Who’s The Most Famous Philosopher of the 20th Century?

On Leiter’s blog there was a poll on the question “who’s the most important philosopher of the 20th century”, prompted by the unqualified assertion by Jim Holt in a NYT book review that that would be Wittgenstein. The results were widely debated, e.g., on Crooked Timber. The reason the results were contentious, I think, is because the methodology was severely flawed and consequently the results were widely off. Of course the proper methodology would be to find a property that correlates with the property you’re interested in, but that is objectively measurable. Obviously, the property you should be interested in here is fame. Below a ranking of the philosophers included in Leiter’s list, sorted by fame (measured in dBHa, the international logarithmic unit of fame, see Schulman 2009).

Rank Name Rank Leiter Rank dBHa
1 Bertrand Russell 1 2 -1.9
2 Jean-Paul Sartre 2 10 -2.25
3 Michel Foucault 3 7 -2.75
4 Jürgen Habermas 4 20 -2.89
5 John Dewey 5 11 -3.83
6 Simone de Beauvoir -3.98
7 Martin Heidegger 6 4 -4.01
8 Hannah Arendt -4.26
9 Ludwig Wittgenstein 7 1 -6.29
10 Iris Murdoch -6.9
11 Richard Rorty 8 22 -6.96
12 Gilles Deleuze 9 21 -7.28
13 Karl Popper 10 8 -7.44
14 Theodor Adorno 11 16 -7.91
15 Hans-Georg Gadamer 12 27 -8.03
16 Henri Bergson 13 24 -8.28
17 John Rawls 14 5 -8.75
18 Judith Butler -9.43
19 Maurice Merleau-Ponty 15 23 -9.48
20 Alfred North Whitehead 16 26 -9.84
21 Julia Kristeva -10.37
22 Bernard Williams 17 12 -10.38
23 Donald Davidson 18 17 -10.62
24 Ernst Cassirer 19 27 -10.69
25 Hilary Putnam 20 18 -10.78
26 Luce Irigaray -11.21
27 G. E. Moore 21 15 -12.02
28 W. V. O. Quine 22 6 -12.83
29 Martha Nussbaum -14.29
30 Rudolf Carnap 23 13 -14.65
31 Donna Haraway -14.95
32 Elizabeth Anscombe -15.3
33 P. F. Strawson 24 24 -17.08
34 Alfred Tarski 25 18 -17.14
35 C.I. Lewis 26 29 -17.88
36 Saul Kripke 27 9 -18.46
37 Michael Dummett 28 30 -18.52
38 Wilfrid Sellars 29 14 -18.79
39 Susan Haack -21.89
40 Philippa Foot -22.04
41 David K. Lewis 30 3 -23.06

The top 8 are B-list celebrities, 9-31 are C-list, by Schulman’s standard.

UPDATE: Prompted by Rob Wilson’s comment, I added a number of women philosophers to Leiter’s original list.

References

Schulman, E. 2009, “Measuring Fame Quantitatively. IV. Who’s the Most Famous of Them All?” Annals of Improbable Research Online, February 28. (see also AIR February 28)

17 thoughts on “Who’s The Most Famous Philosopher of the 20th Century?

  1. Well, it sounds like there’s a short presentation waiting to be made at a conference.No one gets into philosophy for money; now we know there’s no fame in it either.

  2. I’m slightly surprised that Russell wins out on this measure as well. I’m also a bit surprised that Dewey beats Heidegger and Wittgenstein, though I wonder how many of the hits for “John Dewey” are actually about the Dewey decimal system and some unrelated John.It actually seems to me like -10dBHa is a sort of natural cutoff – the philosophers above that point are people that I suspect people outside the field will often have heard of, while the ones below it really aren’t.

  3. I guess Dewey was also pretty important (more important) for writing on psychology and especially education.

  4. Wow, no famous women philosophers in the 20th-century. But I guess that’s just ONE century, and one that didn’t have much going for it anyway. (It’s my least favourite century. Except for all the others.)

  5. No women philosophers on Leiter’s list. But here are some, and their fame in dBHa: Simone de Beauvoir (-3.98), Iris Murdoch (-6.9), Judith Butler (-9.43), Julia Kristeva (-10.37), Luce Irigaray (-11.21), Martha Nussbaum (-14.29), Donna Haraway (-14.95), Elizabeth Anscombe (-15.3), Susan Haack (-21.89). All more famous than David Lewis.

  6. Oh, and Hannah Arendt with -4.26 dBHa would also make it to the top (> -5 dBHa = B-list celebrity).

  7. What about Angela Davis and some of the activist/feminists? e.g. Gloria Steinam, Betty Friedan.Another glaring omission is Peter Singer.Though Raymond Smullyan himself is not a household name, his logic puzzles are infamous… I suppose this doesn’t count though, unless the idea is attached to personal brand.

  8. Well, I just took Leiter’s list to start with. But hey! If you want to make your own list, just read the cited paper, apply the simple method for calculating DBHa given there, and make your own list!

  9. Clearly, this is the most important work that has been done so far in this century. Eric Schulman and Richard Zack are geniuses.

  10. I’ll never make it to E-list celebrity status if people misspell my name on the internets!

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