Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge Characters

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Marquis de Condorcet was born in 1743 in Picardy, north of France. His family originated in Dauphine, and he was among the last of the French philosophers who dealt with social and political issues. Rather than pursuing a career in the army, Condorcet decided to become a mathematician. His mathematical abilities turned out to be not as outstanding as those of his contemporaries, such as Pierre Simon de Laplace and Leonard Euler. He was elected to the Academie des Sciences at the age of twenty-five. He became its secretary at the age of thirty-two. When he was thirty-eight, in 1780 he was became a member of the August Academie Francais. His main achievement was using mathematics in social sciences, where mathematical achievements can be applied to human actions. In 1785 he wrote the Essay on the Application of Analysis to the Probability of Majority Decisions. He made some advances in mathematics although he used his achievements in the study of political behavior. Condorcet recognized that social action can be predicted and quantitatively analyzed. His work inspired future sociologists, such as August Comte and Adolphe Quetelet. He was regarded as noble because of his personality and demeanor. Called by his friends Condorcet the Good, he presented himself as sweet and calm while relating with simplicity and negligence. Even to those who were jealous of his achievements, such as Jean-Paul Marat, he was kind and generous. He passionately advocated social justice and welfare of others on both individual and collective levels. Even at a considerable political risk he made his convictions known to the public, opposing French colonial politics. He founded an anti-slavery organization called Society of the Friends of the Blacks. While in hiding, his arguments found their way to the members of the National Convention who ultimately abolished slavery. In his views he followed John Locke, sharing with him his liberal convictions. He supported the natural rights of men like Locke. He also thought that moral imperatives should lead rather than follow passions just as Immanuel Kant. Along with Tom Paine he created Le Republicain, a revolutionary journal for inspiring a progressive, egalitarian state. He hoped that there would come a time when men would only follow reason. He shared the accomplishment of the unification of science with Laplace. His extraordinary abilities included near-photographic memory and a wide ranging knowledge that he regarded as a much needed resource that should be available to everyone. Others considered him as knowledgeable in all subjects, be it science, the arts, government, law, or fashion. Due to his talent and personality he reached the highest ranks of his society as the youngest of the philosophers. He viewed the human soul as molded entirely by the environment. Consequently, humans can make of themselves what they wish, while he also adhered to the idea of perfectibility, where the quality of life can be indefinitely improved and perfected. In political terms he was a revolutionist, standing up against clerics and republicans. He was historicist in social science because of his conviction that history can unveil the presence as well as the future. He thought that in ethical terms the human race should be unified. Even though he was egalitarian he thought that societies would become part of the high civilization of Europe. Due to his humanitarian ideals he viewed politics more as the source of moral principles rather than power. He died on 29 March, 1794. He was named the prophet of the Laws of Progress. He possessed intellect and political leadership. In 1794 he composed Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, but had to hide after being sentenced to death by the National Convention during the French Revolution. He was viewed as a Girondist and expressed criticism of the constitution drawn by the National Convention. He died in Bourg-le-Reine jail.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon was born in 1551 and was the younger son of Sir Nicholas and Lady Ann Bacon. He regarded English as parochial and preferred to write in Latin, yet he became famous for its mastery. He was educated at Trinity College at Cambridge, and was called to the bar in 1582. Two years later he was appointed to the Parliament. His father was Lord Keeper of the Seal that used to signify the highest judicial officer. He was knighted in 1603 and named Attorney General, Lord Keeper. Later in 1618 he was called Lord Chancellor. At the end he was named the first Baron of Verulam while soon later Viscount St Alban. Ultimately he faced the challenge of being accused of bribery. Fined and imprisoned, he pleaded guilty and was released after three days. After leaving jail he devoted himself entirely to scholarship.

Francis Bacon was the first who thought that political sciences should be guided by analysis. His spirit is the most enduring spirit of the Enlightenment era. He cautioned that we have to understand the nature that surrounds us as well as within us so that humanity can continually self-improve. Destiny can belong to humanity, but if it abandons the dream we would go back to barbarism. Bacon criticized classical learning based on medieval conventions, ancient texts, and lengthy logical detailing. He thought nature should be studied as well as the human condition. He was an astute observer of mental processes, thinking that the mind's ability to notice things sparks further actions. Hence mistakes will always be present and as such should remain uncorrected. In this way knowledge has no foundation as it also lacks construction. Sciences, arts, and all human knowledge should be hence rebuilt.

He considered induction as the best method of investigation, where a high number of facts can be gathered to detect patterns. We should strive for maximum objectivity achieved with a minimum of preconceptions. He viewed natural history as the basis of disciplines, where metaphysics is at the peak while it can shed the light on everything that is below.

He was a better thinker than he was a scientist or mathematician, and founded philosophy of science. Adhering to Renaissance principles he regarded all knowledge to be his province. He also became the first master of scientific method as part of the Enlightenment. Bacon advocated peace and turning against the nature of things.

