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Heidegger’s Flashing Down the Left Side…

June 7th, 2005 · 11 Comments

The BBC is holding a vote to select a philosophical champeen: the greatest philosopher of all time, with sound clips from eminent contemporary philosophers defending their choices from among twenty finalists.

Now, first, it seems a bit weird to have Plato and Socrates as different entries, rather than one Plocrates entry: All we know of Socrates’ philosophy (well, pretty much) is through the filter of Plato, and Plato mostly presents himself as articulating the thoughts of Socrates; I don’t know how one disentangles them. Second, this probably could’ve been winnowed down to a list about half the size. I mean, Karl Popper is a very, very great thinker… but do even those who nominated them seriously think he’s in the running for greatest philosopher ever? I rather doubt he gets top honors from the 20th century, never mind in all history. The genuine contenders, I’d think, are probably Plocrates, Aristotle, Hume, and Kant… maybe you could throw in Mill and Nietzsche as dark horses. Descartes isn’t a crazy pick. But Epicurus? Russell? Heidegger? Even giants like Sartre and Wittgenstein seem like unlikely candidates… possibly just because the later in the game you come, the less opportunity there is to define a whole major area of thought.

Tags: Moral Philosophy



11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Glen // Jun 7, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    What about W’s favorite philosopher, Jesus?

  • 2 "George" // Jun 7, 2005 at 5:37 pm

    Damn Glen, you beat me to it.

  • 3 bob mcmanus // Jun 7, 2005 at 8:02 pm

    I have had these lists in my mind a long time.



    Although it is certainly declining in relevance, Christian thinking was central to the West for 1500 years, and must be given its due. Unless the question is who is important to us. If Aquinas or some other Christian is not on the list, then we changed so much recently that Nietzsche and Wittgenstein do belong.

    And Socrates is distinguishable from Plato. In the early dialogues, the humility, and the obvious emphasis on dialectic as process.

  • 4 Luka // Jun 8, 2005 at 12:45 am

    Some people might think that the methods of the ancient and modern philosophers were deeply flawed and that only an analytic philosopher like Frege or Russell or Kripke can lay claim to greatest philosopher.

    I know that I’m sympathetic to the idea that the more recent the philosopher the more likely it is that their ideas are really good.

    But probably I’m not paying close enough attention to what it means from someone to be a *great* philosopher. It probably has as much to do with influence and originality as it does with truthfulness of ideas…

  • 5 Matt // Jun 8, 2005 at 3:03 am

    I’d roughly agree- I’d think Aritotle and Kant are the top choices- absolutely first-rate contributions to essentially all areas of philosophy, to a degree that can’t be matched by any others. Plato, Descartes, and Hume are just a step behind, since their contributions to some areas are not, I think, as great. Behind them are many others Hobbes, Aquinus (not far from the 2nd level), Russel, Leibniz (too all over to be at the top), etc. Then lots of people making absolutely first-rate contributions, but to a much narrower field- Rawls, Bentham, Wittgenstein, etc.

  • 6 Gabriel Mihalache // Jun 8, 2005 at 3:56 am

    I’m voting for Nietzsche… even though the eternal return means I’ll have to relive the disapointment of this defeat eternally. I’m OK with it… I’m all over that self-overcoming will-to-power thingy.

    As for the Plato business, it’s a trinity-kind-of-thing: Parmenides-Socrates-Plato… poor guys! Someone had to make the basic mistakes, fall in the simple pitfalls, so to speak. Unfortunatelly, they’re taken way too seriously for my taste, even today.

    I’d say it’s impossible to extract a definite list, because you could do so by several criteria. I personally prefer those that were “ahead of their time”: Heraclitus, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and some other.

  • 7 Carney // Jun 8, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    It could be argued that Descartes has “won” in the modern age–hardly a testimony to his philosophical brilliance, but if we’re looking for a champion, maybe it’s the guy whose view of knowledge has set the tone for modernity.

  • 8 Ayn R // Jun 8, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    Of course the list was compiled by decadent, collectivist, mystical second handers or *I* would have been on it.

  • 9 David T // Jun 8, 2005 at 7:08 pm

    I’m a bit surprised that Hegel isn’t on the list. It’s true that most modern philosophies began as revolts *against* him, but in a way that only underlines his importance, and anyway many of those supposedly in revolt against him retained more of him than they perhaps realized…

  • 10 Julian Sanchez // Jun 8, 2005 at 7:18 pm

    I think that’s it. Probably more recent thinkers are likely to be closer to right, but their own contribution is also likely to be an additional wrinkle, some incremental insight, rather than the creation of a whole accurate worldview. Modern scientists surely have a better idea of how the universe works than Newton did, but there’s a good reason we remember Newton.

  • 11 Luka // Jun 9, 2005 at 9:03 pm

    Yeah. I think you’re right.