What Contemporary Philosophy Should the “Greats” Read? (Updated)

What Contemporary Philosophy Should the “Greats” Read? (Updated)


Suppose you could go back in time to hand a relatively recent work in philosophy to a pre-20th Century philosopher. Who would you visit, and what philosophical work would you deliver?

To put some parameters on the question:

Which philosophical work published after 1950 do you wish would have been read by which philosopher who died in 1900 or earlier?

Note: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and other reference works are not allowed.

UPDATE (7/29/15): There are lots of interesting combinations so far in the comments. At least two questions about the exercise come to mind. (1) Is this a good way of showing that philosophy has made progress? (2) Would the idea behind the exercise make for a legitimate (i.e., well-received) academic article? In some ways the idea is already incorporated implicitly in some works, and explicitly, in a limited way, in others (e.g., when we ask whether Philosopher S would be an S-ian). Are there other examples already out there?

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David
David
5 years ago

It would be interesting to see what Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill (maybe David Hume, too) would say about Derek Parfit’s Reasons and Persons, particularly Chapter 17, The Repugnant Conclusion. Mill would have written a slightly longer essay, to be sure.Report

Yppah Fredrikksen
Yppah Fredrikksen
5 years ago

I would suggest TW’s ‘Knowledge and its Limits’. However that could get weird. If Aristotle and Plato were reading about how philosophers have struck out solving the Gettier problem, Plato and Aristotle would probably be like ‘Yeah, but this is before the time that anyone ever struck out trying to solve the problem–the problem is a new one!’ And then they’d probably spend the rest of their careers trying to solve it, at the expense of writing some of their greatest works. They would not solve it. This would lead the later Greek philosophers to take a Williamsonian line and suggest that knowledge is prime because Plato and Aristotle couldn’t solve the Gettier problem.Report

Clayton
Reply to  Yppah Fredrikksen
5 years ago

Yppah Fredrikksen beat me to the punch. I was going to say that it would have done Descartes some good to read Williamson’s KAIL.Report

Disgruntled of Athens
Disgruntled of Athens
Reply to  Yppah Fredrikksen
5 years ago

Plato and Aristotle would never had dreamed of wasting their ‘careers’ attempting to solve such a problem. That they would have assumes that the idea that knowledge is ‘justified true belief’ has been prevalent for over two-thousand years. But Plato, for example, thinks knowledge and opinion are two different powers, and that they are set over different objects. This framework doesn’t allow for the idea that knowledge is justified true belief, and so cannot be upset by the idea that it isn’t. Similar points can be made for most important philosophers from Plato onwards (including the usual Early Modern suspects). The justified true belief account of knowledge and its failure is a far more parochial concern, historically speaking, than contemporary epistemologists would have us believe.

(Anyone interested would profit from this great paper which takes the justified true belief account of knowledge as an example of the dangers of historical blindness: http://philpapers.org/rec/ANTTBT)Report

Disgruntled of Athens
Disgruntled of Athens
Reply to  Disgruntled of Athens
5 years ago

Forgot to add that the tradition’s response to Williamson’s idea that knowledge is sui generis, or unanalyzable, would for the most part of been: ‘Well yeah, of course.’Report

Daryl Morazzini
Daryl Morazzini
5 years ago

Heidegger. Being & Time; On the Event; What is Called ‘Thinking?’
Wittgenstein. Tractatus;
Schopenhauer. The World as Will and Representation.
Husserl. On the Phenomenology of Consciousness.Report

Thom Brooks
5 years ago

It would be wonderful to see what Hobbes, Mill & co thought of;
Bhikhu Parekh, Rethinking Multiculturalism
Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development
John Rawls, Political LiberalismReport

anon
5 years ago

I would love to see what Kant and Hegel would make of McDowell and BrandomReport

Philosopotamus
Philosopotamus
5 years ago

I would like to hand Aristotle a copy of “The Second Sex.”Report

Renato R.
5 years ago

Leibniz would love reading DKL’s On the plurality of Worlds.Report

MA-Student
MA-Student
5 years ago

I’d like to see Plato read “Naming and Necessity” and I’d like to see Descartes read “The Conscious Mind.”Report

recent grad
recent grad
5 years ago

Kant and Peter Singer. At the very least, his facial expressions would be pretty funny.Report

Goldi Beller
Goldi Beller
5 years ago

I’d like Kant to read Rawls, Aristotle to read Nussbaum, Nietzsche to read Butler.Report

anon grad student
anon grad student
5 years ago

Hume and Blackburn’s “Ruling Passions”.Report

Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
5 years ago

It would be interesting to see what Leibnitz would have thought of David Lewis’ On the Plurality of Worlds.Report

anonymous
anonymous
5 years ago

People seem to be going mostly for shockers, but I think the “clearly working in the tradition of” ones would be most interesting, e.g. Aristotle reading Kit Fine.

