I remember when I was a kid, Mr. Blackwell would put out a list of the year’s best and worst dressed celebrities.
Although the more positive thing to do would have been to talk about the best dressed list, the media seemed to anticipate the announcement of Mr. Blackwell’s worst dressed list. They treated Mr. Blackwell’s announcement like a little kid flips his lid opening up his presents on Christmas.
You’d think that Santa Claus had delivered the list.
I don’t remember too much about Mr. Blackwell’s critiques other than his proclamations were announced in rhyming couplets.
This is Mr. Blackwell
Mr. Blackwell is dead now.
That was Mr. Blackwell.
I guess Joan Rivers does his job these days. I don’t think she uses rhyming couplets, though.
It’d be pretty cool if Kelly Osbourne did.
Whether it’s cars, movies, electronic equipment, summer reads, fashion icons, or reality television shows, everyone – from the editors of Entertainment Weekly to any guy or gal with a blog has got a top ten list of something. If you spend any significant amount of time doing or paying attention to anything, you’re bound to think up a list of things about that thing you do or don’t like. You don’t have to read very many lists to see that for some things, the lists are pretty much the same.
I’ve read more than twenty top ten lists that name Breaking Bad as the best TV show.
Nearly every list of the best music groups say that The Beatles are the greatest band ever*.
If you’re wondering who the greatest president of the United States was, eleven out of ten political scientists will tell you that America’s greatest president was Abraham Lincoln – even before he was a vampire hunter.
But, just as everyone has a list of music groups, books, or movies, that you love, everyone also has a list of everything and anyone we just cannot stand. Everybody has a list. A THAT list. Although I have yet to hear anyone say it, I know that every philosopher, philosophy fan, and philosophy student has that list of philosophers that they feel less than a positive affinity towards. A philosophy shit list.
Although one might assume that finding a list of hate-inducing philosophers would be a challenging task, picking the list is actually quite easy. After all, it’s easy to come up with a list of philosophers we’re supposed to like: Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Kant… But let’s be honest, some philosophers practically scream out to be hated. For every great philosopher, for every great philosophical idea like the problem of induction, Gettier examples, the naturalistic fallacy, or correspondence theory of truth, there’s a Pascal’s wager or transcendental idealism. Or the homunculus.
That bad idea, by the way, was peddled by Aristotle.
Some philosophers were not good people. Other philosophers were/are a-holes. And some philosophers invent theories that are so wacky that you have no other reasonable choice but to hate that philosopher and everything they’ve ever written.
I promise I won’t say a thing about logical positivism or Wittgenstein.
Still, sometimes you come to hate other philosophers merely by looking at them.
I mean, it’s easy to hate a guy that looks like this:
Really, the more one reads philosophy, the more one finds philosophers (and theories) worthy of a “worst of” list.
So without further ado, I present my top ten worst philosophers (aka 10 good reasons to hate philosophy):
1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Perhaps best known for his works Critique of Practical Reason (1788), Critique of Pure Reason (1781), and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is considered the greatest philosopher since Aristotle. Kant taught at the University at Konigsberg (East Prussia) where he was a popular and well-regarded professor. Satisfied with neither the rationalist nor the empiricist theories of knowledge, Kant called for a “Copernican revolution” in philosophy – an attempt to provide a satisfactory account for knowledge.
This all makes Kant sound like a swell guy but there’s plenty of reasons to hate him and his philosophy.
For starters, philosophers, until Immanuel Kant, weren’t exclusively academics.
Second, not only are Kant’s Transcendental Idealism and synthetic a priori knowledge incredibly (and annoyingly) confusing concepts, but Kant’s ethical opus, the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE, is damned-near impossible to carry out in real life.
In Kant’s first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, Kant instructs that we may never violate any moral rule, no matter what good may come about as a result of violating the rule. So, if your friend comes to your house and says to you that he’s being followed by an axe murderer and he wants to hide in your closet, according to Kant, you’re supposed to tell the axe murderer that your friend is hiding in the closet if the murderer asks you where your friend is hiding.
The reason why you gotta fink out your friend, Kant says, is because it is morally wrong to lie. Kant writes:
Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it… because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to the were admitted.
The act of lying undermines our pursuit of truth, Kant says.
You see, Kant says we have an inviolable duty to the axe murderer to tell the truth because if we lie, we are endorsing the act of lying, not just to save lives, but in any situation where the circumstances may work out nicely for ourselves (or anyone else for that matter). What if the axe murderer knows you’re lying, Kant asks. And because he knows you’re lying he sneaks around to the back of your house where your fried is also sneaking out the back way. The murderer kills your friend. Kant says that you’re not only morally on the hook for the lie but for the murder as well.
