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Philosopher of the Month – A 2019 Review

As 2019 draws to a close, we look back at the philosophers who have featured in our monthly Philosopher of the Month posts and their significant contribution to philosophy and the history of intellectual thought.

Discover more about these philosophers, their works, and schools of thought by clicking on the links below, and let us know who your favourite philosophers are in the comment box beneath the post.

William James (1842–1910) was an American psychologist and philosopher, a brother of Henry James, a Harvard professor of philosophy and psychology, and one of the founders of American Pragmatism alongside Charles Sanders Peirce. His first major work, The Principles of Psychology (1890) in two volumes brought together physiology, experimental psychology, philosophy, elements of pragmatism, and phenomenology. James coined the famous expression, a “stream of consciousness,” now widely used as literary term, to suggest that the human experience was characterized by a complex mental flux of thoughts.

Plato (c. 428–348 BC) was an Athenian philosopher and a dominant philosophical figure of classical antiquity. Socrates taught him and was a formative influence on Plato. He founded the Athenian Academy, which was regarded as the first institution devoted to philosophy and mathematical enquiry, whose most famous pupil was Aristotle.  Plato wrote most of his works in dialogue form. Among his masterpieces are The Republic, an extended dialogue in which he outlines his view of an ideal state and develops a comparison between justice and order in the soul; and Symposium, and Phaedrus which contain profound ideas on the true nature of love.

Philippa Foot (1920–2010) was a British moral philosopher who contributed to the revival of the Aristotelian virtue ethics and for the move away the emotivism and prescriptivism among the Oxford philosophers of the nineteen-sixties and later. She was one of the prominent female philosophers, including Elizabeth Anscombe, Mary Midgley, and the future novelist Iris Murdoch who studied at Oxford University during the Second World War and shared philosophical viewpoint on moral philosophy.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was an Indian poet, philosopher, writer, and educator. He was a key figure of the Bengal Renaissance, a cultural nationalist movement in the city. Tagore helped to shape the development of Indian philosophy in the early 20th century. His philosophical works have religious and ethical themes.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) was a French philosopher and novelist, and winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for literature. He joined the Resistance movement and was the editor of Combat, its clandestine newspaper. Camus was best known for his philosophical concept of the absurd, which arises out of the tension between our desire for order, meaning and happiness and, on the other hand, the indifferent natural universe’s refusal to provide that. He explored this idea in famous novels, The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), and The Fall (1956), as well as philosophical essays, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) and The Rebel (1951).

Foucault (1926-84) was a French philosopher, literary critic, and historians of ideas whose theories on ‘discourses’ and the relation of power and knowledge have been ground-breaking and influential across a wide range of disciplines  including history, literature, feminism,and queer studies. His notable works include Discipline and Punish (1975) and the monumental three volume, The History of sexuality. They examine the ways in which powerful social institutions (scientific, medical, penal etc.) regulate knowledge and submit its citizens to the control of experts.

G.E. Moore (1873-1958) was a British philosopher, who alongside Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein at Trinity College, Cambridge, was a key protagonist in the formation of the analytic tradition during the twentieth century. He is perhaps best known for his opposition to the prevailing British idealism, his criticism of ethical naturalism in his most well-known work Principia Ethica, his contributions to ethics, epistemology and metaphysics and Moore’s Paradox.

Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) was a German poet and playwright, and one of the key figures of the Sturm and Drang period and of German Romanticism. In addition to this literary talent, he is a profound philosophical thinker. His works principally concern the role of aesthetics and beauty in human life. Kant was a major influence on Schiller who developed his ethics and aesthetics towards post-Kantian idealism. Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795) on the redemptive quality of beauty is perhaps Schiller’s most important works and influenced Friedrich Schlegel and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

John Duns Scotus (c. 1265-1308) was one of the most significant Christian philosophers and theologians of the medieval period. Scotus made important and influential contributions in metaphysics, ethics, and natural theology. He was notable for his approach to philosophy, characterised by rigorous philosophical analysis, meticulous exposition of arguments and its use of technical concepts. Because of his nuanced and technical reasoning, he was referred to as the “subtle doctor.”

Mary Astell (1666–1731) was an English philosopher and one of the first and foremost English feminists. She was best-known for her theories on female education in the early modern period and had a profound influence on later generation of feminists. Astell’s key feminist work A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, proposed establishing an academy along Platonist lines where women could receive a proper and serious education in religion and philosophy. Another book, Some Reflections on Marriage, examined women’s subordination in marriage.

Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996) was an American historian and philosopher of science. He was notable for his highly influential book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Kuhn argued that science does not progress in a linear and consistent fashion via an accumulation of knowledge, but proceeds within a scientific paradigm. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions sold more than a million copy and influenced history and philosophy of science, and the social sciences.

We hope you have enjoyed our journey through philosophy this year.

We’ll be back in 2020 with a new series of Philosopher of the Month posts, until then, keep in touch with us on our Twitter channel @OUPPhilosophy and in the comments section below.

Featured image credit: “Hanging pendant lamps” by Dil via Unsplash.

Recent Comments

  1. Jean Bell

    My vote is William James who wrote “The Illusion of Technique.” Eye-opening that technique alone does not initiate creativity (e.g., perhaps the modern misconception that schooling can prepare one to be an expert). At the same time, he supported the idea that learning all there is to know is like training in tennis: begin in good form. After that, genuine creativity is possible.

  2. Jean Bell

    Correction: William James was quoted by William Barrett, the actual author of “The Illusion of Technique.” Barrett liked the idea of the first act of free will being to act as if there were free will. Barrett expounded on the reasons technique alone was illusory.

  3. Constantinos Ragazas

    Will the writer of this post please stand and be accounted?


  4. Library Network Camden

    Excellent format, the year’s summary of the philosophers featured.
    Might it be increased from annually to quarterly?

Comments are closed.