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Adam Smith (1723-1790) was born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. In 1751 he became Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, where he published a Theory of Moral Sentiments. His theory emphasized the importance of sympathy—fellow feeling with the emotions experienced by another person: In 1776 he published his major work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Its theory of an invisible hand guiding a free market and its depth of detail have made it a classic. Underlying the facts and theorizing are a strong moral attitude and a sympathy for people.
Thomas Paine (1737-1809 CE) was born in Thetford, Norfolk, England. He emigrated to America and in January, 1776, published Common Sense, which precipitated an open movement for independence from England. Paine published The Rights of Man in England in1791, an acid criticism of hereditary rule and the English government, and an unprecedented call for alleviation of poverty. Elected as a deputy to the French National Convention, Paine participated with Condorcet in writing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was born at Shadwell, Virginia. He became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769, and entered the Continental Congress in 1775. His Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1774, put him at the forefront of the American Revolution, and led to his drafting the American Declaration of Independence. He became Governor of Virginia in 1779 and President of the United States in 1800. Jefferson, was the most widely recognized apostle of democracy in America: his regard for the common sense and freedom of the individual was unmatched. In Lincoln’s words "The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of a free society."
Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) was born at Ribemont, Picardy, France. He published books on the integral calculus and on the calculus of probability. His campaigned for women's right to vote and for the abolition of slavery. He welcomed the French Revolution, writing pamphlets supporting democracy and proposing a new constitution, becoming a secretary of the legislative assembly. He drew up a plan for a comprehensive system of state education. Following his condemnation as an enemy of the Republic, Condorcet wrote A Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind. In this he advocated steps that would lead to equality in freedom and rights among nations and among social classes, and to the improvement of individuals, intellectually, morally, and physically.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) sought to develop rational and humanistic reform of existing law. He called his philosophical basis for legislative reform "utilitarianism", which he founded on the requirement that legislation and legal decisions should be based on a scrutiny of their effects on the happiness of the greatest number of people involved. In large part, Bentham was attacking the belief in intuitive knowledge of absolute principles, which he called the principle of sympathy and antipathy. In his acquaintance with the courts he recognized that this principle encouraged judgments based on feelings arising from ignorance and prejudice. Much in the social and legal reforms in Nineteenth Century England can be traced to the ideas of Bentham.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was born in Frankfort-on-Main, Germany. His prolific output of plays, poetry and novels started before he attended the University of Leipzig in1675. Many love affairs produced much lyric poetry. In Strassburg, Goethe initiated the Sturm and Drang movement with Herder and Möser, implementing it in the play Gotz von Berlichingen and the novel Werthers Leiden. He served many years in the government of the Grand Duke of Weimar, which became his home and saw the initiation of his scientific studies. He subsequently adopted a classical style that was used in Egmont and in Faust, his most famous play, where Goethe’s humanism triumphs.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) also known by her married name of Godwin Wollstonecraft, was born in Hoxton, England. She and her three sisters had little opportunity for education or for work to support themselves when they became of age. Reading widely, Wollstonecraft became largely self-educated. After experience as a teacher and a governess, she earned her living as a writer, publishing a novel, Mary, A Fiction, in 1788. In 1790 she published Vindication of the Rights of Men, a robust answer to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. In 1792 Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published. In this she argued for equality of women and men in opportunities for education, work, and government.
Auguste Comte (1798-1857) was born at Montpellier, France. He studied at the Ecole Polytechnique for two years. His private studies followed the idea that true philosophy must be social and scientific. His subsequent positive philosophy provided an integrated view of existing sciences and argued for development of social science (sociology). Comte later published ideas on how society might be reorganized in the light of his philosophy, and put forward a religion of humanity.