Elden goes in for the rankings…

I share Stuart Elden’s hesitation for ranking philosophers, though I could get pulled into that conversation pretty easily. He also answers a follow-up question I was going to have about Leibniz—what biography would someone recommend, though there aren’t that many out. In any case, here’s his ranking:

I’m a little reluctant (and/or unqualified) to rank philosophers across time and space – and there are lots of criteria, including ‘best’, most important, most influential, etc. – but if pushed I’d say Aristotle for the ancient world; and Kant for the moderns. I think medieval thought is hugely important, and Aquinas has to be the standout figure there. After that it’s much more open to question. But I think you could make a strong case for Leibniz being the most accomplished thinker of his time, and it was a pretty remarkable time – Descartes just before him, and Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, Pufendorf, Newton as contemporaries. I think Graham nails it with the comment that Leibniz is “quite staggering in his integration of Modern with Scholastic philosophy”; at the very least he’s a hugely important transitional figure.

Here’s a perhaps naive question, but isn’t it generally the case that there are really quite few political philosophy classes that include this period for anything other than the English? Certainly, as a political theory student, it was as if the continent didn’t exist—which is perhaps the most enduring Continental/Anglo-American split.


  1. I’m not sure if it’s the kind of continental political philosophy of that era you had in mind, but my own undergrad class on the subject was quite heavy on French thinkers, possibly even more than English thinkers— Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Diderot, Proudhon, etc.

    1. Yeah, I should have made clear I was talking about the 16th-17th centuries, not the Enlightenment era.

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