What Makes a Philosopher Great? : Thirteen Arguments for Twelve Philosophers book cover
1st Edition

What Makes a Philosopher Great?
Thirteen Arguments for Twelve Philosophers

ISBN 9781138936164
Published November 9, 2017 by Routledge
282 Pages

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Book Description

This book is inspired by a single powerful question. What is it to be great as a philosopher? No single grand answer is presumed to be possible; instead, rewardingly close studies of philosophical greatness are developed. This is a scholarly yet accessible volume, blending metaphilosophy with the long history of philosophy and traversing centuries and continents. The result is a series of case studies by accomplished scholars, each chapter trying to understand and convey a particular philosopher’s greatness:

Lloyd P. Gerson on Plato

Karyn Lai on Zhuangzi

David Bronstein on Aristotle

Jonardon Ganeri on Buddhaghosa

Jeffrey Hause on Aquinas

Gary Hatfield on Descartes

Karen Detlefsen on du Châtelet

Don Garrett on Hume

Allen Wood on Kant (as a moral philosopher)

Nicholas F. Stang on Kant (as a metaphysician)

Ken Gemes on Nietzsche

Cheryl Misak on Peirce

David Macarthur on Wittgenstein

This also serves a larger philosophical purpose. Might we gain increased clarity about what philosophy is in the first place? After all, in practice we individuate philosophy partly through its greatest practitioners’ greatest contributions.

The book does not discuss every philosopher who has been regarded as great. The point is not to offer a definitive list of The Great Philosophers, but, rather, to learn something about what great philosophy is and might be, from illuminated examples of past greatness.

Table of Contents


Preface and acknowledgements

List of contributors

  1. Philosophical greatness: Introducing the very idea
  2. Stephen Hetherington

  3. Plato, Platonism, and the history of philosophy
  4. Lloyd P. Gerson

  5. Zhuangzi’s suggestiveness: Sceptical questions
  6. Karyn Lai

  7. Aristotle as systematic philosopher: Essence, necessity, and explanation in theory and practice
  8. David Bronstein

  9. Attention to greatness: Buddhaghosa
  10. Jonardon Ganeri

  11. Aquinas’s complex web
  12. Jeffrey Hause

  13. Descartes as a great philosopher: Comprehensive physics, mechanistic embodiment, and methodological systematicity
  14. Gary Hatfield

  15. Émilie du Châtelet on women’s minds and education
  16. Karen Detlefsen

  17. What’s so great about Hume?
  18. Don Garrett

  19. Is Kant a great moral philosopher?
  20. Allen Wood

  21. ‘How is metaphysics possible?’ Kant’s great question and his great answer
  22. Nicholas F. Stang

  23. Nietzsche: This time it’s personal
  24. Ken Gemes

  25. What makes Peirce a great philosopher?
  26. Cheryl Misak

  27. Wittgenstein’s un-ruley solution to the problem of philosophy

           David Macarthur

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Stephen Hetherington is Professor of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales. His publications include Epistemology’s Paradox (1992), Good Knowledge, Bad Knowledge (2001), How to Know (2011), and Knowledge and the Gettier Problem (2016).


"What is the difference between a merely good philosopher and a great one? Lists of the great (and usually dead) philosophers presuppose an answer to this question but it's far from obvious what the answer is. The distinguished contributors to this terrific volume advance our understanding of what great philosophy is and explain the greatness of some of the greatest philosophers."

--Quassim Cassam, University of Warwick