12 Modern Male Philosophers

There’s a new book out about 12 modern philosophers. And guess what? They’re all male. Leiter’s done a poll asking which of these (or other philosophers) is likely to be read in a century. “Others not in the book” comes in at number 4, and there are some women in that category (Leiter, to his credit, suggested Nussbaum as a possibility).

I’d like to think that a century from now philosophers will look back and be amazed that women’s contributions were for so long neglected, and that books like this were compiled. Who will be the women remembered? I don’t know at all, just as I don’t know at all which men will be remembered. (I’m always amazed by people who can form views on these things!) But if you do have thoughts about women who might be remembered, head on over and suggest them!

(Thanks, Lani, Balk and Catherine!)

12 thoughts on “12 Modern Male Philosophers

  1. Which women would fit the following criteria that the editors of the book had in mind?

    “There are 12 philosophers represented here, all writing in English, and all of them active in the last third of the twentieth century…..They are all highly important figures in philosophy now: widely read, initiators of debate. Are they the top 12 philosophers of our time? Of course we make no such claim. But were someone to give a list of, say, the 20 key players, then, probably, the 12 here would be among them.”

    I am not suggesting that there aren’t any women who do but I wonder which ones would fit that criteria. No doubt there have been some great female philosophers in the last century but which would be great and fit the above?

  2. I have to second much of what MattD said (note: despite our common first name and initials, we are not the same person), though I don’t think the issue is not that women are not “great” but rather that they do not meet the broadly sociological part of the criteria laid out (i.e. – widely read and considered important). I do think a case could be made for Susan Wolf or Martha Nussbaum (especially Wolf, since I think her work very well ought to be required reading in various Intro courses in Philosophy), but I just don’t really see any women who both fit those criteria and will be read in a century. It’s a sad reflection on the field of philosophy, and hopefully if the question were asked in 2050…and were about philosophers working in the first half of the 21st century…then we’ll have more names to list.

    It’s not that women aren’t initiating debate. Sally Haslanger and Rae Langton have initiated fascinating debates. But I think it still has to be said that those debates are not considered central by the bulk of the philosophy profession.

  3. To MattD’s question, (there are too many “Matts” around here all of a sudden!) I’d say that Judith Jarvis Thomson, Ruth Milikan, and Ruth Barcan Marcus are all at least possibilities. (As well as Nussbaum, though I think that the work of hers most likely to have a long impact [as opposed to my favorite work by her- The Fragility of Goodness], has been 21st century, making her not obviously squarely in the mix. As much so as McDowell, though, maybe.) I’d not bet on it- I’d not bet on most of these figures- but depending on how trends go in philosophy, they could certainly be in the running, and they fit the criteria.

  4. It is astonishing that Ruth Millikan isn’t near the top of the list; her impact is surely as extensive as any of the others. In addition, Philippa Foot is the prime person in developing a modern virtue ethics. Pat Churchland initiated neurophilosophy and a very serious shift in philosophy of mind. Elizabeth Anscombe’s book on intention has been very influential but its significance is still hard to appreciate. We live in a period when philosophy of mind is dominated by representationalism; Elizabeth worked to develop an alternative, something commentators on her still often don’t appreciate.

    One thing that’s interesting to notice is that themes that get introduced by cognitive neuroscience and have a huge impact (e.g., emotions as an epistemic resource) were first discussed and developed by feminist philosophers.

    It might be really wrong to think that importance in philosophy is discovered by a poll.

  5. I’d forgot about Foot, but she’s not a bad choice. With many of these people, it will just depend factors that are too hard to figure. William Paley was the most influential moral philosopher of his day, and it was more due to him than to Bentham and Mill that utilitarianism had as wide an influence that it did, but it’s not for nothing that his book on ethics is almost not read today. And if you look back at the list of the people who held the most prestigious chairs in philosophy at Oxford and Cambridge, most are not even footnotes to the history of philosophy. I can imagine scenarios where Milikin or Thomson turn out to be very important (if right-wing Sellarsianism or her brand of biological thinking about language become dominant, or if a priori intuition-mongering remains among the most important approaches to ethics, for example) but it’s also easy enough to imagine these women- just like most of the men on the list- ending up with as much influence or impact as, say, Hermann Cohen or Paul Natorp.

  6. Maybe it’s just a function of my social and intellectual circle, but I know more non-philosophers who are familiar with Nussbaum and/ or Thompson than some of the people who made the list. Arguably that doesn’t say much about one’s philosophical impact, but I would think the extent of one’s broader cultural influence is indicative of the likelihood your work will still be read in 100 years.

    As a side note, Jane Austen wasn’t particularly successful while she was alive and now her work is very popular. It might just be that some modern philosophy with longevity is stuff that’s not currently being widely read.

  7. Although the authors of this book have every right to set the criteria by which they selected the 12 philosophers, for me it is helpful to ask: why is it these criteria and who selected them. I try to get my students to always ask: what are the rules/laws here, who made these rules and why is it these particular rules. It may have no bearing whatsoever on this discussion but it so often reveals the way the chips are stacked.

  8. i’m with Lani. i have to ask, in addition, why we ought to expect that the “top 12 philosophers of our time” would be writing in english.

  9. i have to ask, in addition, why we ought to expect that the “top 12 philosophers of our time” would be writing in english.

    It’s worth noting that the editors of the volume in question, 1) don’t say these are the top 12 of our time, even writing in English. They explicitly say that they are making no claims about this being the top 12, but only that they think they’d be likely choices among a top group. 2) They also say that they are focusing on top philosophers writing in English, and say this in such a way that it’s clear to any fair reader that there’s no implication that others not writing in English might not be even more important. There are better and worse criticisms that can be made about the project, but it shouldn’t be saddled with problems it doesn’t have.

  10. okay, fair enough. it reads to me kind of like a classic non-denial denial, but they do say they make no such claim.

  11. The sympathetic Matt Drabek says, “I just don’t really see any women who both fit those criteria and will be read in a century.” But I cannot resist pointing out that who’s read in a century is entirely up to persons such as the editors of such books. If they are announced as the ones to read, then they are read. If I assign a ton of Mary Midgley, then my students go on to assign her when they are teachers. The editors are precisely those with the power to have a say in who will be read. (I know Matt agrees with me, so bear with my pedantry.)

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