Wednesday, September 27, 2023

17 Greatest and Famous Philosophers of All Time And Their Big Ideas

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ln modern times philosophy has been considered separate from modern sciences and treated as a study of the fundamental and general nature of reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. This article has a lot and more for you about famous philosophers. Let’s get started!

famous philosophers

Philosophy in a layman’s term can be put as nothing but science. Philosophers like Aristotle used rationality to come to scientific knowledge of the world around us.

Throughout centuries the world has witnessed several renowned and significant philosophers who continue to influence and appeal to the intellectuality of thinkers.

Famous Philosophers of All Time And Their Big Ideas

Philosophy is complicated stuff. It’s the search for meaning, for greater understanding, for answers to the questions surrounding our existence, our purpose, and the universe itself.

In this article we will check out some of such greatest and most famous philosophers that the world has witnessed so far:

1. Socrates (470/469 BC-399 BC)

famous philosophers

One of the prominent founders of western philosophy, Socrates remains one of the greatest and famous philospers of all time.

His major contribution to philosophy is perhaps the dialectic method of inquiry, i.e., to solve a problem it shall be broken down to a series of questions, the answers to which gradually distil the answer that one seeks.

The method is also known as Socratic method or method of “elenchus” which is greatly significant in present day as well, especially in the scientific methods in which hypothesis is the first stage.

Socrates has become renowned for his contribution to the field of ethics and epistemology.”Famous philosophers”

Socrates Big Ideas

1. Argued that Athenians were wrong-headed in their emphasis on families, careers, and politics at the expense of the welfare of their souls;

2. Is sometimes attributed the statement “I know that I know nothing,” to denote an awareness of his ignorance, and in general, the limitations of human knowledge;

3. Believed misdeeds were a consequence of ignorance, that those who engaged in nonvirtuous behavior did so because they didn’t know any better.

2. Aristotle (384–322 BCE)

Aristotle (384–322 BCE)

Aristotle is among the most important and influential thinkers and teachers in human history, often considered — alongside his mentor, Plato — to be a father of Western Philosophy.”

Born in the northern part of ancient Greece, his writings and ideas on metaphysics, ethics, knowledge, and methodological inquiry are at the very root of human thought.

Most philosophers who followed  both those who echoed and those who opposed his ideas — owed a direct debt to his wide-ranging influence.

Aristotle’s enormous impact was a consequence both of the breadth of his writing and his personal reach during his lifetime.

Aristotle’s Big Ideas

1. Asserted the use of logic as a method of argument and offered the basic methodological template for analytical discourse;

2. Espoused the understanding that knowledge is built from the study of things that happen in the world, and that some knowledge is universal — a prevailing set of ideas throughout Western Civilization thereafter;

3. Defined metaphysics as “the knowledge of immaterial being,” and used this framework to examine the relationship between substance (a combination of matter and form) and essence, from which he devises that man is comprised from a unity of the two.

3. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Best known for challenging the foundations of Christianity and Traditional Morality. Friedrich Nietzsche remains one of the most influential philosophers of all time.

Nietzsche started his career as classical philologist and went on to became the youngest occupant of the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel, 1869, when he was only 24 years old.

Nietzsche is being often referred to as one of the first existentialists, along with Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

Nietzsche’s Big Ideas

1. Favored perspectivism, which held that truth is not objective but is the consequence of various factors affecting individual perspective;

2. Articulated ethical dilemma as a tension between the master vs. slave morality; the former in which we make decisions based on the assessment of consequences, and the latter in which we make decisions based on our conception of good vs. evil;

3. Believed in the individual’s creative capacity to resist social norms and cultural conventions in order to live according to a greater set of virtues.

4. Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)

Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804)

The major proponent of the “what can we know” philosophy. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher is known to be one of the most influential philosophers in the history of Western philosophy.

He is also being considered as a central figure of modern philosophy. “Famous philosophers”

He is widely known for his argument that human mind structure the human experiences, and that reason is the source of morality.

Kant’s Big Ideas

1. Defined the “Categorical imperative,” the idea that there are intrinsically good and moral ideas to which we all have a duty, and that rational individuals will inherently find reason in adhering to moral obligation;

2. Argued that humanity can achieve a perpetual peace through universal democracy and international cooperation;

3. Asserted that the concepts of time and space, as well as cause and effect, are essential to the human experience, and that our understanding of the world is conveyed only by our senses and not necessarily by the underlying (and likely unseen) causes of the phenomena we observe.

5. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)

Famous philosophers

Rousseau is known for his contributions to moral and political philosophy.

He believed that to find a way of preserving human freedom in a world where humans are increasingly dependent on one another for the satisfaction of their needs, is what dominates as an idea in his philosophical theory.

His belief in achieving the co-existence of human beings in relation of equality and freedom is what gets majorly reflected in all of his works.

