i would be interested in what other phil-heads think about this. as hinted in my nytimes piece on arthur danto, my sense is that philosophy is in a period of decline, at least in terms of generating transformative or fundamental figures. the generations leading to today's oldsters and the people who have died in the last fifteen years or so - analytic and continental - have not, overall, been succeeded by their equals.
so i might say: cavell, davidson, kripke, kuhn, rorty, rawls, nozick, quine, rorty, gadamer, danto, deleuze, walzer, nelson goodman, baudrillard, derrida, foucault (early death of course), nagel, macintyre, etc. who, like in their 50s and 60s, is really doing work on that level? i don't just mean good work that makes a contribution to a sub-field, but work that constitutes a fundamental re-thinking and a fundamental challenge.
now, if that's true, how might one explain it? i would focus on the nature of academic training and institutions, where there is much less tolerance for eccentrics and oddballs than there once was and much less relish for disagreement. basically these are bureaucracies now of a very similar sort as the dmv or microsoft in which you rise by representing or embodying the regulations and norms. if some of the people i've listed were starting out now, they'd find a much less receptive atmosphere in academia for their intellectual ambition and distinctiveness. and then the social interpretation of 'the professor' has shifted a bit: a professor is a professional: similar to dentists, lawyers, and such. a new 'legitimacy.'
well some candidates: timothy williamson (60), judith butler (60), peter singer (69), bruno latour (68), robert brandom (66). still.