Phil It Up

Year after freshman year, truth-seeking Trojans take “Intro to Philosophy” in the hopes that they’ll emerge armed with a universal definition of virtue, enlightened as to the problem of God’s existence and possessed of irrefutable evidence that life isn’t a dream. Usually they come away no less fallible but rather better-read. Were you one of those freshmen? If so, we challenge you to identify these major Western sages from a quote and a clue.

1. “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
This philosopher produced a comprehensive system in the theory of knowledge, ethics and aesthetics that profoundly influenced all subsequent thought. He synthesized Leibniz’s rationalism and Hume’s skepticism in his “critical philosophy.”

2. “All human actions are equivalent ... [and] all are on principle doomed to failure.”
A self-described atheist Existentialist, this philosopher, novelist and dramatist (who once declined the Nobel Prize) believed that man is condemned to be free and to bear the burden of making free choices.

3. “The good is that at which all things aim.”
Arguably the greatest philosopher of all time, this tireless student of natural phenomena examined the whole of human knowledge – from æsthetics to zoology. In ethics, he stressed that virtue is a mean between extremes and that man’s highest goal is the use of his intellect. He invented the study of formal logic.

4. “Without a common power to keep them all in awe, [men] are in that condition which is called war ... and the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
This political thinker spelled out the concept of a “social contract,” under which individuals agree to give up many personal liberties and accept the rule of an absolute monarch.

5. “The first precept was never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single doubt.”
Deemed the father of modern philosophy, he rejected medieval appeals to authority and extended the scientific method to all knowledge. In the search for certainty, he questioned even his own existence.

6. “The sole end for which mankind are warranted ... in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection.”
This noted logician, ethicist, economist and social reformer spelled out a non-theological system of ethics under utilitarianism, argued for the sanctity of individual rights and described the basic rules for all scientific reasoning.
7. “Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is... If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.”
This philosopher was equally influential as a mathematician and physicist. He laid the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities, explained the mechanics of pressure and built the first digital calculator.

8. “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Eternal ideas (or forms) lie at the root of this thinker’s system. His political theory advocated a state ruled by highly educated “philosopher kings.” His writings, in the form of dialogues, also explored the nature of knowledge, moral virtues, metaphysics and the immortality of the soul.

9. “Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas: How comes it to be furnished? ... To this I answer, in one word, from ‘experience.’”
This empiricist believed all ideas come from sensation or reflection; none are innate. In his political essays – which strongly influenced the American Revolution – he argued that government is a trust that can be revoked if a ruler fails to secure the public good.




Contest Rules

1. We are looking for the name of each philosopher described in the nine clues.
2. Send your answers by no later than December 15 to:

The Last Word c/o USC Trojan Family Magazine University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-2538

Submissions by fax (213-821-1100) and e-mail are also welcome. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

3. We will award up to five $30 gift certificates from Borders Books and Music to those degenerates who correctly identify each pernicious classic. If more than five correct entries are received, winners will be drawn by lot.

Visit your neighborhood Borders Books and Music store for over 200,000 book, music and video titles in stock, plus special orders on most merchandise. Serving you throughout Southern California and across the nation.

Last Word Solutions - Autumn 1999

Illustration by MATTHEW MARTIN

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