Leibniz was the last major figure of seventeenth-century rationalism who contributed heavily to other fields such as metaphysics, epistemology, logic, mathematics, physics, jurisprudence, and the philosophy of religion; he is also considered to be one of the last “universal geniuses”. He did not develop his system, however, independently of these advances. Leibniz rejected Cartesian dualism and denied the existence of a material world. In Leibniz’s view there are infinitely many simple substances, which he called “monads” (which he derived directly from Proclus).
Descartes was the first of the modern rationalists and has been dubbed the ‘Father of Modern Philosophy.’ Much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day.
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
Kant is one of the central figures of modern philosophy and set the terms by which all subsequent thinkers have had to grapple. He argued that human perception structures natural laws and that reason is the source of morality. His thought continues to hold a major influence in contemporary thought, especially in fields such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics.
Kant named his brand of epistemology “Transcendental Idealism”, and he first laid out these views in his famous work The Critique of Pure Reason. In it, he argued that there were fundamental problems with both rationalist and empiricist dogma. To the rationalists he argued, broadly, that pure reason is flawed when it goes beyond its limits and claims to know those things that are necessarily beyond the realm of all possible experience: the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the human soul. Kant referred to these objects as “The Thing in Itself” and goes on to argue that their status as objects beyond all possible experience by definition means we cannot know them. To the empiricist, he argued that while it is correct that experience is fundamentally necessary for human knowledge, reason is necessary for processing that experience into a coherent thought. He, therefore, concludes that both reason and experience are necessary for human knowledge. In the same way, Kant also argued that it was wrong to regard thought as mere analysis. In Kant’s views, “a priori concepts” do exist, but if they are to lead to the amplification of knowledge, they must be brought into relation with empirical data”.
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social critic and political activist. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had “never been any of these in any profound sense”. He was born in Monmouthshire into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in the United Kingdom.
In the early 20th century, Russell led the British “revolt against idealism”. He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege, colleague G. E. Moore, and his protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein. He is widely held to be one of the 20th century’s premier logicians. With A. N. Whitehead he wrote Principia Mathematica, an attempt to create a logical basis for mathematics. His philosophical essay “On Denoting” has been considered a “paradigm of philosophy”. His work has had a considerable influence on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science (see type theory and type system), and philosophy, especially the philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics.
John Eleazer Remsburg (January 7, 1848 – 1919) was an ardent religious skeptic in America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His name is sometimes spelled Remsberg.
n recent years a list of forty-two names from the “Silence of Contemporary Writers” chapter of The Christ (sometimes called the Remsberg List) has appeared in several books regarding the non-historicity hypothesis by authors such as James Patrick Holding, Hilton Hotema, Jawara D. King, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Dorothy M. Murdock and Robert M. Price, Asher Norman, Frank Zindler, Tim C. Leedom et al, as well as appearing in some 200 blog posts regarding the non-historicity hypothesis. This Remsburg List was improved upon in 2012 with the book No Meek Messiah, augmenting the number of “Silent Writers” to 126. The list was published in Free Inquiry magazine in August 2014.
It must be mentioned that Remsburg stated “This volume on “The Christ” was written by one who recognizes in the Jesus of Strauss and Renan a transitional step, but not the ultimate step, between orthodox Christianity and radical Freethought. By the Christ is understood the Jesus of the New Testament. The Jesus of the New Testament is the Christ of Christianity. The Jesus of the New Testament is a supernatural being. He is, like the Christ, a myth. He is the Christ myth”.
Moreover Remsburg clarified that “It is not against the man Jesus that I write, but against the Christ Jesus of theology” explaining that “Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist.”
Furthermore, in “The Christ a Myth” chapter Remsburg described myth as falling into three broad categories: historical, philosophical, and poetic (a mixture of the previous two). Remsburg concluded the chapter by stating “While all Freethinkers are agreed that the Christ of the New Testament is a myth they are not, as we have seen, and perhaps never will be, fully agreed as to the nature of this myth. Some believe that he is a historical myth; others that he is a pure myth. Some believe that Jesus, a real person, was the germ of this Christ whom subsequent generations gradually evolved; others contend that the man Jesus, as well as the Christ, is wholly a creation of the human imagination. After carefully weighing the evidence and arguments in support of each hypothesis the writer, while refraining from expressing a dogmatic affirmation regarding either, is compelled to accept the former as the more probable.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 – October 26, 1902) was an American suffragist, social activist, abolitionist, and leading figure of the early women’s rights movement. Her Declaration of Sentiments, presented at the Seneca Falls Convention held in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, is often credited with initiating the first organized women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements in the United States. Stanton was president of the National Woman Suffrage Association from 1892 until 1900.
Before Stanton narrowed her political focus almost exclusively to women’s rights, she was an active abolitionist with her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton and cousin, Gerrit Smith. Unlike many of those involved in the women’s rights movement, Stanton addressed various issues pertaining to women beyond voting rights. Her concerns included women’s parental and custody rights, property rights, employment and income rights, divorce, the economic health of the family, and birth control. She was also an outspoken supporter of the 19th-century temperance movement.