Also, I’d like to see a whole lot of ancient/early modern people read clearish philosophers of physics, but that doesn’t so much depend on who the philosopher of physics is so much as the content of what they are philosophizing about, so I won’t suggest particular people.

In the same spirit, I’d like to see a bunch of medieval logicians read good contemporary work in philosophy of logic: Read, Restall, etc.Report

An Anon Grad Student
An Anon Grad Student
5 years ago

Kant was handicapped by the pre-Fregean logic of his time. With modern logic he would likely revise his theory of the Categories substantially, and faced with Frege’s work on number theory he might revise a lot of his work on the analytic/synthetic distinction. With that in mind I’d offer Kant some Frege (and it wouldn’t even need to be translated!).

I’d also offer Frege a contemporary introduction to Kant. A lot of his criticisms of Kant are off-base, and might be corrected with some contemporary guidance. Better yet I’d probably just put Kant and Frege in a room together. They’d likely remain anti-semites but they’d produce some interesting work.Report

Rob
Rob
5 years ago

What Nietzsche would have made of David Benatar’s anti-natalist refinement of philosophical pessimism.Report

Alison Gopnik
5 years ago

Not quite philosophy perhaps but I do wish I could give Hume the Origin of Species – the argument from design was the only reason he could see for a God and I would have liked to see the relief on his face when he found out he didn’t need it.Report

Travis Timmerman
Travis Timmerman
5 years ago

It would be interesting to see what Henry Sidgwick would make of contemporary arguments for moral rationalism. I would also want him to read Ruth Chang’s Making Comparisons Count and Derek Parfit’s On What Matters.Report

Aaron
5 years ago

I’d be curious to know what Plato would think of Derrida’s “Plato’s Pharmacy”. It’s a bit on the nose, but I still think it would be interesting. In fact, I’d generally like to know what past thinkers would say to what Derrida wrote about their work (e.g. Hobbes, Kant, Hegel, Husserl, etc.).Report

Carl Brownson
Carl Brownson
5 years ago

I’d like St. Anselm to read J.N Findlay’s ontological disproof of the existence of God, i.e. “Can God’s Existence Be Disproved”, from 1948. (Misses the cutoff by two years, but still.)Report

Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

I’d like to see what the great moral psychologists (e.g., Aristotle, Hume, Smith, Nietzsche, etc.) would think about recent work in moral psychology by philosophers and scientists–work on people’s moral intuitions and judgments (would they laugh at trolley problems?), on empathy and altruism, on character traits (and situationist critiques), on action and agency, etc. And as Alison Gopnik suggested, I’d like to see what philosophers would make of other scientific discoveries, especially Darwin (but also in physics).Report

Michael Bench-Capon
5 years ago

I’d like to give Descartes a look at Naming and Necessity.Report

AnonPhilosopher
AnonPhilosopher
5 years ago

I’d like to see Aristotle and Aquinas read Anscombe.Report

Lisa S
Lisa S
5 years ago

I’d like Descartes and Berkeley to read Gibson (not quite philosophy but still)Report

René Descartes
René Descartes
5 years ago

Haters gon’ hate.Report

Kei Hotoda
Kei Hotoda
5 years ago

I’m going with the post’s description, but I’d want the “greats” to read any work by Charles Mills. If I had to pick, “Non-Cartesian Sums.”Report

Tiddy
Tiddy
5 years ago

It would be nice to hear Hume’s thoughts on Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery. But, as others have said, it would be worthwhile to pass on some post-Fregean logic to the medievals.Report

Scott Looney
Scott Looney
5 years ago

Give any major figure in philosophy a contemporary commentary on her or his own work, then she or he could revise his/her own work in light of how it would be interpreted. Would love to do this with Kant.Report

Alex C
Alex C
Reply to  Scott Looney
5 years ago

I would like to see what Mill would think of some the work that his been done trying to interpret his distinction between higher and lower pleasures (e.g. Brink’s “Mill’s Deliberative Utilitarianism”, Crisp’s “Hedonism Reconsidered”).Report

Helen
Helen
5 years ago

I’d like Jeremy Bentham to read Peter Singer.Report

Carl Sachs
Carl Sachs
5 years ago

Obvious: Have Locke read Mills and Pateman.
Less obvious: Have Dewey read Michael Tomasello (not a philosopher, but Dewey would love it!)
Least obvious: Have Spinoza read Sellars (or Dennett).Report

