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Who would you say is the most influential philosopher of all time? I am taking about a philosopher who has not just made a fundamental impact on Western philosophy, but also on Eastern philosophy, and all the other ones of which I am not aware. I am also not taking about the best, greatest, or most known, loved, cited, quoted, or recognized. My question is solely based on influence, whether it was good, bad, both, or neither.

I will take a shot at this question, though with great hesitancy. The three philosophers that pop to mind are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. And because you are requesting a single philosopher, I would place a small wager on Plato for it is through Plato that we learn the most about Socrates (there are other sources, but Plato's is the richest, I suggest) and Plato was Aristotle's teacher (for about 20 years). A great 20th century British philosopher once observed that the history of philosophy is the history of footnotes on Plato. That, of course, over-states things and perhaps sacrifices accuracy to wit. In good conscience, I must confess that I understand myself as a Platonist --so it may be that I am not the most objective in such matters. Although A.E. Taylor's work is a bit dated, I highly recommend his work on Plato --very accessible and puts Plato in context.

Do any professional philosophers have admiration or use for Alan Watts? Even though I have a Masters in Philosophy, I never heard of him until recently. If professionals think of him as a mere entertainer, I suppose that is fair enough, but he is a pretty good explainer.

I doubt most professional philosophers think of Alan Watts as "a mere entertainer," but that may partly because he is probably not widely known by professional philosophers. I have not seen his work discussed in philosophical texts (books, journals, conference papers), though I think his work deserves engagement especially when it comes to thinking about Asian philosophical traditions. Those philosophers aware of him, probably think of him as part of the counter-cultural movement (Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman), but I think he was a more disciplined thinker than, say, Alduous Huxley and he had a gift for making Asian thought (Taoist / Buddhist....) accessible.

Hello there. Some contemporary philosophers say that Aquinas' arguments for the existence of God are good arguments (eg John Haldane), whilst others think they are no good. Lots and lots of philosophers and philosophy books seem to not understand the arguments properly (I can remember being taught the arguments in the philosophy department of one of the most prominent universities in my country where, looking back, with hindsight I am pretty sure the teacher did not understand the arguments well at all). So who to believe?? Any suggestions would be interesting! Thank you in advance.

I go on to recommend some other texts below and address the topic of philosophical disagreements and consensus, but first a comment on Stephen Maitzen's observation about not being under any obligation to believe either side in a dispute over theistic arguments. I am not disagreeing with Stephen on this, but I do wonder about the general point of when one might be obligated to come to terms (oneself) in believing one side or another in a philosophical debate.... Here is a suggestion: Let's say you have been appointed the task of establishing a university in a developing nation in which there are different religious communities (Christian and Islamic or Hindu and Buddhist, for example). You have enough funds to establish sound programs in engineering, the sciences, languages...and now you are considering how much to devote to a philosophy department and, perhaps more specifically, you must decide whether that department or a religion department should include scholars who are well trained and are...

Can a person be a historian and a philosopher at the same time. I have a passion for history and a joint passion for Philosophy? Nathan V.

Yes The clearest case of when you would need to be both a historian and a philosopher is when you write a history of philosophy. Expertise in both fields would also be highly valuable in writing philosophy of history. Apart from these two categories, the blending of philosophy and history (or the virtues of being both a philosopher and a historian) may vary. Consider matters from the standpoint of history: When would a history (or a historian) be aided by philosophy? Because one may write a history of any number of things (persons, events...) from a history of warfare to a history of agriculture, it may not be obvious when philosophy comes into play. Off hand, it seems that some philosophy will be inevitable in any history insofar as the history reflects a view (or a philosophy) of evidence, explanation, relevance, reasons and causes. But there are cases when philosophy seems more explicit as in a history of the French revolution versus a history of the first cities in the world. From the...

How arrogant are philosophers? Are they more or less easily to have their minds changed as compared to scientists or theologians?

Two very difficult questions! Your first question about 'how arrogant are philosophers' suggests you are not asking whether philosophers are arrogant, but asking about the magnitude of arrogance. Before replying to your question, please allow me to back-up a bit. First, when is anyone arrogant? I suggest that someone is arrogant when he thinks, acts and/or feels with vanity or presumptuousness; typically an arrogant person may claim to know what is right or make assumptions about other persons or things without sensitivity or a properly humble effort to learn about others. When I picture an arrogant character, I imagine him or her as someone who is not at all self-critical; an arrogant person seems (in a typical case) someone who would never dream or imagine that he or she is wrong on some opinion or conviction. In keeping with the above account, I should add that the above portrait may be wrong and I am open to changing my mind in light of better suggestions. I imagine that the last thing you...

Why did Descartes pick thinking of all possible attributes to logically establish existence? Rocks exist but don't think. What exactly did he have in mind to establish? Was it really existence? Did he have any valid reason to doubt his or our existence? Wouldn't pain be a better criterion? Or movement? Or change? If a non-philosopher raised such a question we would certainly look askance at him and not value his "evidence" either way.

