The Philosophers That Philosophers Like Best

In a recent podcast, the hosts of Philosophy Bites called up well-known philosophers—people like Martha Nussbaum, Patricia Churchland, Michael Sandel—and asked them to name their favorite philosopher.

Many laughed at first, perhaps because it’s odd to talk about philosophers as if they were football teams or pizza places. Others complained good-naturedly that they wished the question could have been submitted in advance so they would have had more time to think about it, which is exactly what you would expect from a philosopher.

Several named more than one. Others, like Peter Singer, came up with fairly obscure names (he picked the 19th-century British utilitarian Henry Sidgwick). The most surprising answer came from Catharine MacKinnon, who said her favorite philosopher is “the last woman I talked to, whoever she is.”

I tallied the results, which are below. I didn’t include those who received only a single vote, so apologies to Descartes, Frege, Montaigne, Plato, Socrates, and Thucydides.

In comments on the Philosophy Bites blog, someone complained that no non-Western thinkers had been selected. And while many women were asked to name their favorite philosopher, nearly everyone who made the list was male (Catharine MacKinnon—who was not only interviewed but also named as a favorite—was one of just two women, along with Hannah Arendt.)

When explaining their choices, the philosophers often rhapsodized about their preferred thinker. Hume was was praised as “wonderful to read” and “keen to understand exactly how humans work.” Brian Leiter referred to Nietzsche with the familiar “Fred.” Kant was chosen because he’s just “so damn good.” It’s enough to make a nonphilosopher want to crack open the Critique of Pure Reason, which is saying something.

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