Monday, December 18, 2006

Top Five Philosophers

Fr. Al Kimel of Pontifications sent me a link recently to the Mormon Philosophy and Theology blog in which we are treated to a brief description of some poster's five "favorite philosophers", who were, in this order:
1. Nietzsche
2. Heidegger
3. Peirce
4. Derrida
5. Davidson
I wrote back to Fr. Al saying something along the lines of "Wow, apart from Davidson these guys aren't even on the radar for me as possible candidates." So Fr. Al challenged me to post just what are my five favorites. He actually used the word "meme", but that word is so Dawkinsian that I'm not going to use it myself, I will only mention it.

The list that I sent to Fr. Al was this, in chronological order:
1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Saint Anselm
4. Saint Thomas Aquinas
5. Immanuel Kant
Such lists are inevitably personal in character. The poster at Mormon Philosophy and Theology noted that his list was determined by the thinkers who had "most affected" him, and that has also informed my list; one could go the Time magazine route and try to list the thinkers that one believes to have most affected others, but even that sort of process is influenced by possibly unexamined assumptions and preferences.

Apart from Aristotle there aren't any philosophers of science in my list, in spite of the fact that philosophy of science is one of my own particular interests. This is not because I don't think that there are any truly great philosophers of science (Aristotle actually is one, after all), but rather because few philosophers of science have influenced me in the way that those in my list have. If I were to make a list of just philosophers of science, their names would pale in greatness compared to the five in my overall list, so I won't try to embarrass them by making such a B-list, even though some of them deserve to be so embarrassed.

There are also a lot of realists in my list, in spite of the fact that I am something of an anti-realist, but my anti-realism is confined to certain issues in the philosophy of science. When it comes to metaphysics, I'm a full-blown Thomist, with all the realism that entails.


DimBulb said...

Oh come on! Some of us philosophical diletantes, plebes and morons might like the B-list (or lower) just so we can feel a little better about oursleves.

Vitae Scrutator said...

People who think of themselves as dilettantes, plebes, or morons will never feel good about themselves. For that you need to have the staggeringly monumental ego that I have. Go for the A-list; start with (1) and don't stop reading until you get to (5). If you're like me, you'll still be a moron, but at least you will have been kept off the street for about six years.

Ap said...

Dr. Carson,

What is your view on philosophy of space?

Strider said...

Trackback Pontifications

Deep Thought said...

Wow. Anselm is good. It was tough for me to not put him in mine, but I do like Maritain better

DimBulb said...

Shouldn't one start at the bottom and work his way up? Is it really a good idea to start studying a developed philosophy without a good grasp of its antecedents?

Vitae Scrutator said...


It might depend on what you have in mind with "antecedents". Historically, there's not much that comes before Plato that's really worth reading before reading Plato--especially in light of the fact that most of what we know about the Presocratics is filtered through such sources as Plato himself or Aristotle.

If what you mean is, one should learn about the principles of deduction, definition, critiquing arguments for fallacies, etc., before going on to encounter genuine deductions, definitions, arguments, in philosophical literature, then I agree, but I'm not sure what better way there is to learn such things than by encountering them in primary texts.

I begin my philosophy 101 course with a close reading of Plato's Gorgias, and we cover all of those things rather soon in the text, and then we're off to the races.

If what you mean is that one ought to read "lesser" philosophical writers before moving on to the greats, then I can't agree. For one thing, I'm not really all that sure that it's a good a idea to read "bad" philosophy at all, let alone as a propaedeutic to reading good philosophy--certainly not as a protreptic to it! Or if you mean one ought to read "easier" philosophers before going on to the hard ones--well, my experience has been that undergraduates tend to find all philosophy pretty difficult. I think the Gorgias, for example, is a fairly straightforward piece of philosophy, but my students always have trouble with it. Part of it is the burden of having a lousy teacher, of course, but much of it has to do with lack of experience; and I think one gets experience by experiencing things, so I'm all for reading the best right away.

Many anthologies intended for 101 course are packed full of really difficult texts by writers like Wittgenstein, Quine, Hempel, etc., so I don't feel that I'm pushing their envelopes too badly.

Vitae Scrutator said...


I just don't have time for that.

Get it? I don't have time for that? Time and space are...never mind.

The truth of it is that beyond a rather rudimentary study of Riemann and other geometry sources, along with Kant's deduction of the categories, I just don't know all that much about the philosophy of space. After reading Kant I have the impression that it is a very interesting metaphysical question, but not one with which I have much expertise.

Antonio449 said...

What about Maimonides?

Vitae Scrutator said...

Maimonides Shmaimonides, I was already pretty torn up about leaving out Saint Augustine. If I had been asked about my ten favorite philosophers, however....

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