Best At Doing Philosophy
I found myself wondering who is the best at actually doing philosophy—the activity, the skill. I mean as judged by such criteria as cleverness, ingenuity, argumentative power, intellectual penetration, insight, polemical punch, sheer philosophical IQ. This is independent of correctness or quantity of output. Here is my answer: Descartes, Hume, Berkeley, and Russell. These are the guys who really stand out for philosophical intelligence. I imagine my readers will nod in assent, though they may wish to add someone who has impressed them particularly. They are some pretty smart cookies all right. But it may surprise you to learn that I regard Berkeley as the clear champ: he is just so sharp, so intellectually resourceful, so outright brilliant (outrageously so). Not that I agree with his conclusions, but his cleverness is second to none. But what about more recent practitioners? Yes, there have been some impressively gifted philosophers in more recent times: Frege, Husserl, Kripke, Lewis, Strawson, Fodor, and many others. But none of these strikes me as preternaturally brilliant, inhumanly so. And where do I stand in this? Actually I think it takes one to know one, so I place myself next to the idealist bishop. I feel a certain kinship with our misguided theist; I feel we speak the same language. I’m not claiming to prove this here, but it is my considered opinion. I even think I need to curb my cleverness sometimes, as if it is leading me down the wrong path. No doubt others will vehemently disagree. It’s a question worth contemplating.