Which philosophers, both classical and modern, still speak to our times?


Which philosophers, both classical and modern, still speak to our times?

I look forward to your feedback.

All of those someone who is not a professional historian of philosophy may have heard of do, in some respect or other. If they don’t “speak to our times” about something, for someone, they will have been forgotten.

Since this is apt to be a matter of debate, let’s move this to GD.

General Questions Moderator

Descartes still pops up a lot in debate threads here about the nature of knowledge and the question of solipsism.

Thomas Aquinas had a huge influence on the shape and form of modern Christianity – more than St. Paul…perhaps. (I think so, but couldn’t argue it properly.) Anyway, huge.

Galileo helped give us modern science. Karl Popper, ditto.

Martin Gardner helped found the modern “skepticism” school – and The Straight Dope is a vigorous participant in that school.

Then there’s Epicurus the Sage… (“He even walks like Democritus…”)

Most of Aristotle’s philosophy is wrong or obsolete or irrelevant, but at least he did systematize formal logic, which remains useful.

I don’t quite understand the question, but I’d recommend reading a book on philosophy. Read the beginning of each chapter and skip to the next one when you get bored.

Bertrand Russell’s History of Philosophy is good.

I’ve cracked the first dozen pages of this book. It’s a fairly easy introduction.

Plato and Socrates are still relevant. All Enlightenment philosophers and those subsequent are relevant. You can start with Descartes and work forward.

Is the OP asking which philosophers are worth reading? That’s another question.

Confucious, Laozi and the Buddha are worth reading because of the rising power and prominence of Asia.

:smack: …on the history of philosophy. (I gave 2 examples).

While I’m here: it’s worth reading about Buddha et al. I’m not saying reading the original is required, depending upon your goals.

Nonsense. His physics and astronomy is obsolete, sure, but that is a tiny fraction of his philosophy. His approach to ethics, however is as good as anyone else’s since, and is still taken as seriously as any other by professional ethicists; his metaphysics still underpins much of what many people (including scientists) implicitly believe today about the fundamental constitution of reality; his approach to philosophy of mind has been convincingly argued to be more compatible with modern ides about about cognition, the mind-brain relationship, machine intelligence, etc. than other, more recent approaches such as those descending from Descartes.

Given the breadth of his philosophical work, one could go on, at length.

Anyway, as I said in post #2, any philosopher whose work is still seriously discussed today, which essentially means anyone a non-specialist is likely to have heard of, ipso facto still speaks to our times. Either someone thinks that some aspect of their thought is importantly right, and deserves more recognition, or that it is importantly wrong and has a significant influence (people are often influenced by philosophical ideas without knowing where they came from) that needs to be curtailed. There are plenty of people who thing one or other of those things about one or another aspect of Aristotle’s thought.

The Nicomachean Ethics?! You can’t be serious! See Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, Chapter XX, where he quotes at length Aristotle’s description of the “magnanimous man,” and remarks, “One shudders to think what a vain man would be like.” All of Aristotle’s ethics were for and about an aristocratic and slaveholding society. None of is ethically valid now or even then.

What about moral decay, (antipathy toward ) technology, economics and education? Surely Nietzsche, Max Weber and Heidegger(controversial though he may be) and Marx still have something to teach us.

Aristotle taught us how to think . . . and sadly, that makes him “obsolete or irrelevant.”

Assuming you mean “modern” in a wide sense, like anyone from the 20th century, then I still like Foucault’s views on a surveillance society and Baudrillard’s whole hypereality shtick. They’re both dead, and in the strictest academic sense occupy different philosophic movements – modernist vs postmodernist – but I think they made a lot of very clever predictions about a 21st century society.

I have been reading Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and I find it remarkably relevant to modern times. It’s basically existential humanism in Stoic form.

Philosophy prof checking in, FWIW. Some desultory thoughts:

Descartes’ substance dualism is not a position anyone takes seriously anymore, a few threads on message boards notwithstanding.

Aquinas has been a huge influence on Catholic theology–wedding it to Aristotelianism–but it’s a stretch to say his influence is bigger than Paul’s.

Karl Popper did not help give us modern science. He is wholly overrated by non-philosophers.

Aristotle did not “systematize formal logic,” as if logic is one thing. There are many systems of logic, Aristotelian categorical logic being but one system–and a comparatively expressively weak system of logic at that. Fregean mathematical logic is a far more powerful system of logic. And while categorical logic can analyze elements smaller than the assertion/proposition, propositional logic offers a meta-theoretical foundation for using logical connectives–very useful. Again, logic is not one system, but a collection of systems for thinking formally, for saying what can be said most generally about objects and their properties.
Bertrand Russell’s History is a terrible history of philosophy. He is a major figure in the development of Fregean logic–despite the failure of logicism–but his understanding of the history of philosophy is tendentious at best, and often just plain misinformed. You cannot understand the history of philosophy in any meaningful way by reading his book, because he didn’t understand it himself. The guy didn’t even understand Kant, ffs.

Aristotelian ethics are virtue ethics, not modern “other-regarding” ethics. He may be right or wrong, but either claim is uninformative if no distinction between the two is made. The bigger issue is which conception of a human being is more helpful: the Aristotelian/Grecian eudaimonist conception (a good person is one who lives well, given the kind of thing a human being is), or a more modern conception of a good person as one who thinks/acts in an appropriately other-regarding way (however that gets spun viz utilitarianism and Kantian deontology). But simply dismissing Aristotelian ethics outright is philosophically glib, and not at all informative. Appealing to Russell on the matter is no help whatsoever.

“Modern” philosophy begins with Descartes, and arguably ends with the linguistic turn of the mid-20th century. It does not mean “contemporary.” In general, it is the view that epistemology is first philosophy. Pragmatism and its mid-century contributors (cf. Quine, Wittgenstein, Sellars), have arguably dealt it a final, mortal blow.

Nietzsche is always relevant, although rarely understood.

OK, I’ll stop.

I can’t imagine anything would be much different if none of them had written a word.

Why so eager to denigrate your imagination?

Thank you; this is helpful. I haven’t read Russell’s History, but BrainGlutton’s dismissal didn’t square with what I know of Aristotle’s ethics.

Thank you for continuing the fight against ignorance. Apropos nothing, I understand that the book was Russell’s bread and butter for many years.

What book(s) on the history of philosophy (or history of thought, depending) would you recommend? IMHO, throwing in a little local color and even expressing your views are good things, provided you impart an understanding of the material and therefore leave scope for reader disagreement. At least in introductory works.

Meh. He’s really only relevant because he’s so quotable. To any Nietzsche quote, my usual first and second reactions, and not mine alone, I’m sure, are:

  1. Wow! :eek:

  2. WTF?! :confused:

Can you recommend a better?