Above The Chaos, The Greatest Minds and Ideas

By Jordan Nicholas Sukut, 2024.04.26 (updated 2024.04.26)

A post in Above The Chaos

Note in progress - these are merely some rough notes aggregating ideas on greatest minds in history from Will Durant.

I thought it worth surfacing these rough notes and scribbles as a leaping off point for self-learning and inspiration among those who desire to grapple with the thinkers and doers who have shaped history.

As we seek Wisdom and Truth to liberate our Selves, remember Who We Are, and usher in the New Era, we have as our riches and our guide Our Collective Inheritance of ideas laid up, synergized, and developed by the greatest minds and thinkers who have gone before us.

Chapter Two - The Ten "Greatest" Thinkers

Will Durant, Historian, 1968 - "The basic phenomenon of our time is not Communism; it's the decline of religious belief..."

In an age that would level everything and reverence nothing, I take my stand... at the shrines of great men.

In the end men began to write history as if it had never been lived at all, as if no drama had ever walked through it; no comedies or tragedies of struggling or frustrated men.

No, the real history of man is not in prices and wages, nor in elections and battles, nor in the even tenor of the common man; it is in the lasting contributions made by geniuses to the sum of human civilization and culture.

Therefore I see history not as a dreary scene of politics and carnage, but as the struggle of man through genius with the obdurate inertia of matter and the baffling mystery of mind; the struggle to understand, control, and remake himself and the world. I see men standing on the edge of knowledge, and holding the light a little farther ahead; men carving marble into forms ennobling men; men molding peoples into better instruments of greatness; men making a language of music and music out of language; men dreaming of finer lives-and living them. Here is a process of creation more vivid than in any myth; a godliness more real than in any creed.

...to watch them at their work and warm ourselves at the fire that consumes them, this is to recapture some of the thrill that youth gave us when we thought, at the altar or in the confessional, that we were touching or hearing God.

Let us change the icons, and light the candles again.

What is Thought?

Probably it was in those critical days, when all the old and wonted ways of life were nullified... and inherited or traditional patterns of behavior found no success in an environment where everything was altered, that... (those with) inflexible instinctive equipment were weeded out because they could not change within to meet the change outside.

At every step on the stairway of Progress it was Thought that lifted us, slowly and tentatively, to a larger power and a Higher life. If ideas do not determine history, inventions do; and Inventions are determined by Ideas.

Perhaps Tarde and James are right, and all history is a succession of inventions made by genius and turned into conventions by the people, a series of initiatives taken by adventurous leaders and spread among the masses of mankind by the waves of imitation. There is no doubt that at the beginning and summit of every age some heroic genius stands, the voice and index of his time, the inheritor and interpreter of the past, the guide and pioneer into the future.

If we could find in each epoch of unfolding civilization the representative and dominating figure in its thought, we should have a living panorama of our history. ...these persons of the drama, about whom the play revolves...

This must be our supreme test. We shall try to take account of the originality and scope, the veracity and depth, of each thinker’s thought; but what we must bear in mind above all is the extent and persistence of his influence upon the lives and minds of men.


Euripides Lucretius Dante Leonardo Shakespeare Goethe

Religion and passion

Jesus Buddha Augustine


Pericles Alexander Caesar Charlemagne

Thinkers, philosophers, scientists

Confucius - a moral philosopher, whose call to the noble life was rooted in secular, rather than religious, considerations.

Born (552 B.C.) in an age of confusion, in which the old power and glory of China had passed into feudal disintegration and factional strife, Kung-fu-tse undertook to restore health and order to his country.

