When we hear the word “philosopher," we tend to think of Ancient Greeks like Socrates or Plato, or perhaps the Frenchman René Descartes, or maybe infamous Germans like Karl Marx or Friedrich Nietzsche. Influential philosophers thus seem to populate the past. But are there any important philosophers living in the world today?
We can thank philosophers, both past and present, for a number of our deeply held beliefs. These beliefs dictate how we understand and involve ourselves in the world. For millennia, philosophers have attempted to shape our beliefs, usually behind the scenes, and their influence is present in many of our existing practices, institutions, and basic assumptions about ourselves and the world we think we know.
Contemporary philosophers are enormously influential right now. Take Princeton's Peter Singer and his work on animal ethics. How society sees its responsibilities to nonhuman others owes much to Singer. Though usually not household names, contemporary philosophers have radically altered the way we think about all sorts of things --- from the nature of God to the role of race in democracy.
Philosophy, one of the oldest areas of intellectual endeavor, is as significant today as ever. This list collects together the 50 most influential philosophers working, thinking, writing, and teaching in the world today. Note that this list is not a ranking --- the philosophers are presented alphabetically.
The Most Influential Living Philosophers
1Kwame Anthony Appiah
Kwame Anthony Appiah was born in London, grew up in Ghana, received his Ph.D. from Clare College, Cambridge, and currently is a Professor with the NYU Department of Philosophy and the NYU School of Law. Much of his focus is in political theory and moral philosophy, and he is a leading name in race and identity studies. His early work was in the philosophy of language, and its influence carries into his later, more significant work in political and moral theory.
In his books Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race (1996) and The Ethics of Identity (2005), Appiah has approached the notion of “biological race” as conceptually problematic, and argues that such notions of group identity like race, religion, gender, and sexuality harm the individual by oversimplifying their identity and constraining their freedom. In keeping with this line of argument, Appiah has been critical of what he identifies as contemporary Afrocentrism, and has promoted a philosophy of cosmopolitanism that goes beyond nationality and citizenship, a message that he spreads through lectures given at universities worldwide.
Web resource: Kwame Anthony Appiah's Home Page.
Alain Badiou studied at the Lycée Louis-Le-Grand and the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, and is a key figure in French philosophy and Marxist and Communist thought in the last half-century. He holds the title of the René Descartes Chair and Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School, is the former Chair of Philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, and a founder of the faculty of Philosophy at the Université de Paris VIII, along with such major names as Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard. Badiou, who has always been known for being politically active and outspoken, was involved in militant leftist groups as a young man, such as the Union des Communistes de France Marxiste-Léniniste, and is a founding member of the Unified Socialist Party in France. Badiou's work combines mathematics, political theory, and ontology, to focus on issues of truth, being, and subject. Having studied under Louis Althusser, Badiou's philosophical approach has been influenced by Althusserian Marxism, and the psychoanalysis of Jacque Lacan. His most famous work is Being and Event (1988), which presents a shift away from these initial influences, establishes and brings together many of his key ideas.
Web resource: Alain Badiou's Home Page.
Simon Blackburn earned his Ph.D. from Churchill College in 1970. He is a retired Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, but still holds the title of Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, a member of the professoriate of the New College of the Humanities. Blackburn is the former President of the Aristotelian Society and Fellow of the British Academy. In philosophy, Blackburn's work is primarily concerned with metaethics, arguing for a quasi-realist approach, arguing that, rather than expressing propositions, ethical sentences project emotional attitudes as though they were real properties. This position is derived from his defense and application of neo-Humean views, displayed in such books as Essays in Quasi-Realism (1993). Blackburn has been influential as patron of the British Humanist Organization and mainstream figure of atheism (though he refers to himself as an “infidel”), and has been vocal about the need for the reduction of religious influence in politics and governmental issues.
Web resource: Simon Blackburn's Home Page.
Robert Brandom earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1977, and is currently a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh. Brandom is a philosophical pragmatist, and works in the areas of philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and logic. Drawing on the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Immanuel Kant, and Wilfrid Sellars, Brandom has spent much of his work focusing on the relationship between the socially normative use of language and the meaning of linguistic items. Brandom has been most influential for his work in semantics, such as in his book Making it Explicit (1994). In this text, Brandom explores the role of inference in the attribution of meaning to linguistic expressions, arguing that the meaning of expressions is developed through what we can infer about that expression in relation to other expressions, about which our ability to do so is governed by the social norm usage of language.
Web resource: Robert Brandom's Home Page.
Tyler Burge earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1971, and is currently Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at UCLA. He is primarily known for his work in philosophy of mind, but has also done work in logic, epistemology, philosophy of language, and history of philosophy. Burge has been most influential with his article “Individualism and Self-Knowledge” (1988) in which he argued for the theory in philosophy of mind of “anti-individualism.” Essentially, Burge has argued for a conception of the mind in which the contents of one's own thoughts are not entirely the product of the individual, but are, to some extent, also the product of the environment. Significantly, Burge's theory breaks with the Cartesian model of mind, while retaining some limited agreement, rather than completely rejecting the Cartesian model. This theory has been controversial, as his critics claim that it undermines one's claims about their own thought contents.
Web resource: Tyler Burge's Home Page.
Judith Butler earned her Ph.D. from Yale in 1984, and currently holds the title of Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School. She is primarily known as a major proponent of gender theory and criticism, and her work has been influential to many areas of critical thought, both in and out of philosophy, including ethics, political philosophy, feminist theory, queer theory, and literary theory. Butler has seen influence and sparked controversy as a globally vocal advocate of LGBTQ rights and as a critic the politics and actions of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
With many books published to her name, Butler is probably most famous for her 1990 work Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Much of her work has been focused on developing the ideas of gender performativity and construction, which are significantly addressed in this text. Essentially, Butler argues that sex, gender, and sexuality are all culturally constructed normative frameworks, and as such, the individual uses their body in the performance of identifying with or against these norms. This book has been very influential in feminist and queer theory, as well as in political discourse of gender and identity issues.
Web resource: Judith Butler's Home Page.
