What Makes a Philosopher Great?
Thirteen Arguments for Twelve Philosophers
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
- Philosophical greatness: Introducing the very idea
- Plato, Platonism, and the history of philosophy
- Zhuangzi’s suggestiveness: Sceptical questions
- Aristotle as systematic philosopher: Essence, necessity, and explanation in theory and practice
- Attention to greatness: Buddhaghosa
- Aquinas’s complex web
- Descartes as a great philosopher: Comprehensive physics, mechanistic embodiment, and methodological systematicity
- Émilie du Châtelet on women’s minds and education
- What’s so great about Hume?
- Is Kant a great moral philosopher?
- ‘How is metaphysics possible?’ Kant’s great question and his great answer
- Nietzsche: This time it’s personal
- What makes Peirce a great philosopher?
- Wittgenstein’s un-ruley solution to the problem of philosophy
Lloyd P. Gerson
Nicholas F. Stang
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