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Ascoli, Max (25 June 1898–01 January 1978), political philosopher, editor, and publisher, was born in Ferrara, Italy, the son of Enrico Ascoli, a coal merchant, and Adriana Finzi. Despite serious problems with his eyesight, which were to plague him much of his life, Ascoli earned his LL.D. at the University of Ferrara in 1920 and his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Rome in 1928. His first book, a study of the radical French thinker and writer Georges Sorel, appeared in 1921. An opponent of fascism from its beginnings, Ascoli wrote articles for ...

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Brownson, Orestes Augustus (16 September 1803–17 April 1876), educator and philosopher, was born in Stockbridge, Vermont, the son of Sylvester Augustus Brownson and Relief Metcalf, farmers. His father died when Brownson was two, and he was placed with a nearby family. The couple reared him in strict Calvinist Congregationalism. At fourteen he rejoined his mother and twin sister in Ballston Spa in upstate New York, where he studied briefly in an academy before going to work in a printer’s office. He had no more formal education. In 1827 he married Sally Healy of Elbridge, New York; they had eight children....

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Carus, Paul (18 July 1852–11 February 1919), editor, author, and philosopher, was born in Ilsenburg, Germany, the son of Dr. Gustav Carus, the first superintendent-general of the Church of Eastern and Western Prussia, and Laura Krueger. As the son of a well-known theologian and state church official, Carus was afforded an appropriate Gymnasium education, which focused on mathematics and the classics. He studied at the Universities of Greifswald, Strasbourg, and Tübingen, eventually earning his Ph.D. degree from Tübingen in 1876. His first professional position was as an educator at the military academy in Dresden, an appointment he soon resigned because of conflicts over his liberal religious views. He then lived briefly in England (1881–1884) before traveling to the United States and settling in LaSalle, Illinois, where he lived for the remainder of his life....

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Croly, David Goodman (03 November 1829–29 April 1889), journalist and social thinker, was born in County Cork, Ireland, the son of Patrick Croly and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown), Irish Protestants; the family moved to New York City when David was an infant. Although a poor man, Croly’s father collected books and read widely in history, theology, and letters. As a youth David served an apprenticeship to a silversmith but found his real pleasure in reading, thinking, writing, and debating. He attended New York University (then called the University of the City of New York) for a year, receiving a “special diploma” in 1854. In 1855 he became a reporter for the ...

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Croly, Herbert David (23 January 1869–17 May 1930), political philosopher and editor, was born in New York City, the son of David Goodman Croly and Jane Cunningham (Jane C. Croly), two famous journalists. His mother was a widely read writer on women’s topics. His father was an experienced newspaperman, a writer of unorthodox views, and a follower of the French thinker Auguste Comte. From early childhood Herbert received instruction from his father, who was surely the chief influence in his life. No doubt growing up in a home of such intense intellectual activity predisposed Croly to a life of reading, thinking, and writing....

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Eiseley, Loren Corey (03 September 1907–09 July 1977), anthropologist, writer, and philosopher of science, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the only son of Clyde Edwin Eiseley, an amateur actor turned hardware salesman, and Daisey Corey, a self-educated artist. The family’s financial instability and his mother’s handicap (she was deaf and, as he later wrote, “always on the brink of mental collapse”) made his formative years in Nebraska a time of profound isolation. For solace, he turned to the Nebraska prairie and its fauna. He enrolled in the University of Nebraska in 1925, but physical and psychological crises kept him from graduating until eight years later. Near the end of his life, he recalled dropping out of college at least three times—to work in a poultry hatchery, to recuperate from tuberculosis in Colorado and the Mojave Desert (1928–1929), and to drift, riding the rails in the West (1930–1931). His father’s death in 1928 brought Eiseley to the brink of mental collapse. During this period, however, he worked on his first archaeological dig, published his first poetry, and cultivated a deep affinity for animals and landscape. In the same year he finished college (1933) Eiseley went to the University of Pennsylvania for graduate work in anthropology. He earned his Ph.D. in 1937, completing a dissertation titled “Three Indices of Quaternary Time and Their Bearing upon Pre-History: A Critique.” With this work an intensely private man began an unexpected career as a prominent public intellectual and literary naturalist....

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Ralph Waldo Emerson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-98114).

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Emerson, Ralph Waldo (25 May 1803–27 April 1882), lecturer and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Emerson, a Congregational minister, and Ruth Haskins. Ralph was one of eight children. His father was a liberal, Concord-born minister of the First Church in Boston and active in the city’s intellectual and social life, being an editor of the ...

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Hildreth, Richard (28 June 1807–11 July 1865), journalist, antislavery activist, philosopher, and historian, was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts, the son of Hosea Hildreth, a Congregational (later Unitarian) minister and educator, and Sarah McLeod Hildreth. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where his father was professor of mathematics and natural philosophy. After graduating from Harvard in 1826, he spent a year teaching school in Concord, Massachusetts. This experience inspired his earliest historical writing, ...

