02 March 2009

Great Philosophers?

Via Evolving Thoughs, I came across some discussions about who the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century was. The New York Times chose Wittgenstein ... whom I've barely read. There was a very short excerpt from him in my Native American philosophy class, and that's it.

The choice inspired at least one blogger to put up his own questionaire to see if his readers agreed with the choice. Wittgenstein did come out on top, closely followed by Bertrand Russell. At any rate, I've put the list below the fold (no numbers; follow the last link if you want to see how they did), with comments on the ones that I have actually read.

Ludwig Wittgenstein - Short excerpt. Not enough for me to have much of an opinion on him.
Martin Heidegger - First third of Being and Time. Pros: has helped me put some difficult ideas into words. Cons: very difficult reading. However, of those listed, Heidegger would be the one I would have voted for, had I seen the quiz in time.
Jean-Paul Sartre - We'll be reading Being and Nothingness in Existentialism next. My baseline impression of Sartre is "interesting, but flawed." We'll see if that holds up.
Saul Kripke - One article in Epistemology. It was an interesting article, arguing that some "necessary" truths were "contingent" on empirical evidence. The example given was (as I recall it): Venus is necessarily identical with Venus. But in the past Venus has been called the "morning star" and the "evening star", and it was an empirical discovery that these were, in fact, the same object. It was an interesting read, but not one that influenced me very much.
Rudolf Carnap - One article in Epistemology, plus a few others while I was researching Quine. What we read of him (again, as I'm remembering it) involved an argument that it was meaningless to talk about what something meant outside of the language-context from which it came. I'm sure I'm muddling things a bit, but on a question like "Are numbers real?", Carnap would argue to the effect that they represented a useful concept in one or more language-spaces, but outside those language-spaces it was meaningless to talk about numbers. Asking if they "exist" as "entities" is a question outside the language-space and is thus meaningless.
Bertrand Russell - I've read quite a few of Russell's essays, but none of his longer works. I enjoyed reading him, but I didn't find him particularly influential on my thinking. Most especially, I wasn't impressed by his acceptance of the "verification theory of meaning."
W.V.O. Quine - I thoroughly enjoyed Quine, and now I'm going to have to look up modern responses to him, as many of the comments at Evolving Thoughts consider him "dated." But how can you not love someone who doubts that meaning has any meaning? He would have been my second choice of those listed. ^/^
Hilary Putnam - We read an article from Putnam in Epistemology ... near the time we were reading Sosa ... and that's all I remember. So I guess he didn't make an impression on me.
John Rawls - We'll be reading Rawls later in Political Philosophy, so I as yet have no opinion on him.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty - Ditto, but for Existentialism.

The rest of these either I haven't read, or, if I did read them, they made so little an impression on me that I can't even recognize their names. EDIT: just to clarify, some of the names I do recognize (Rorty, Foucault, Tarski, Whitehead, Popper, and, if I'm allowed to count Monty Python as a reference, Henri Bergson). The rest ... could be random names out of a phonebook from my perspective.

David K. Lewis
Jurgen Habermas
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Wilfrid Sellars
Richard Rorty
Donald Davidson
C.I. Lewis
John Dewey
Ernst Cassirer
Bernard Williams
Michel Foucault
Theodor Adorno
Gilles Deleuze
G.E. Moore
Alfred Tarski
Alfred North Whitehead
Henri Bergson
Michael Dummett
P.F. Strawson
Karl Popper


John S. Wilkins said...

If you want my opinion, read David Lewis and Rawls. If they do not inspire you, then the rest won't, or shouldn't.

Qalmlea said...

Thanks for the tip. We'll be getting to Rawls in political philosophy pretty soon. I'll have to hunt around for some Lewis (post-semester, as I've got too much going on already).