Thinkers and theories


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Michel Foucault at home in Paris, 1978. Photo by Martine Franck/Magnum

Essay/
Political philosophy
The power thinker

Original, painstaking, sometimes frustrating and often dazzling. Foucault’s work on power matters now more than ever

Colin Koopman

Illustration by Stephen Collins

Essay/
History of ideas
I still love Kierkegaard

He is the dramatic thunderstorm at the heart of philosophy and his provocation is more valuable than ever

Julian Baggini

Near Lalibela, in northern Ethiopia, the location of Zera Yacob’s cave. Photo by Raymond Depardon/Magnum

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The African Enlightenment

The highest ideals of Locke, Hume and Kant were first proposed more than a century earlier by an Ethiopian in a cave

Dag Herbjørnsrud

Illustration by Petra Eriksson at Handsome Frank

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
Hume the humane

Hume believed we were nothing more or less than human: that’s why he’s the amiable, modest, generous philosopher we need now

Julian Baggini

Hellenic values; a volunteer helps a refugee girl after arriving on an inflatable boat at Lesbos, Greece, March 2016. Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty

Essay/
Meaning and the good life
Why read Aristotle today?

Modern self-help draws heavily on Stoic philosophy. But Aristotle was better at understanding real human happiness

Edith Hall

Samuel Hirszenberg, Spinoza (1907) . Courtesy A. A. Deineka Picture Gallery, Kursk, Russia.

Essay/
History of ideas
Why Spinoza still matters

At a time of religious zealotry, Spinoza’s fearless defence of intellectual freedom is more timely than ever

Steven Nadler

Spaceborne Imaging Radar photo of the autonomous republic of Tuva, the subject of Richard Feynmann’s intense interest during the latter part of his life and documented in Tuva or Bust! by Ralph Leighton. Photo taken from Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1994. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL

Idea/
Thinkers and theories
Richard Feynman was wrong about beauty and truth in science

Massimo Pigliucci

Katy Perry performs during her ‘Witness: The Tour’ in Detroit, Michigan. Photo by Scott Legato/Getty

Essay/
Beauty and aesthetics
Against popular culture

For Adorno, popular culture is not just bad art – it enslaves us to repetition and robs us of our aesthetic freedom

Owen Hulatt

Francis Fukuyama photographed in Paris. Photo by Stephane Grangier/Corbis/Getty

Essay/
Political philosophy
The last hollow laugh

Since Francis Fukuyama proclaimed ‘The End of History’ 25 years ago, he has been much maligned. His work now seems prophetic

Paul Sagar

A prince and attendants visiting a noble yogini at an Ashram. Murshidabad sub-style, c1765. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Essay/
Comparative philosophy
First women of philosophy

Philosophy was once a woman’s world, ranging across Asia, Africa and Latin America. It’s time to reclaim that lost realm

Dag Herbjørnsrud

A hologram of Adam Smith adorns the British £20 note. Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty

Essay/
Political philosophy
The real Adam Smith

He might be the poster boy for free-market economics, but that distorts what Adam Smith really thought

Paul Sagar

A man gazes upon the ruined city of Frankfurt, Germany, 1946. Photo by Werner Bischof/Magnum

Essay/
Political philosophy
Theory from the ruins

The Frankfurt School argued that reason is dangerous, mass culture deadening, and the Enlightenment a disaster. Were they right?

Stuart Walton

Two Philosophers. Original painting of Gregg Caruso and Daniel Dennett by Andrea Ventura.

Essay/
Virtues and vices
Just deserts

Can we be held morally responsible for our actions? Yes, says Daniel Dennett. No, says Gregg Caruso. Reader, you decide

Daniel C Dennett & Gregg D Caruso

Detail from We Are Making a New World (1918) by Paul Nash. Courtesy the Imperial War Museum

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The spirit of history

Hegel’s search for the universal patterns of history revealed a paradox: freedom is coming into being, but is never guaranteed

Terry Pinkard

‘…the recognition of the irredeemable vanity and falsity of all beauty and all greatness is itself a kind of beauty and greatness that fills the soul.’ Inside the Pantheon, Rome. Photo by Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The great disillusionist

In an age when so many people are at a loss to give life meaning and direction, Giacomo Leopardi is essential reading

Tim Parks

Susan Sontag in 1971. Photo by Bruce Davidson/Magnum

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
Susan Sontag was a monster

She took things too seriously. She was difficult and unyielding. That’s why Susan Sontag’s work matters so much even now

Lauren Elkin

Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge), no date (thought to be c1930) by Arthur Hammond, gelatin silver print. Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The greatest use of life

The pragmatist philosopher William James had a crisp and consistent response when asked if life was worth living: maybe

John Kaag

The historical Buddha, preaching on Vulture Peak. Japanese, Nara period, 8th century. Courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Essay/
Religion
Who was the Buddha?

When we strip away the myths, such as his princely youth in a palace, a surprising picture of this enigmatic sage emerges

Alexander Wynne

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in France, 1980. Photo by Marc Gantier/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
Two’s a crowd

Zany and earnest, political yet puckish, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari were philosophy’s most improbable duo

Edward Thornton