Why don't we have thinkers in the present time (or recent times) that have the same caliber as Albert Einstein, Archimedes, Socrates, Shakespeare, Freud, Aristotle, Plato, Darwin, Popper and all the other great minds over the past few thousand years?

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    I edited the question to be philosophically more appealing. An appropriate response exists, but perhaps it enter in the realm of philosophy of culture and sociology rather than on the philosophy of science Apr 14, 2013 at 16:32
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    Great thinkers on par with Archimedes and Einstein certainly do exist today. The thing is, they're busy thinking at the moment and don't have time or patience to brief the rest of us as they go.
    – David H
    Apr 14, 2013 at 16:46
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    Some want to close this question. It's a shame, not all questions in philosophy are quantifiable. Just look at the type of question in continental philosophy with their existential and cultural questions.This question involves perceptions and folk concepts. Apr 15, 2013 at 12:40
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    I voted to reopen the question. Certainly a better wording of the question is in order, like: is "important" meant in a descriptive sense (being recognized by many as important) or in a normative sense (as a value judgement) - or both? But a good answer could also disentangle these weak points.
    – DBK
    Apr 17, 2013 at 0:47
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    I've voted to reopen; its a good question - just badly phrased. Apr 17, 2013 at 3:50

3 Answers 3


I have heard two explanations for why present philosophers don't appear to be as important as those of the past:

  1. Because we have much more evidence of the impact of old ideas than we do of the impact (or potential impact) of new ideas. Therefore it's much harder to know the relevance of new ideas and much harder to find any consensus of what will turn out to be important in the future. It is easy to deny an idea's relevance based on the lack of evidence and so many will deny it until it is impossible to do so. Maybe for good reasons, but maybe because of my second explanation for why present philosophers don't appear to be as important as those of the past.

  2. People seem much more comfortable giving away credit to dead people than people who are alive. (I don't want to go into the potential psychological reasons for this but there could be plenty of alternative explanations for this phenomenon.)


In older days, the amount of verified and certain information, from the standpoint of Science, was less. This may have allowed individuals to ignore more of the facts that society discussed, and thus arrive upon general principles more readily.

In recent times, facts have become very granular and multitudinous. Asserting general principles is thus far more difficult because of the amount of learning required.

Alternatively, you can think of the low probably of someone selectively ignoring, correctly, much of the spectrum of facts, and thus having a 'manageable' field of view upon which to derive general principles.

  • I think I disagree with your view. The search for general unifying principles is usually prompted by a surplus of facts and information in need of organization, not a deficit. Historically, in say physics, the big insights were only made possible by a critical mass of varied and seemingly disconnected facts.
    – David H
    Apr 15, 2013 at 7:10
  • @DavidH Then would you say there have been breakthrough in the past 100 yr, information growth has been explosive? Apr 15, 2013 at 13:04

I think we, as a species, as a group, are better at thinking now than ever before, due to technologically accelerated communications and info processing, and simply standing on the shoulders of giants (AKA the accumulative advantage mentioned in other answers here).

The result of this better thinking is more steady, evolutionary progress at the expense of revolutionary discoveries (like relativity, evolution, etc.). (Don't revolutions point to a failure of the old guard?) Without revolutions it's more difficult to standout. There's no decline in great thinkers (quite the opposite I say), just a decline in exceptionally newsworthy events in the thinking sector.

(What's been in science news lately? The Higgs Boson. It will be interesting to see if Higgs joins the pantheon at some point.)

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