Thank you for this inquiry. You are on to a very important point. First, some thoughts on Descartes: Descartes set up the ultimate skeptical project: In an age of the emergence of modern science, he asked what we can really have unmistakable certainty about? To take your example, can we have absolute, uncorrectable (incorrigible) certainty that the rocks we see and study are as they appear? He proposed the massive skeptical hypothesis: Can we rule out that there is an all powerful evil genius who is making us appear (again, using your example) to see, observe, and study the movement, change, and location of rocks when, in fact there are no such rocks? In contemporary popular cultural terms, can we rule out that we are in the Matrix? Or to use terms that were popular in the 1980s, can you rule out that your brain is now in a vat at MIT and electrochemically stimulated such that you are having all the experiences you have now and so you are in a kind of virtual world, but not an actual world? ...

DESCARTES AND RUSSELL Can anyone please explain how Russell thinks there is an error in saying 'I am a thing that thinks' (Descartes). I understand he talks about language, substance theory etc but his whole argument still remains unclear to me. HERE IS THE PASSAGE FROM THE BOOK (PORTRAITS FROM MY MEMORY): What I wish to emphasize is the error involved in saying "I am a thing that thinks." Here the substance philosophy is assumed. It is assumed that the world consists of more or less permanent objects with changing states. This view was evolved by the original metaphysicians who invented language, and who were much struck by the difference between their enemy in battle and their enemy after he had been slain, although they were persuaded that it was the same person whom they first feared, and then ate. It is from such origins that common sense derives its tenets. And I regret to say that all too many professors of philosophy consider it their duty to be sycophants of common sense, and thus, doubtless...

I think you are quite right to be puzzled. I believe that, when Russell wrote the above (he changed his mind on all sorts of topics, so one has to deal with-- as it were-- more than one Russell), he rejected a philosophy of substances and, instead, proposed that the concept of an event is more accurate. So, in another essay or book, Russell charged that Descartes' inference "I think, therefore I am" begs the question. It assumes the very thing it sets out to argue for. Russell thought that Descartes should rather lay claim to this thesis: "There is thinking." Such an event does not (according to Russell) commit us to positing a substance, the thinker, just as the statement "It is raining" does not commit one to holding that there is a thing that is raining. His absolutely mind-blowingly bizarre comments on cannibalism to one side (what evidence could Russell possibly be relying upon), Russell is claiming that our "common sense" inclination to think in terms of substances is owing to our use of...

In his "Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason", Kant argues that it is possible for people to become moral by following the example of Jesus Christ. How then would he comment on Abraham's actions during the Binding of Isaac? Isn't Abraham treating Isaac as a means to an end, even if that commandment is from God during a time when Jesus was not yet born? In other words, is Jesus just one example of moral guidance out of many and there is no one true religion; that is, anyone else can serve the same role?

Actually, I am 99% sure Kant actually rejected the (at least surface) interpretation of the narrative of the binding. That is, Kant thought it would never be reasonable for Abraham to think God (or any good being) would require a sacrifice of the innocent. My own reading of the text is that it should be read chiefly as a prohibition of child-sacrifice. The point of the story is that the God of Abraham is NOT like the other gods who demand human offerings. The purpose of the (divine) command of offering Abraham's son (verse 2) is only to set the stage for the dramatic prohibition of such sacrifice (11-12). The narrative stress on God providing a ram to take the place of Abraham's son further highlights the emphatic prohibition of human sacrifice. Abraham's naming the place where this substitution took place "God provides" (verse 14) rather than something like "This is the place where I almost lost my son" or "This is the place where Kant would have insisted that what I thought was a command to...

How would Plato, Socrates, or Aristotle feel about guns and gun control?

Not an easy question to take on! This sounds like a question about the USA theatre of debate on gun control and not, say, a question about Great Britain. I will assume a USA context and the debate about background checks, allowing for conceal and carry, and the permissibility of allowing private citizens to have guns that are "military grade" such as an AK-47 or an uzi. None of the three were pacifists or believed that it was wrong to serve in the Athenian army or navy; Socrates actually served as a foot soldier and was a veteran of the war between Athens and her allies and Sparta and her allies. We have some reason to think Socrates served with distinction. In Plato's version of Socrates' trial (the Apology), Socrates spoke to his judges and the people of Athens to not neglect the care of their souls. This may plausibly be understood as Socrates urging others not to be victims of their own pride, to question their claims to know what is just or holy. Such self-questioning and...

Would Socrates consider any of the professional academics on this site, who offer themselves for anyone who wants to ask anything, philosophers?

Interesting question --not unlike questions like "Would Jesus recognize those who call themselves 'Christians' as true followers of him? Or would Marx recognize those who call themselves 'Marxists' truly followers of his work? I think Socrates might have a few things to say to us all. Here are four things Socrates might communicate to you and I: First, Socrates might prefer that philosophical dialogue take place in person rather than through writing. In one of Plato's dialogues Socrates expressed some misgivings about writing. He (or at least the character 'Socrates' in the dialogue) argued that in-person dialogue was superior to writing for when we engage in dialogue (practicing philosophy) we can pick up clues straightaway about whether one has been misunderstood or has offended or pleased one's dialogue partner. Maybe Socrates might suggest this site includes skyping and audio transmission. Second, Socrates might be especially pleased about this site, for while we are each "professional"...

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