The best philosopher

February 26, 2007 at 1:21 pm (general philosophy)

I’m reading John Stuart Mill’s Mathematics and Experience in which he argues that all of our knowledge is derived from experience. Reading this also brings to mind his works On Liberty and Utilitarianism. What strikes me is that I can’t help but consider J.S. Mill as being the best writer I’ve read in philosophy. He is the only one I know of that can consistently combine a creative and stylistic writing style with a clear and logical analysis of a problem. The way he expresses his ideas is both rigourous and literary.

Who are your favorite writer-philosophers?



  1. postmodern beatnik said,

    I find that Daniel Dennett has a way of offering vivid examples, engaging prose, and a clear and logical analysis of the problems all at once. His newer books also have an organization to them that really help the chapters flow into one another. It’s almost a text book, yet it still makes you want to read it. J.J.C. Smart and Simon Blackburn can usually portray their thoughts rather clearly, as well.

    Closer to the era you are reading–though a little earlier, obviously, given that he influenced Mill–Jeremy Bentham had a clarity to his writing that perhaps came from his political experience. Earlier still (and again backwards down the path of influence), Voltaire would have never made it off the ground if he hadn’t made such intriguing reading.

    Returning to more modern writers, Camus and many of the Existentialists were excellent writer-philosophers, no doubt owing to the fact that many were more interested in literature than philosophy. (Nietzsche, the grandfather of Existentialism, was perhaps not as literary, but still a fine writer.)

    Sadly, my favorite philosopher of all, one David Hume, is not always the most thrilling writer out there. Nor is my favorite Hume-disciple: J.L. Mackie. But I love them still.

  2. spacemonkey said,

    Hume for wit.
    Russell for clarity.

  3. ibrahim said,

    Hegel for clarity?
    This may be a dumb question, but are you being facetious?

  4. danielle said,

    Nietzsche. Even if you are reading in translation, if you have even a little German, (and a decent translation) the genius shines through.

  5. aurelius said,

    Aristotle! (Kidding of course)

    But seriously… there are parts of Zarathustra that approach sublimnity. There’s a certain elegant gravity to his prose… a certain authoritarian command to it.

    For clarity, its gotta be Mill.

  6. tobias said,

    Nietzsche is a great writer, Schopenhauer…

    But for sheer richness and debth one can’t beat Hegel imo. Though he doesn’t win prizes for clarity, but hell maybe philosohy is not such a clear subject.

  7. iaoman said,

    Well, the great old ones have all been mentioned. Of the more modern writers, I’ve found Searle to be a very good read. He presents his ideas well and writes with a sense of humor, which makes his work very enjoyable.

  8. hypothesis said,

    Russell is a good read, if you are reading his History of Western Philosophy. He can analyse problems freeflowingly in a nice laid back style, and adding his razor sharp wit.

  9. sensabile said,

    Voltaire remains my favourite philosopher-writer to date. I greatly enjoy Russell’s style as well.

  10. spinoza said,

    I’m also with Tobias- if you can crack the jargon he actually has some extremely interesting things to say

  11. macca said,

    I always rather enjoyed John Locke’s style – he writes as if the problems of philosophy can be easily solved by someone intelligent (ie, John Locke) with a few free hours at his disposal.

    Neitzsche, as others have mentioned, is a brilliant stylist if you like your philosophy to be poetic and aphoristic.

    Wittgenstein’s great because he offers you two completely different styles for the price of one philosopher. There’s the incredibly terse “voice from the whirlwind” style of the Tractatus or the bewildering detours and unanswered questions of the “Philosophical Investigations”.

  12. u said,

    Nietzche, Kierkgaard, Schopenhauer, Albert Camus are the best i’ve read so far.

    I can tell you who one of the worst writers in philosophy is.

    Derek Parfit

    I was assigned to read his essay on personal identity for my intro class.

    When it came to fathoming the profound lack of good sense in terms of sentence structure, word selection and pronoun usage, my amazement was bordering on indignation.