Rousseau was also known to be an active composer, a music theorist, a novelist and a botanist. His love for and appreciation of natures wanders made him an important influence on and anticipator of the Romantic Movement.

Rousseau’s Big Ideas

1. Suggested that Man was at his best in a primitive state — suspended between brute animalistic urges on one end of the spectrum and the decadence of civilization on the other — and therefore uncorrupted in his morals;

2. Suggested that the further we deviate from our “state of nature,” the closer we move to the “decay of the species,” an idea that comports with modern environmental and conservationist philosophies;

3. Wrote extensively on education and, in advocating for an education that emphasizes the development of individual moral character, is sometimes credited as an early proponent of child-centred education.


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6. David Hume (1711–77)

A Scottish-born historian, economist, and philosopher, Hume is often grouped with thinkers such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Sir Francis Bacon as part of a movement called British Empiricism.

He was focused on creating a “naturalistic science of man” that delves into the psychological conditions defining human nature. In contrast to rationalists such as Descartes, Hume was preoccupied with the way that passions (as opposed to reason) govern human behaviour.

This, Hume argued, predisposed human beings to knowledge founded not on the existence of certain absolutes but on personal experience

As a consequence of these ideas, Hume would be among the first major thinkers to refute dogmatic religious and moral ideals in favour of a more sentimentalist approach to human nature.

His belief system would help to inform the future movements of utilitarianism and logical positivism, and would have a profound impact on scientific and theological discourse thereafter.

Hume’s Big Ideas

1. Articulated the “problem of induction,” suggesting we cannot rationally justify our belief in causality, that our perception only allows us to experience events that are typically conjoined, and that causality cannot be empirically asserted as the connecting force in that relationship;

2. Assessed that human beings lack the capacity to achieve a true conception of the self, that our conception is merely a “bundle of sensations” that we connect to formulate the idea of the self;

3. Hume argued against moral absolutes, instead positing that our ethical behaviour and treatment of others is compelled by emotion, sentiment, and internal passions, that we are inclined to positive behaviours by their likely desirable outcomes.

7. Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527)

Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli is at once among the most influential and widely debated of history’s thinkers.

A writer, public office-holder, and philosopher of Renaissance Italy, Machiavelli both participated in and wrote prominently on political matters, to the extent that he has even been identified by some as the father of modern political science.

He is also seen as a proponent of deeply questionable — some would argue downright evil — values and ideas.

Machiavelli was an empiricist who used experience and historical fact to inform his beliefs, a disposition that allowed him to divorce politics not just from theology but from morality as well.

His most prominent works described the parameters of effective rulership, in which he seems to advocate for leadership by any means which retain power, including deceit, murder, and oppression.

While it is sometimes noted in his defence that Machiavelli himself did not live according to these principles, this “Machiavellian” philosophy is often seen as a template for tyranny and dictatorship, even in the present day.

Machiavelli’s Big Ideas

1. Famously asserted that while it would be best to be both loved and feared, the two rarely coincide, and thus, greater security is found in the latter;

2. Identified as a “humanist,” and believed it necessary to establish a new kind of state in defiance of law, tradition and particularly, the political preeminence of the Church;

3. Viewed ambition, competition and war as inevitable parts of human nature, even seeming to embrace all of these tendencies.

8. John Stuart Mill (1806–73)

British economist, public servant, and philosopher John Stuart Mill is considered a linchpin of modern social and political theory.

He contributed a critical body of work to the school of thought called liberalism, an ideology founded on the extension of individual liberties and economic freedoms.

As such, Mill himself advocated strongly for the preserving of individual rights and called for limitations to the power and authority of the state over the individual.

Mill was also a proponent of utilitarianism, which holds that the best action is one that maximizes utility, or stated more simply, one that provides the greatest benefit to all.

This and other ideas found in Mill’s works have been essential to providing a rhetorical basis for social justice, anti-poverty, and human rights movements

For his own part, as a member of Parliament, Mill became the first office-holding Briton to advocate for the right of women to vote.

Mill’s Big Ideas

1. Advocated strongly for the human right of free speech, and asserted that free discourse is necessary for social and intellectual progress;

2. Determined that most of history can be understood as a struggle between liberty and authority, and that limits must be placed on rulership such that it reflects society’s wishes;

3. Stated the need for a system of “constitutional checks” on state authority as a way of protecting political liberties.

9. Plato (428/427?–348/347? BCE)

Greek philosopher and teacher Plato did nothing less than found the first institution of higher learning in the Western World, establishing the Academy of Athens and cementing his own status as the most important figure in the development of western philosophical tradition.

As the pupil of Socrates and the mentor to Aristotle, Plato is the connecting figure in what might be termed the great triumvirate of Greek thought in both philosophy and science.

A quote by British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead sums up the enormity of his influence, noting “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”

Indeed, it could be argued that Plato founded political philosophy, introducing both the dialectic and dialogic forms of writing as ways to explore various areas of thought.

