List of Geniuses - Philosophy

Philosophy

Various philosophers have proposed definitions of what genius is and what that implies in the context of their philosophical theories.

In the philosophy of David Hume, the way society perceives genius is similar to the way society perceives the ignorant. Hume states that a person with the characteristics of a genius is looked at as a person disconnected from society, as well as a person who works remotely, at a distance, away from the rest of the world. "On the other hand, the mere ignorant is still more despised; nor is any thing deemed a surer sign of an illiberal genius in an age and nation where the sciences flourish, than to be entirely destitute of all relish for those noble entertainments. The most perfect character is supposed to lie between those extremes; retaining an equal ability and taste for books, company, and business; preserving in conversation that discernment and delicacy which arise from polite letters; and in business, that probity and accuracy which are the natural result of a just philosophy."

In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, genius is the ability to independently arrive at and understand concepts that would normally have to be taught by another person. For Kant, originality was the essential character of genius. This genius is a talent for producing ideas which can be described as non-imitative. Kant's discussion of the characteristics of genius is largely contained within the Critique of Judgement and was well received by the Romantics of the early 19th century. In addition, much of Schopenhauer's theory of genius, particularly regarding talent and the "disinterestedness" (i.e. "free play") of aesthetic contemplation, is directly derived from paragraphs of Part I of Kant's Critique of Judgment.

Genius is a talent for producing something for which no determinate rule can be given, not a predisposition consisting of a skill for something that can be learned by following some rule or other.

In the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, a genius is someone in whom intellect predominates over "will" much more than within the average person. In Schopenhauer's aesthetics, this predominance of the intellect over the will allows the genius to create artistic or academic works that are objects of pure, disinterested contemplation, the chief criterion of the aesthetic experience for Schopenhauer. Their remoteness from mundane concerns means that Schopenhauer's geniuses often display maladaptive traits in more mundane concerns; in Schopenhauer's words, they fall into the mire while gazing at the stars, an allusion to Plato's dialogue Theætetus, in which Socrates tells of Thales (the first philosopher) being ridiculed for falling in such circumstances.

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.

In the philosophy of Kierkegaard, genius is contrasted with an apostle; although both types of men are similar, the apostle speaks with authority, whereas the genius does not. In his work, The Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, published in 1849 as one part of the Two Minor Ethical-Religious Essays, Kierkegaard writes: "A genius and an apostle are qualitatively different. All thought breathes in immanence, whereas faith and the paradox are a qualitative sphere unto themselves. Genius is immediateness. Genius is born. An apostle is not born: an apostle is a man called and appointed by God, receiving a mission from him. Authority is the decisive quality."

In the philosophy of Nietzsche, genius is merely the context which leads us to consider someone a genius. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes, "Great men, like great epochs, are explosive material in whom tremendous energy has been accumulated; their prerequisite has always been, historically and physiologically, that a protracted assembling, accumulating, economizing and preserving has preceded them – that there has been no explosion for a long time." In this way, Nietzsche follows in the line of German Idealism.

In the philosophy of Bertrand Russell, genius entails that an individual possesses unique qualities and talents that make the genius especially valuable to the society in which he or she operates. However, Russell's philosophy further maintains that it's possible for such a genius to be crushed by an unsympathetic environment during his or her youth. Russell rejected the notion he believed was popular during his lifetime that, "genius will out."

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