Who is Sheldon?

Sheldon Cooper remains one of television’s most intriguing characters, with his story artfully expanded across two series. “The Big Bang Theory” presents the fully-formed genius struggling to navigate adulthood, while “Young Sheldon” provides a poignant glimpse into the childhood that molded him. Together, these series create a comprehensive and endearing portrait of a character whose intelligence is matched only by his unique charm and complexity. Through the brilliant performances of Jim Parsons and Iain Armitage, Sheldon Cooper has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on popular culture.

In one of the episodes, Sheldon is introduced to philosophy and finds himself in an existential crisis. Having never considered the worldview outside of science, Sheldon finds his imagination exploded by the multiple versions of understanding reality.

For those who have a curious imagination, here is a whistlestop tour of making sense of reality.

Ancient Philosophy

Pre-Socratic Philosophy
  • Thales: Considered the first philosopher, he posited that water is the essential substance (archê) of all matter.
  • Anaximander: Proposed that the ‘boundless’ (apeiron), an indefinite substance, is the source of all things.
  • Heraclitus: Famous for his doctrine that everything is in flux and for the idea that fire is the primary substance. Known for the saying “You cannot step into the same river twice.”

Socratic Philosophy

  • Socrates: Utilised the Socratic method (elenchus), a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue, to stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas and underlying presumptions. He focused on ethical questions and the concept of virtue (arete).

Platonic Philosophy

  • Plato: Developed the theory of forms, which posits that non-material abstract forms (or ideas) represent the most accurate reality. In “The Republic,” he outlines his vision of a just society ruled by philosopher-kings. His allegory of the cave illustrates his epistemological views on perception and reality.

Aristotelian Philosophy

  • Aristotle: Student of Plato who diverged significantly from his teacher. His works covered a broad range of topics:
    • Metaphysics: Introduced the concept of substance and the four causes (material, formal, efficient, and final).
    • Ethics: In “Nicomachean Ethics,” he proposed the idea of the golden mean, where virtue lies between excess and deficiency.
    • Logic: Developed the syllogism as a form of deductive reasoning.

Medieval Philosophy

Scholasticism
  • Thomas Aquinas: Integrated Aristotelian philosophy with Christian doctrine. His “Summa Theologica” is a comprehensive work that addresses the existence of God, the nature of the soul, and ethical theory.
  • Anselm of Canterbury: Known for the ontological argument for the existence of God, which posits that God, being the greatest conceivable being, must exist in reality because existence is a perfection.

Augustinian Philosophy

  • St. Augustine: Influential in shaping early Christian thought, especially through his works “Confessions” and “The City of God.” He emphasized the role of divine grace and the inner, introspective journey towards God.

Modern Philosophy

Rationalism
  • René Descartes: Emphasised doubt and systematic reasoning in his “Meditations on First Philosophy,” famously concluding “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am). He posited a dualism between mind and body.
  • Baruch Spinoza: Proposed a form of pantheism, identifying God with nature. His “Ethics” outlines a monistic view where everything is a part of a single substance.
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Introduced the concept of monads, indivisible units of existence. Known for his optimistic philosophy that we live in the “best of all possible worlds.”
Empiricism
  • John Locke: Argued that the mind is a tabula rasa (blank slate) at birth, and knowledge is derived from experience. His “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” explores the limits of human understanding and the nature of ideas.
  • George Berkeley: Proposed immaterialism, arguing that objects only exist as perceptions in minds; famously stated “to be is to be perceived” (esse est percipi).
  • David Hume: Emphasised scepticism, particularly regarding causation and the self. In “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding,” he argued that our beliefs in causality and external reality are habits of thought, not rationally justified.
Kantian Philosophy
  • Immanuel Kant: Attempted to reconcile rationalism and empiricism. In his “Critique of Pure Reason,” he argued that while all knowledge begins with experience, the mind actively shapes experience through a priori categories. He is also known for his moral philosophy, outlined in the “Critique of Practical Reason” and “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals,” where he proposed the categorical imperative as a foundational principle of ethics.