If you didn’t lie the murderer wouldn’t have doubted you. And if he hadn’t doubted you, he wouldn’t have sneaked around to the back door. If you had pointed to your closet and said “He’s right in there”, sure, you’re violating your friend’s trust and handing him over to a deranged killer, but, at least according to Kant, you did so with a clear moral conscience.
It doesn’t take much contemplation to figure out that this line of thinking is kind of…. wrong.
2. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is undoubtedly one of the most influential (if not most popular) philosophers ever. Besides Socrates, Friedrich Nietzsche has probably contributed more ideas and catchphrases to the popular culture than any other philosopher (eternal recurrence, the ubermensch, master/slave morality, “God is dead”, “What does not kill me makes me stronger”, “there are no facts, only interpretations”…) Nietzsche is considered one of the forerunners of existentialism and credited with founding the philosophy of nihilism.
And is the patron philosopher saint of goth kids everywhere.
That’s pretty much where the problem with Nietzsche starts.
The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche is the sole genesis of more philosophical misinterpretation and wrongheaded-ness than any other philosopher in history. Nietzsche’s misogyny, anti-Semitism, and fervent German nationalism not only inspired the malevolent philosophy of National Socialism, but we can find Nietzsche’s philosophical influence in the Satanic religious teachings of the late Anton LaVey to the mass murderers at Columbine High School.
3. Gottlob Frege (1848-1925)
Gottlob Frege is credited with revolutionizing the study of logic, which, until Frege, was dominated by Aristotelian logic. His work, Begriffsschrift (1879) set forward a system of formal logic that overthrew Aristotle’s logic. Frege, (along with Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein) is credited with creating the groundwork of modern philosophy of language. Frege argued that logic, mathematics, and language have continuity, and that we should view language more logically for clarity and to remove confusion (in language).
Anyone who hated symbolic logic or encountered the phrases Venus is Hesperus or Venus is phosphorus has Frege to blame.
And as many philosophy students has complained, Frege’s formal logic operates too much like mathematics – which is precisely the subject that many mathophobic philosophy students aim to avoid.
4. Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
Called “The Philosopher”, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote on subjects as diverse as politics, economics, psychology, biology, physics, ethics, logic, and auto repair. Scholasticism, the school of theological thought based in part on the philosophy of Aristotle, was the official doctrine of the early Catholic church, and Aristotle’s logic was the standard logic until Frege. Aristotle’s philosophy (which includes ideas such as the golden mean, eudemonia, and virtue ethics) is still a foundation of philosophical and political thought. Aristotle’s philosophical works are so extensive and he remains one of the world’s most influential philosophers, it’s amazing to think that it’s possible to dislike the man they called “The Philosopher”.
It is possible.
Aristotle proves that the quantity of one’s writing doesn’t necessarily correlate to the fact that everything that someone writes is correct.
A few examples:
On the subject of slavery Aristotle wrote:
… from birth certain things diverge, some towards being ruled, other towards ruling… Accordingly, those who are as different [from other men] as the soul from the body or man from beast – and they are in the state if their work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them – are slaves by nature. For them its is better to be ruled with this sort of rule…
No, you didn’t read it wrong. Aristotle believed some people are natural slaves.
And On the subject of women Aristotle wrote:
Woman is more compassionate than man, more easily moved to tears. At the same time, she is more jealous, more querulous, more apt to scold and to strike. She is, furthermore, more prone to despondency and less hopeful than man, more devoid of shame or self-respect, more false of speech, more deceptive and of more retentive memory.
Pretty much speaks for itself.
Aristotle also believed:
- Deformed children should be put to death.
- If people married young their children would be weak and female (Aristotle probably believed that was redundant).
- Animals are mere tools to be used however people see fit.
- Democracy is bad.
- The Earth is the center of the universe.
- Heavenly bodies float on eternal invisible spheres.
- Some people have no souls (and therefore are fit to be used as slaves)
- And, of course, Aristotle believed a man’s semen contains fully-developed, miniature people.
We expect that even the greatest philosopher may miss the mark, but when Aristotle was wrong, he wasn’t just slightly incorrect or a wee bit off track; the guy was wrong.
Centuries of Aristotle’s wrong-headed philosophy dominating church doctrine not only held back the progress of science (as it was not in one’s best interest to oppose church doctrine), but Aristotle’s truly messed up notions involving the intellectual aptitude of women and the (in)ability of average citizens to manage government are still prevalent.
If that isn’t enough, Aristotle’s political philosophy influenced neo-conservatism.
5. John Rawls (1921-2002)
Veil of ignorance. Period.
6. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)
Best known as the author of objectivist masterpieces The Fountainhead (1943), Anthem (1938), and Atlas Shrugged (1957), Ayn Rand is only slightly less regarded by philosophers as a philosopher worth taking seriously. Rand is the founder of Objectivism, the philosophical school of thought grounded on the principle of rational self interest. Rand’s rational self interest is defined as follows:
Man – every man – is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.
At first glance Rand’s philosophy makes sense. It’s difficult to argue that we shouldn’t place the achievement of our own happiness first and foremost among our life goals.
And we should wan to be happy.
The problem with Rand is that following her philosophy will turn you into a complete dick.
Anyone who has endured a soon-to-be-former-friend’s Rand-soaked rants about “moochers”, “the virtue of selfishness” or “going Galt”, knows that the mere sight of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged on a friend or prospective mate’s bookshelf spells certain doom for any relationship. The trouble with Ayn Rand is that fans of Rand often espouse Rand’s anti-helping-one’s-fellow-man sentiments, while also failing to realize, like Rand, that helping the less fortunate actually benefits society. You see, Rand’s fans often fail to see that she wrote fiction.
That’s probably why if you ask any philosopher if he takes Ayn Rand seriously, you’ll be laughed out of the room.
Rand not only calls philosophical god Immanuel Kant “evil”, but Rand proclaimed that the Christian ethic of altruism is dangerous and harmful to society.
Which is pretty odd considering some of Rand’s biggest fans are Christian politicians.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy is such a bag of mixed-up ideas that Rand’s influence can be found behind the personal philosophies of former Republican 2012 Vice-Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, who insisted all his staffers read Atlas Shrugged, and Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan.
Rand herself decried social assistance to the poor (because it takes from the rich, who, according to Rand had all earned their money, so no poor person has a right to be helped by it) while receiving social security – a social assistance program.
That’s not only mixed up. That’s being a total Dick.
7. Ayn Rand
Rand proves that it is possible to so despise a philosopher she’s worth mentioning twice.
8. Sir Bertrand Russell (1873-1970)
Regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century and (perhaps) the greatest philosopher ever, Sir Bertrand Russell (along with Gottlob Frege and Ludwig Wittgenstein) played a major role in the development of analytic philosophy. Russell’s works includes writings on logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, politics, economics, religion, and Russell, with Alfred North Whitehead, wrote Principia Mathematica (1910-13), which established the logical foundations of mathematics.
Ok. I know, I know, Bertrand Russell is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, quite possibly the greatest philosopher ever. Blah blah blah.
It’s absolutely correct that every philosophy student should know the philosophical importance of Bertrand Russell. But here’s my problem:
First: Russell’s Paradox.
Second: Unlike Leo Strauss, whose approach to writing was to be intentionally obscure, Bertrand Russell is damn-near un-understandable. I have no clue what Russell is writing about. Read this:
The unity of the sentence is particularly obvious in the case of asymmetrical relations: ‘x precedes y’ and ‘y precedes x’ consist of the same words, arranged by the same relation of temporal succession; there is nothing whatever in their ingredients to distinguish the one from the other. The sentences differ as wholes, but not in their parts, it is this that I mean when I speak of a sentence as a unity.
Now, either Bertrand Russell is that brilliant or I’m that dumb.
Because I have no idea what that meant.
That’s why I hate Bertrand Russell.
9. Leo Strauss (1899-1973)
Known as the father of neo-conservatism, the political philosophy of the late German-American philosopher, Leo Strauss, has created more animus between liberals and conservatives than the epic “tastes great/less filling” debate. In fact, Leo Strauss is probably the most influential modern philosopher no one has ever heard of.
Have you ever heard the name Paul Wolfowitz?
If you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re not an American.
If you are an American and you haven‘t, God help you.
What’s important to know about Paul Wolfowitz is that he was a student of Leo Strauss. AND he was a Deputy Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. That means Paul Wolfowitz had the ear of the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.
No big deal, right?
Well, that would be no big deal if Leo Strauss hadn’t spent his entire philosophical career lamenting modern political theory and what he saw as modernity’s liberal, relativistic values, and “the corroding effects of mass culture.” Strauss writes:
Many people today hold the view that the standard in question is in the best case nothing but the ideal adopted by our society or our “civilization” and embodied in its way of life or its institutions. But, according to the same view, all societies have their ideals, cannibal societies no less than civilized ones. If principles are sufficiently justified by the fact that they are accepted by a society, the principles of cannibalism are as defensible or sound as those of civilized life.
Strauss explains that moral relativism and “the uninhibited cultivation of individuality” is “bound to lead to disastrous consequences” and nihilism.
