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The Greatest (western) Philosophers

Image result for school of athens raphael

So who were the greatest of the greats? A new poll is available, and its top thirty reads thus:

1. Aristotle
2. Plato
3. Kant
4. Hume
5. Descartes
6. Socrates
7. Locke
8. Wittgenstein
9. Aquinas
10. Leibniz
11. Hobbes
12. Marx
13. J.S. Mill
14. Spinoza
15. Augustine
16. Frege
17. Hegel
18. Nietzsche
19. B. Russell
20. Kierkegaard
21. Berkeley
22. Quine
23. Epicurus
24. Rousseau
25. Kripke
26 Rawls
27. Carnap
28. F. Bacon
29. Bentham
30. D.K. Lewis

There were 87 names available to voters, and all 87 were ranked, although the supervisor of the poll, Brian Leiter, highlighted the top 30 I've provided here.

A couple of quick points to start, though I'll say more about these results tomorrow.

First, I am of course dismayed that William James didn't make the top 30. He came respectably close to making the cut (in the mid 30s out of the 87). But I certainly think he was deserving of higher placement than, say, Russell, Frege, Augustine, or Bacon.

The top of the list is quite conventional. It begins with Aristotle and Plato. One is reminded of Raphael's painting with those two figures at the center foreground -- Aristotle gesturing horizontally with his arm, indicating his this worldly concerns, Plato gesturing vertically with his finger, indicating otherworldly concerns.

Then the three best known names of early-modern European philosophy get posts 3-5 and then we go back to ancient Athens for Socrates. It is nice to know the time-tested verities still win polls.


  1. I wonder how Socrates gets an entry separate from Plato. Isn't it true that no writing of Socrates has survived and that we know of him only through Plato? And wasn't Socrates merely Plato's mouthpiece? Did Plato ever distinguish his views from Socrates'?

  2. Plato is not our only source for Socrates -- if he were, there would be vigorous scholarly debate on whether Socrates is a real historical figure at all. There is little or none of that, because another student of S., Xenophon, also wrote about him, Aristophanes wrote a play with Socrates as the comic butt, and Aristotle referenced Socrates in ways that suggest that he was writing for an audience that still remembered the guy.

    From all of this, scholars have tried to tease out what was S., what was merely the mouthpiece for P. of the same name. There is no "consensus" view on that subject SFAIK.


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