There are as many definitions of philosophy as there are researchers exploring the area. Some may define philosophy as an investigation of the ultimate issues of life (Reeves, 2011, p. 8), while others contend that it is a study that underlies choices (Richardson, 2005, p. 3). Undoubtedly, both groups of scholars are right, for there is not a single correct definition of philosophy. However, according to the generally accepted definition, “philosophy is a study that includes various diverse subfields such as aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics” (Duthel, p. 8). Philosophy as science is steeped in traditions. Since ancient times, philosophers have studied causes, reasons, and principles of things, using their observations as the primary evidence, in a bid to unravel the mysteries of existence and reality. Although many valuable treatises of prominent philosophers have been swallowed in the depths of edacious time, many others are still extant. For the purposes of the present paper, the views and ideas of Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, Muhammad Iqbal, Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, Margot Badran, Frantz Fanon, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan have been examined in roughly chronological order.
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Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
Mary Wollstonecraft was a stalwart feminist and a liberal philosopher in 18th century England. Her family spent much time conversing with the leading thinkers about the latest developments in Europe. Transcendental ideas were gradually receding into the background at the time, as the Age of Enlightenment continued to reign supreme over many spheres of public life. Since the Enlightenment was a byword for rationalism, this cultural movement sent the philosophers scurrying to justify the supremacy of the human mind and what Kant called “pure reason”. As the spirit of the human mind tried to insinuate itself into the 18th-century thinking, Wollstonecraft espoused the doctrine of a social order built on a reason. Wollstonecraft believed that pure reason rather than emotions, beauty, and nature constituted a guide to actions. Similarly, she maintained that men were not naturally superior to women, but appeared to be only because the latter lacked proper education.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Karl Marx was a scholar with iconoclastic for his time views. A number of authors, including Max Weber, ignored Marx’s ideology and accorded it the bar sinister. Nevertheless, the fact that Marx’s counterparts blithely ignored the ideas of the philosopher did not vitiate his scholarship. One of the numerous trouvailles to be gleaned from Marx’s treatises is his notion of inequality and the ensuing class struggle. Marx insisted that inequality attended the unequal distribution of resources and power (Harvey, 2005). He further opined that inequality was fueled by the stratification of society into classes on the basis of race and ethnicity (Marx, 2000). Apparently, both physical and cultural gulfs that existed between people at that time had a significant bearing on the overall level of inequality in society. Marx singled out two major classes, namely those who owned the means of production, i.e. industrialists and capitalists, and those who earned a living by selling their labor, i.e. the proletariat. The German scholar explicitly stated that the former category exploited the latter (Marx, 2000). He contended that the greatest inequality lied in the fact that workers produced more goods than were necessary for the employers to cover their labor costs (Marx, 2000). Marx did not expect industrialists to be paragons of virtue, but it astounded him to see the inequality spawned by the capitalist system. The German thinker vented his spleen on the capitalist society, arguing that it bred tolerance to private ownership (Marx, 2000). In his opinion, private ownership was the greatest bane of society, because it begot social inequality. Even though the majority of Marxist states have already abdicated socialist principles, Marx’s set of convictions continues to resonate even today. The working class in the developing states does not enjoy unfettered access to the fruits of its labor, lives in squalor, and continues to enrich capitalists.
Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876)
Mikhail Bakunin was an incorrigible romantic in the first place and a Russian revolutionary anarchist in the second. Bakunin was more of an adventurer than a scribe, better known for his peregrinations across Europe and primarily for his engagement in rebellions and insurrections in European countries. Of course, he grew up immersed in the works of Hegel, Fichte and other philosophers, but he had not written many treatises himself. He would go through phases where he could not write anything for months or even years and what he did write was just dross. An atheist to his core, Bakunin saw the link between atheism and anarchism as the very foundation of social philosophy (McLaughlin, 2002, p. 4). Bakunin inveighed against the use of the state to install socialist regimes and advocated that federations of self-governing communes should supplant the state.
Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938)
Muhammad Iqbal was a distinguished philosopher and political activist, who sallied forth into the field of philosophy during the fin-de-siecle era. Interestingly, Iqbal was among the doughtiest champions of Pakistan’s secession from the British Empire. People, who happened to make the acquaintance of Iqbal, described him as a sincere person with no need to disassemble and an eminent philosophical thinker (Munawwar, 2001). In the interbellum years, Iqbal tapped into the vast reservoir of popularity he built over the course of the previous decades to influence others. He was among the first Islamic philosophers to have made a discreet attempt at tackling the problems of occidental philosophy within an Islamic context. While haranguing followers thronging around him, Iqbal admonished that they should be on high alert to avoid atheism and materialism:
The biggest blunder made by Europe was the separation of Church and State. This deprived their culture of moral soul and diverted it to the atheistic materialism. I had 25 years ago seen through the drawbacks of this civilization and therefore had made some prophecies. After six or seven years, my prophecies came true, word by word. The European war of 1914 was an outcome of the aforesaid mistakes made by the European nations in the separation of the Church and the State (cited in Munawwar, 2010, p. 110).
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
Simone de Beauvoir was a luminary of existentialist philosophy in 18th century France. According to Schneir (1994), notwithstanding the fact that Beauvoir’s ideas had a significant bearing on the theory of feminist existentialism, she did not think of herself as a philosopher. Just like other existentialists, Beauvoir adhered to the postulate that existence precedes essence. Projecting these findings onto the feminist theory, Beauvoir argued that one was not born a woman, but became one (Schneir, 1994).
Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)
Frantz Fanon was an Afro-French philosopher, whose oeuvre inspired African revolutionaries as well as American and European new leftists. Fanon animadverted severely on both racism and colonialism, arguing that colonial nations should be rid of backwardness through collective action. Similarly, the philosopher averred that psychological oppression could be overcome only through what he called “collective catharsis” produced by violent revolution on the part of the peasantry (Mansbach & Taylor, 2013).
Martin Luther King (1929-1968)
Martin Luther King was not a philosopher in the traditional meaning of this word, but he certainly had a distinctive set of views and theories. He forged a unique model of nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. Luther King set forth six fundamental tenets of nonviolence. For instance, Luther King claimed that nonviolence was a way of life for intrepid people.
Malcolm X (1925-1965)
Born approximately in the same period as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X was an apologist for the rights and civil liberties of blacks. He was preoccupied with attempts to consign racial discrimination in America to history and, thus, had not time to write down his philosophical ideas on paper. In stark contrast to King, Malcolm X remonstrated against the use of non-violence to attain racial equality in American society. In other words, he was an incandescent supporter of the idea that blacks should be able to defend themselves against aggressors by fair means or foul.
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004)
Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is hailed by many people as one of the founding fathers of the United Arab Emirates. He strongly believed in the notion of an egalitarian society and clung to the idea that the country’s resources should be used to the benefit of all people, regardless of their sex. Is the vision of equality with an emphasis on education and employment opened up a cornucopia of possibilities both to males and females. Zayed’s vision of the system of government also occupied an important niche in his teachings. Zayed reasoned that systems imposed by the West were conjured up by a man and, thus, incomplete and transitory, as compared to that based on the Quran.
Margot Badran (born in 1936)
Margot Badran is one of the most celebrated scholars of Islamic feminism, “a combination of intellectual and activist work undertaken in diverse parts of the globe” (Badran, 2008). She advocated the transition from the inherited patriarchal Islam to an egalitarian Islam (Badran, 2008). Badran believed that gender equality was enshrined in the Quran and attempted to recuperate Islam’s principal idea of gender equality.