It would be no big deal if Strauss hadn’t taught at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1968, allowing Strauss to influence a generation of students (they’re called “Straussians”). And it wouldn’t be a big deal that Leo Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz and influenced a generation of Straussians if Strauss hadn’t believed and taught his students that philosophy should be esoteric, and not understood by everybody, and that knowledge is something that is hidden to most people and only understood by a few individuals (namely Strauss and his students).
It wouldn’t be a problem that Strauss taught guys like Paul Wolfowitz if Strauss hadn’t taught his students that society should be structured so that the wisest should rise to the top (mind you, Strauss believed that he and his students were the wisest) and that it’s perfectly within a government’s power to lie to and ignore the will of the people.
It wouldn’t be a big deal if Straussians hadn’t been affecting American domestic and foreign policy for the last 12 years*.
It wouldn’t be a problem if Strauss’ followers didn’t go into politics and influence and entire administration to follow Strauss’ wacked-out ideas.
10. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (of course he was German!) is best known for his work The World As Will (1818). Schopenhauer, along with (fellow Germans) Georg Hegel and Nietzsche introduced the concept of the will as a force in the world that makes things happen. The world, according to Schopenhauer (and later Nietzsche) is an expression of the will.
Schopenhauer believed that the Eastern philosophical tradition was better at dealing with our philosophical crises than the established European philosophy. Schopenhauer also believed that animals should be treated humanely. He even objected to animals being used for scientific research.
That makes Schopenhauer seem like a pretty cool guy, right?
Well, if you thought that you’d be wrong.
You could say Schopenhauer was the Debbie Downer of philosophy.
Schopenhauer believed that there is no such thing as friendship or happiness and since the will wants its way, we will always be subject to suffering caused by our unfulfilled desires. According to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, even if we get what we want we can never be truly satisfied. Schopenhauer says that ultimately nothing we do matters because death will eventually claim us, thus rendering all of our efforts at anything futile. Schopenhauer writes:
we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we know perfectly well that it will burst.
You don’t have to be a philosopher to know it’s kind of hard to like people like this.
Ok, you say, pessimism is forgivable. Many philosophers display more than an inkling of the dourness. But if Schopenhauer’s sunny attitude isn’t enough to turn you off, Arthur Schopenhauer was also a pretty rotten guy.
For starters, his attitude towards women sucked.
Schopenhauer’s attitude towards relationships with women was no different from his view on friendship and happiness. Schopenhauer had many romantic relationships but no permanent. Worse yet, not only did Schopenhauer write that women are “mental myopic” with “weaker reasoning powers”, he pushed an elderly neighbor down a flight of stairs. When the woman died, Schopenhauer rejoiced that the woman’s death relieved him of his obligation to pay compensation for the injuries she sustained in the fall.
That alone places Schopenhauer second only to Ayn Rand on the dickness scale.
Alright. I know that my list sounds like I’m just bitching about philosophers without any real, substantive criticism of any philosopher of his or her philosophy. If that’s what you’re thinking, that would be an entirely correct assumption. Just as one my dislike The Beatles because of John Lennon’s nasally vocals, our reasons for disliking (or even hating) a particular philosopher, philosophical theory, or philosophical school of thought, may come down to something as trivial as the fact that that particular philosopher invented symbolic logic.
It may be un-philosophical to say so, but it’s ok if you don’t like everything. It’s even ok to really despise a philosopher or two.
As any philosopher will tell you, everybody’s got an opinion, and –
* Although the critics are nearly unanimous in their praise of The Beatles, I think that it’s highly unlikely that the Beatles would appear at the number on spot on every best musical artists lists. To my knowledge, The Beatles have never occupied the top spot on a list of the 10 greatest hip hop artists. But then, I haven’t seen every top ten hip hop artists list, either.
* It’s clear that the Bush Administration’s policies have continued into the Obama Administration. The U.S. is still involved in Iraq, and U.S. troops are still active in Afghanistan. Bush era economic policies, government surveillance, and rendition of “enemy combatants” have also continued into the Obama Administration.
1) Aristotle. The Politics. 1984. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 40-1.
2) Aristotle. “The Inequality of Women”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 525.
3) Bertrand Russell. “Sentence, Syntax, and Parts of Speech”. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. 1961. Eds. Robert Egner and Lester E. Denonn. NY: Touchstone. p. 122.
4) “Reader’s Guide to the Writings and Philosophy of Ayn Rand”. From The Fountainhead. 1952 [orig. published 1943]. NY: Signet.
5) Immanuel Kant. “On A Supposed Right to Lie From Benevolent Motives”. 1797. http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php?title=360&chap
6) Leo Strauss. Liberalism Ancient and Modern. 1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p.5
7) Leo Strauss. Natural Right and History. 1950, 1953. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp.3, 5.