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Hoffer, Eric (25 July 1902–20 May 1983), social philosopher and longshoreman, was born in the Bronx, New York, the only child of Alsatian immigrants whose names are unknown. He spoke German before he spoke English, and his English was heavily accented. Blinded by a fall when he was nine years old, his eyesight was inexplicably restored when he was fifteen. He never attended school....

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Lamont, Corliss (28 March 1902–26 April 1995), writer and philosopher, was born in Englewood, New Jersey, the son of Thomas Lamont, chairman of the Morgan Bank on Wall Street, and Florence Corliss Lamont. Young Lamont enjoyed a privileged upbringing. After attending local schools, he enrolled in Phillips Exeter Academy in Massachusetts and then Harvard, where he earned a BA in 1924, graduating with high honors and membership in Phi Beta Kappa. After a year of study at Oxford University, he enrolled at Columbia as a doctoral student in philosophy. As a graduate student he taught classes in philosophy at Columbia beginning in 1928. That year he married Margaret H. Irish, a writer. They had four children before they divorced in the early 1960s....

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Lin Yutang Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1939. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 1218 P&P).

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Lin Yutang (10 October 1895–26 March 1976), novelist, linguist, and philosopher, was born Lin Ho-lok in Amoy, Fukien Province, China, the son of Lin Chi-shing, a Presbyterian minister, and Young Shun-min. At age seventeen, he changed his given name, meaning peaceful and happy, to Yutang, meaning elegant language, and came to be known as Lin Yutang. Lin attended English-language schools and graduated from St. John’s University, a private western-oriented institution in Shanghai, in 1916. In the same year he became a teacher at Tsing Hua College in Peking. In January 1919 he married Liu Tsui-fung, a wealthy classmate of his sister; eventually the union produced three children. In the fall of 1919 he embarked with his wife to study comparative literature at Harvard....

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Locke, Alain Leroy (13 September 1885–09 June 1954), philosopher and literary critic, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Pliny Ishmael Locke, a lawyer, and Mary Hawkins, a teacher and member of the Felix Adler Ethical Society. Locke graduated from Central High School and the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy in Philadelphia in 1904. That same year he published his first editorial, “Moral Training in Elementary Schools,” in ...

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Alain Leroy Locke. Oil on canvas, 1943-1944, by Betsy Graves Reyneau. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Harmon Foundation.

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More, Paul Elmer (12 December 1864–09 March 1937), essayist and philosopher, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Enoch Anson More, a brigadier general during the Civil War and a businessman, and Katharine Hay Elmer. Perhaps rebelling against his father’s rigid Presbyterianism, More studied German Romanticism and Oriental and classical languages and literatures, first at Washington University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1887 and an M.A. in 1892, and then at Harvard University, where he received a second M.A. in 1893. He tried university teaching at Bryn Mawr between 1895 and 1897, but the experience was not a happy one for either him or his students. More “retired” from academia at the ripe age of thirty-three, and, in a gesture reminiscent of ...

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Pitkin, Walter Boughton (06 February 1878–25 January 1953), philosopher and pundit, was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the son of Caleb Seymour Pitkin, a printer, and Lucy Tryphene Boughton Pitkin. In 1880 the family moved to Detroit, where Caleb Pitkin worked as a printer for the Detroit ...

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Royce, Josiah (20 November 1855–14 September 1916), philosopher and man of letters, was born in Grass Valley, California, the son of Josiah Royce, Sr., a farmer and salesman, and Sarah Eleanor Bayliss ( Sarah Eleanor Bayliss Royce), a schoolteacher. His English-born parents came to the United States in early childhood. They were married in Rochester, New York, in 1845 and joined the Gold Rush to California in 1849. After much wandering and repeated financial misadventures, the family moved to San Francisco in 1866, where the father became a fruit vendor. Noted for his evangelical piety and considered “a little cracked in the head,” the elder Royce often delivered impromptu sermons on street corners. Royce’s mother, although also “intensely ...

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Santayana, George (16 December 1863–26 September 1952), philosopher and writer, was born in Madrid, Spain, the son of Agustín Ruiz de Santayana, a Spanish diplomat, and Josefina Sturgis (formerly Josefina Borrás y Carbonell), the daughter of a Spanish diplomat. His mother had previously married a Boston merchant, George Sturgis, who died in 1857. Santayana was christened Jorge Agustín Nicolás, but his half sister Susana insisted that his name not be the Spanish Jorge, but George, after her father. A permanent resident of Spain only during 1863–1872, he retained his Spanish citizenship throughout his life and frequently returned to visit family and to write....

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George Santayana. Oil on canvas, 1950, by Harry Wood, Jr.. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.