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Adler, Mortimer J. (28 December 1902–28 June 2001), philosopher, was born Mortimer Jerome Adler in New York City, the son of Ignatz Adler, a jewelry salesman, and Clarissa Manheim Adler, a former schoolteacher. The family household was modest, and as a child Mortimer Adler developed a love of reading. Though an excellent student, he was bored in the classroom, and in 1918, at age fifteen, he left DeWitt Clinton High School, determined to educate himself through books of his own choosing. He was soon hired as secretary to ...

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Arendt, Hannah (14 October 1906–04 December 1975), political theorist and philosopher, was born in Hanover, Germany, the daughter of Paul Arendt, an engineer, and Martha Cohn. She was raised in her parents’ hometown, Königsberg, East Prussia, where the family moved when Paul Arendt became seriously ill with syphilis. He died in 1913. The years during World War I were especially difficult for the family; their safety was often threatened by the nearby battles of the Prussian and Russian armies. After the war, Arendt’s mother became a German Social Democrat and a follower of Rosa Luxemburg, whose writings later had a great influence on Arendt’s thought. In 1920 her mother married Martin Beerwald, who provided the family a renewed measure of security and Arendt with two older stepsisters....

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Dewey, John (20 October 1859–01 June 1952), philosopher and educator, was born in Burlington, Vermont, the son of Archibald Sprague Dewey, a shopkeeper, and Lucina Artemisia Rich. Dewey’s childhood and adolescence were influenced by his mother’s strict Calvinism, his father’s taste for British literature, and his contact with family friends on the faculty at the University of Vermont. His enrollment at the university in 1875 exposed him to Darwinian evolutionary theory and the speculative and social philosophy taught by Henry A. P. Torrey. Outside the classroom Dewey became an avid reader of progressive periodicals whose contributors espoused versions of evolution, positivism, and agnosticism. Undecided about a profession after his graduation in 1879, he taught high school on an interim basis and with the help of a relative secured a position in Oil City, Pennsylvania. In 1881 he left Oil City to teach in a small school near Burlington so that he could continue to study philosophy with Torrey....

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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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Guthrie, Joseph Hunter (08 January 1901–11 November 1974), Roman Catholic clergyman and philosopher, was born in New York City, the son of Jacob Francis Guthrie and Mary Ross. He excelled at Fordham Preparatory School and continued his classical studies after entering the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York, on 30 July 1917. At Weston College (Mass), he pursued science and philosophy, and he earned his A.B. (1923) and M.A. (1924) in philosophy from Woodstock College in Maryland. He taught and coached drama at Vigan Seminary and then at the Ateneo de Manila in the Philippines. His ...

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Hibben, John Grier (19 April 1861–16 May 1933), philosopher, educator, and president of Princeton University, was born in Peoria, Illinois, the son of the Reverend Samuel Hibben and Elizabeth Grier. Born in the first year of the Civil War, Hibben was a year old when his father, a volunteer chaplain, died in a Union army camp. Brought up alone by a mother who worked hard to educate her only child, he graduated in 1882 from Princeton University as both valedictorian and class president. He studied at the University of Berlin for a year and then at the Princeton Theological Seminary; he was ordained in 1887. In that same year, he married Jenny Davidson of Elizabeth, New Jersey; they had one daughter. They moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where he served the congregation of Falling Spring Presbyterian Church as minister....

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James, William (11 January 1842–26 August 1910), philosopher and psychologist, was born in New York City, the son of Henry James (1811–1882), a philosopher and religious writer, and Mary Robertson Walsh. His grandfather, William James of Albany, a penniless immigrant from Ireland, became one of the richest men in New York State by exploiting a new method of extracting salt and speculating in land along the Erie Canal. His son Henry James used his inheritance to lead a life of the mind, devoting himself to metaphysics in the grand style and publishing a number of books and essays on the relations between God and man, influenced by the Swedish seer, Emanuel Swedenborg. Henry James suffered extensive financial losses, and his five children, although heirs to some commercial property in Syracuse, New York, had to concern themselves with making a living. Besides William, there were the novelist ...

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Jefferson, Thomas (13 April 1743–04 July 1826), philosopher, author of the Declaration of Independence, and president of the United States, was born at Shadwell, in what became Albemarle County, Virginia, the son of Peter Jefferson, a pioneer farmer and surveyor, and Jane Randolph. He always valued the enterprising example of his father, who set him in the path of education; he became “a hard student,” indeed remained one throughout his life. Peter Jefferson died in 1757, leaving to his son a fair estate—5,000 acres and the slaves to work them. Less than three years later, Jefferson, already a proficient classical scholar, enrolled at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg....

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Lane, Rose Wilder (05 December 1886–30 October 1968), a popular magazine writer, novelist, children's author, and noted libertarian thinker, was born near De Smet in the Dakota Territory (later South Dakota), the only surviving child of the homesteaders Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder. During Rose's early childhood the family struggled to make a living as pioneers, traveling in a covered wagon throughout the Midwest before finally settling in Mansfield, Missouri, when Rose was eight. Rose's childhood was marked by poverty and the uncertainty of frontier life. She was ostracized by classmates for her shabby clothes and her worn shoes, and she worried constantly about burdening her parents. Among her most charged and symbolic early memories was a house fire that destroyed the family's home and possessions. Young Rose had started the fire to assist her ailing mother on her sickbed, and she would blame herself for the tragedy well into adulthood. Despite these difficulties Lane would later valorize the pioneer experience as a source of fundamental American values—including hard work, stoicism, and mutual aid—that were threatened by the modern welfare state....

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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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Rand, Ayn (02 February 1905–06 March 1982), writer and philosopher, was born Alissa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, Russia, the daughter of Fronz Rosenbaum, a chemist of Jewish descent, and Anna (maiden name unknown). The Russian Revolution, the beginning of which Rand witnessed when she was twelve years old, changed her life. Her family lost its financial and social position, and the remainder of her education, including the study of history at the University of Leningrad (1921–1924), was conducted according to Bolshevik guidelines. Rejecting communist economic and social ideology but not its opposition to religion—Rand abandoned her religious heritage first for secular agnosticism and later for militant atheism—she left the Soviet Union in 1926. She changed her name to Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand (for the Remington-Rand typewriter that she brought with her) when she came to America. After a brief stay with relatives in Chicago, she made her way to California, where she worked as a Hollywood extra and then as a scriptwriter for two years and in wardrobe for another four. She became a naturalized citizen in 1931....

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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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Schurman, Jacob Gould (22 May 1854–12 August 1942), scholar and diplomat, was born on a farm near Freetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, the son of Robert Schurman and Lydia Gouldrup, farmers. Schurman’s great-grandfather William Schurman, a Tory, acquired wealth in New Rochelle, New York, and with his family was exiled to Nova Scotia in 1783, moving to Prince Edward Island the following year. Family wealth had dissipated by the time of Schurman’s birth, and he grew up poor....

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von Mises, Ludwig (29 September 1881–10 October 1973), economist and social philosopher, was born Ludwig Heinrich Edler von Mises in Lemberg, Austria-Hungary (today, Lviv, Ukraine), the son of Arthur von Mises, a railroad engineer and civil servant, and Adele von Mises, born Adele Landau. Von Mises was still a small boy when his family moved to Vienna. In 1892 he entered the ...