    He was also the first philospher who seemed to be open about the fact that his thinking primarily deals with repeated use of unlikely hypothetical scenarios and exceptionally unfounded thought-experiments in order to form arugments that have no relevence to real life.

    He has openly admited that some thinkers like to contemplate the real world, while others like to philosophize more in a pretend world, and that he is living mostly in a pretend world.

    However, his personal identity essay actually was an attempt at influencing humanity to end their egos believe it or not.

    It really has to be read to be believed. I cant expres the sheer block-headednes of his writing style.

    Curiously, what he was trying to say was kind of deep, but nothing that wasnt said before a gazzilion times better.

    He liked hume I guess.

  13. jhonhg said,

    Nietzsche’s philosophical prose is wonderfully crafted. Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary is one of the best examples of biting sarcasm around.

    JS Mill comes off as wry and academic. In terms of sheer brilliance, Mill far surpasses the above named philosophers, but I’ve never found him to be a particularly interesting read.

  14. yahadreas said,

    Nietzsche for elegance. Plato for structure.

  15. nirvana said,

    Jostein Gaardner writes philosophical topics if you were wondering. It is pretty interesting if you were wondering. “sophie’s world” is pretty well known. Although “the solitaire mystery” isn’t as well known, i like it more. really interesting if you relate all the points to philosophy (which is what it’s about anyway!)

  16. ying said,

    Seneca, since he isn’t mentioned yet.

  17. 180proof said,

    emil cioran

  18. freigeist said,

    I’m very surprised people are nominating Russell. I give him top points for clarity, but I think he’s probably the most boring man I’ve ever read.

  19. cosmic consciousness said,

    From what I have read; there are those philosophers who are too technical and are hard to get into, even though they may be refering more penetringly to things the less technical philosophers cannot get into as deeply. People such the bacon, bertrand, Kant and some of the pre-renaissance philosophers. They arn’t as intriging as those philosophers that are talking about profound, things, but in a language the foregoes hyper logic, and hits the nail on the head more elagantly with less precision but equal effect, like a Descartes, Sarte, and some of the other existential philosophers. Even though pretty much all of them are geniuses at conveying, just brilliant at language, it is rare that they are poets at the same time. Such as a Plato (even though Plato is kind of stale for my tastes), and especially Nietzches. His style can be downright intoxicating. And like stated previously in the thread, I feel at times, the sheer energy of confidense that is infused into his all-encompasing revelations becomes sublime, a fluid streaming ecstasy of understanding that has this transparant film of consistant beauty. What seals the deal is that he is such a rebal philosopher compared to the philosophers before him. Its like he reveals truths behind things which were only merely pre-justified or givens by other philosophers. Truths about morality, truths about human character/psychology and intention which previous philosophers just overlooked or justified because they were givens, or traditional. He’s kind of like the rockstar of philosophy, the kid who comes into the world and says to his elders, “why not? Why can’t I do that? im going do it just to see what happens, and then rebels against the norm.

  20. jj belmondo said,

    Russel & Schoppenhauer.

    Russel because his texts have a particulary clairity and they read like a train. Don’t forget to mention he is funny…
    Schoppenhauer because he, as far as I am aware, the only one who truly understands the concept of cliffhanger, and how to write one. I catapulted the book through the room when I finished it!

  21. mocka said,

    Steven King.

    just kidding… Baudrillard.

  22. postmodern beatnik said,

    I’m with Freigeist on the boringness of Russel. Great mind, usually pretty clear. But boring. Within the philosophy of mind, however, I am finding both clarity and a distinct lack of boringness with Robert Van Gulick. I’m not going to say he’s thrilling in his reparté or anything, and I wouldn’t nominate him for the title of “best” that this thread is looking for, but he’s clever and I don’t fall asleep reading his stuff. (And yes, I have fallen asleep reading Russel. That’s why I don’t read him at my desk… anymore… oh the shame!)

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