Bacon died in 1626 on April 9 following one of his experiments, catching pneumonia after testing the effect of the snow on chicken flesh. His life was the contest between his two great ambitions, to the detriment of his foremost ambition that was science.

He was compared to Shakespeare in his literary mastery, apparent in The Advancement of Learning. Passionate about synthesis he became a prominent futurist. In his view, learning should be concentrated on the world where science is the future of civilization. Science was to be a knowledge tested through experiments not as a controlled manipulation but as part of modern science through information, agriculture, and industry. He believed in the unity of knowledge. He was named the Father of Induction, where he advised to collect most common traits as part of generality and proceed towards generality. He wanted to improve traditional description and classification methods of concept formulation, competing hypotheses, and theory that underly science.

His greatest achievements are, however, in psychology, where he advised the use of aphorisms, fables, and analogies to portray truth as reality needs to be delivered with vividness so that the play of emotions can stimulate a clear picture. He wanted to enhance reasoning in all learning. One should stay away from so called idols of the mind that represent various falacies and their acceptance by being only a spectator. Instead the world should be observed and reflected upon.

Rene Descartes

Rene Descartes believed in the system of knowledge that could be viewed through mathematics. He thought that the universe is both rational and united due to cause and effect. The same concept can be used in physics, medicine, biology, and moral reasoning. In this way, he greatly influenced the Enlightenment. In his view, systematic doubt is the way to learn. All knowledge should be analyzed through logic. He is also famous for his premise cogito ego sum—I think therefore I am. Science continues to recognize the Cartesian system of doubt, where assumptions are made and rejected until one logical axiom is devised that is used to conduct experiments. He believed in God, a perfect being who has the power to empower his mind with the idea of such a being. According to him, mind and matter were separate. He concentrated on matter that was to be pure mechanism. He argued that the world consists of physical parts that can be separated and analyzed as part of reductionism theory. The concepts of reductionism and analytic mathematical modeling became one of the most significant devices in modern science.

Descartes considered artificial human intelligence impossible. There would be always two criteria that would distinguish machine from a mind. Machine would not be able to modify phrases in response to make sense and behave according to reason.

Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton invented calculus although it was Gottfried Leibniz who devised the clearer calculus used today. He was inspired by possibilities and was resourceful, and inventive. He believed in experiments, recognized physical processes that could lead to the discovery of the laws of science, and discovered the origin of rainbows. He found that prisms are formed through the refraction of light and constructed the first reflecting telescope that was then improved by William Herschel. He formulated the three laws of motion in 1687, achieving the first significant breakthrough in the modern science. Newton proved that the planetary orbits are part of the first principles of mechanics. The laws he invented could be applied to all inanimate matter in the solar system. According to him, the universe is both orderly and comprehensible. The laws of gravity and motion proved to be significant as part of the Enlightenment.

William Durham

William Durham searched for the consequences of incest through ethnographic records of sixty random societies. He discovered that twenty were aware of these consequences. Among them were the Tlingit Amerindians, the Lapps of Scandinavia, the Tikopians from Polynesia, the Kapauku from New Guinea, and the Toradja of Sulawesi. He found that sixty societies used incest motifs in their myths but only five admitted to evil effects. A larger amount admitted to beneficial effects, such as resulting giants and heroes.

John Locke

John Locke advocated that those who fail to believe in God should not be tolerated. He himself was a believer and thought that atheists were incapable of being part of human society. He believed in God as only belief in god could inspire men to follow obligations.

Antonio Damasio

Antonio Damasio was a famous neurologist who described the role emotions play in our consciousness. He described the mind in a holistic way, depicting the existence of two emotions: primary, that is instinctive, where little conscious activity is needed; and secondary emotions, that are part of personalized experience, such as friendship or success at work. Damasio thought that nature allows secondary emotions to be expressed by the same channels as primary emotions.


Darwin wrote The Origin of the Species that depicted natural selection as part of the evolution of species. The diversity of life was self-assembling, created through random variation and survival of the fittest.

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, who called himself an atheist, viewed Darwinism with repugnance as reducing creation to matter and random circumstances. For him such perception was fatal, depriving life of beauty, sentiment, intelligence and assigning such ideals to matter.


Freud proposed a hypothesis that mysticism and science connect in dreams. As our dreams disguise our unconscious wishes we release our most primitive fears and desires that can then be transferred to our conscious mind. They can only be played as characters or symbols so that our sleep is not disrupted and it is difficult for an ordinary person to know their meaning upon awakening. He focused on the hidden irrational processes in our brain that inspired psychology in the future. His error was, however, in lack of testing of his theories. He also failed to correctly guess the nature of the roles and transference that is based on the reorganization of information rather than hidden memories and emotions.

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