A First Eleven, 1975

Retirement looms/beckons (depending on whether it’s a day that I feel it is to be regretted or welcomed). So I’ve started really clearing out my office (as opposed to the occasional half-hearted efforts in the past). Most of a filing cabinet of assorted admin papers and dog-eared xeroxes has gone. Now it’s the turn of folders of old lecture notes.

Among some handouts from long back, I found a two-page end-of-term squib from 1975 headed “A First Eleven”. As I say in the preamble

Philosophers often indulge in the pastime of picking their world-beating first eleven of all-time greats or a team of contemporary philosophers … Here is my selection of contemporary ‘greats’. The team I’ve picked is of philosophers in the strict sense, still alive and influencing contemporary philosophy in a dominant way …

Then came the list with a few comments and suggestions for key reading against each name. The headline list read

  1. Quine (Captain)
  2. Davidson
  3. Dummett
  4. Feyerabend
  5. Grice
  6. Kripke
  7. Popper
  8. Putnam
  9. Rawls
  10. Sellars
  11. Strawson

Twelfth man: Bernard Williams.

If it is surprising to see Feyerabend’s name there, then remember that  the pieces that were later collected in his two 1981 volumes of collected papers were then much read — and are good serious stuff. It isn’t all Against Method. Perhaps the name that surprises me the most is Strawson’s: I can’t recall ever being a particular fan, or even reading him much (I really struggled with the Bounds of Sense, while I loved Bennett’s Kant’s Analytic).

Still, I’m not too ashamed of my earlier self’s enthusiasms revealed here!

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5 Responses to A First Eleven, 1975

  1. Paraconsistent says:

    Putnam and Strawson, but no C.G. Hempel, David Lewis, and D.M. Armstrong? Odd…

    • Peter Smith says:

      Well, I certainly knew Lewis’s work in 1975 — but I think it is fair to say it was a year or two later (at least for us in the UK) when we got to see his developing importance.

      Armstrong by the mid seventies had written e.g. A Materialist Theory of the Mind, which had some impact at the time but was soon overtaken by more sophisticated work in a functionalist spirit; the major late flowering of metaphysics books was yet to come.

      As to Hempel, I certainly agree that in the wider scheme of things, he is a more important figure than Strawson (as I said, I’m surprised to find him on my list): but by 1975 was his brand of logical empiricism still influencing contemporary philosophy of science in a dominant way? The realist countermovement (including early Putnam as a significant figure) was where the action was, or so it seemed at the time.

  2. Paraconsistent says:

    I can grant the exclusion of Lewis and Armstrong (the latter, barely), but Hempel’s work in scientific explanation and confirmation theory *still* informs both areas of research. In fact, I think I might go so far as to assert that Hempel (with the exception of Carnap, who died before 1975, Quine, and Popper, both of whom you have included) more than anyone else formed modern philosophy of science.

    P.S. I would have excluded Kuhn as well and I think you are spot on with Quine at the helm.

  3. Aldo Antonelli says:

    Peter, I am intrigued by the inclusion of Sellars. I agree he was one of the greats, but the received view in Pittsburgh was that he was generally misunderstood and under-appreciated: had he been at an Ivy League institution instead of a blue-collar school (and perhaps had he been a clearer writer) he would be in the same league as Quine.

    Well, apparently he was, for you, in 1975.

    • Peter Smith says:

      Yes, I bought a copy of Science Perception and Reality in 1971 (there’s a pencilled date in my copy), and devoured it. I thought then — and still think — there’s some wonderful stuff there. Especially, of course, ‘Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind’. But much more than that. And in the early papers in that book he is pretty clear.

      I confess, though, that I never got on with Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes, and no longer seem to have a copy. Sellars could indeed get pretty hard going.

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