The illustrious ancients, when they wished to make clear and to propagate the highest virtues in the world, put their states in proper order. Before putting their states in proper order, they regulated their families. Before regulating their families, they cultivated their own selves. Before cultivating their own selves, they perfected their souls. Before perfecting their souls, they tried to be sincere in their thoughts. Before trying to be sincere in their thoughts, they extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such investigation of knowledge lay in the investigation of things, and in seeing them as they really were. When things were thus investigated, knowledge became complete. When knowledge was complete, their thoughts became sincere. When their thoughts were sincere, their souls became perfect.When their souls were perfect, their own selves became cultivated. When their selves were cultivated, their families became regulated. When their families were regulated, their states came to be put into proper order. When their states were in proper order, then the whole world became peaceful and happy. - Confucius

I would add only to Confucius that knowledge can never be complete until it transcends the realm of Things, and touches the hem of the garment of the One Thing that unites and orders them within Itself. ~ Jordan

Good Faith
Courtesy The Lionsberg System of Values

Clear enunciation of the Golden Rule


Figures that voicing and forming people with thought. Buddha

Plato... was a lover... a passionate seeker of the elusive reality behind thoughts and things.

We love him because of his high passion for social reconstruction through intelligent control;

We love him because... because he retained throughout his eighty years that zeal for human improvement... because he conceived philosophy as an instrument not merely for the interpretation but for the remolding of the world.

We love him because he worshiped Beauty as well as Truth, and gave to ideas the living movement of Drama, and clothed them in all the radiance of Art.

Socrates - the reader must not be shocked to learn that Socrates is half a myth, and only half a man.

The misty historical status of Achilles, Oedipus, Romulus, and Siegfried.

No wonder Emerson awarded to the Republic the words which the occasionally pious Omar had written of the Koran: “Burn the libraries, for their value is in this book.”

Consider the Academy which he founded, the first and longest-lived of the universities of the world.

The Lionsberg Academy. The Lionsberg House of Wisdom
The Lionsberg House of Culture


But let us once overcome this barrier of scholastic terminology and scornfully concentrated thought, and we shall find ourselves in the presence of an intellect of almost unbelievable depth and range. Here is a circumnavigation of the globe such as no mind has accomplished since; here every problem in science and philosophy has its consideration, its illumination, and a defensible solution; here knowledge is brought together as if through a thousand spies, and coordinated into a united vision of the world.

Confucius alone has had as great an influence. Everybody knows how, at Alexandria and in Imperial Rome, the work of Aristotle became the foundation of advancing science; how in the thirteenth century his philosophical writings, brought by the invading Moors to reawakened Europe, played a fertilizing role in the development of scholastic philosophy; how the great Summae of that virile age were only adaptations of the Metaphysics and the Organon; how Dante placed Aristotle first among all thinkers—“master of those who know” how Constantinople brought the last lost treasures of his thought to the eager students of the Renaissance; and how this quiet sovereignty of one man over a millennium of intellectual history came to an end only with the audacious irreverence of Occam and Ramus, the experimental science of Roger Bacon, and the innovating philosophy of Francis Bacon.

Thomas Aquinas

So Greece flits by, and we come to Rome. Who were the great thinkers there? Lucretius first and finest of all. Yet... his philosophy was not his own, but with modest candor was ascribed to Epicurus... and ...his influence... (touched) only the topmost minds...

...As to Lucius Annaeus Seneca and Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, they too were echoes of the Greeks, adapters of Zeno's apathy to a dying Rome. The old civilization was disappearing as they wrote;

Suddenly the ancient edifice collapsed, and European civilization lay in ruins.

It began again when the Church healed the strife of factions with the mystic authority of the Word, and brought men back from the battlefields to a settled life. The emperors passed, the popes remained; the legions marched no longer, but the monks and missionaries of the rising faith created quietly a new order in which thought could grow once more.

When the work of preparation was complete another Aristotle came, Saint Thomas of Aquino, a man who took the universe for his specialty, and flung a frail bridge of reason across the chasms between knowledge and belief... unifying knowledge, interpreting it, and focusing it all upon the great problems of life and death.


And then came a voice out of Poland, saying that this earth, footstool of God and home of his redeeming pilgrimage, was a minor satellite of a minor sun.

It seemed so simple a thing to say...but to the medieval world... this new astronomy was an atheistic blasphemy, a ruthless blow that seemed to overthrow the Jacob’s ladder which faith had built between angels and men.

...he was sure that all Truth must be Good and Beautiful, and would make men free.

