I was going to do a simple “Top 10″ list but I don’t really feel like channeling David Letterman right now, it hurts my jaw when I do that. Also I don’t know if I’ve deeply read ten philosophers. I’ve read more than ten, but just single works which really doesn’t give you constructed context in which they’ve created their works. Even with the philosophers whose works I’ve read completely it can be hard to see exactly what they were getting at. And, with philosophy it is never a monologue you read or listen and you take what is being said and filter it through you’re own experiences and what comes out is sometimes similar to what they said, but often it has changed, occasionally the changes are subtle and it takes awhile to recognize that what you thought the philosopher said is not at all what he did say other times it is completely different and you’ve constructed your own philosophy from the bones of their’s.
I believe it is because of this conversation philosopher’s have with us, the dialogue each one of them creates with the culture surrounding them and the individuals in it, philosophy has remained such a powerful force throughout the ages. But back to the topic at hand my favorite philosophers (so far):
1. Socrates – I could have started with a pre-socratic but why? You wouldn’t recogonize their name or their work, but everyone knows who Socrates is, sorta. We don’t have anything actually written by Socrates we only know him through the writings of two of his students and a Athenian comicwright. If you’ve never read philosophy reading Socrates’ dialogues by Plato are the best place to start. The books are affordable and well translated and it is easy to follow the flow of the argument.
2. Albert Camus – You figured Plato was going to be next didn’t you? Nope, Plato is an iconic philosopher but he isn’t one of my favorites. Albert Camus was a French Algerian born in 1913 and is most known for his novel The Stranger. Camus is often labeled a existentialist though he didn’t consider himself one. I think the label is appropriate as Camus wholly believes in a universe indifferent to humanity and each human is responsible entirely for creating meaning and purpose in their life. The label is very broad and many existentialists disagree on much. I love Camus because of his great works of fiction and the hope that infuses his philosophy.
3. August Strindberg – What is a 19th century Scandinavian playwright doing on my list? Mostly because his “autobiographical” work Inferno is one of the most mind blowing books I ever read. This is a man haunted by paranoia and persecution who formulates the belief that this life is hell. Everyone here failed in life and is now being punished, of course part of the punishment is not knowing we are being punished. I don’t agree with that philosophy but reading Strindberg was engrossing.
4. Friedrich Nietzsche – Probably still my favorite philosopher. I’ve read all of his works multiple times. Even so, I find new things in them and doubt I understand what he was trying to say. Nietzsche is also an existentialist, one whose reputation was largely destroyed by his self loathing and an overzealous and moronic sister (she is the one responsible for tying his philosophy to Nazism). Nietzsche’s finest idea in my opinion his his thought experiment “the eternal recurrence”, imagine that you have to live your life over and over again, forever. Every decision you make will be the same, as will every action, thought, etc., etc. You will live the same life over and over again. Will you be happy with this life? The person who can say yes is truly living their life, those who can’t need to re-evaluate themselves. The other powerful idea Nietzsche brings us is the idea of the overman and the last man. The overman is someone who has taken control of their life, has abandoned the rule sets of culture and forged their own, a person who sees joy and suffering as the same, an affirmation of living. The last man? is the pathetic degraded human who has willed away his life to others.
I can’t recommend a detailed reading of Nietzsche’s works enough. Start with something easy though like the Ecco Homo end with Thus Spoke Zarathustra
There are plenty of other philosopher’s to talk about but I think those four are sufficient for now.Investigate them,read and study the. let me know what you think. If you have a favorite philosopher pass them on to me. I like reading new things!