What are the Modern Classics?

For anyone looking for philosophical reading material, here is a list of the top philosophy books from the twentieth century as polled from philosophy teachers (The first number is the total votes the work received, the second in brackets the number of first place votes (each voter was allowed five ranked votes)):

  1. 179 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations [68]
  2. 134 Martin Heideggar, Being and Time [51]
  3. 131 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice [21]
  4. 77 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus [24]
  5. 64 Bertrand Russell and A.N. Whitehead, Principia Mathematica [27]
  6. 63 W.V.O. Quine, Word and Object [7]
  7. 56 Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity [5]
  8. 51 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [3]
  9. 38 Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness [4]
  10. 34 A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality [16]
  11. 30 A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic [4]
  12. 25 John Dewey, Experience and Nature [5]
  13. 23 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception [0]
  14. 19 G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica [0]
  15. 18 William James, Pragmatism [1]
    18 Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue [1]
  1. 17 Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations [9]
  2. 17 Edmund Hursserl [5]
  3. 17 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex [2]
  4. 14 H. L. A. Hart, The Concept of Law [2]
  5. 14 Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind [0]
  6. 13 Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast [1]
  7. 12 Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method [3]
  8. 12 Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons [2]
  9. 11 Bertand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy [5]
    11 W. V. O. Quine, From a Logical Point of View [2]
    11 Karl Popper, Logic of Scientific Discovery [2]

Here is the excerpt from the commentary on the poll:

The immediate, indisputable, and unexpected result is that there is a runaway winner in first place. Wittgenstein’s Investigations was cited far more frequently than any other book and was listed first on more ballots athan any other book. The Investigations was cited by persons whose other selections were all logic books, by persons whose other selections were all phenomenology books, by persons whose other selections were all Asian books. It is the one crossover masterpiece in twentieth-century philosophy, appealing across diverse specializations and philosophical orientations.

The top philosophy article was W. V. O. Quine’s Two Dogma’s of Empiricism, of which the polling article wrote:

Once again, the most statistically solid result of the poll is that there is a run-away first-place winner, Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” When Quine read this paper before the American Philosophical Association in Toronto in December 1950, Arnold Isenberg, Quine’s classmate and my first philosophy teacher, rose to his feet, gasped “But Van…,” keeled over, and was rushed to hospital. (He was later diagnosed with a bleeding ulcer.) In one stroke, or rather two strokes, Quine liberated American philosophy from the Vienna Circle and from British Empiricism, reconnected professional American philosophy with its pragmatist roots. This was a declaration of independence for which we are all grateful. But we have been left for fifty years with Rorty’s question, “How can we do analytical philosophy without a concept of analytic truth?” For some the answer has been “you can’t.” Perhaps that is why so many of us are doing ethics.

What are the Modern Classics? The Baruch Poll of Great Philosophy in the Twentieth Century
The Philosophy Forum
Volume XXX, No. 4, December 1999
Douglas P. Lackey

One thought on “What are the Modern Classics?

  1. Rousseve says:

    It is unclear who are those whose opinions have been collected for the poll. “Philosophy teachers”is unclear expression. Are they philosophy teachers in high school? Are they university professors? From what region on earth have these opinions been collected? Also have they read the books they have voted for, or just vote by what they have heard? The approach to this poll doesn’t seem very academic; rather it seems more like a mass magazine survey.

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