Robert Green “Bob” Ingersoll (August 11, 1833 – July 21, 1899) was an American lawyer, a Civil War veteran, political leader, and orator of United States during the Golden Age of Free Thought, noted for his broad range of culture and his defense of agnosticism. He was nicknamed “The Great Agnostic”.
Robert Ingersoll was born in Dresden, New York. His father, John Ingersoll, was an abolitionist-leaning Congregationalist preacher, whose radical views forced his family to move frequently. For a time, Rev. John Ingersoll filled the pulpit for American revivalist Charles G. Finney while Finney was on a tour of Europe. Upon Finney’s return, Rev. Ingersoll remained for a few months as co-pastor/associate pastor under Finney. The elder Ingersoll’s later pastoral experiences influenced young Robert negatively, however, as The Elmira Telegram described in 1890:
“Though for many years the most noted of American infidels, Colonel Ingersoll was born and reared in a devoutly Christian household. His father, John Ingersoll, was a Congregationalist minister and a man of mark in his time, a deep thinker, a logical and eloquent speaker, broad minded and generously tolerant of the views of others. The popular impression which credits Ingersoll’s infidelity in the main to his father’s severe orthodoxy and the austere and gloomy surroundings in which his boyhood was spent is wholly wrong. On the contrary the elder Ingersoll’s liberal views were a source of constant trouble between him and his narrow-minded parishioners. They caused him to frequently change his charges, and several times made him the defendant in church trials. His ministerial career was, in fact, substantially brought to a close by a church trial which occurred while he was pastor of the Congregational Church at Madison, Ohio, and at which his third wife appeared as prosecutor. Upon this occasion he was charged with prevarication and unministerial conduct. The evidence adduced—the trial is one of the abiding traditions of the dull little town of Madison—was of the most trivial and ridiculous character, but the committee which heard it decided that though he had done “nothing inconsistent with his Christian character,” he was “inconsistent with his ministerial character,” and forbade him to preach in the future. Elder John went before the higher church authorities and was permitted to continue his clerical labors. However, he soon removed to Wisconsin, going from there to Illinois, where he died. The Madison trial occurred when young Robert was nine years old, and it was the unjust and bigoted treatment his father received which made him the enemy, first of Calvinism, and later of Christianity in its other forms.”
Thomas Paine (January 29, 1737 – June 8, 1809) was an English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he authored the two most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, and he inspired the rebels in 1776 to declare independence from Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era rhetoric of transnational human rights. He has been called “a corsetmaker by trade, a journalist by profession, and a propagandist by inclination”.
Born in Thetford, England, in the county of Norfolk, Paine emigrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. Virtually every rebel read (or listened to a reading of) his powerful pamphlet Common Sense (1776), proportionally the all-time best-selling American title which crystallized the rebellious demand for independence from Great Britain. His The American Crisis (1776–83) was a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. Common Sense was so influential that John Adams said, “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.”
Samuel Benjamin “Sam” Harris (born April 9, 1967) is an American author, philosopher, and neuroscientist. Harris is the co-founder and chief executive of Project Reason, a non-profit organization that promotes science and secularism, and host of the podcast: Waking Up with Sam Harris. As an author, he wrote the book The End of Faith, which was published in 2004 and appeared on The New York Times Best Seller list for 33 weeks. The book also won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction in 2005. In 2006, Harris published the book Letter to a Christian Nation as a response to criticism of The End of Faith. This work was followed by The Moral Landscape, published in 2010, in which Harris argues that science can help answer moral problems and can aid the facilitation of human well-being. He subsequently published a long-form essay Lying in 2011, the short book Free Will in 2012, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion in 2014 and Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue in 2015.
Samuel Adams (September 27 [O.S. September 16] 1722 – October 2, 1803) was an American statesman, political philosopher, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. As a politician in colonial Massachusetts, Adams was a leader of the movement that became the American Revolution, and was one of the architects of the principles of American republicanism that shaped the political culture of the United States. He was a second cousin to President John Adams.
Born in Boston, Adams was brought up in a religious and politically active family. A graduate of Harvard College, he was an unsuccessful businessman and tax collector before concentrating on politics. As an influential official of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the Boston Town Meeting in the 1760s, Adams was a part of a movement opposed to the British Parliament’s efforts to tax the British American colonies without their consent. His 1768 Massachusetts Circular Letter calling for colonial non-cooperation prompted the occupation of Boston by British soldiers, eventually resulting in the Boston Massacre of 1770. To help coordinate resistance to what he saw as the British government’s attempts to violate the British Constitution at the expense of the colonies, in 1772 Adams and his colleagues devised a committee of correspondence system, which linked like-minded Patriots throughout the Thirteen Colonies. Continued resistance to British policy resulted in the 1773 Boston Tea Party and the coming of the American Revolution.