Happy Birthday, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze!

Study of an African’s Head, 1830 by Paul-Jean Flandron, Seattle Art Museum. I could not find a portrait of Dr. Eze that I could share, so I chose this powerful portrait instead. I used it to illustrate a piece shared here some weeks ago at O.P. by Dag Herbjørnsrud, which describes the ideas of the 17th-century Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob. Eze also studied Yacob’s ideas.

Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, born in Nigeria on January 18th, 1963, made a deep study of systems of thought in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Born of Catholic parents, he was educated in Jesuit colleges and universities. He read deeply and pushed at the limits of philosophy and human thought, mining it widely, regardless of origin, for the riches he could find there. He focused a great deal of his work on postcolonial thought in Africa and the Americas, and rejected attempts to relegate tools of thought to people of one culture or another. Instead, he emphasized the importance of difference and complexity in the practice of reason.

Learn more about Dr. Eze’s broad and rigorous approach to thought:

About Dr. Eze and his book On Reason: Rationality in a World of Cultural Conflict and Racism ~ Duke University Press

African Philosophy at the Turn of the Millennium ~  Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze in dialogue with Rick Lewis

Book review: Achieving our Humanity: The Ideal of the Postracial Future by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze ~ by Cleavis Headley and Kibujjo M. Kalumba

The Color of Reason: The Idea of “Race” in Kant’s Anthropology ~ by Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze

A Defence of Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze’s Conception of Reason ~ by Mohammed Xolile Ntshangase

Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze ~ in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia 

Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, 1963-2007: A Personal Reflection ~ by Bruce B. Janz

Philosophia Africana ~ archive of the journal Dr. Eze edited and often published in at the Philosophy Documentation Center

Reading Reason with Emmanuel Eze ~ by John Pittman

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Photobook: Jameson Jenkins and the ‘Slave Stampede’ Rescue

Jameson Jenkins’ lot in the Lincoln Home National Historic Site National Park in Springfield, Illinois, on 8th street next to the Henson Robinson House. On January 17th, 1850, Jenkins helped a group of 11 slaves escape northward, planting false rumors so that local papers would confuse the story and thus help the refugees evade capture. Jenkins was a drayman, and according to SangamonLink: History of the County of Sangamon, Illinois, ‘On Feb. 11, 1861, Jameson Jenkins drove [his near-neighbor] President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his last Springfield carriage ride, from the Chenery House at Fourth and Washington Streets to the Great Western Railroad depot — now the Lincoln Depot — as Lincoln began his trip to Washington, D.C.’.

The historical placard at Jameson Jenkins’ lot. The photograph is at an angle because the glare was so bright on the direct shots that most of the text and images were obscured

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin!

Benjamin Franklin, earliest known portrait by Robert Feke, 1738-1746, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

My philosophy and history of ideas travels and research have now led me to many, many sites associated with the life, ideas, friends, and colleagues of Benjamin Franklin in two continents and the United Kingdom, and I have more on my list to visit still. Just the other day, I visited Benjamin Franklin’s house in London (see below). And I’ve discovered more links between this man and other great thinkers and ideas that will be the topics of future stories, stay tuned!

This long-lived, very sociable polymath was born January 17th, 1706 and died April 17, 1790. He was a printer, writer, publisher, inventor, scientist, diplomat, and American founding father, mentor to many, friend to countless more, and mediator extraordinaire between rivals, colleagues, friends, and nations. Always on a quest to further expand and expound human knowledge, Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society, which persists to this day.

Learn more about this extraordinary man:

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin ~ by Benjamin Franklin, 1791

Benjamin Franklin: American Author, Scientist, and Statesman ~ by Theodore Hornberger and Gordon S. Wood for Encyclopædia Britannica

Benjamin Franklin: An Extraordinary Life, an Electric Mind ~ PBS

Benjamin Franklin FAQ ~ The Franklin Institute Website

Benjamin Franklin Joins the Revolution ~ by Walter Isaacson for Smithsonian.com, July 2003

What Led Benjamin Franklin to Live Estranged From His Wife for Nearly Two Decades? ~ by Stephen Coss for Smithsonian.com, September 2017

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Benjamin Franklin House in London, evening visit, left, interpretive tour, right, exterior