Nancy Cartwright earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, and is currently a Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at San Diego and the University of Durham. She also holds the titles of Professor Emeritus at the London School of Economics, Fellow of the British Academy, Tsing Hua Honorary Distinguished Chair Professor at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, and Visiting Research Fellow at Ca' Foscari University in Venice. She is a co-founder of the Center for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics and the Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society at the University of Durham. Cartwright's work is primarily focused in philosophy of science. Specifically, Cartwright has been influential because of her focus on the actual practice of science, rather than the abstract theorizing that is usually performed in the area of philosophy of science.
Web resource: Nancy Cartwright's Home Page.
David Chalmers earned his Ph.D. in philosophy and cognitive science as a Rhodes Scholar at Indiana University Bloomington in 1993 under Douglas Hofstadter, and was also a post-doctoral fellow in the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology program under Andy Clark at Washington University in St. Louis. Currently Chalmers holds the title of Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Centre for Consciousness at the Australian National University, and is a Professor of Philosophy at New York University. Chalmers is both a philosopher and cognitive scientist who focuses his work in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and their points of overlap with cognitive science. Chalmers identifies his philosophical view as “naturalistic dualism”, and is critical of physical reductionist explanations of mental experience, citing an “explanatory gap” between accounts of objective and subjective experience. Chalmers is best known for his influential formulation of the “hard problem” of consciousness, and his introduction of the “philosophical zombies” thought experiment, which he has used to argue the thesis that physical properties alone cannot account for cognition and sentience.
Also, for most of his career he looked like Dave Mustaine from Megadeth.
Web resource: David Chalmers's Home Page.
Noam Chomsky may be the “father of modern linguistics,” and Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT, but his interests and influence extend into philosophy, cognitive science, history, logic, social criticism, and political activism. His work is widely cited (making him one of the most cited scholars in history), and he has encountered more than his fair share of controversy, both in academia, and in his public life. As a child, Chomsky took trips to New York City, where he found (and was encouraged to read) books that introduced him to ideas of resistance and anarchism. In 1945, at just 16 years old, Chomsky began his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, from where he would study linguistics, mathematics, philosophy, and eventually earn a Ph.D., before being appointed to Harvard University's Society of Fellows.
Chomsky's work in linguistics challenged the school of thought that dominated linguistics at the time, structural linguistics, and helped establish the field as a natural science, by approaching the study of linguistics through the lens of cognitive science, such as in his book Syntactic Structures (1957). In the process, Chomsky developed the ideas of universal grammar, transformational grammar, and generative grammar, giving rise to the “linguistics wars” with his critics. Besides generating academic controversy, Chomsky is well known for his political views and publications, which are anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war, with his essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” (1967) being a prime example. For his political activism, Chomsky has been arrested multiple times, and was even on President Richard Nixon's “Enemies List.”
Chomsky is also featured in our article, "The 10 Most Controversial College Professors in the U.S."
Web resource: Noam Chomsky's Home Page.
Andy Clark earned his Ph.D. from the University of Stirling, and currently holds the titles of Professor of Philosophy and Chair in Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Clark's work is primarily focused in philosophy of mind, in particular how it relates to cognitive science, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Clark's views run counter to traditional models of cognition in that, rather than understanding cognition as a one-way flow of sensory phenomena, he argues that cognition takes a two-way route of sensory input, assessment, and prediction. These views have been applied in his criticism of the computational model of artificial intelligence.
Clark has perhaps been most influential in his development of the “extended mind” hypothesis, presented in the essay "The Extended Mind" (1998) that he co-authored with David Chalmers. In this hypothesis, building upon the aforementioned ideas, it is argued that the mind and the world form a kind of information feedback loop in which the mind is not just within the individual experiencing the world, but that it extends into the environment they are experiencing
Web resource: Andy Clark's Home Page.
11William Lane Craig
After earning two M.A.s at divinity school, William Lane Craig earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Birmingham, England in 1977, and a doctorate in theology from the Universität München in Germany in 1984. Craig is primarily a Christian theologian and apologist, as well as an analytic philosopher, and is recognized for his theological work and cosmological arguments. Specifically, Craig is best known for his use of the Kalam cosmological argument, which has roots in medieval Islam, as proof of the existence of God. For Craig, in this argument if everything that begins to exist has a cause of existence, and the universe began to exist, then the universe must have a cause of existence, which he argues to be a divine, omniscient God. Craig's most famous book is Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (1994) in which he discussed reformed epistemology, Christian apologetics, and the application of his ideas to evangelism. Craig has been most influential as a major voice of contemporary theology.
Web resource: William Lane Craig's Home Page.
Daniel Dennett received his Ph.D. in philosophy at Oxford in 1965, and he is currently the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Dennett is a cognitive scientist in addition to being a philosopher, and his work considers philosophy of mind and science in relation to the fields of cognitive science and evolutionary biology.
Though he has done significant work in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, such as arguing for consciousness the product of the interaction between physical and cognitive processes in the brain in his book Consciousness Explained (1991), Dennett might be most well known for his criticism of religion. Dennett, an atheist and strong supporter of evolution (arguing for natural selection as an algorithmic process) has seen plenty of criticism and controversy from religious groups for his views, and has the unofficial title of one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism,” (self-imposed) along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In his book Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (1995), Dennett has argued that the origin of morality can be found in evolution, and not from abstract sources.
Web resource: Daniel Dennett's Home Page.
Edmund L. Gettier is Professor Emeritus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and his work is focused in epistemology. Gettier stands out on this list because, unlike many of his counterparts, many of whom are best known for long, dense books, developed over the length of their careers, Gettier's fame and influence in the philosophy game comes from a three-page long essay written at the beginning of his career (which, reportedly, he only wrote on a whim in order to pad his publication list). Though short, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” (1963) has been influential far beyond its diminutive page length, lays out a problem at the center of a long-running philosophical debate, and has likely been read by every philosophy undergraduate in most of the last century.In the landmark essay, Gettier challenged the classic “justified true belief” (JTB) model of knowledge, which dates back to Plato. Gettier used two thought experiments to show that even if the three conditions of the JTB model are met by a claim (It is true; I believe it is true; I am justified in believing it is true), this does not necessarily constitute that the claim is knowledge. Because of this, Gettier argued that the JTB model is insufficient for accounting for knowledge, and we need a different conceptual approach to understand what knowledge is. This gave rise to what has been called the “Gettier Problem,” although the problem itself did not originate with him. It also gave rise to the foundationalism and coherentism debate as a response to this problem. Quitting while he was ahead, Gettier has since published nothing.
