmanhood. Among his many works are The End of Our Time (tr. 1933); The Destiny of Man (tr. 1937); Slavery and Freedom (tr. 1944); Dream and Reality: an Essay in Autobiography (tr. 1950); Truth and Revelation (tr. 1953). His philosophy has been chrarcterized as "Christian existentialist". He was proccupied with creativity and in particular freedom from anything that inhibited said creativity, whence his opposition against a "collectivized and mechanized society".

The work of the prolific essayist, translator, and editor Martin Buber (1878-1965) is predominantly dedicated to three areas:

  • the philosophical articulation of the dialogic principle (das dialogische Prinzip),
  • the revival of religious consciousness among the Jews (by means of the literary retelling of Hasidic tales and an innovative German translation of the Bible), and to
  • the realization of this consciousness through the Zionist movement.

A man of considerable organizational talent, Buber shunned responsibility for the nascent political institutions of Zionism. Instead, he attempted to transform the Zionist movement by articulating what he saw as its unique historic mission: the realization of a Hebraic humanism (Grete Schaeder). His advocacy of a binational solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict in Palestine is widely considered to be an indication of the political utopianism Buber developed together with his friend Gustav Landauer, an aesthetic politics shaped in the anarchist and religious socialist movements of the first two decades of the twentieth century. Buber's best known work is the short philosophical essay Ich und Du (1923), first translated into English in 1937. I and Thou is considered to have inaugurated “a Copernican revolution in theology."

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