19th-Century Philosophy

German Idealism
  • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: Developed a dialectical method, focusing on the process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. His “Phenomenology of Spirit” traces the development of consciousness towards absolute knowledge.
  • Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schelling: Built on Kant’s ideas, emphasising the role of the self (the “I” or subject) in constructing reality.
Utilitarianism
  • Jeremy Bentham: Advocated for the principle of utility, which posits that actions are right if they promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number. He developed a hedonic calculus to measure pleasure and pain.
  • John Stuart Mill: Expanded on Bentham’s ideas in “Utilitarianism,” distinguishing between higher and lower pleasures and advocating for individual liberty in “On Liberty.”
Existentialism
  • Søren Kierkegaard: Emphasised the importance of individual choice and commitment. He critiqued the established church and explored the concept of the “leap of faith.”
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: Critiqued traditional moral values and religion. His idea of the “will to power” and the concept of the “Übermensch” (Overman or Superman) challenged individuals to create their own values.

20th-Century Philosophy

Analytic Philosophy
  • Bertrand Russell: Contributed to logic and analytic philosophy, co-authoring “Principia Mathematica” with Alfred North Whitehead, and advocating for logical atomism.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: In “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,” he argued that the structure of language reflects the structure of reality. Later, in “Philosophical Investigations,” he introduced the idea of language games and the use theory of meaning.
  • A.J. Ayer: Prominent proponent of logical positivism, asserting that meaningful statements are either empirically verifiable or analytically true.
Continental Philosophy
  • Edmund Husserl: Founded phenomenology, focusing on the structures of consciousness and intentionality.
  • Martin Heidegger: In “Being and Time,” he explored the nature of being (Dasein) and introduced concepts such as “being-in-the-world” and “thrownness.”
  • Jean-Paul Sartre: Key figure in existentialism, emphasising radical freedom, responsibility, and the concept of bad faith.
  • Michel Foucault: Analysed the relationship between power and knowledge, exploring how societal institutions shape human behaviour and thought in works like “Discipline and Punish.”
  • Jacques Derrida: Developed deconstruction, a method of analysing texts to reveal internal contradictions and question assumed meanings.
Pragmatism
  • Charles Sanders Peirce: Emphasised the idea of fallibilism and the pragmatic maxim, which assesses the meaning of concepts by their practical effects.
  • William James: Proposed that truth is what works in the practical sense, advocating for a pluralistic and flexible approach to knowledge.
  • John Dewey: Applied pragmatist principles to education and democracy, advocating for experiential learning and participatory democracy.

Contemporary Philosophy

Postmodernism
  • Jean-François Lyotard: Critiqued meta-narratives and advocated for the recognition of a plurality of language games.
  • Jacques Derrida: Expanded post-structuralism with deconstruction, questioning the stability of meaning and the fixed structures of language.
Feminist Philosophy
  • Simone de Beauvoir: In “The Second Sex,” she argued that women have been historically constructed as the “Other” and advocated for women’s liberation.
  • Judith Butler: Known for her work on gender performativity, arguing that gender is constructed through repeated social performances.
Environmental Philosophy
  • Aldo Leopold: Advocated for a land ethic, emphasizing the moral responsibility to care for the natural environment.
  • Arne Næss: Developed deep ecology, promoting the intrinsic value of all living beings and the interconnectedness of life.
Philosophy of Mind
  • Daniel Dennett: Known for his work on consciousness and the philosophy of cognitive science, proposing a functionalist approach.
  • Thomas Nagel: Critiqued reductionist accounts of the mind, famously asking “What is it like to be a bat?” to illustrate the subjective nature of experience.
  • David Chalmers: Introduced the “hard problem” of consciousness, questioning how and why subjective experiences arise from physical processes.

Understanding the nature of reality is important to some, but not to all. It helps shape our imaginations and can help make some sense of our experiences. For those who choose to open up the senses and the mind, be aware that it is not an easy journey but that it hurts the parts that often should be hurt.

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