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Historically, Many Philosophers Were Not Good People

Jun 4, 2021Updated 9 days ago
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It turns out, if you’re great at something, you can get away with an awful lot.
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It is not common knowledge that Descartes tortured dogs. He practiced vivisection at least, though it amounts to the same thing, really.
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He isn’t the only big beast of Western philosophy to hold questionable moral credentials; David Hume and Immanuel Kant also have a dark history. The enlightenment geniuses who altered the course of philosophy forever were pretty darn racist.
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John Stuart Mill, the bastion of enlightened, liberal 19th-century thinking, spent his working life as an administrator of the East India Company. This is a company that traded in slaves, pursued ruthless policies to establish trade monopolies that destroyed local economies, and even employed its own private army and navy to forcefully annex and govern foreign territories.
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Jeremy Bentham, Mill’s philosophical mentor, had a reductionist approach to morality that sought to break down the complexities of human life to a singular ethical equation. Some argue the "hedonic calculus" gave rise to the horrors of the Victorian workhouses.
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Even John Locke, who perhaps more than anyone else championed individual liberty, has been associated with slavery through his alleged authorship of the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina and ownership of shares in the Royal African Company. It’s as if Greta Thunberg were found to have invested in Exxon or BP.
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