News Bits

by Luke Muehlhauser on October 12, 2010 in News

What the American people need is a high-powered lobbyist who represents their interests.

What? Christopher Hitchens will debate Tony Blair on religion.

Slightly relevant to my series on philosophy of time and the Kalam cosmological argument: Carroll and Callendar on Philosophy TV.

War or Car? is a blog that lists things we could have done with $3 trillion instead of the war in Iraq. For example: Pay Ethiopia’s health care bills for a thousand years, give every HIV-positive person a lifetime supply of drugs, or buy Sarah Palin every U.S. newspaper ever printed.

Eek! I was able to meet one of my heroes this past weekend. Just as awesome in person as anywhere else, I can tell you. And with all those magic tricks, he must be the coolest uncle ever.

A debate between P.Z. Myers and Chris Mooney on “accommodating” religion.

In planning my Painless Introductions series of minibooks on philosophers, I realized that if I had to write a history of philosophy and could only pick 8 philosophers to cover, I would choose the following: Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Frege, Wittgenstein, Quine, Jaynes. Who would you pick?

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{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Joel October 12, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Cheers to the Scottish king of buggers, Hume!

It’s not hyperbole to say that all of western philosophy since him has involved replying to him and his philosophical problems.

It’s true that Descartes framed the debate in terms of inner mind v. external world, but Hume developed this – and his skepticism was by far the least arbitrary – and more honest.


J Wahler October 12, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Luke, Who is sitting down or standing up in that picture of you and Randi? The dark lord of affliction meets the old white wizard of the hobbits. Great stuff.


Bradm October 12, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Here is an unscientific poll from Leiter’s blog.

I would definitely say you need to include Descartes. There’s no excuse for excluding him and having Jaynes. Hegel, Spinoza, Locke, Mill … any of the people on Leiter’s list should all be before him.


Camus Dude October 12, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Who is Jaynes? I pretty much agree with you minus Jaynes and Wittgenstein…well, what are the criteria? Are we picking just our personal favorites, the most influential historically/on our own thinking, a combo?

Pure personal preference: Democritus, Epicurus, Hume, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, Quine, Nussbaum. (I’d add Camus and drop Democritus if I thought enough people would consider him a philosopher. Favorite contemporary philosopher aside from Nussbaum is Brian Leiter.)


Zak October 12, 2010 at 8:58 pm

A few years ago, I went to a TAM conference, and got pics with Randi, Shermer, Dennett, Murray Gell-Mann the Myth Busters and a bunch of other cool people.

Somehow, all the pics from the event got deleted from my computer. I cannot describe the rage I felt when I realized it.


Bill Maher October 12, 2010 at 9:00 pm


Are you serious? Wittgenstein is the most important philosopher since Aristotle.

Also, congrats on meeting Randi. I was gonna meet him at Dragon*con this year, but I went to the Star Trek Next Generation panel instead.


Camus Dude October 12, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Ugh, I just really don’t like him. His philosophy of religion bugs the shit out of me. And since ARISTOTLE?! Find me even one philosopher who thinks that!

But I also think one could make a good case for other philosophers from the 20th century, such as Rawls, and Moore, in terms of influence this century.

If we’re saying all-time most influential, (not sure if Luke’s list is supposed to be a stab at this, or not, like I said), but surely Descartes belongs on the list instead of Jaynes!


Camus Dude October 12, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Oh, and again OT, but an edit function for comments would be neato too. (I’m a very demanding reader, apparently!)


lukeprog October 12, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Descartes is the most obvious gap in my list but… eh. It’s my list. I’m not making any authoritative claims.


Leomar October 12, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Cool James Randi !


Camus Dude October 12, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Oh, I meant to include Russell as another 20th century figure who has had arguably as much influence (and importance [much more, I would say, of course]) as Wittgenstein.


Robert Gressis October 13, 2010 at 1:02 am

1. Kant
2. Aristotle
3. Plato
4. Aquinas
5. Hume
6. Leibniz
7. David Lewis
8. Heidegger

In that order.


Camus Dude October 13, 2010 at 1:11 am

@ Robert: I bet in the long run Lewis will be deemed to be more important or to have a greater impact than Wittgenstein.

Also, I find your list quite eclectic; it makes for interesting (wild) speculation about the one who made it. ;D


faithlessgod October 13, 2010 at 1:18 am

My 8 would be, in no particular order (and specifically reflecting my personal choice not what I think would be the 8 most likely to be picked by a cross-section of people)

Hume, Socrates, Wittgentstein, Mill, Searle, Spinoza, Aristotle, Plato.


Robert Gressis October 13, 2010 at 7:29 am

Camus Dude,

Thanks (I think)!

If the list as a whole is eclectic, there must be some choices that stand out to you as odd. My guess is that those odd choices are 6,7, 8, and possibly 4?


Reginald Selkirk October 13, 2010 at 8:04 am

Why a list of eight? You need eleven to fill out a team.


Ajay October 13, 2010 at 8:42 am

I can’t take any list without Nietzsche seriously.


Bill Maher October 13, 2010 at 9:03 am


How the hell is not liking him grounds for not including him? Also, his religious position is completely irrelevant to his contributions. Have you ever taken a 20th century philosophy class? Not including Wittgenstein is like a class on ancient Greek not having Aristotle. Open up any book on 20th century philosophy or read any article about it and Wittgenstein will be mentioned a ton.

