Alain de Botton seems to be quite a prominent figure in "pop-philosophy" and, to be honest, I like his work. Now, mind you, I don't have an education in philosophy, but I do have it in Law and Mathematics, and I think quite a bit of overlap in approaching certain problems may therefore be found.

Anyway, I have been wondering for a while now how de Botton is seen by the "professional" philosophic community, for a lack of a better phrase. Is he respected or looked down upon (perhaps as a sell-out, shelling out quasi-philosophy without real substance)?

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    As far as I am aware, there are not very many professional philosophers posting in philosophy.se. I've never seen him cited in any of the areas I study (German Modern philosophy, contemporary continental, Chinese philosophy), but I think he writes well and clearly enough. He's no BHL. – virmaior Feb 18 '14 at 7:15
  • @virmaior, BHL? – Ryker Feb 18 '14 at 8:35
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    Possibly Bernard Henry-Levy – Mozibur Ullah Feb 18 '14 at 9:25
  • What is the criterion for 'respected' here? I concur, with respect to that idea that he's not BHL... --But that said I'm not really sure how constructive this is. --What exactly is the problem which you are encountering here? Why has this become an interesting or urgent problem for you? What has your research uncovered so far? – Joseph Weissman Feb 18 '14 at 15:54
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    @JosephWeissman, "respected" is of course going to be dependent on what your interpretation of the word is. As I said above in the previous comment, I just wanted to get an idea of whether he's seen as a serious philosopher or one bastardizing the science in a way. But then what is serious and what is bastardizing? I don't really want to argue semantics. – Ryker Feb 19 '14 at 3:22

On one level, this question is overly difficult to answer, because professional philosophers (not sure why you've put “professional” in shudder-quotes?) are not a unified bunch, and worse, respect can mean a lot of different things. However, on another level, there is a way to answer this question that applies to any thinker.

You can find a first kind answer by checking whether his work is well-cited in the professional philosophy literature. That is, do philosophers find his work worth engaging in their own work? Has his work been treated as part of the professional conversation among philosophers?

And second, though it would take much more time, you could glance and see whether at least some those mentions are generally positive, and most say something other than “it's rubbish.” Philosophers routinely criticize philosophers they respect and declare them wrong, so only some kinds of criticism signal lack of respect, and the existence of citations is a good measure of respect. But philosophers also occasionally also cite publications as part of arguing that certain positions or arguments are rubbish and not respectable, so the existence of citations is not a perfect measure.

Towards at least the first kind of answer, you could look at Alain de Botton's citations on Google Scholar. This search reveals that he is fairly well cited, with publications in the three digits. However, when you click on the citation links there, you should check whether they venues include philosophy journals or what are clearly philosophy books.

I haven't done a more detailed search for you, but here's a suggestive starting point: At this point (February 2014), among the top 20 citations for his top 20 most-cited works, I don't find any philosophy publications listed as citing those works of his. However, you would need to dig deeper to get a fuller answer.

  • I think this is the best answer--much more informative than mine. One slight note of caution, though. Counting citations can be misleading. For instance, taking a look at the google scholar citations index of de Botton's citations, it seems that many of the people citing him are not in philosophy, but in education, law, psychology, or other disciplines. That's not bad, of course. Interdisciplinary impact is great. But it does suggest that de Botton isn't perhaps that well known among philosophers. Compare de Botton's results to Keith DeRose's, for instance. – shane Jul 23 '15 at 15:02
  • Another caution with google scholar specifically: it has an english-language bias, so if de Botton's work is being widely cited by the philosophical community in France, say, then Google Scholar will significantly underrepresent his impact. Citation stats are very difficult to interpret meaningfully, especially when you are talking about interdisciplinary work or international work. – shane Jul 23 '15 at 15:05
  • @shane Are you trying to say that determining good philosophy is not something to be done algorithmically, in black and white terms? ;-) (Good words of caution, I just had to smile as I read them) – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 23 '15 at 15:15
  • @CortAmmon Yep. Crazy idea, right? If you want to know if something is good, read it if you're an expert, or ask an expert to read it if you're not. Still, purely quantitative metrics like citation counts play an increasingly large role in a university hiring, promotion, grant awards, and other very important parts of academia. The reason is simple: anything with numbers in it looks objective, and makes it look possible for a non-expert to make a meaningful judgment about the quality of a piece of academic work without bothering to read it. I think that's really dangerous. – shane Jul 23 '15 at 15:19
  • @shane, What I wrote wasn't that you should count citations, but that you should count the proportion of citations that are by philosophers. Isn't that what you're saying too? – ChristopherE Jul 23 '15 at 22:58

I'm a professional philosopher and I had never heard of him till now. Looks like he's more UK based, so maybe he's better known on that side of the Atlantic? (I'm in the US)

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    I'm in Canada myself, so on the same side of the Atlantic as you. But you're probably right in that he is better known in Europe, especially the UK. He even did a TV mini-series on the "consolations of philosophy", hence my use of the word "pop-philosophy" in relation to him. – Ryker Feb 25 '14 at 20:40

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