An empirical examination of the relative stature

of French and Anglo-Saxon philosophy

 

Jeffrey Doyle

March 29, 2004

 

I recently heard a complaint by a French philosophy professor that "Anglo-Saxon" philosophers unfairly denigrate the so-called "Continental" (i.e. "French") philosophical tradition, and deny that what they do is 'real philosophy". The following study attempts to examine, in a scientific manner, the validity of the suggestion that the Anglo-Saxons systematically under-appreciate their "Continental" rivals.

 

To test this hypothesis, we examine the frequencies of the attribution of 'greatness' to philosophers of various nationalities in documents published on the World Wide Web, and the correlation of the relative frequencies with the language of the base document.

 

The following is a list of the number of hits for a Google quoted (exact match) search for pages containing the words "Great <nationality> philosopher" for various nationalities. In the vast majority of the pages found, this word string occurs in phrases of the form "the great Greek philosopher Plato" or "Plato, the great Greek philosopher." Many of the same philosophers appeared more than once in the documents returned. For instance, in a sampling of the first 125 pages returned for the search string "great French philosopher", the name 'Descartes' was associated with the string in 27 of the matches, 'Voltaire' for 19, Sartre for 7, and so on.

 

rank

Google search string

pages

pct

1

"great german philosopher"

3,340

35.24%

2

"great (British | Scottish | English | American) philosopher"

3070

32.39%

3

"great greek philosopher"

875

9.23%

4

"great french philosopher"

638

6.73%

5

"great chinese philosopher"

575

6.07%

6

"great jewish philosopher"

536

5.65%

7

"great italian philosopher"

131

1.38%

8

"great spanish philosopher"

125

1.32%

9

"great russian philosopher"

121

1.28%

10

"great danish philosopher"

68

0.72%

(Google search date March 29. 2004)

 

The following Great Philosophers list is based on French language web pages:

 

rank

search string

pages

pct

1

"grand philosophe allemand"

145

23.97%

2

"grand philosophe francais"

124

20.50%

3

"grand philosophe grec"

98

16.20%

4

"grand philosophe (anglais | ecossais | britannique | americain)"

72

11.90%

5

"grand philosophe chinois"

62

10.25%

6

"grand philosophe juif"

41

6.78%

7

"grand philosophe italien"

19

3.14%

8

"grand philosophe russe"

19

3.14%

9

"grand philosophe espagnol"

14

2.31%

10

"grand philosophe danois"

11

1.82%

(Google search date March 29. 2004)

 

It is interesting to note that of the rows associated with Anglo-Saxon and French philosophers are removed, the two lists are virtually identical, differing only in the relative rankings of Russian and Spanish philosophers for eighth and ninth place (and by very slim margins.)

 

Since both the French and the Anglo-Saxons appear to 'agree' on the primacy of German philosophers, it seems reasonable that we should go to the Germans, whose pre-eminence is uncontested, for a disinterested perspective on the question of the relative merits of French and Anglo-Saxon philosophy.

 

 

search string

pages

pct

1

grosse deutsche Philosoph

106

35.81%

2

grosse griechische Philosoph

54

18.24%

3

grosse chinesische Philosoph

29

9.80%

4

grosse französische Philosoph

28

9.46%

5

grosse (englische | schottische | amerikanische) Philosoph

27

9.12%

6

grosse jüdische Philosoph

24

8.11%

7

grosse dänische Philosoph

12

4.05%

8

grosse spanische Philosoph

8

2.70%

9

grosse italienische Philosoph

6

2.03%

10

grosse russische Philosoph

2

0.68%

(Google search date March 29. 2004)

 

Tellingly, the Germans seem to agree with the French about the stature of Anglo-Saxon philosophy, and with the Anglo-Saxons about the stature of French philosophy. It would seem that neither the French nor the Anglo-Saxons are guilty of under-estimating their chief competitor's stature so much as systematically over-estimating their own.