Rating Philosophers

The underrated and overrated philosopher meme is going round again, and though I don’t normally join in such things, I had a good think about it on the bus today and figured I may as well put down my thoughts. The question of the most underrated is actually more difficult for me, because, even though the figures I’m most influenced by don’t obviously make for great bedfellows (Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Deleuze, Wittgenstein, Quine, Brandom), they’re generally held in fairly high regard. An odd bunch, but hardly a minor tradition. Obviously one could say that some are underrated by certain philosophical traditions, Deleuze by the analytic tradition (despite Delanda’s fine work), or Quine by the continental tradition (despite Badiou’s scattered comments). Hegel certainly has been underrated at times, but isn’t anymore in either tradition. The only person who comes close to properly being underrated is Brandom (surprise surprise). He is becoming more popular, but I think he deserves a bit more recognition yet. He’s very popular in bits of Europe, but not so much in the US and seemingly even less in the UK (alas). I won’t go over his virtues again here, as I’ve done that plenty elsewhere.

Anyway, it seems somewhat of a cheat to pick a living philosopher, so I’ll have to make a different, if not so well informed choice: Wilfrid Sellars. I haven’t read much Sellars, but I’ve read a number of people who’re strongly influenced by him, and I’m increasingly reading more about him, largely thanks to the advice of Ray Brassier. Sellars strikes me as somewhat of the Captain Beefheart of philosophy, few people read (or listen) to him, but his influence is pervasive (at least in the analytic tradition). He has played a central role in shaping debates around rationality, normativity, perception, functionalism, naturalism, and scientific realism, and there are still potentially new insights to be found within his work. Moreover, much like Beefheart, despite his wide influence in a number of spheres, no one seems to be quite like him in the synoptic breadth of his concerns. As Ray has noted (following O’Shea I think), Sellarsians seem to split into right and left camps, either championing his metaphysical naturalism or his complex normative account of thought and action, but rarely do they adopt both at once. All in all, I intend to spend more time getting acquainted with him in the future.

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