Best At Doing Philosophy

 

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.

 

 

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14 replies
  1. Henry Cohen
    Henry Cohen says:

    I am an amateur at philosophy, but back in the 1980s, I read Kripke’s “Wittgenstein’s on Rules and Private Language” and your riposte in “Wittgenstein on Meaning,” and I thought that you were obviously right. Therefore, I’m surprised that you rate Kripke so highly. But I’ve read no other Kripke and probably wouldn’t understand much of it if I did.

    Reply
  2. Joseph K.
    Joseph K. says:

    This is my considered opinion also.

    To anyone fancying himself a sage and who, having considered the same matter, arrives at a different considered opinion, I reply that you have considered the matter alright (considered the matter with such a mind as you have anyway), but you have not considered it aright.

    For this you have only your lack of intellectual power to blame.

    Reply
      • Joseph K.
        Joseph K. says:

        It’s an interesting opinion that seems plausible. I haven’t studied Berkeley closely enough to judge that myself though. In which of his works were you most impressed by his brilliance? Is it mainly his Principles of Human Knowledge, his Dialogues, or some other work?

        Reply
          • Joseph K.
            Joseph K. says:

            Interesting. I’d always naively assumed that the Dialogues was a derivative work, setting forth with more expository flair those principles the more rigorous proof of which was to be found in Berkeley’s *Principles*. Definitely going to give it a read soon in light of what you’ve just told me.

  3. jgkess@cfl.rr.com
    jgkess@cfl.rr.com says:

    Lots of cross-classification in the criteria you propose. Seldom it seems that philosophers secure the lot. Berkeley I’ve never read thoroughly, but might give him another try. Wittgenstein said of Ayer: “The trouble with Freddie Ayer is that he’s clever All the time.”. I don’t think he would have said that of you. Question: Was Dummett ever witty in conversation, or for that matter clever? I can find nothing of either in his written works.

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  4. Colin McGinn
    Colin McGinn says:

    I’m only clever when I think it’s helpful. The odd thing about Dummett was that he chuckled constantly but not about anything you could discern. I never heard him make a joke.

    Reply
  5. jgkess@cfl.rr.com
    jgkess@cfl.rr.com says:

    I knew a guy in high-school who used to chuckle after everything he said. We all took it as some sort of Tourette syndrome tic. My sister tells me that he does it to this day. Seems to be working for him though, since he’s become rich “beyond the dreams of avarice”. Ahh, if we could all just chuckle the days away..

    Reply
  6. Manuel Armenteros
    Manuel Armenteros says:

    I have been reading Locke, Hume and Descartes. They are excellent.

    I need to go back to Berkeley. For me, Schopenhauer is excellent too, and would him to that fantastic list.

    Reply

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