Sunday, January 3, 2010

From the Department of Silly Rankings: The Best Philosophers

I recently posted about my general dislike of ordinal rankings (here). In some cases, I acknowledge, rankings can serve a useful function, for instance by informing consumers of currently most popular or best-selling books. In other contexts, however, rankings - for instance, of "best Beatles songs" - seem to me downright silly.

No recent ranking has struck me as more silly than the legal philosopher Brian Leiter's ranking of philosophers (here), based on non-scientific polling of readers of his philosophy blog. The results, based on Condorcet voting, are, for the most part, not particularly surprising. Plato narrowly beat out Aristotle for number one. The drop to Kant in third place was fairly steep, indicating that Plato and Aristotle are pretty much the consensus top philosophers. One intriguing result of the polling is that, while Plato came in 1st, Socrates came in only 6th, losing to his own student head-to-head by 548-101. Since we don't know anything about Socrates or his philosophy apart from Plato's reports, I can't help but wonder how voters separated the two thinkers.

More generally, I have to wonder what the various philosophers themselves would make of the rankings. I can imagine Wittgenstein either physically attacking Leiter (as he reportedly attacked Karl Popper during a debate) or simply storming away, vowing never again to have, let alone record, any idea. Kierkegaard would probably kill himself. And Hume might just laugh out loud at the silliness - which was my own initial reaction.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I actively moderate comments for spam, advertisements, and abusive or offensive language.