The 30 Harshest Philosopher-on-Philosopher Insults in History


We’ve amused ourselves for a while now at Flavorwire with our ongoing survey of internecine mud-slinging in various areas of the arts: musicians, actors, authors, and filmmakers have all provided rich entertainment in the manifold ways they’ve fought amongst themselves. But for truly epic bitchiness and egotism, you need look no further than that most storied and venerable of academic disciplines: philosophy! The history of Western thought is peppered with thinkers taking aim at their peers — sometimes in a genteelly intellectual manner, and sometimes… um, less so (yes, Friedrich Nietzsche, this means you). Here are 30 of the best, from Aristotle to Žižek.

30. Voltaire on Jean-Jacques Rousseau “I have read, monsieur, your new book against the human race. I thank you for it. No one has ever used so much intellect to prove us beasts. A desire seizes us to walk on four paws when we read your work. Nevertheless, as it is more than sixty years since I lost the habit, I feel, unfortunately, that it is impossible for me to resume it.” [via]

29. Rene Descartes on Blaise Pascal “Monsieur Pascal has too much vacuum in his brain.” [via]

28. Ralph Waldo Emerson on Henry Thoreau “Henry Thoreau is like the woodgod who solicits the wandering poet & draws him into antres [sic] vast & desarts [sic] idle, & bereaves him of his memory. & leaves him naked, plaiting vines & with twigs in his hand. Very seductive are the first steps from the town to the woods, but the End is want and madness.” [via]

27. Ludwig Wittgenstein on Bertrand Russell “Russell’s books should be bound in two colors, those dealing with mathematical logic in red – and all students of philosophy should read them; those dealing with ethics and politics in blue – and no one should be allowed to read them.”

26. Bertrand Russell on Aristotle “I do not agree with Plato, but if anything could make me do so, it would be Aristotle’s arguments against him.” [via]

25. Jean-Paul Sartre on Albert Camus “Camus… a mix of melancholy, conceit and vulnerability on your part has always deterred people from telling you unvarnished truths. The result is that you have fallen prey to a gloomy immoderation that conceals your inner difficulties and which you refer to, I believe, as Mediterranean moderation. Sooner or later, someone would have told you this, so it might as well be me.” [via]

24. Søren Kierkegaard on H.L. Martensen “My opponent is a glob of snot.” [via]

23. Plato on Diogenes (In response to Diogenes lampooning Plato’s use of the terms “tableness” and “cupness” to describe the properties of objects, and claiming that he could see a table and a cup, but nothing more): “That is natural enough, for you have eyes, by which a cup and a table are contemplated; but you have not intellect, by which tableness and cupness are seen.” [via]

22. Anthony Kenny on Jacques Derrida “Derrida… introduced new terms whose effect is to confuse ideas that are perfectly distinct.” [via]

21. Camille Paglia on Michel Foucault “The truth is that Foucault knew very little about anything before the seventeenth century and, in the modern world, outside France. His familiarity with the literature and art of any period was negligible. His hostility to psychology made him incompetent to deal with sexuality, his own or anybody else’s. … The more you know, the less you are impressed by Foucault.” [via]

20. Alan Wolfe on Ayn Rand “In the academy, she is a nonperson. Her theories are works of fiction. Her works of fiction are theories, and bad ones at that.” [via]

19. Bertrand Russell on Georg Hegel “Hegel’s philosophy is so odd that one would not have expected him to be able to get sane men to accept it, but he did. He set it out with so much obscurity that people thought it must be profound. It can quite easily be expounded lucidly in words of one syllable, but then its absurdity becomes obvious.” [via]

18. Noam Chomsky on Slavoj Žižek “There’s no ‘theory’ in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find… some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a 12-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying.” [via]

17. Slavoj Žižek on Noam Chomsky “Well, with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, my… point is that Chomsky, who always emphasizes how one has to be empirical, accurate… well, I don’t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong.” [via]

