Systematic Thinkers

Systematic thinking is the foundation of all research. Germany has produced many great thinkers in the natural and social sciences. They are best known for their systematic approach.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) was the daughter of German nobility, but decided at an early age to join the Benedictine nuns. She went on to become one of the best educated and wisest of her era, advising secular and religious leaders throughout Europe. Hildegard’s fields of expertise ranged from theology to medicine, music, ethics and cosmology. Her discoveries and insights in the area of plant-based medicines are referred to today.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the leading philosophers of the Enlightenment Age. His Kritik der reinen Vernunft is considered to be the starting point of modern philosophy, creating a new, systematic approach to inquiry. Kant addressed not only the theory of knowledge, but also ethics and aesthetics, the philosophy of religion, law and history, as well as astronomy and the geosciences.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is considered to this day to be the greatest of all German writers. His work encompassed, however, also the natural sciences including botany, optics and the philosophy of color – Farbenlehre.

Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was a Prussian General and military theorist. His Vom Kriege (On War) a systematic approach to strategy, tactics and the philosophy of war, became the foundation of military thinking in all Western nations. Clausewitz’ writings went beyond how wars are won to address the overall nature and meaning of war in the modern world.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) is renowned as a philosopher, political economist and social critic. Together with Friedrich Engels, Marx analyzed during the height of the industrial revolution the mutual influences and interactions between a society‘s consciousness and its economic system. Although Marxism has proven to fail in practice, it led to what many would consider significant social progress in public education, health care, social legislation. Marx’ writings contributed to the creation of labor unions.

Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German sociologist, legal scholar, and political economist. He is considered a founding father of modern sociology. Weber’s theories influenced greatly the so-called specialty areas of sociology: economics, religion, political power structures.

Karl Rahner (1904-1984) is considered to be the most influential Catholic theologian since Thomas Aquinas. His work opened up Catholic theology to a new and deeper understanding of faith. Rahner’s thinking influenced greatly the Second Vatical Council. Inspired by his studies under Martin Heidegger, Rahner synthesized Catholic theology with the philosophies of the modern era.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhem Leibniz (1646-1716) was a German philosopher and polymath (someone with expertise in many different areas). He is considered one of the strongest proponents of rationalism, a school of philosophy which stresses that knowledge is accumulated primarily, solely through thought.

Rationalists did not believe that authentic knowledge could be gained via the senses, through empiricism (experience). Cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am – as Descartes put it, the founder of modern rationalism.

The historians of philosophy contrast rationalism with British empiricism, led by David Hume, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. These empiricists argued that knowledge is gained first and foremostly via the senses. Simply stated, experience is more important than (informs) pure thought.

Although such overly simplified characterizations are questioned by today’s experts, they show a fundamental difference between continental philosophy (German and French) on the one side and British, and later British-American, philosophy on the other.

The competition between rationalism and empiricism is in the end a battle between deduction and induction.

Avoid philosophical discussion

Americans do not engage in a discussion about the essence of a decision to be made. If a discussion does takes place about the decision in and of itself, however, it is strictly for the purpose of defining who and/or what is to be served by making a good decision.

Americans invest less time on identifying how a particular decision fits into the broader picture. Their approach to all decisions is primarily motived by pragmatism. Decisions lead to actions, which in turn lead to further decisions to be made. Americans avoid getting weighted down in what they view as over-analysis. Forward movement is of priority.

Personal Experience

Although Americans strive to be analytical, objective, scientific, what most persuades them is experience. For Americans experience is fact, real data, empirical, irrefutable. Theory, logic, rigorous analysis are seldom more convincing than hearing a person say: “I was there. I saw it with my own eyes” or “We tried the approach and it worked”.

Empiricism is the theory that all knowledge is derived from sense-experience. As a philosophy, it emerged with the rise of experimental science and was developed in the 17th and 18th centuries by thinkers such as John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume. The idiom “seeing is believing” signals the belief that people can only really believe what they experience personally.