And so, by the magic of his mathematics, he transformed a geocentric and anthropocentric universe—a world that revolved about the earth and man—into a kaleidoscope of planets and stars... And God, who had been closer than hands and feet, who had seemed to inhabit the friendly and flowing clouds, disappeared into the far reaches of an illimitable space.

With him modernity begins. With him secularism begins. With him reason makes its French Revolution against a faith immemorially enthroned, and man commences his long effort to rebuild with thought the shattered palace of his dreams.

Francis Bacon

...the century that followed Copernicus was one of youthful audacity and courage in every field.

The flash of those alert eyes, the rich blood in those strong frames, the warm color of their luxurious raiment, the spontaneous poetry of that impassioned speech, the creative insatiable desires, the search and sweep and fearlessness of newly liberated minds—shall we ever know such days again?

Leonardo —painter, musician, sculptor, etcher, architect, anatomist, physiologist, physicist, inventor, engineer, chemist, astronomer, geologist, zoologist, botanist, geographer, mathematician, and philosopher!

Giordano Bruno, that forever seeking soul, unsatisfied with the finite, hungry for an immeasurable unity, impatient of divisions, sects, dogmas, and creeds, only less controllable than the winter’s winds, only less fiery than Etna, and doomed by his own turbulent spirit to a martyr’s death?

Francis Bacon - “the man who rang the bell that called the wits together” who sent out a challenge to all the lovers and servants of Truth everywhere to bind themselves together in the new order and ministry of science;

...the inductive inquiry into nature’s laws, the resolute extension of the mastery of man over the conditions of his life...

...pointed a hundred sciences to their tasks...

...who inspired the Royal Society of Great Britain and the great Encyclopedie of France...

Isaac Newton

From that day to ours the history of the European intellect has been predominantly the progress of the Baconian as against the medieval conception of the world.

In Descartes the new struggles in the arms of the old, and never quite liberates itself; in the great unifying soul of Leibnitz the medieval tradition is still powerful enough to turn a mathematician into a precarious theologian; and in Immanuel Kant the voice of ancestral faith speaks amid the skepticism of the Enlightenment.

Strangely bridging these two streams of thought—the scientific and the religious—stands the figure of Spinoza: polisher of lenses and God-intoxicated man; silent devotee of lonely speculation, and formulator of the metaphysics of modern science; lover of mechanics and geometry, and martyr equally with Bruno to philosophy, dying only a slower and obscurer death. He belongs to the islanded aristocracy of thought, and the world has not mounted to him yet.

Newton’s Principia marked the quiet assumption, by science, of its now unchallenged mastery over modern thought; ... the laws of motion and mechanics as established by Newton became the basis of all later practical advance.

it is to him who masters our minds by the force of truth, and not to those who enslave them by violence, that we owe our reverence.


It was Voltaire who introduced to France the mechanics of Newton and the psychology of Locke, and thereby began the great age of the Enlightenment.

It is easier to be original in error than in truth, for every truth displaces a thousand falsehoods.


Granted that Voltaire, like Bacon, “lighted his candle at every man’s torch” it remains that he made the torch burn so brightly that it enlightened all mankind.

Never did one man teach so many, or with such irresistible artistry.

Louis XVI, seeing in his Temple prison the works of Voltaire and Rousseau, said, “Those two men have destroyed France,”—meaning despotism.

But just as physiological decay leads to no action unless it sends its message of pain to consciousness, so the economic and political corruption of Bourbon France might have proceeded to utter national disintegration had not a hundred virile pens brought home the state of affairs to the conscience and consciousness of their country.

Immanuel Kant

Something remained to be said for the creeds which the Enlightenment had apparently destroyed.

Matter, as known to us, is but a form of mind.

...it...seemed to offer a splendid exit from the infidelity of the Enlightenment. Here was a chance to reassert the primacy of mind, to reduce its threatening enemy to a mere province in its realm, and so to restore the philosophical bases of religious belief and immortal hope.

The supreme figure in this idealistic development was Immanuel Kant, perfect archetype of the abstract philosopher;

...It was Kant who labored best to rescue mind from matter;

Apparently Kant had won the battle against materialism and atheism, and the world could hope again.

Charles Darwin

And then Darwin came, and the war waged anew.

