Why and how personal philosophies of certain thinkers (starting from Ancient Greek ones and up to modern ones) became recognized as "classical" main stream approaches ?

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    I am not sure what you mean. Can you provide some examples? Aug 10, 2014 at 15:05
  • @benrudgers Socrates taught his views in the form of personal thoughts to his students. Later his views became acknowledged as mainstream philosophy approach. So what it took to become mainstream ?
    – Alex
    Aug 10, 2014 at 15:17
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    Thanks, but no need as I believe I understand what you are asking here. :) It is an interesting question, but I'm not sure the answer is philosophical. Are there "mainstream" philosophers on a global level? Different regions of the Earth seem to have their own set of philosophers which are popular... So I suppose the question is narrower in that you could ask why do particular regions tend to favor some philosophers over others... but then this seems more like a social psychology question rather than a philosophical one. Why does X group of people favor Y music and not Z music?
    – stoicfury
    Aug 10, 2014 at 19:13
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    Does 'personal thoughts' really mean anything in the context of 5th century BCE Athens? Particularly given that Socrates only come down to us second hand via Plato and Xenophon and Aristophenes? Or is our idea of 'personal thoughts' somewhat of an anachronism due to its entanglement with much more recent concepts of psychology, identity, and political autonomy? It seems to me that many of Socrates ideas, including the most memorable related to his trial and death, are expressions of the community values of Athens, not an exceptional value system. Aug 10, 2014 at 19:30
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    @Alex, maybe so, but revelling in the ambiguity of a question suggests a certain bad faith in its asking.
    – Paul Ross
    Aug 11, 2014 at 7:35

3 Answers 3


For the very simple reason that they have been passed on by subsequent thinkers, while all others have not.

It might not seem to you like a satisfactory answer, but the following question why have certain people's ideas been passed on and others not? has no unique answer, and explanations are as varied as historical explanations can get: All manuscripts but a few burned in a certain place. A certain religious background allowed some ideas to thrive and others where lost into oblivion. A new science becomes successful and some obscure ideas on which the scientific endeavor is based suddenly become common sense. Not to mention the creation of "classics" out of thin air by backdating later ideas to previous thinkers to forge arguments from authority.

In this sense it can be said that what makes up the canon are no "personal philosophies", but highly adapted ideas to a certain point in time. Also, your question implies that what makes up a philosophical canon simply accumulates over time. The most important lesson here, I think, is that there is no such static mainstream, an overarching canon. "Classics" change from century to century.

I don't think most have ever heard of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy or Hugo Dingler, an opportunistic Nazi-philosopher? During their time they were very popular (and sometime influential), today they are forgotten and will likely not survive another century. Yet, e.g. Dingler's weird concept of science survived in the work of his pupil Paul Lorenzen and got us the "Erlangen program", a rejection of relativity theory and the creation of game semantics. (You can guess which outcomes have become popular and which have not.)

Doing research in the history of philosophy can be a daunting task at times for exactly this reason: e.g. you might want to understand certain nowadays "classics" in their own time and place and discover - not without puzzlement - that you have to acquaint yourself with obscure figures and ideas in order to proceed any further. Sometimes these figures were much more popular during their time than today's "classics".

A nice thought-experiment is to try to imagine what will be passed on from 20th century philosophy in, say, 200 years from now. Inevitably one will come up with a list of people popular and seen as "on the right track" today. If history can give us any guidance, the criteria for the inevitable selection process will be established by what will be deemed interesting in 200 years, most certainly not what has been popular and deemed "the right direction" in the 20th century.

  • The term "Personal philosophy" was used by me in the meaning, utilized at this site for closing questions. Your answer seems to be presenting philosophy as a subject of time changing interest ... Does this exclude philosophy from other sciences where objective laws of nature has been objectively discovered ? If so - how one could set restrictions on philosophical topics to be asked and/or discussed here ?
    – Alex
    Aug 10, 2014 at 21:52

"Mainstream" is a vague term. Let's say that by "mainstream philosophy" you mean the major theoretical positions held by large numbers of professional philosophers. In the english speaking world most professional philosophers don't think Plato is right about anything. They don't think the soul is immortal, or that all knowledge is by recollection or whatever.

Mostly, mainstream philosophers argue about things like: "If somebody knows that p, do they know that they know p?" or "Do we have a priori knowledge?" Some of the problems that philosophers today are worried about are old problems, and in the contemporary state of the art, there are in fact positions that are sometimes similar to positions that someone held in the history of philosophy. For instance, some ethicists today espouse approaches to ethics that are similar in some respects to Aristotle and Plato's. However, the reason to hold those positions has nothing to do with the authority of Aristotle. The reason the position is mainstream is that it has a good argument in its favor, or it solves some otherwise insoluble problem. Philosophy as a discipline makes progress just like other disciplines do in that bad ideas tend fall out of the mainstream over time as they are shown incorrect (at least in theory).

I think your question seems to be supposing that Socrates's "personal philosophy" was just a set of thinks Socrates happened to think. But that's not true. Socrates's philosophy grasped his contemporaries, and still grasps modern readers, because of the arguments he offers for this claims. On further philosophical reflection, those arguments aren't as strong as they first appear, of course. But that doesn't mean Socrates was just making it all up. At the very least, he got the ball rolling for us and so the fact that the discipline has left him behind is, in a way, a tribute to his success despite the falsity of his philosophical beliefs.

  • You are jumping to assumptive conclusions ... I did not imply that Socrates's philosophy was only "interesting" to himself. On contrary, I did mean that his philosophy as you said it yourself: "grasped his contemporaries, and still grasps modern readers, because of the arguments he offers for this claims". However, formally speaking, before his views were acknowledged and recognized - they (views) came out to being in the form of Socrates own "personal philosophy", that he has developed.
    – Alex
    Aug 10, 2014 at 19:03
  • It appears that you have discovered a very reasonable answer - Socrates philosophy is interesting to many of us as it was to some of his contemporaries (and by inference to many people in the intervening two and a half millenia). Can we call this conundrum solved? Aug 10, 2014 at 19:34

It strikes me as odd that none of the suggested answers have yet discussed the Renaissance. To draw a brush stroke very broadly, the reformation in Europe prompted a decline in the singular intellectual authority of the Christian Catholic Church, at which point scholarship in texts from antiquity, the European Roman and Greek civilisations that immediately pre-dated the spread of Roman Christendom, found renewed interest. These pieces had already some influence through their use in exploring and developing the Scholastic tradition of philosophy in Christian Theology, and by re-exploring these outwith the need to establish Christian canonicity, new ways of developing models and exploring concepts of good living emerged.

"Classical", in that tradition, simply refers to the Greco-roman poets and philosophers as influential and cultural sources (regionally local to the Civilized World of Europe) from before Christianity. If one engages in one's own work with the tradition that followed from that Classical rediscovery, then this too can be said to contribute to a Classical discussion


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