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Twenty-First Anniversary Survey

To mark Philosophy Now’s 21st Birthday, we posted a questionnaire on various email lists read by academic philosophers, asking which thinkers, trends and books they regarded as the most interesting or important. This isn’t because we’ve suddenly decided that only the opinions of professional philosophers matter! We just thought all our readers might be interested in the results. The 75 respondents were self-selecting. 57 were academics, 12 graduate students and 6 ‘others’. Just under a third (24) were female. Most respondents were from the English-speaking countries though there were a few each from Germany and Brazil.

A) Please name the five historical (i.e. dead) philosophers you consider the most interesting or important.

Aristotle 44
Immanuel Kant 37
Plato 31
David Hume 26
Ludwig Wittgenstein 25
René Descartes 15
G.W.F. Hegel 12
Friedrich Nietzsche 11
Bertrand Russell 10
Michel Foucault 8
Gottlob Frege 8
Willard van Orman Quine 8
Martin Heidegger 7
Simone de Beauvoir 6
Baruch Spinoza 6
David Lewis 5
Thomas Hobbes 5
Edmund Husserl 5
John Rawls 5
Socrates 5
John Locke 4
Karl Marx 4
Elizabeth Anscombe 3
Thomas Aquinas 3
John Stuart Mill 3
G.W. Leibniz 3
Wilfrid Sellars 3
Bernard Williams 3
Confucius 3
Chrysippus 2
Cicero 2
George Berkeley 2
Michael Dummett 2
Epicurus 2
Maurice Merleau-Ponty 2
Thomas Reid 2
Jean-Paul Sartre 2
Schopenhauer 2
Xunzi (Hsun Tzu) 2
Zhuangzi 2
Iris Marion Young 2

In addition to those listed, 34 other historical philosophers received one vote each. Aristotle came top, with Kant dramatically beating Plato to second place (though if Socrates’s votes are added to those for Plato, it would be a close thing!) David Hume, whose reputation has fallen and risen dramatically since his death, came 4th. The subject of this issue, Friedrich Nietzsche, came 8th. Fifty years ago he was often seen as a proto-Nazi, and twenty one years ago he was still dismissed by many philosophers as “more a poet than a philosopher.”

B) Please name the five living philosophers you consider the most interesting or important.

An astonishingly high total of 178 different living philosophers were named altogether, 45 of them women. The philosophers mentioned most often were:

Saul Kripke 14
David Chalmers 11
Timothy Williamson 10
Daniel C. Dennett 8
Hilary Putnam 8
Judith Butler 8
Jürgen Habermas 8
Derek Parfit 7
Graham Priest 6
Martha Nussbaum 6
Alvin Plantinga 5
Ian Hacking 5
John McDowell 5
John Searle 5
Linda Martin Alcoff 5
Thomas Nagel 5

C) Please name the rising star among younger philosophers (under 40) who you consider the most worth watching.

A small number of philosophers were outraged by us even asking this question, fearing that it would feed into a tendency towards ‘ranking’ young academics. However, although 52 philosophers were mentioned in the responses to this question, nearly all of them were named only once each, which would make any kind of ranking entirely meaningless anyway. They included thirteen women philosophers. Only two philosophers were mentioned even four times each: they were the logician Dr Rachael Briggs and Professor Mark Schroeder, who works mainly in meta-ethics. Interestingly, both have published papers in recent years which have later been collected in The Philosopher’ Annual. (This is a publication a bit like The Beano Annual, except that it contains what its editors judge to have been the ten best philosophy papers of the year just past.)

D) What current philosophical movement, tendency or approach do you consider to be the most interesting?