Suddenly the world turned red, and nature, which had been so fair in the autumn’s colors under the setting sun, seemed to be only a scene of slaughter and strife, in which birth was an accident, and only death a certainty. “Nature” became “natural selection,” that is, a struggle for existence; and not for existence merely, but for mates and power, a ruthless elimination of the “unfit” of the tenderer flowers, the gentler animals, and the kindlier men. The surface of the earth seethed with warring species and competing individuals, every organism was the prey of some larger beast; every life was lived at the expense of some other life; great “natural” catastrophes came, ice ages, earthquakes, tornadoes, droughts, pestilences, famines, wars; millions and millions of living things were “weeded out,” were quickly or slowly killed.

Copernicus had reduced the earth to a speck among melting clouds; Darwin reduced man to an animal fighting for his transient mastery of the globe. Man was no longer the son of God; he was the son of strife...

The human race was no longer the favored creation of a benevolent deity; it was a species of ape...

Is it any wonder that the old faith fought fiercely for its life, that for a generation “the conflict between religion and science” was bitterer than at any time since Galileo retracted and Bruno burned at the stake?

And do not the victors, exhausted by the contest, sit sadly today amid the ruins, secretly mourning their triumph, secretly yearning for the old world which their victory has destroyed?

Abelard Galileo

The Centuries of world transforming inventions

  • Gunpowder
  • Printing
  • Steam Engine
  • Electricity
  • "Discovery" of America

Centuries of the world's greatest statesmen - say -

  • Hammurabi,
  • Moses,
  • Darius I,
  • Solon,
  • Pericles,
  • Alexander,
  • Caesar,
  • Charles V,
  • Louis XIV,
  • Peter the Great,
  • Frederick the Great,
  • Henry VIII,
  • Elizabeth,
  • Disraeli,
  • Gladstone,
  • Bismarck,
  • Cavour,
  • Washington,
  • Hamilton,
  • Jefferson, and
  • Lincoln;

of the world’s greatest scientists and philosophers—say -

  • Confucius,
  • Socrates,
  • Plato,
  • Aristotle,
  • Copernicus,
  • Francis Bacon,
  • Isaac Newton,
  • Spinoza,
  • Voltaire,
  • Kant,
  • Schopenhauer, and
  • Darwin;

of the world’s greatest saints—say -

  • lknaton,
  • Lao-tzu,
  • Isaiah,
  • Buddha,
  • Christ,
  • Marcus Aurelius,
  • Augustine,
  • Francis of Assisi,
  • Loyola,
  • Luther, and
  • Gandhi.

know the centuries of the world’s greatest poets—say -

  • Homer,
  • the Psalmist,
  • Euripides,
  • Virgil,
  • Horace,
  • Lipo,
  • Dante,
  • Shakespeare,
  • Milton,
  • Goethe,
  • Pushkin,
  • Keats,
  • Byron,
  • Shelley,
  • Hugo,
  • Poe,
  • Whitman, and
  • Tagore;

of the world’s greatest makers of music—say -

  • Palestrina,
  • Bach,
  • Handel,
  • Mozart,
  • Beethoven,
  • Chopin,
  • Liszt,
  • Paganini,
  • Brahms,
  • Tschaikowsky,
  • Verdi,
  • Wagner,
  • Paderewski, and
  • Stravinsky;

and of the world’s greatest artists or works of art—say -

  • Karnak and
  • Luxor
  • and the Pyramids,
  • Pheidias and
  • Praxiteles,
  • Wu Tao-tzu and
  • Sesshiu and
  • Hiroshige,
  • Chartres and the
  • Taj Mahal,
  • Giotto and
  • Dürer,
  • Leonardo,
  • Raphael, and
  • Michelangelo,
  • Titian and
  • Correggio,
  • El Greco and
  • Velázquez,
  • Rubens,
  • Rembrandt, and
  • Van Dyck,
  • Reynolds and
  • Gainsborough,
  • Turner and
  • Whistler,
  • Millet and
  • Cezanne.

Asoka Akbar T'ang Dynasy - an age as great in China as the Enlightenment in France

From - Durant, Will. The Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time.

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