What defines a brilliant philosopher?

I read that Camus was not a philosopher, not even close to being in league with giants like Sartre and Wittgenstein.

I've heard of Wittgenstein as one of the greatest thinkers of the past century, but what exactly puts someone in league with him? And Sartre, I suppose?

The way in which philosophers acquire stature is through their political associations, both academic and non-academic. Choose them carefully! If your movement succeeds, you are granted the status of "great philosopher".

Wittgenstein chose wisely in both halves of his career. In the early part, he aligned himself with the formal logic of Russell and logical-positivist movement of Carnap and the Vienna circle, framing all his arguments in syllogisms that superficially look like a logical deduction from premises (but are nothing of the sort). His choice of language and form in the Tractatus made it seem that nothing would be the same in philosophy, as the vapid intellectual prattle of previous centuries would now have to become vapid intellectual prattle in the guise of a formal logical deduction. This made him a star with all the politically rising philosophers of the early half of the twentieth century.

In the second half of his career, he sensed that this type of formalism was going out, and switched sides. He claimed that formal languages such as those advocated by Russell and Carnap are really doing nothing for philosophy, that the human things were impossible to formalize. If he would have said "very difficult to formalize", he would have been right. But he said "impossible to formalize", and then returned to earlier prattle style. This made him a star with all the politically rising philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century.

His later stance aligned him with the anti-positivist movement ascendant in the 1960s and 1970s, and made him golden. So now he is a super-duper top thinker. Bully for him. He doesn't have any actual ideas, at least not ones that are neither obvious, vacuous, or false.

For Sartre, it was simpler politics--- he aligned himself with Stalinism and communism in general, but incorporated fascist and also individualist thinking into this, so that the individual was primary, and the individual "being" of Nazi Heidegger was now a structure of the left. He also did kinky stuff with his wife, and this made him a bit of a rock star.

So he got adherents both from folks who liked to wear a trenchcoat and smoke cigarettes and talk smooth at the ladies, and also from the communists, who saw in him a fellow traveller, fighting against colonial oppression, and also from the fascists who saw him as rehabilitating Heidegger. His political choices were wise, and he becomes a super great philosopher. Again, no real ideas, just stuff that is obvious, vacuous, or false.

Earlier, Nietzche had a good run as the anti-communist, anti-religion guy. He ripped off Sade, except he took the villain's philosophy seriously. He gave birth to Heidegger, who hitched his fate to the Nazis, who were big fans of Nietzsche (they didn't misinterpret much). That was a bad move for Heidegger, the Nazis lost the war. But no problem, Sartre rehabilitated him by allowing his ideas to enter the left.

The reason all this stuff could go back and forth between the far right and the far left is just because the whole point of Nietzche and all the rest is just rejecting the idea of God, and the communist left didn't like God any more than the Fascist right. So the philosophers were struggling to make a secular god-free philosophy, and whoever was on the side of atheism would be rescued and flopped back and forth between one extreme political position and the other.

Camus, he just wrote some thoughts down. You know. Like Kierkegaard. He wasn't out for political influence, he wrote stuff, he wanted to be understood, he wasn't a politician. So he's not deep. I haven't read Camus (I flipped through "The Stranger", but that doesn't count), but I'd bet he was deeper than Wittgenstein and Heidegger and Sartre put together.

The whole process is rotten, it stinks, this is why philosophy as a field is useless and can be ignored. If you want to know who was doing something significant, this was Russell, who introduced real formal logic, and reinterpreted philosophy using this tool, and Carnap, who introduced the physicist's positivism (the positivism of Mach), and resolved the old classical questions by showing they are largely meaningless. This was a tremendous advance. Along with the development of computers and Turing universality, Godel's theorem, and modern logic, it allowed the field to get a firm foundation for the first time.

The logical positivists actually made real progress on what were considered intractible questions, and for this, their reward was to be heckled and hounded for about 50 years. Enough already! The positivists solved those ancient questions, deal with it. Move on. There are lots of new questions.

The issue with positivism that Wittgenstein noticed, that it is difficult to formalize a human thing, like recognizing a "Sraffa gesture", is there, it is a real difficulty, but it is surmountable. The question is equivalent to the question "can a computer recognize a Sraffa gesture?" And the answer to this is undoubtedly yes, because humans can do it, and if worst comes to worst, a computer can simulate a human and query the simulation.

You can translate this computer program into a logical sentence for identifying a Sraffa gesture, but it would be as long in gigabytes as the simulation is big, which is absolutely staggeringly enormous. But in principle, this is not a limitation. The fact that things can be formalized does not mean that they are easy to formalize.

The brilliant philosophers are those that resolve hard problems, and in that regard, there is no one more brilliant than Carnap, because he resolved nearly all the classical problems with his program of elimination of metaphysics. The result is relatively simple to understand, it doesn't require deep thinking, because philosophy is not a deep field. The rest of the field just tries hard to sound profound and attach itself to each successful political movement that comes along.

Clarity of thought, lucidity of expression. That is what made Plato brilliant and Aristotle a bore. That is what makes Hume a pleasure to read and Hegel a burden.

That criterion also makes Kant and Nietzsche virtually impossible to understand clearly. That is why books explaining Kant have become a cottage industry in philosophical circles.