Web resource: Edmund Gettier's Home Page.
As an undergraduate, Allan Gibbard studied mathematics and physics, before earning a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard in 1971, and holds the position of Richard B. Brandt Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Gibbard's primary focus in in metaethics, and has been influential in arguing for a contemporary form of non-cognitivism, in which ethical sentences cannot be true or false because they do not express propositions. This is opposed to the cognitivist view that claims ethical sentences are capable of being objectively true. Like Christine Korsgaard, Gibbard is concerned with normativity.
In his major book Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgement (1990) Gibbard has argued for the significance of the role that feelings play in our development and understanding of moral norms. In his view, if we perceive someone's actions as rational, then we are endorsing the actions, and so, accepting them and the norms that they represent and enforce. Feelings like acceptance, guilt, and resentment, then, significantly affect our sense of moral norms. Ethical statements cannot be objective, and so, neither are neither true nor false.
Web resource: Allan Gibbard's Home Page.
Susan Haack received her Ph.D. from Cambridge in 1972, and is currently a Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Miami. Haack's work can be primarily described as pragmatic philosophy, and she has written on logic, philosophy of language, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of law, philosophy of science, feminism, and literature.
While her interests and writings range in many different areas of philosophical study, Haack is probably best known for her influential book Evidence and Inquiry (1993) in which she presented her epistemological theory of “foundherentism.” Through this idea, Haack to applied her pragmatic approach to epistemology in order to account for the justification of knowledge, avoiding the problem of infinite regress which foundationalism falls prey to, while also avoiding the problem of circularity that plagues coherentism. Much of her later work has been concerned with defending science and scientific inquiry against skepticism and faulty epistemologies, with religious doctrine being a primary obstacle.
Web resource: Susan Haack's Home Page.
In the late 1950s, Jürgen Habermas studied philosophy and sociology at the Institute for Social Research Frankfurt am Main, the “Frankfurt School,” under none other than Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. After some disagreements, Habermas finished his education studying political science at the University of Marburg under notable Marxist Wolfgang Abendroth. Habermas would also teach at the Frankfurt school, retiring in 1994. Habermas works in the traditions of critical theory and pragmatism, and has been very influential to philosophy and sociology.
Habermas has placed a great deal of emphasis on the power of rational discourse. In what is perhaps his most important work, Theory of Communicative Action (1981), Habermas expressed criticism of modern society for the development of the welfare state, corporate capitalism, and its demand for mass consumption. Habermas argued that with the development of modern industrial society since the start of the 19th century, democracy shifted from being participatory to representative, and the body of the public lost its voice in the democratic discourse, as public life became rationalized and quantified. With some controversy, Habermas has called for the need to shift from representative democracy to a deliberative one, in which discourse is made equal again among citizens and government.
John Haldane studied art before pursuing philosophy, earning a B.A. in fine art in 1975 from the Wimbledon School of Art in London, before going on earn a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of London in. 1984. Haldane is currently a University Professor at the University of St. Andrews, holds the title of J. Newton Rayzor Sr. Distinguished Chair in Philosophy at Baylor University, and is the current chairman of the Royal Institute of Philosophy in the U.K. Haldane is not just a notable analytical philosopher, but is recognizable in the mainstream; he has published articles in art magazines, and contributed to numerous television programs. Haldane is a catholic, he and is a papal adviser to the Vatican.
Haldane is most notable for his work on Thomas Aquinas. Haldane has coined the term “Analytical Thomism” to describe the philosophical movement he has spearheaded, which has been influential in re-popularizing the ideas of Aquinas in contemporary philosophy. Analytical Thomism seeks to merge the ideas of contemporary analytical philosophy with the ideas of 13th century thinker (and saint) Thomas Aquinas. Through his work, Haldane has been influential in developing a space for Catholic philosophy in the modern analytical landscape.
Web resource: John Haldane's Home Page.
Graham Harman received his Ph.D. at DePaul University in Chicago in 1999, and is currently a Professor of Philosophy at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Harman's work has primarily focused on metaphysics and ontology, and he has been influential as a key figure in speculative realism and the development of object oriented ontology. Harman's goal in philosophy has been to reject anthropocentric philosophical views in favor of a metaphysical realist approach. In his first and major work, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (2002), and in other works since, he has used Martin Heidegger's concept of “tool-analysis” to legitimately examine the autonomous existence of objects, removed from their relationships with humans, resulting in the term “tool-being,” which gives the book its namesake. In his view, everything is an object (human, animal, rock, city, etc.), existing on a level ontological and metaphysical plane. Harman's philosophy is primarily concerned with understanding objects in the world as things-in-themselves, without allusion to anthropocentric qualities of being.
Web resource: Graham Harman's Home Page.
John Hawthorne earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University and from 2006 to 2015 was the Wayneflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Oxford. Currently he holds the title of Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. Hawthorne's work primarily focuses on metaphysics and epistemology, and his most influential book on the subjects is Metaphysical Essays (2006). His philosophical views present a kind of pragmatism, as he argues against epistemic contextualism; the meaning of the word “know” does not change in regards to context of the truth statement expressing what is known. However, Hawthorne grants that this is separate from whether the subject can be said to have knowledge, which depends on the subject's own context.
Web resource: John Hawthorne's Home Page.
John Heil is currently a Professor of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis, and holds the title of Honorary Research Associate at Monash University. Heil's work combines metaphysics with philosophy of mind, using each realm as a way of understanding the other. In his book The Universe as we Find It (2012), Heil considers how our notions of causation and truth making contribute to our ontological understanding of the world, and pursues the application of this ontology to contemporary philosophical problems.
Heil is most influential as an educator in philosophy. He is probably better known for his book Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction (first ed. 1998), which seeks to provide a simple, broad introduction to the area of contemporary philosophy of mind for both students of philosophy, and interested readers in the general public.