There was an extremely wide scattering of answers, with none being mentioned by more than two or three respondents. One or two people said they expected the answers to this question to be dominated by experimental philosophy, as being the most visible current trend. However, this was not the case. The results suggested instead an astonishing variety of approaches in current philosophy. Answers included:

Analytical philosophy; anti-realism; anti-theory in ethics; applied epistemology; applied ontology; attempts to move beyond the analytic/continental divide; Australian realism; Buddhist ethics; causal modelling approach; Chinese philosophy; communism as defined by Badiou; Confucian virtue ethics; constitutivism (in the theory of reasons and agency); contemporary continental political philosophy; contemporary naturalism; debate about practical reasoning and rationality; definite description approach; dialethism and more generally paraconsistency in logic; disability studies; disjunctivism; dispositional essentialism; distributed cognition and extended mind; dynamic strict conditional approach; enactivism; experimental philosophy; feminist epistemology; feminist philosophy; formal epistemology; the Frankfurt School; genetic epistemology; grounding/fundamentality in metaphysics; Hegelian idealism; hermeneutic philosophy of science; indirect realist theories of perception; intersectionality; intentionalism; knowledge-first epistemology; liberal naturalism in the philosophy of mind (i.e. panpsychism); modal rationalism; moral psychology; narrative identity; naturalism; new materialisms; new realism; non-ideal ethical theory; non-Western philosophy; normative dimensions of epistemology; phenomenology in relation to democracy; philosophers interacting with cognitive scientists; philosophy of management where it relates to continental philosophy; philosophy of music; philosophy of social and science policy; philosophy of technology; postcolonial (decolonizing) theory; post-Lacanian readings of contingency and fate; pragmatism; promiscuous realism in philosophy of science; non-positivist analytic philosophy; social epistemology and feminist epistemology; studying and naming philosophical methodology; the (revived) attempt to ground normative judgments in emotional responses; the combination of ecological approaches and phenomenology in the philosophy of mind; the new dualism in philosophy of mind; the various critical replies to experimental philosophy; virtue ethics.

E) Which two areas of philosophy (i.e. ‘Philosophy of X’) do you consider to be the most active at the present time?

Philosophy of Mind 20
Epistemology 10
Metaphysics 8
Ethics 7
Metaethics 6
Philosophy of Cognitive Science 6
Philosophy of Science 5
Experimental Philosophy 4
Philosophies of Gender and Race 4
Applied Ethics 3
Marxism (Eastern and Western) 3
Philosophy of Perception 3
Philosophy of Psychology 3
Ecological Philosophy 3

There were many other areas of philosophy which received just one or two votes.

F) What is the most interesting philosophy book published in the last five years?

Sixty one books were recommended, but no book was recommended more than once except for Derek Parfit’s recent blockbuster On What Matters, which was named four times. Parfit’s masterly synthesis of leading ethical theories circulated in photocopied form for several years before finally being published, with commentaries by four other moral philosophers, in 2011. (It was reviewed in Philosophy Now Issue 87.)

Many thanks to everyone who took part in the survey!

David Chalmers

David Chalmers is an Australian philosopher of mind perhaps most famous for formulating the ‘hard problem of consciousness’. The problem is not in explaining how we can detect and respond to the world (mindless robots can do that), but explaining how what might generally be called our experiences (or ‘phenomena’), can be produced through the activity of the brain. Chalmers has argued that since zombies (i.e., mindless but animate human bodies and brains) are conceivable, there must be a conceptual distinction between brains and experienced phenomena, meaning that experiences are not just physical things.

Saul Kripke

Saul Kripke is an American philosopher from Princeton who is known for focusing on an analysis of language and on modal logic, which is concerned with how to talk about possible worlds. For instance, his 1980 book Naming and Necessity argued that names are ‘rigid designators’ and refer to the same thing in all possible worlds, e.g. ‘Richard Nixon’ would refer to the same man whether or not he had become President. Kripke also makes the point that different names for the same thing can highlight how the way we refer to something can affect the truth of propositions about that thing, e.g. it’s true that Mary Jane knows that Peter Parker is Peter Parker, and that Spiderman is Spiderman, but it’s not true that she knows that Peter Parker is Spiderman.


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