Have you read the Tractatus and Philosophical Investigations? The whole of 20th century philosophy is responding to them. Wittgenstein helped create logical positivism, then he (along with Quine) destroyed it. His later ideas then founded Ordinary Language philosophy, which was a huge deal. Then Kripke, inspired by Wittgenstein’s earlier stuff created the metaphysics of logic that has defined philosophy to the current day (known as Kripkenstein). Wittgenstein also created truth tables, which are a huge part of modern logic.

There would have been no David Lewis without Wittgenstein’s philosophy.


Bill Maher October 13, 2010 at 9:24 am

I would say, do 11 instead. 8 just isn’t enough.

these are the bare bones 8


Bill Maher October 13, 2010 at 9:34 am

Also Luke, I think you should do time periods. This keeps in line with your Pre-Socratics. I would do Analytic philosophy: a painless introduction.



MauricXe October 13, 2010 at 9:46 am

Hitchens looks better bald. Anyone else agree?


lukeprog October 13, 2010 at 9:47 am

Bill Maher,

Yeah, I’ll be doing a lot more Painless Introductions than just those 8 philosophers.


Reginald Selkirk October 13, 2010 at 10:23 am
Andrew October 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Even if this is just a personal, who would you pick? thing, I’m a little surprised there is no mention yet of Foucault. Maybe it depends on the circles you keep. Maybe it depends on how you see architecture, advertising, language, psychiatry, governments affecting everyday life and everyday thought.


If it’s to be a personal list, but for the purpose of writing a history of philosophy, then I’d go:

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Hume
4. Kant
5. Nietzsche
6. Wittgenstein
7. Foucault

No. 8 left out for a pre-chapter that would at least address non-Western lines of thought (Indian, Asian and maybe some middle-east-theistic tradition stuff). Oh, and a post-chapter on contemporary contributions. Oh, and maybe little blurbs in between to explain the time-line gaps.

Contributions to the history of logic deserve a separate volume and their due, proper respect.


Jeff H October 13, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Lol Luke, I love how you’re like six feet taller than Randi. He’s like a little garden gnome. But of course…a garden gnome of awesomeness.

My own list, in terms of my own enjoyment of them, would be: Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Hume, Wittgenstein, Camus, Russell, Nietzsche. And were I to extend the list, the very very last name would be Kant.


G'DIsraeli October 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm

My pick of philosophers would be:


Robert Gressis October 13, 2010 at 12:53 pm


When I originally wrote that list, I had Nietzsche on it, but since Nietzsche is less systematic than Heidegger, and since Heidegger responded to Nietzsche, I thought if you get him, you’ll get some Nietzsche coverage.

As for Wittgenstein, he’s sort of a small cottage industry in contemporary philosophy, whereas Lewis had well-worked opinion on just about every major issue, and which have caused response. I also think you could have the logical positivitsts without Wittgenstein–I rather think they’re a hop, skip, and a jump from regular old empiricists. But I’m really starting to get out of my depth here.


Camus Dude October 13, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Heidegger on Nietzsche reveals more about Heidegger than Nietzsche (as Brian Leiter put it).


Wade Anes October 13, 2010 at 3:30 pm

There are some great ‘painless intros’ of philosophers on YT (unless you count the side-pain from laughing so hard) called “3 Minute Philosophy“.


Michael October 13, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Upon just starting a degree in politics, philosophy and economics I’ve already completely changed what I would have written had I been asked 2 weeks ago.

1) Plato
1) Aristotle
3) Locke
4) Hume
5) Descartes
6) Kant
7) Marx
8) Wittgenstein
Shame i couldn’t fit Quine in lol, but i’m still happy with that hehe.

Btw really random question: Did Berkeley take the existence of God as his assumption and from there set out to prove the existence of the external world, or was he trying to deduce God’s existence from the ‘fact’ that without a God watching it all the time, the external world cannot exist?


lukeprog October 13, 2010 at 5:28 pm




toweltowel October 13, 2010 at 7:26 pm

I can only come up with seven:

– Plato
– Aristotle
– Aquinas
– Spinoza
– Hume
– Kant
– Wittgenstein

I think each figure should be significant for a wide range of philosophical topics: not just metaphysics and epistemology, but also ethics and politics. Thus I’d exclude Descartes and Leibniz and Marx and Nietzsche and Frege and Russell and Quine, just for being a little too one-sided in their significant contributions to philosophy. Obviously specialization takes over as history approaches the present, and Wittgenstein has (as far as I know) nothing important to say about politics.

Also, it’s good to find figures that can ‘cover’ for other figures. Thus Spinoza does a nice job covering for Descartes and Hobbes (and arguably Leibniz). Hume does a nice job covering for Hobbes and Locke (and arguably Mill). Kant helps to cover Hegel and the idealist tradition. Wittgenstein helps to cover Frege and Russell and Moore.


Reginald Selkirk October 14, 2010 at 1:37 pm

O’Donnell dodges evangelical issues in Senate race

She added: “During the primary, I heard the audible voice of God.”

I wonder if He really sounds just like Morgan Freeman…


Steven October 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm

1. Plato
2. Aristotle
3. Descarte
4. Hume
5. Kant
6. Nietzsche
7. Wittgenstein
8. Lewis/Heidegger (can’t decide)

I added Nietzsche just because I think you’d be doing a great public service if you put together a competent introduction to his thought (the man’s misunderstood by way too many people if you ask me).

By the way, I just wanted to let you know that I love the blog, Luke! Keep up the good work!


mojo.rhythm October 16, 2010 at 3:41 am

1. Socrates
2. Plato
3. Aristotle
4. Bacon
5. Locke
6. Kant
7. Wittgenstein
8. J.S. Mill


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