Web resource: John Heil's Home Page.
Ingvar Johansson earned his Ph.D. in 1973 at the University of Gothenburg and holds the title of Professor Emeritus in the Department of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Umeå University in Sweden. Johansson primarily works in the area of ontology, and is an epistemological fallibilist. In his book Ontological Investigations: An Inquiry into the Categories of Nature, Man, and Society (1989) Johansson has worked toward developing a modern realist version of Aristotle's theory of categories, in order to update Aristotle's ontology and for the theory to be made compatible with modern science. More recently, Johannson has been focused on applied ontology in the area of medical information science, working with the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science at Saarland University.
Web resource: Ingvar Johansson's Home Page.
Korean American philosopher Jaegwon Kim earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 1962 and holds the title of Professor Emeritus from Brown University. His research is focused in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and metaphysics, and he has been influential in his work on mental causation,the mind-body problem, and supervenience. Kim is known for rejecting Cartesian metaphysics, though he does argue for a kind of dualism. Though he has argued both for and against a physicalist and non-physicalist account of mental states, Kim's current dualism, he admits, is more on the side of physicalism. He holds that while some mental states (intentional mental states, such as beliefs and desires) can be reduced to physical sources in the brain, other mental states, (phenomenal mental states, such as sensations) cannot be reduced to physical sources, and are epiphenomenal.
Web resource: Jaegwon Kim's Home Page.
Christine Korsgaard received her Ph.D. from Harvard and currently holds the title of Arthur Kindsley Porter Professor of Philosophy at Harvard. Korsgaard is primarily interested in moral philosophy and how it relates to metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of identity, and issues of normativity. Best known for her defense of Kantian moral philosophy in The Sources of Normativity (1992), Korsgaard sought to justify, not just explain, the notion that people have moral obligations to one another. To do this, she surveyed several major arguments about moral obligation, all of which call for the necessity of normative entities in determining moral obligation, finding that Immanuel Kant and contemporary Kantians offer the strongest approach to the justification of moral obligation.
Korsgaard argues that the normativity of moral obligation is self-imposed, and is justified through our establishing a kind of self-authority through our autonomy. If we take anything to be of value, then, in Korsgaard's view, we have to acknowledge that we have moral obligations, implied through us finding value in those things, which we must maintain in order to be consistent with our autonomy, the source of our moral obligation. Korsgaard has been influential in defending and reestablishing the significance of the Kantian approach in contemporary moral philosophy.
Web resource: Christine Korsgaard's Home Page.
Saul Kripke was considered a prodigy as a child and, while still just a sophomore at Harvard, he taught a course in logic at MIT. In 1962 he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard with a B.A. in mathematics, his only non-honorary degree, and has received honorary degrees from the University of Omaha, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Haifa (Israel), and the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York (CUNY) and Emeritus Professor at Princeton University.
Strongly embedded in the Analytic tradition, Kripke's major contributions in philosophy are in the areas of logic (specifically modal logic), philosophy of language, metaphysics, epistemology, set theory, and philosophy of mind. Naming and Necessity (1972), is perhaps his most significant work, based on transcriptions of his lectures at Princeton in 1970. In it, Kripke challenges and overturns Immanuel Kant's theory on truth in propositions, arguing that some propositions are only knowable a posteriori, but are necessarily true, while others are knowable a priori, but are only contingently true. Through this notion, along with others, Kripke was able to turn the conventional understanding of truth, propositions, and logic on its head, significantly contributing to the decline of ordinary language philosophy, and the public understanding of the function of philosophy in the 20th century.
Web resource: Saul Kripke's Home Page.
Alasdair Macintyre received Masters of Arts degrees from the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford, and currently holds the titles of Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University, and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Macintyre's most work has been most influential in moral and political philosophy, but it also incorporates history of philosophy and theology. Arguing from history, Macintyre's work is largely concerned with accounting for the decline of morality and moral rationality in society since the Enlightenment, and reclaiming the philosophy of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas as a potential solution to what he sees associety's current ills. This makes him an Aritstotelian-Thomist.
Macintyre is most well known for his influential book After Virtue (1981), which explores the above-mentioned ideas. The book represents a shift in his philosophical approach, as prior to that point he had primarily been a Marxist. In the book, Macintyre develops his critique of modern liberal capitalism and the society it has produced, arguing that because there is an absence of any coherent moral code, the sense of purpose and community has been lost for most people in modern society. Macintyre argues for a return to purpose and community through a return to virtue ethics.
Web resource: Alasdair Macintyre's Home Page.
26John J McDermott
John McDermott received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Fordham University, in New York City, in 1959, and, though he is getting up in his years, is still teaching, holding the position of University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Humanities at Texas A&M University. McDermott's work is primarily focused on the philosophy ofculture, specifically American literature and philosophy, having written, compiled, or contributed to books on William James, Josiah Royce, and John Dewey, as well as being a former President of the William James Society. McDermott is most notable for, and has been most influential in exploring and advancing the ideas of James and Dewey in relation to American culture, as well as his examination of American culture through philosophy.
Web resource: John J McDermott's Home Page.
John McDowell is currently University Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and though he has a lengthy bibliography covering metaphysics, epistemology, ancient philosophy, and meta-ethics, he is best known for his influential work in the areas of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. His work has been significantly influenced by Wilfrid Sellars and Ludwig Wittgenstein, evident not just in his approach to philosophy of language, but to philosophy as a whole, understanding his own work as a type of philosophical quietism. In this view, McDowell sees philosophy as therapeutic, with its goal being to sooth and dissolve philosophical error, to find where philosophers have caused aggravation and to quiet it by discovering where things went wrong. Instead of pushing for radical new ideas, and increasingly complicated conceptions of meaning, knowledge, reality, etc., McDowell has adopted Wittgenstein's position that we, basically, should leave everything as it is, such as in his book Mind and World (1994).
Web resource: John McDowell's Home Page.
Mary Midgley studied at Oxford, though did not earn a doctorate, but has received honorary doctorates from both Durham University and Newcastle University. Midgley has taught off and on through the years, her longest stint being at Newcastle University from 1962 to 1980, and did not publish her first book Beast and Man (1978) until she was 59 years old. Midgley is a moral philosopher who has also worked in the areas of philosophy of science and animal rights.
Midgley is a supporter of the “Gaia hypothesis” of Earth life, and is an opponent of scientism, reductionism, and materialism. Because of these views, Midgley is probably most famous for her criticism of and ongoing debate with Richard Dawkins. Though not self-identified as a Christian, and not a supporter of the theory of intelligent design, Midgley takes issue with what she identifies as “scientism,” characterized by the views of Richard Dawkins, which takes a materialistic approach toward explaining the phenomena of consciousness, emotion, and cognition. She argues these views are overly reductionist in scope.
J.P. Moreland's background is spread across multiple disciplines, having earned a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Missouri, an M.A. in philosophy from the University of California, Riverside, and a Th.M in Theology from the Dallas Theological Seminary prior to earning his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California in 1985. He currently holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Miranda California and is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Center on Culture and Civil Society at the Independent Institute. Moreland's work combines metaphysics, philosophy of mind, chemistry, and theology, and he is known for his defense of the existence of God and thesupernatural, as well as “Old-Earth” creationism (a form of creationism that is somewhat more compatible with modern science than the “New-Earth” version). He is known for his many books, media appearances, and his involvement with the evangelical organization Campus Crusade for Christ.
Web resource: J.P Moreland's Home Page.
Timothy Morton received his doctorate in philosophy from Magdalen College, Oxford in 1993 and currently holds the title of Rita Shea Guffey Chair in English at Rice University. Morton's work is primarily focused in ontology and ecotheory, as well as literary theory and criticism. Morton has been most influential in the development of the focus of ontology in contemporary philosophy, and is most famous for his book Ecology Without Nature (2007), and his major role in the object-oriented ontology (OOO) movement. In Ecology Without Nature, Morton has argued that ecological writing typically views “nature” and “civilization” as two separate things, nature being something we emerged from, and have since become removed from. In response to this problem, Morton argues that we dissolve this binary opposition and begin to understand nature as a social construct that is inseparable from civilization. In his work in the OOO movement, which focuses on the ontology of objects in the world apart from human ontology (the goal being to avoid anthropocentrism), Morton has coined the term “hyperobjects” as a way of describing objects that transcend attempts to pin them to any particular locality in time and space.
Web resource: Timothy Morton's Home Page.
Thomas Nagel wants to know “What is Like to be a Bat?” (1974); or, at least, that is the question he asked when advancing the study of the philosophy of mind. Nagel was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and received a B.A. in philosophy from Cornell University, where he was introduced to the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. He went on to study under J.L. Austin, the famous philosopher of language, at Oxford, before earning a PhD. at Harvard in 1963.
Nagel might be most famous for his aforementioned essay, in which he refutes the materialist reductionist view of consciousness that dominated the field of philosophy of mind at the time, promoting a subjectivist approach. To simplify, what Nagel argues is that even though we may be able to objectively describe the physical processes that produce what we understand as consciousness, that does not enable us to describe consciousness itself, as consciousness is a subjective mental experience. We can study a bat, understand how its brain works, but say nothing objective about its consciousness; rather, we are limited to speaking about only our own consciousness, as we are limited to subjective experience. The thought experiment presented in the essay has been very influential in the debate about what we can and cannot claim when discussing the mind and consciousness.
More recently, Nagel has stirred up controversy in his book Mind and Cosmos (2012) by continuing to argue against reductionism, this time in the form of the Neo-Darwinist account of the emergence of life. Though not arguing from religion (he is an atheist) and not arguing for a theory of intelligent design, Nagel claims that the theory of natural selection alone cannot account for the existence of consciousness. Nagel is currently a Professor of Philosophy and Law at New York University.
Web resource: Thomas Nagel's Home Page.
Jean-Luc Nancy received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1973 from the Institut de Philosophie in Strasbourg, studying under Paul Ricouer. He eventually became a Professor at the University of Strasbourg, and, though he is now retired, continues to add publication credits to his already lengthy bibliography. His approach is associated with continental philosophy and deconstructionism, and his work is primarily focused in ontology and literary criticism. Much of his early work focused on commenting on and interpreting the work of other major thinkers, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Immanuel Kant, René Descartes, and Martin Heidegger, but he is best known for his writings that apply deconstructionist thought to issues of freedom, existence, and community. His most influential work, The Inoperative Community (1986) presents and explores this focus, arguing that much of society's problems result from designing society around pre-conceived definitions of what society should be, and failing to understand it for how it actually is.
Web resource: Jean-Luc Nancy's Home Page.
Martha Nussbaum earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1975, and is currently the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. Working in the analytic school of philosophy, Nussbaum is has primarily focused on political philosophy, ethics (including animal rights), and feminism. She came from a background of East Coast high society (which she resents) and in her career has experienced no shortage of sexist discrimination, harassment, and resistance as she has entered and challenged the old boys' club of philosophical academia, an institution about which Nussbaum has criticized Noam Chomsky for helping to maintain. On top of all of that, Nussbaum has been awarded 51 honorary degrees.
Much of Nussbaum's work focuses on unequal freedom and opportunity for women, making her a notable feminist, and she has argued for a radical reconsideration of gender relations, roles and norms. Nussbaum has drawn on ancient Roman and Greek philosophy in order to make her arguments, such as in her books The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (1986) and Cultivating Humanity (1997). Somewhat due to this focus, Nussbaum testified in the Colorado bench trial for the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans against the claim that ancient philosophy provides the state with “compelling interest” in resisting the passage of non-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people. More recently, Nussbaum has analyzed the role that disgust plays in laws concerning LGBTQ rights, and the debate of the issues, in her 2010 book From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law.
Web resource: Martha Nussbaum's Home Page.
David Oderberg is an Australian philosopher based in Britain, who currently is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading. Oderberg has worked in the areas of metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of religion, but is perhaps best known for his particularly conservative moral philosophy. In his book influential Applied Ethics (2000), Oderberg argues against notable moral philosopher Peter Singer, and contemporary utilitarian and consequentialist approaches to moral philosophy.
Essentially, Oderberg's moral philosophy centers on his notion of “innocence,” and from that he takes a hardline stance that intentionally ending an innocent life is always morally wrong. For Oderberg, a fetus is an innocent life, and abortion and euthanasia are equivalent to contract killing. However, Oderberg is in support of the state's right to capital punishment as retribution, and in the concept of a “just war.” Animals, in Oderberg's view, are not moral agents, and so have no rights that can be infringed upon.
Oderberg has also been in the forefront of philosophers interested in renewing traditional (i.e., Aristotelian-Scholastic) metaphysics and bringing it into fruitful contact with contemporary analytical metaphysics, as well as with empirical science.
Web resource: David Oderberg's Home Page.
Alvin Plantinga received his PhD. in 1958 from Yale University, is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and Calvin College, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has delivered the Gifford Lectures twice, and is the 2017 recipient of the Templeton Prize. Plantinga's work blends epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion, largely focusing on the existence and nature of God, argued from a protestant viewpoint, in such books as God and Other Minds (1967), The Nature of Necessity (1974), and Warranted Christian Belief (2000).
Plantinga has argued for a “reformed epistemology,” claiming that belief in God is a “basic belief,” and can be rational and justified without need for argument. In regards to evolution, Plantinga supports the notion of intelligent design, but he holds a nuanced view, arguing that although he is opposed to the idea of “unguided” evolution (meaning that things evolved entirely on their own accord) on theological grounds, he supports the idea that evolution could be “guided” by intelligent design, and so, by God, finding evolution and intelligent design to be compatible.
As a student, Graham Priest studied more mathematics than philosophy, and earned a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1974 at the London School of Economics for a thesis that combined the philosophy of mathematics and logic. He holds the titles of Professor Emeritus at Melbourne University, and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities, and is a former President of the Australasian Association for Logic and the Australasian Association of Philosophy. His work is primarily focused in logic, and he has been widely published with an estimated 240 papers to his name, in addition to six books. He is best known for his influential work on logical paradoxes, arguing that many major paradoxes hold a uniform solution, and for his defense of dialtheism, the idea that some statements can be both false and true simultaneously, making them “true contradictions.”
Web resource: Graham Priest's Home Page.
John Searle received his Ph.D. from Oxford in 1959, and is currently the Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. Searle's work primarily addresses problems in the areas of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. Earlier in his career, Searle focused specifically on philosophy of language, particularly the work of J.L. Austin. In his book Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (1969) Searle developed what came to be known as speech-act theory, taking a very systematic approach to investigating the relationship between illocutionary acts and meaning; this would later lead to a major debate with Jacques Derrida.
Depending on what you read and where you study, Searle may be more notable for his influential work in philosophy of mind. In his 1980 paper “Minds, Brains, and Programs” Searle introduced his “Chinese Room” thought experiment, which has since been widely discussed and argued over. In it, Searle drew on the “Turing Test” (originated by Alan Turin) thought experiment, which seeks to show a machines ability to exhibit intelligent behavior, indistinguishable from a human. Instead, Searle used the Chinese Room thought experiment to refute what he referred to as “Strong A.I.” (used to represent functionalism and computationalism) to show that the human mind is more than just a quantifiable, information processing machine.
Web resource: John Searle's Home Page.
Peter Simons earned his Ph.D. at the University of Manchester in 1975, and holds the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin, as well as begin an Honorary Professor at the University of Salzburg, a Fellow of the British Academy, President of the European Society for Analytic Philosophy, and is the current Director of the Franz Brentano Foundation. His writing primarily focuses on metaphysics and ontology, as seen in his book Parts: A Study in Ontology (1985), and he is also interested in the history of Central European philosophy, discussed in his book Philosophy and Logic in Central Europe from Bolzano to Tarski: Selected Essays (1992). Though he only has two books to his name, Simons has published over two hundred articles. In his work, Simons has been influential in his particular concern with the application of metaphysics and ontology to non-philosophical disciplines, especially in engineering.
Web resource: Peter Simons's Home Page.
Peter Singer received an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne in 1969, and currently holds the titles of Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. Singer specializes in applied ethics, and is best known for his contemporary utilitarianism. Being a specialist in applied ethics, Singer has been influential not just through his books and articles, but through his actions. He is on the Advisory Boards of several global humanitarian organizations, such as Academics Stand Against Poverty, and Animal Charity Evaluators. Singer is a very popular moral philosopher, both in and out of academia, and because of his fame, influence, outspokenness and moral stance, Singer has garnered controversy and protest, especially among conservative groups.
One of Singer's major works, and perhaps what he is best known for, is Practical Ethics (1980), in which he theorizes on the application of utilitarianism to contemporary problems. Singer evaluates how the individual interests of living beings should be weighed, concluding that they do not all garner equal treatment. The opposite of David Oderberg, Singer has argued in favor of abortion, on the grounds that the “right to life” is tied to an individual's capacity to hold preferences (which include pain and pleasure) and a fetus cannot do this. Singer is a strong advocate of altruism, arguing that our goal should be to reduce suffering in the most effective way possible. Singer is also a major advocate of animal rights, and his book Animal Liberation (1975) has been very influential to the modern animal liberation movement.
Read more about Peter Singer in "The 10 Most Controversial College Professors in the U.S." and "The 50 Top Atheists in the World Today."
Web resource: Peter Singer's Home Page.
As an undergraduate, Barry Smith studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Oxford, before earning his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester in 1976. Currently, he holds the position of Julian Park Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Computer Science, and Neurology at the University of Buffalo in New York. As evidenced from his professorial titles, Smith occupies both the role of philosopher and scientist, blending the two areas of study through his dual focus on ontology and biomedical informatics. Smith has published articles in as many scientific publications has he has in philosophical publications, and his approach can be roughly described as applied ontology, as opposed to the very theoretical approach that is usually associated with ontology. Smith's influence is notable outside of academia, such as his involvement with global health organizations in advancing biomedical informatics, and even with the U.S. Army and Air Force.
Web resource: Barry Smith's Home Page.
Born in Cárdenas, Cuba, Ernest Sosa earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1964 and currently holds the title of Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. Though he has written on metaphysics and philosophy of mind, Sosa is primarily an epistemologist. Sosa has been influential through his introduction of the notion of “virtue epistemology,” developed partly in response to the Gettier problem, which he discusses in his books such as Knowledge in Perspective (1991) and A Virtue Epistemology (2007).
Virtue epistemology represents a renewed philosophical interest in the concept of virtue, introducing intellectual virtues as a way to resolve the debate between foundationalism and coherentism. Finding problems with both schools of thought, Sosa put forth virtue epistemology, foregoing formulaic expressions that are designed to explain knowledge and instead applying virtue theory to human intellect, using virtue as the basis for assessing what is and is not knowledge. As virtue is based on the qualities of the individual, virtue ethics is person-based, rather than belief-based, and so, takes a more relativist approach to answering the Gettier problem.
Web resource: Ernest Sosa's Home Page.
Helen Steward, who earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at Oxford in 1992, currently holds the title of Professor of Philosophy of Mind at the University of Leeds. In her work she is primarily concerned with free will, and combines philosophy of mind, metaphysics, philosophy of action, and ontology. Steward adopts what she describes as an “animalistic” approach to the study of free will, hypothesizing that if we understand humans as animals, ontologically, with needs based in our animal nature, then we can better understand and answer problems of free will. In her major book A Metaphysics for Freedom (2012), Steward develops this approach, arguing against a determinist theory of free will as both a problem for human and animal action. Through her ideas, Steward has been influential to the development of the post-humanist approach in philosophy and critical theory.
Web resource: Helen Steward's Home Page.
Charles Taylor earned his doctorate degree in philosophy from Oxford in 1961, and holds the title of Professor Emeritus at McGill University. His work is primarily focused in political philosophy, philosophy of social science, the history of philosophy, and in the later portion of his career, philosophy of religion. Taylor's philosophical style lies somewhere between analytical and continental traditions, and he adopts a somewhat hermeneutical approach. Taylor argues for communitarianism, claiming that we as individuals have obligations and responsibilities beyond ourselves to our communities.
Taylor is largely concerned with identity and the self, in relation to the societies that surround us, and he has been influential in defining how we conceive of ourselves in the modern world. In Taylor's view, the nature of the modern self is defined by multiplicity, developed my numerous distinct strands through history that both complement and contradict each other. Rather than human nature being universal and unchanging, it is contingent on society and history.
Web resource: Charles Taylor's Home Page.
Amie Thomasson received her Ph.D. from University of California Irvine in 1995, and is currently Professor of Philosophy, Cooper Fellow, and Parodi Senior Scholar in Aesthetics at the University of Miami. Thomasson combines the areas of aesthetics, ontology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and phenomenology in her work, arguing against metaphysical skepticism. In Thomasson's view, many of the metaphysical disputes about existence that populate contemporary philosophy suffer from being misguided in their basic questioning. Rather than offer a complex, highly abstract rebuttal of such arguments, Thomasson has provided a simpler (though not to imply insignificant) answer: that these questions can be answered much more easily than many philosophers have imagined, using inferences from uncontroversial premises. This goal is clearly identified in her recent book, Ontology Made Easy (2015).
Web resource: Amie Thomasson's Home Page.
45Judith Jarvis Thomson
Judith Jarvis Thomson received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1959, and is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at MIT. Her work is primarily focused on metaphysics and moral philosophy, in which she uses metaphysics to argue and support moral philosophical claims. Thomson has contributed a great deal to the areas of meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics, with much of her work arguing for personal bodily autonomy.
Her books and articles focus on the moral and metaphysical issues of action and agency, and, more concretely, on topics like assisted suicide, self-defense, preferential hiring, and abortion. Thomson is perhaps most famous for a thought experiment which she presented in her influential 1971 essay, “A Defense of Abortion,” which is sometimes referred to as the “Unconscious Violinist” argument. In the thought experiment, Thomson argues by analogy from a hypothetical situation that each person has a right to bodily autonomy, and to infringe on that right is immoral, whether it is a comatose violinist depending on another person for life-support, or a fetus.
Web resource: Judith Jarvis Thomson's Home Page.
Peter Unger studied under A.J. Ayer at Oxford University and earned his Ph.D. in 1966. He currently holds the title of Professor of Philosophy at New York University. Unger's work is focused in metaphysics, epistemology, applied ethics, and philosophy of mind. He is well known for his book Ignorance: A Case for Skepticism (1975) in which he defends philosophical skepticism arguing, basically, that we do not know anything, and cannot claim to know anything, a stance that he has continued to defend in his suggestively titled Empty Ideas: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy (2014). He is the only philosopher on this list defending such views. Unger is also famous for his controversial book on applied ethics, Living High and Letting Die (1996), inspired by Peter Singer, in which he has argued that citizens of first-world countries are morally obligated to donate all money and possessions that they do not require beyond what is necessary for bare survival to charity organizations that will help citizens of third-world countries. Moreover, they are morally obligated to ensure others do the same, even if this requires them to lie, cheat, or steal.
Web resource: Peter Unger's Home Page.
47Peter van Inwagen
Peter van Inwagen earned his Ph.D. from the University of Rochester, New York in 1969, and holds the title of John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Van Inwagen is notable for his work in metaphysics, philosophy of religion, the problem of free will, and was the President of the Society of Christian Philosophers from 2010 to 2013. Van Inwagen may be best known for his arguing in favor of an incompatibalist understanding of free will, at a time in which compatibilism was significantly more popular in philosophy. In An Essay on Free Will (1983) van Inwagen argued that, if we actually have free will, it is incompatible with determinism. Following from this, van Inwagen has been influential in re-popularizing metaphysical libertarianism (not the same as the political theory) as an alternative view, arguing that free will is real, and so determinism is false.
Web resource: Peter van Inwagen's Home Page.
Cornel West earned a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1980, making him the first African-American to graduate from Princeton with a Ph.D. He was Professor of African-American Studies at Princeton until 2011, and is currently Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. West has stated that he found as much influence in Malcolm X and the Black Panther movement as he did in his studies at Harvard and Princeton, but as a Christian he did not join the party on religious grounds. In addition to being a philosopher and academic, West is a very prominent and influential social activist, member of the Democratic Socialists of America, author, and public intellectual. West's work focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and class in society. West has sparked controversy because of his outspokenness on these issues in the U.S., and his criticism of the country as continuing to be defined by white supremacist and patriarchal attitudes and institutional structures.
Though he has written numerous books and articles that are widely references, such as Race Matters (1994), West is probably most readily recognized as a political commentator, making frequent appearances as on television and radio news programs, as well as late night talk shows.
You may have also seen him in one of the Matrix sequels, or heard one of his hip-hop albums. No, really.
Web resource: Cornel West's Home Page.
Crispin Wright earned his Ph.D. from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1968 and is currently a Professor of Philosophy at New York University and Professor of Philosophical Research at the University of Stirling, as well as being a Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His work is primarily concerned with philosophy of mind and philosophy of mathematics, and he is a major proponent neo-Fregeanism (sometimes called neo-logicism), having written on reviving Frege's philosophy of mathematics, as seen in his book Frege's Conception of Numbers (1983). He also has a significant interpretation of Wittgenstein, presented in his book Wittgenstein on the Foundation of Mathematics (1980).
Web resource: Crispin Wright's Home Page.
Slavoj Žižek earned his Doctor of Arts in Philosophy degree from the University of Ljubljana (the largest and oldest university in his home country of Slovenia) and currently holds the titles of Senior Researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the same university, Global Distinguished Professor of German at New York University, and International Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities of the University of London. Best known for his contributions to political and continental philosophy, his work draws on the continental tradition and blends political theory, cultural theory, psychoanalysis, film studies and aesthetics, and theology.
Sometimes identified as a “celebrity philosopher,” Žižek's name and face are recognizable beyond academic philosophy. Known for being politically radical and proposing ideas that challenge both liberal and conservative politics alike, Žižek's idiosyncratic approach to philosophy and criticism mixes high and low culture fluidly. He is as well known for his prolific academic bibliography, with books such as The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), as he is for his appearance in films like The Perverts Guide to Cinema (2006), and even for having written ad-copy to accompany photos in an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog in 2003.
Žižek has received as much criticism as he has praise, with most critics arguing that his work presents too many ambiguities and is too unorthodox, often seeming chaotic or contradictory. Much of Žižek's work presents radical interpretations of established philosophers, such as Hegel, Heidegger, and Lacan. Many critics claim he is either misinterpreting them, or has a fundamental misunderstanding of their ideas; supporters of his work argue that he promotes a philosophy of the absurd. Regardless, Žižek's work has been significant enough to lead to the development of an academic journal specifically devoted to the study of his ideas, the International Journal of Žižek Studies.
Hilary Putnam went to high school with Noam Chomsky at Central High School in Philadelphia in the 1940s, studied philosophy and mathematics at the University of Pennsylvania, and did graduate work in philosophy at Harvard before earning his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1951. He went on to teach at Northwestern, Princeton, and MIT before settling at Harvard, where, most recently, he held the title of Cogan University Professor Emeritus. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and a President of the American Philosophical Association.
Putnam has been influential in analytic philosophy, working in the areas of philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophy of science, but has had the most significant impact through his work in philosophy of mind. In this area, Putnam is best known for his theory of multiple realizability, which he used to argue against the physicalist type-identity theory of mind. Type-identity theory argues, in brief, that mental states (pain, for example) can be reduced to physical states in the brain. Because of this, “pain” only describes a specific state that occurs in the human brain, and so, is not something that can be attributed to other creatures, as they lack the human brain structure. In response, Putnam argued that mental states cannot be reduced to physical states, and even if another creature lacks the human brain structure and the physical process we associate with pain, be it a bat or a dog or an alien or something even stranger, that creature can still experience the mental state of pain. Through this argument, Putnam has been influential in the development of the functionalist school of thought.
Putnam may also have been his greatest critic, as he would go on to reject, put forth, and reject his own views.
Though we had initially intended for Putnam to be on this list, he passed away on March 13, 2016.
Derek Parfit was Born in Chengdu, China to two medical doctors who were teaching missionaries abroad, grew up wanting to become a poet (an idea he eventually discarded), earned an M.A. in modern history at the University of Oxford in 1964, and continued to study modern history on a fellowship, before finally abandoning the study for philosophy and becoming a Fellow of All Souls College. Parfit has taught at numerous universities around the world, but has been based out of the University of Oxford for the entirety of his career, and is an Emeritus Senior Research Professor at All Souls College. Parfit is best known for his book Reasons and Persons (1984) which focuses on the intersection of ethics, rationality, and personal identity, in relation to the passage of history, and the future.
Web resource: Derek Parfit's Home Page.
Dr. Parfit passed away on January 2nd, 2017. Read more at dailynous.com.
Hubert Dreyfus earned all three of his degrees at Harvard University, culminating in his Ph.D. in 1964, and is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received an honorary doctorate from Erasmus University. His work is primarily focused in phenomenology, and he has been influential as an interpreter of the work of Edmund Husserl, Michel Foucault, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Dreyfus is considered a leading authority on the notoriously dense and confusing philosophy of Martin Heidegger, having written multiple books of commentary Heidegger's work, such as Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, Division 1 (1990). Dreyfus' work has been influential to other major contemporary philosophers, such as John Searle (also on this list) and Richard Rorty, and he has been a significant critic of Jean Paul Sartre's existentialist phenomenology.
Dreyfus is also notable for his influential critique of Artificial Intelligence, dating back to his 1965 article Alchemy and AI, which draws on his phenomenological background to argue that AI research is problematic because of its reliance on four implausible assumptions: the biological, the psychological, the epistemological, and the ontological. His criticism is, basically, that these assumptions hinge on the notion of a context-free psychology, which he argued is an inherently contradictory idea. Rather than claim AI is impossible, however, Dreyfus argued there needs to be a serious consideration of the current research programs in place. In the 1960s, this was met with criticism and hostility, but his ideas developed influence and acceptance over the next few decades of research.
Web resource: Hubert Dreyfus's Home Page.
Dr. Dreyfus passed away on April 22nd, 2017. Read more at dailynous.com.