New Podcast Episode: Springfield, Illinois, In Search of Abraham Lincoln, Part 2

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois. The Museum is to the left, the Library is to the right

Listen to this podcast episode here or on Google Play, or subscribe on iTunes

Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, July 29th, 2017, continued

After my visit to the Lincoln Tomb at the Oak Ridge Cemetery and a quick stop to drop off my luggage at the room where I’ll be staying, I continue my Springfield journey downtown at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, at 112 N. Sixth St. It’s a large complex, the two public buildings each stretching the length of one city block along N. Sixth St. It has a very late-1990’s – early 2000’s style, neither particularly handsome nor offensive in my view, just… generic. I associate it with municipal buildings such as city halls, branch libraries, and large post offices, perhaps because so many were built in this general style in my native California throughout my teens and early adulthood.

I start with the Museum at the northeast corner of N. Sixth and E. Jefferson… Read the written version here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Sculpture of Martin Luther King, Jr by Lei Yixin on the Mall in Washington D.C.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., born January 15, 1929, is among the world’s most influential and memorable civil rights leaders. The young, respected theologian and pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association in late 1955, which ran the bus boycott following Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of a segregated bus earlier that year. King proved to be a charismatic and eloquent leader and soon moved to the forefront of the larger movement to end legal and social discrimination and segregation in the American South. His philosophy of nonviolent direct action, heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, resonated widely and still does. It’s consistent with key religious sentiments and principles found in King’s and the majority of Americans’ Christianity, as well as other philosophical and religious systems which emphasize both justice and mercy. The nonviolent tactics that King endorsed also kept the movement on such a moral high ground that it stymied would-be white critics who found it necessary to resort to smear campaigns and ad-hominem attacks, including and especially J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI administration. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and his ‘Letter From a Birmingham Jail’ are two of the most moving and most influential creations of the American modern Civil Rights Movement, or indeed of any civil rights movement.

King was cut down by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968, outside of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was engaged in worker’s rights activism, another major cause to which he dedicated his life.

Learn more about the complex, flawed, and great Dr. King at:

About Dr. King ~ at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change

Envisioning Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Twenty-First Century ~ by Dr. Elwood Watson for Black Perspectives, blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)

I Have A Dream ~ speech by Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. (1929-1968) ~ by Clayborne Carson for BlackPast.org

Martin Luther King ~ by the BBC

Martin Luther King, Jr. ~ by David L. Lewis and Clayborne Carson for Encyclopædia Britannica

Martin Luther King and Union Rights ~ by Michael Honey for Clarion, newspaper of PSC/Cuny

Martin Luther King, Jr: An Extraordinary Life ~ a project by The Seattle Times

Martin Luther King Jr.: Leader of Millions in Nonviolent Drive for Racial Justice ~ obituary by Murray Schumach for The New York Times

A Reading of the Letter from Birmingham Jail ~ by Martin Luther King, Jr, read and recorded by The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and project participants

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Some of the Mysteries of Good Character, by Christian B. Miller

The topic of character is one of the oldest in both Western and Eastern thought, and has enjoyed a renaissance in philosophy since at least the 1970s with the revival of virtue ethics. Yet, even today, character remains largely a mystery. We know very little about what most peoples’ character looks like. Important virtues are surprisingly neglected. There are almost no strategies advanced by philosophers today for improving character. We have a long way to go.

We do know, though, that matters of character are vitally important. Consider the news these days, dominated by people like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. Or consider the behavior of our heroes, like Lincoln and King, or our villains, like Hitler and Stalin. Or consider the latest scandals in the entertainment world, professional sports, or politics. So much of what has happened can be traced back to the character of the people involved. And to take it one step further, thanks to the latest psychological research, character traits have been linked to all kinds of things that we care about in life: optimism, academic achievement, mood, health, meaning, life satisfaction…the list goes on and on.

To say that philosophers—who have been studying character extensively for thousands of years—are mostly in the dark about the topic, surely sounds like I am exaggerating, right? Maybe that’s true, but let me offer two concrete illustrations.

1. Neglected Virtues. The moral virtues are good character traits like justice, temperance, and fortitude. Here are two questions (among many others) you can ask about these virtues. First, conceptually, what do they involve? How, for instance, would you characterize a temperate person? Or a heroic one? Secondly, on empirical grounds, do people actually have the virtues (and if so, how many people and which virtues)? For instance, are there actually any temperate people today?

