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June 22, 2005
Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/greatest_philosopher.shtml
'The Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it'
….So said Karl Marx. The Radio 4 programme In Our Time by Melvyn Bragg is running a poll to find the nation's favourite philosopher. Marx is currently leading the race, proving, as Michael Gove put it in yesterday's Times, that "there is one place where Marxism can storm to victory in an open ballot".
Gove argues that "The author of The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital may be the godfather of more misery, death and criminality than any other figure from the last 200 years" This is a little harsh, but I accept that Marxism is totally discredited, that it crushes the human spirit, and that history can often be a better guide to human action than theory.
So who is the greatest philosopher of all time? It's a difficult (perhaps impossible question). However, the philosophers who have inspired me most would include:
Rene Descartes for making me think about the foundations of knowledge, when beliefs are justified and of what we can be certain ('cogito ergo sum': I think therefore I am)
John Stuart Mill for his belief that individuals should be at liberty to do as they please as long as they do not harm others (an idea of great relevance today!), and his notion of higher and lower pleasures.
Karl Popper for his work on the scientific method, induction and falsification.
John Rawls (not on the list of 20 nominees) for reviving political theory in the 1970's and his belief that inequalities can only be justified when they benefit the least well-off.
Rawls and J S Mill have been of great influence on my political thinking. Given the fomer's absence from the list, I am voting for Mill. He is well known, of course, for the quote (highlighted on the Radio 4 website):
'Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.'
To this day some still refer to the Conservative Party as 'the stupid party'. This links back to my previous blog posting: namely, the Tories will have to change dramatically if they are to prove an credible alternative government for the country.