01 August 2005

top philosophers

A post on another blog reminded me that couple of folks asked me what I thought about the BBC's poll to determine the greatest philosophers of all time, with Karl Marx surprisingly enough coming out in first place with nearly 30% of the vote. Marx was followed by Hume, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, Plato, Kant, Aquinas, Socrates, Aristotle, and Popper.

The results, I must say, are pretty idiosyncratic. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle certainly have a rightful place on the list, but perhaps I'm overly conservative in thinking that it's still too soon to include anyone from the 20th century and that giving one of the two 20th slots to Popper is just peculiar. Why not Quine or Adorno or Heidegger instead? Wittgenstein seems more justifiable, if anyone from the 20th century is to be included.

I'm also surprised by Marx's showing. Marx is certainly a terribly important historical figure, whose writings have probably had a hand in many of the major events and developments of the 20th century. But sheer influence is not necessarily a measure of philosophical greatness, though I readily admit that Marx deserves a prominent place among philosophically astute 19th century thinkers.

As for the rest, I surmise that Hume's inclusion as the sole representative of early modern philosophy is largely a function of [a] the poll being conducted by a British radio service and [b] Hume's overt secularism compared to Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, or Berkeley. While Nietzsche's inclusion is debatable, I do think it is defensible given his sway over a large swath of 20th century thinkers and his role in the emergence of postmodern thought.

That leaves Kant and Aquinas, who are, no doubt, worthy of inclusion.

If I had to come up with my own list of the 10 greatest philosophers, it would probably be something like the following (though, ask me to tomorrow and I might say otherwise): Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche.