most overrated philosophers, really?

in the past day or so quite a few bloggers have been throwing out their own candidates for who the most ‘overrated’ philosopher is. i had no intention to get involved in the debate, but just saw this posted on graham’s blog:

 Most overrated of all time: someone I like to read but can’t seem to use… Kierkegaard.

now, this quote doesn’t come from graham himself but rather from someone he knows ‘fairly well’. that said, i find the idea that Kierkegaard is the most overrated philosopher of all time  absolutely absurd. if anything, he has to be near the top of the list for the most underrated philosopher! has someone who works on Kierkegaard, it’s shocking how many people working in philosophy have never really given his work much attention, and it seems if anything most people’s experience with Kierkegaard involves reading Fear and Trembling and maybe Repetition in an undergrad course on existentialism. if the person who sent this to graham “can’t seem to use” Kierkegaard, this is likely their own fault.

along with this, i’m pretty shocked at how many times Sartre’s name has come up in these discussions as well. maybe he was overrated in the 60’s or something, but he’s also one of those figures who seem to be more and more relegated to undergraduate ‘introduction to existentialism’ type courses. and it is also telling that his most serious philosophical work, Critique of Dialectical Reason vols. 1 and 2 is only now starting to get some bits of attention in the english speaking world.

and just to perpetuate the debate, i think Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida are three of the most overrated philosophers, at least in the recent continental tradition.

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14 thoughts on “most overrated philosophers, really?

  1. […] Kierkegaard from charges of being overrated, and takes a shot at Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida. CLICK HERE TO SEE. Posted by doctorzamalek Filed in Uncategorized Leave a Comment […]

  2. rkrahn says:

    I was also baffled at the suggestion of Kierkegaard and completely share your thoughts on Sartre (although a couple of years ago I would’ve stupidly lent my voice to the crowd dismissing the relevance of Sartre on the basis of a few essays, ignoring his political and ontological works. And I think Michael Austin was right the other day when he said that Badiou has been the necessary nudge that brought Sartre back into currency, at least for those of us who weren’t smart enough to give him another shot after Existentialism 101 and re-discover him on our own).
    As for my pick, it would have to be Levinas.

  3. Michael says:

    Nietzsche, really? Yikes! Foucault was someone I thought of at first but I don’t think he’s cited authoritatively enough anymore to fit the criteria. His popularity hasn’t been as high since his death and as far as I know, is decreasing as time goes on. I think he’s the closest I’ve come to an answer to the question of most overrated though, other than maybe Wittgenstein but I’ve yet to find a thinker I’m confident in.

  4. michaeloneillburns says:

    Ryan, I agree re: Levinas.

    Anthony/Michael: to be honest, I threw those names out there to be provocative, and to poke a bit of fun at the whole notion of seriously debating who the most overrated philosopher is. but if there was a grain of truth in my intentionally provocative trinity of overrated philosophers, it’d be Foucault, I really doubt he’ll play a substantial role in 21st century philosophy. i doubt Derrida will either, but I’m very open to being proved wrong on that one.

  5. michaeloneillburns says:

    and anthony…was the ‘naw’ to the kierkegaard comments, or my ‘list’?

  6. The whole exercise. Strikes me as fanboyism or leiterism. Not directed at you so much as just not into the meme. I mean I get annoyed by some pious uses of Kierkegaard and I’m still not sure I buy the political significance of a deeply conservative man (as some rightly have regarding Nietzsche too), but those are intellectual debates rather than Sunday morning commentary. Though maybe its all a bit of fun and I’m just cranky. Let me try: Plato, Hegel, St Paul. Hmmmm…

  7. Daniel K says:

    Kierkegaard is indeed one of the most underrated philosophers ever, though that title deservedly belongs to Max Stirner followed by Thomas Reid. I also agree that Nietzsche is the most overrated philosopher in history.

  8. michaeloneillburns says:

    Daniel, good call on Stirner, I didn’t even think of that.

    and Anthony…fair enough. it does seem like Bergson people are always pretty anti-Hegel.

  9. Alex says:

    Graham was out of line on Kierkegaard – though I agree with APS that the whole exercise is odd. I think everyone is agreed now Derrida has been overrated. I’m not sure if Nietzsche is overrated, in my own experience as he is someone I often go back to and find interesting and provocative. But I don’t get your Foucault bashing at all. As I’ve said to you before, for someone concerned with the political, his analyses of power are indispensable. In political philosophy, and in research into neoliberalism, he is taken very seriously indeed and I think he will become more so in future. However, I think we could probably agree that as philosophy Foucault is likely to be less important, but the apparatus and terminology (eg biopower/governmentality etc) he uses, while perhaps not the ‘meat’ of the work itself will continue to exert influence on the critical social studies and rightly so. As for Stirner, I do think Marx and Engels really did him over in the German Ideology and his kind of individualist anarchism I find deeply problematic.

  10. Matt The-Bear says:

    Foucault’s still kind of the shit in the social sciences…even if mainly for his historiography and methodology. Just saying.

  11. michaeloneillburns says:

    Matt/Bear,
    I absolutely agree with you there. I think Foucault is going to play a lasting influence in the social sciences/cultural studies; but I honestly don’t think he’s going to play nearly as big an influence in philosophy as such.

  12. Russell Smith says:

    I agree with the comment on Foucault being an overrated philosopher, when one reads his works in a holistic fashion you get the distinct impression that he is, or at least seems to be, pulling in too many different directions. Foucault can perhaps be forgiven for this for the most part, as he was clearly a product of his own time, when Europe was trapped in a maelstrom of absolutes; this kind of European crucible could hardly have made Foucault into a man like Descartes, for instance.

    The fact that Foucault periodically escaped Europe to The United States in the 1970’s may show that he was aware of this fact as well; and perhaps thought that America would provide him with some alternative focus? It would have been interesting to see how his thought would have developed, but alas, his time was cut short.

  13. me says:

    kierkegard is quite horrible at trying to get his ideas across. seems like his use of language is like postmodernists, with a million verb phrases, each unintelligably modifying the next with random noun phrases thrown in the middle, till even the brightest among us has to stand in awe of the “profoundity” or the stupider among us “force ” their own meaning on it. that is unless, like postmodernists, he has little or nothing to say,

    most overrated though, gotta be the unholy trinity or focault, lacan and lyotard. derrida is a close fourth. these intellectual masturbaters and knowing charlatans have NEVER had anything to offer to philosophy or human intelligence.

    there is ofcourse the curoius case of heideggar to mention.

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