To help with the empirical question, there has been a recent flurry of interest among philosophers in consulting studies in psychology, and thinking about whether the behavior displayed in those studies is virtuous or not. For a virtue like compassion, real progress has been made in reading the relevant studies carefully, with the conclusion being that most people are not in fact compassionate. Unfortunately, philosophers don’t have much of an idea about what is going on empirically with most of the other virtues (and I’m not sure anyone else does either, for that matter). Part of the reason why is that for some moral virtues there just isn’t the wealth of existing studies to analyze, in the way that there is for compassion. Stealing is a good example—as you might imagine, it is hard to do helpful experimental studies of theft.

But part of the reason is also that some virtues have simply not been on our philosophical radar screens. The attention of philosophers has been elsewhere.

Take the virtue of honesty, for instance. If any virtue is on most people’s top five list, it is that one. Yet it has had no traction at all in the philosophy literature. In fact, there has not been a single paper in a mainstream philosophy journal on the moral virtue of honesty in over fifty years.

Or take the virtue of generosity—just three papers in the past forty years (by way of comparison, there are over two dozen papers on the virtue of modesty—who would have expected that to happen!).

So the upshot is that compassion is likely to be a rare virtue. But at this point it is not at all clear how we are doing with the rest of them. Indeed, in some cases we are not even clear what the virtues look like in the first place.

2. Virtue Development. The natural suspicion, of course, is that across the board we are not doing very well when it comes to being people of good moral character. History, current events, the local news, and social media all seem to confirm this. Hence it seems apparent that there is a sizable character gap:

There are moral exemplars, people like Abraham Lincoln and Sojourner Truth, whose character is morally virtuous in many respects.

Examining their lives ends up reflecting badly on most of us, myself included, since it illustrates in vivid terms just how much of a character gap there really is.

To try to at least reduce this gap, it would be helpful to have some strategies which can, if followed properly, help us to make slow and gradual progress in the right direction. Naturally philosophers needn’t be the only ones who can come up with these strategies, but it would be nice if we had something to say that is practically relevant, empirically informed, and actually efficacious if carried out properly.

By and large, we haven’t had much to say. But there are signs that this is beginning to change, thanks to the work of Nancy Snow, Julia Annas, Jonathan Webber, and a few others. In fact, the development of character improvement strategies strikes me as one of the most promising areas of philosophy in the coming decade. Many good and innovative dissertations are there for interested graduate students to tackle.

My hope is that this groundswell of interest in how to cultivate the virtues will continue to expand in the coming years. These are indeed early days in the philosophical study of character. And exciting days too, full of so many worthwhile possibilities to explore.

This article was originally published at OUPBlog.

Christian B. Miller is the A. C. Reid Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University and author or editor of eight books including The Character Gap: How Good Are We? (Bio credit: OUPBlog)

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

*All views and opinions expressed by guest writers are their own and do not necessarily express those of Ordinary Philosophy’s editors and publishers

Photobook: Flight of the Cheyennes, January 9th, 1879

The Flight of the Cheyennes historical marker at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. About 350 human beings risked being shot or frozen to death in the harsh winter weather by escaping from U.S. Army custody that past September. They had been forcibly relocated with about 700 other Cheyenne away from their homeland to an unfamiliar, inhospitable reservation where they sickened and died from disease and hunger. Some of them, out of hunger, desperation, and revenge, raided nearby settlers and killed around 40 of them. 350 of them decided to take their future into their own hands and break out for home. The desire for freedom is ever strong in the human mind and heart.

Cavalry barracks at Fort Robinson (reconstruction), where 147 of the 350 escaped Cheyenne were rounded up and imprisoned in January of 1879. They were denied warmth and sufficient food in an attempt to break their spirits and get them to acquiesce in a march back to their dismal reservation. Instead, they escaped on the morning of January 9th, 1879 and fled along the White River to the buttes beyond.

Interior of the old cavalry barracks (reconstruction) at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, where the 147 Cheyenne people were imprisoned

Photo of Little Wolf and Dull Knife, who were among those who led the Cheyenne trek north and then the ensuing battles, from the Fort’s museum display

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!