December 22, 2006

My Five Favorite Philosophers

Recently, while I was busy with finals, Clarke at Mormon Metaphysics and Johnny-Dee at Fides Quarens Intellectum posted lists of their favorite philosophers. I thought that today I would do the same. I won't get fancy with pictures and stuff, because that's not my style (as you can plainly see if you are looking at this page), but I do have a list, roughly in order (though there were certainly some ties that were hard to break):

  1. George Berkeley (12 March 1685 � 14 January 1753). Berkeley is, in my opinion, the most underappreciated philosopher in all of history. Idealism aside, Berkeley is responsible for most of the (in my opinion) best parts of David Hume's philosophy, including most notably the collapse of Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities, which led Hume to his 'veil of perception' doctrine (Hume acknowledged Berkeley's influence, though broad overviews of the history of modern philosophy often skip directly from Locke to Hume). Berkeley also, in the 17th century, developed a linguistic theory similar to that of the later Wittgenstein (the theory is in Alciphron 7; on it's resemblence to Wittgenstein, see Anthony Flew, "Was Berkeley a Precursor to Wittgenstein?" originally printed in W. B. Todd, ed., Hume and the Enlightenment, reprinted in David Berman, ed., George Berkeley - Alciphron in Focus). Finally, I previously argued that Berkeley may have been an influence on Kant's epistemology of metaphysics (though I may have overstated the case there, due to liking Berkeley and not knowing Kant very well). Then, of course, there is the fact that I actually believe most of what Berkeley says about metaphysics. Also, Berkeley is one of very few philosophers who, in my view, are capable of writing good philosophy and good literature at the same time. Both the Three Dialogs Between Hylas and Philonous and the Alciphron are exceedingly well written and a pleasure to read. These things earn him the number one place on my list of favorite philosophers.
  2. Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788 � September 21, 1860) - Although Schopenhauer is not a theist, he provides useful thoughts for any idealist to consider. His primary influence on me is the he showed me the essential flaw in Hume's argument against libertarian free will: Hume argues that the world of sense is a 'veil of perception' and we can't see through it to the underlying reality, but he then uses arguments based on looking at the veil of perception in arguing against libertarian free will, despite the fact that we have direct, priveleged epistemic access to the mind, which is the object we are studying. In other words, Schopenhauer has me convinced that philosophy of mind, and especially free will, is a topic which must be studied phenomenologically. I also appreciate about Schopenhauer that his understanding of life reads a lot like Ecclesiastes without the last chapter. I wonder if, had he waited longer to publish or not been too proud to admit having been wrong in a published work, he would have discovered what Solomon discovered in his last chapter and not been remembered as the great pessimist. It's rather sad really. Whatever the case, Schopenhauer is a brillian philosopher and highly deservng of the number 2 spot on my list.
  3. G. W. Leibniz (July 1 1646 � November 14, 1716) - Another underappreciated philospher. While Leibniz's total metaphysical system is a bit nutty, he's great for cherry-picking. That is, although his system is very tightly integrated with itself, it is often possible to pull very useful tidbits out of it for incorporation into less nutty systems. He is also just plain fun to read, partially because of his periodic nuttiness.
  4. Plato (c. 427�c. 347 BC) - No list of best or favorite western philosophers should lack reference to Plato. Plato is inredibly brilliant, had relatively few shoulders to stand on (though the influences of Parmenides, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, and Socrates were all, of course, very important), and is also one of the few philosophers capable of writing good literature and good philosophy at once. His dialogs are a pleasure to read. He deals with a huge range of topics and influenced countless future philosophers. His philosophy was a big influence on early Christian thought as well (though, in the west he was, in my view unfortunately, mostly displaced by Aristotle around the tenth century - the Christian east continues to have strong Platonist leanings). His primary influence on me has been in his ethics, which may actually be more Socratic than Platonic, but Plato gets credit for writing them down. Of course, the Bible is the most important source for my ethical understanding, and especially my non-consequentialism, but Plato also played an important role. Plato really has me quite convinced that, even apart from human or divine punishment, one ought to behave morally for the simple reason that, at the end of the day, one has to live with oneself. Being around immoral people is unpleasant, and we can't get away from ourselves. I also more or less buy Plato's tri-partite division of the soul, which I think is roughly equivalent to St. Paul's (in fact, I think it is almost certain that Paul was familiar with at least the Republic and that it influenced his thought patterns).
  5. Parmenides (Early 5th century, BC) - One of my favorite facts about the history of philosophy is that the earliest surviving deductively valid argument is found in a work that appeals to divine revelation - the poem of Parmenides! Here also is the first formulation of the logical Law of Non-Contradiction. Parmenides belief that "that which is" is a description picking out and fully describing one particular object, and Plato's later revision adding a realm of 'becoming' between being and not-being has been important to monotheistic theology as well: many accounts, especially those relying on ontological arguments, invovle the claim that God is the being that exists "the most" and this entails all of his other properties. Parmenides, or what's left of him, is also fun to read. I'm not joking or exaggerating when I say that I pray regularly for a complete copy of Parmenides' poem to be found.

You will notice a conspicuous absence of contemporary philosophers here. This is, unfortunately, due to a lack of familiarity on my part. I have read a not inconsiderable amount of contemporary philosophy, but I haven't read enough of any one particular contemporary philosopher to put him on a list of greats like this one. However, I will give honorable mentions to the following contemporary philosophers: Peter van Inwagen, Alvin Plantinga, Roderick Chisholm, William Lane Craig, and Richard Swinburne. The names on that list probably indicate immediately that most of the contemporary philosophy I read is philosophy of religion. I'm hoping to expand my knowledge of contemporary philosophy next semester when I will be taking undergraduate-level philosophy of religion and graduate-level contemporary metaphysics.

With that, I will pass the question on to the rest of you: who are your five favorite philosophers, and why?

Posted by Kenny at December 22, 2006 1:51 PM
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