Experts including Peter Singer and Charles Foster write on philosophers whose work they particularly admireby Prospect Team / August 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
The question “Who is the greatest living philosopher?” is fraught with difficulty. There is, for starters, very little chance of consensus: Saul Kripke, Martha Nussbaum, David Chalmers—there are just too many candidates for the top spot. That’s before you get into the question of whether it’s possible to provide an objective answer, or whether “greatness” exists at all (philosophers are a pedantic bunch).
This is mind Prospect approached a few thinkers, many world-leading themselves, with a different task: they weren’t to name the “greatest” living philosopher, but their favourite. A thinker whose work particularly challenges them, or who encourages them to up their game. Their answers vary wildly, but all shed some light on the shape of the discipline at the moment—and the types of people working within it.
By Anthony Gottlieb, author of “The Dream of Enlightenment” (out in paperback now)
The most stimulating philosophers tend to be dead. Because my work is mainly in the history of philosophy, many of the living ones whose work I most enjoy write about the dead ones, and I am going to pick as a favourite Simon Blackburn, formerly of Cambridge University and now with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who draws inspiration from the work of the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher, David Hume. Hume is the philosopher with whom I am most often in agreement; Blackburn has helped to show, I believe, how some of Hume’s ideas can be carried forward and brought up to date.
I enjoy reading philosophers who I think are barking up the wrong trees, so long as they are barking well. The benefit of studying the work of fine thinkers with whom one disagrees is that one can stress-test one’s assumptions, and maybe even change one’s mind. But it is also important to read those who reinforce convictions that one already has, because however good you are at philosophy, there will often be better reasons for your beliefs than the ones you have already thought of. It is in this latter way that I find Blackburn’s work on Hume to be rewarding.
In addition to his academic writings—on the nature of moral values, on truth, the philosophy of language, and other matters, often but not always with a Humean twist—Blackburn has written broadly philosophical books on lust and on narcissism. These fairly deep investigations of shallowness…