Yet Another Anon Grad Student
Yet Another Anon Grad Student
5 years ago

I’d give Kant Hilbert’s Foundations of Geometry, then Einstein’s theory of relativity, and then Darwin’s Origin of Species to top it off, and then I’d tell him that all those theories have been completely accepted and are incredibly fruitful. Then I would laugh and laugh and laugh…Report

Manuel
Manuel
5 years ago

Imagine Hegel would have had access to Graham Priest’s works on paraconsistent logic.Report

PeterJ
5 years ago

Mark Siderits and Shoryu Katsura, ‘Nagarjuna’s Middle Way’, Wisdom Books (2013)

Clear and accurate explications of Nagarjuna in English have only quite recently become available and this may be the best one that I know of. I would have love to have lent this to Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Kant, Hegel, Bradley and all the others who almost recreated Nagarjuna’s analysis and view but not quite.Report

Manoj
Manoj
5 years ago

It would be interesting to see both Kant and Hegel reading and commenting on John McDowell’s Mind and world.Report

Clayton
5 years ago

It might have been nice if Descartes could have read some of the contemporary historians so that he would have known better than to accept that disastrous job in Sweden.Report

MBH
MBH
5 years ago

I’d like Schopenhauer to read McDowell’s Mind and World. And I’d like to know if he thinks McDowell’s head-on view fits the intellect-over-will view Schopenhauer advocates in the fourth book of TWWR (The World as Will, Second Aspect).Report

Random Humean
Random Humean
5 years ago

I’d want to give David Hume and Adam Smith a copy of Husserl’s Ideas II (…which was, conveniently enough, posthumously published in 1952, thus qualifying for this particular thought experiment!). Both thinkers seem to get really close to approaching things from a phenomenological perspective (in Husserl’s sense) and I’d be curious to see if they’d agree. Plus, it would be interesting to see if they found Husserl’s discussion of empathy an improvement on their own analyses of sympathy.Report

Groundskeeper
Groundskeeper
5 years ago

Hard to say, but if I had to pick I’d want Thomas Aquinas to read Slavoj Žižek’s lecture, “The Superego and the Act.”Report

Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
5 years ago

OK. I can resist only so long. The cut-off date cries out for this. I would like to have the author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus read the Philosophical Investigations. And tell us what he thinks of it.Report

Ludwig
Ludwig
5 years ago

I would like to deliver

-Aristotle a copy of “Origins of Objectivity” of Tyler Burge

-Wittgenstein a copy of “Naming and Necessity” of Saul Kripke

-Bertrant Russell a copy of “Knowledge and its Limits” of Timothy Williamson

-David Hume a copy of “The Many Faces of Realism”of Hilary Putnam

-Descartes a copy of “Mind and World” of John Mcdowell

– I would like to deliver Thales a copy of “Philosophical Investigation” of Wittgenstein though not contemporary,Report

Jason Brennan
5 years ago

David Lewis, “The Paradoxes of Time Travel”Report

Anon Grad Student numero 4
Anon Grad Student numero 4
5 years ago

In the same vein as questions like “Would S be an S-ian”, I’d be interested to see how the “greats” would react to contemporary proponents of branches/schools of philosophy they (supposedly) started or at least inspired. Bentham and Singer has already been mentioned as an interesting combination, but I’d like to give Locke Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and some assorted works on libertarianism; I’d like to give Suarez, Vittoria, Grotius et al some of the contemporary stuff on Just War; give Marx some of G A Cohen’s work, and so on.Report

Tristan Haze
5 years ago

I’d like Wittgenstein to have been exposed to Naming and Necessity. At one point in Philosophical Grammar he says that ‘N’ (a name) and ‘the bearer of “N”‘ are synonymous. I think Kripke’s demonstration that they come apart modally may have been accepted by Wittgenstein. I think (middle-period, especially) Wittgensteinian ideas about meaning as role in a language system can be revived and used to good effect in elucidating post-Kripkean mysteries, such as the question of the conditions under which a proposition is necessarily true. I think meaning should play a role in our answer to that question, though not in the old-fashioned ‘truth in virtue of meaning’ way. (Meaning has a role in necessity-making, but so does truth and logical implication.)Report

Jim Rivers
Jim Rivers
5 years ago

“People can think only in images. If you want to be a philosopher, write
novels.”
― Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1935-1951

« On ne pense que par images. Si tu veux être philosophe, écris des
romans.»
Albert Camus, CARNETS I. mai 1935 – février 1942 (1962)

Singer (pe & al) tae sidgwick

rawls (toj) tae bentham & mill

feyerabend (am) tae august comte

kuhn (sosr) tae newton

lawrence sklar (p&c) tae john dalton

irving kristol (“men ‘n’ ideas: nm”) tae nietzsche

william gibson (neuromancer) tae darwin

wolfgang pauli (correspondence) tae schopenhauerReport