16. Camille Paglia on Naomi Wolf “If Naomi Wolf didn’t look the way she did, she would never have gotten any attention for [The Beauty Myth]. So it seemed hypocritical of her to be denouncing the beauty myth even while she was profiting from it.” [via]

15. Friedrich Nietzsche on John Stuart Mill “Consider, for example, the indefatigable, inevitable English utilitarians and with what clumsy and worthy feet they walk, stalk … along in the footsteps of Bentham. No new idea, no subtle expression or turn of an old idea, not even a real history of what had been thought before: an impossible literature altogether, unless one knows how to leaven it with a little malice.” [via]

14. Colin McGinn on Ted Honderich “Honderich does occasionally show glimmers of understanding that the problem of consciousness is difficult and that most of our ideas about it fall short of the mark. His instincts, at least, are not always wrong. It is a pity that his own efforts here are so shoddy, inept, and disastrous.” [via]

13. Ted Honderich on Colin McGinn “At UCL we had a jokey locker-room relationship, but then I made a misstep. I suggested to him that his new girlfriend was not as plain as the old one, and I could see the blood drain out of his face. That was possibly the start of our frostiness.” [via]

12. Karl Popper on Ludwig Wittgenstein “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers.” (On being challenged by a poker-wielding Wittgenstein to produce an example of a moral rule; the discussion degenerated quickly from there.) [via]

11. Thomas de Quincey on John Locke “Against Locke’s philosophy I think it an unanswerable objection that, although he carried his throat about with him in this world for 72 years, no man ever condescended to cut it.” [via]

10. Diogenes on Plato (Stamping all over Plato’s fancy carpet, Rick James style): “Thus I trample on the pride of Plato!” [via]

9. Friedrich Nietzsche on Arthur Schopenhauer “Schopenhauer… is for a psychologist a case of the first order: namely, a mendacious attempt of genius to marshal, in aid of a nihilistic total devaluation of life, the very counter-instances, the great self-affirmations of the ‘will to live’, the exuberant forms of life.” [via]

8. Karl Popper on Martin Heidegger “I appeal to the philosophers of all countries to unite and never again mention Heidegger or talk to another philosopher who defends Heidegger. This man was a devil. I mean, he behaved like a devil to his beloved teacher, and he has a devilish influence on Germany… One has to read Heidegger in the original to see what a swindler he was.” [via]

7. Friedrich Nietzsche on Socrates “Socrates belonged by origin to the lowest folk; Socrates was rabble. One knows, one can still see for oneself, how ugly he was.” [via]

6. Noam Chomsky on the French, generally “French intellectual life has, in my opinion, been turned into something cheap and meretricious by the ‘star’ system. It is like Hollywood. Thus we go from one absurdity to another — Stalinism, existentialism. Lacan, Derrida — some of them obscene (Stalinism), some simply infantile and ridiculous (Lacan, Derrida). What is striking, however, is the pomposity and self-importance, at each stage.” [via]

5. Isaac Newton on Robert Hooke “If I have seen further than others, it was by standing on the shoulders of giants.” (The theory goes that Newton’s famous quote, contained in a letter to Hooke, was as much as anything else a dig at his arch-enemy, who was famously a hunchback and significantly shorter than Newton himself.)

4. Karl Marx on Jeremy Bentham “The arch-philistine Jeremy Bentham was the insipid, pedantic, leather-tongued oracle of the bourgeois intelligence of the 19th century.” [via]

3. Rene Descartes on Gilles de Roberval “He is as vain as a girl, has a head like a dwarf and behaves like the fool in an Italian farce who continues bragging and remains always victorious and invincible even after having his ears boxed and his face slapped with a slipper.” [via]

2. Friedrich Nietzsche on Immanuel Kant “That most deformed concept-cripple of all time.” [via]

1. Arthur Schopenhauer on Georg Hegel “Hegel, installed from above, by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher, was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense.” [via]