Plato’s Big Ideas

1. Expressed the view, often referred to as Platonism, that those whose beliefs are limited only to perception are failing to achieve a higher level of perception, one available only to those who can see beyond the material world;

2. Articulated the theory of forms, the belief that the material world is an apparent and constantly changing world but that another, the invisible world provides unchanging causality for all that we do see;

3. Held the foundational epistemological view of “justified true belief,” that for one to know that a proposition is true, one must have justification for the relevant true proposition.

Greatest Philosophers of All Time And Their Big Ideas

Honestly, the only real way you can fully comprehend the theories, epistemologies, and frameworks described here is to read the writing created by and critique dedicated to each of these thinkers.

Here,a rapid-fire look at some greatest Philosophers, their Big Ideas, and their most important written works. But think fast, because these mindblowers come at a furious pace.

10. Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679)

Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679)

An English philosopher of the 17th century, Best known for his work Leviathan (1651). Thomas Hobbes had very strong political views on society and on how humans could thrive in harmony despite living amidst the perils and fear of societal conflicts.

In most of his writings he never definitively points out what exact form of government he prefers, yet he makes it quite clear in Leviathan that monarchy is the only right form of government.

In his views governments were created to protect people from their own selfish reasons and evils. Therefore, the best government was the one with a great deal of power in its hand, like a king.

Hobbes believed in the authority and rule of a king as he felt a country needs an authoritative figure, a leader to provide and guide the direction of its people.

11. Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)

Thomas Aquinas was a 13th-century Dominican friar, theologian and Doctor of the Church, born in what is known today as the Lazio region of Italy.

His most important contribution to Western thought is the concept of natural theology (sometimes referred to as Thomism in tribute to his influence).

This belief system holds that the existence of God is verified through reason and rational explanation, as opposed to through scripture or religious experience.

This ontological approach is among the central premises underpinning modern Catholic philosophy and liturgy.

His writings, and Aquinas himself, are still considered among the preeminent models for the Catholic priesthood. His ideas also remain central to theological debate, discourse, and modes of worship.

Aquinas’ Big Ideas

Adhered to the Platonic/Aristotelian principle of realism, which holds that certain absolutes exist in the universe, including the existence of the universe itself;

Focused much of his work on reconciling Aristotelian and Christian principles, but also expressed a doctrinal openness to Jewish and Roman philosophers, all to the end of divining truth wherever it could be found;

The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) declared his Summa Theologiae — a compendium of all the teachings of the Catholic Church to that point — “Perennial Philosophy.”

12. Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Famous philosophers

Historian, social theorist, and philosopher Michel Foucault, born in the riverfront city of Poitiers, France, dedicated much of his teaching and writing to the examination of power and knowledge and their connection to social control.

Though often identified as a postmodernist, Foucault preferred to think of himself as a critic of modernity.

His service as an international diplomat on behalf of France also influenced his understanding of social constructs throughout history and how they have served to enforce racial, religious, and sexual inequality.

Foucault’s Big Ideas

1. Held the conviction that the study of philosophy must begin through a close and ongoing study of history;

2. Demanded that social constructs be more closely examined for hierarchical inequalities, as well as through an analysis of the corresponding fields of knowledge supporting these unequal structures;

3. Believed oppressed humans are entitled to rights and they have a duty to rise up against the abuse of power to protect these rights.

13. Lao-Tzu (also Laozi, lived between the 6th and 4th century BCE)

Historians differ on exactly when Lao-Tzu lived and taught, but it’s largely held that some time between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, the “old master” founded philosophical Taoism.

Viewed as a divine figure in traditional Chinese religions, his ideas and writings would form one of the major pillars (alongside Confucius and the Buddha) for Eastern thought.

Lao-Tzu espoused an ideal life lived through the Dao or Tao (roughly translated as “the way”). As such, Taoism is equally rooted in religion and philosophy.

In traditional telling, though Lao-Tzu never opened a formal school, he worked as an archivist for the royal court of the Zhou Dynasty.

This gave him access to an extensive body of writing and artefacts, which he synthesized into his own poetry and prose.

As a result of his writing, his influence spread widely during his lifetime. In fact, one version of his biography implies he may well have been a direct mentor to the Buddha (or, in some versions, was the Buddha himself).

Lao-Tzu’s Big Ideas

1. Espoused awareness of the self through meditation;

2. Disputed conventional wisdom as inherently biased, and urged followers of the Tao to find a natural balance between the body, senses, and desires;

3. Urged individuals to achieve a state of wu Wei, freedom from desire, an early staple tenet of Buddhist tradition thereafter.

14. Karl Marx (1818–83)

A German-born economist, political theorist, and philosopher, Karl Marx wrote some of the most revolutionary philosophical content ever produced.

Indeed, so pertinent was his writing to the human condition during his lifetime, he was exiled from his native country.

This event would, however, also make it possible for his most important ideas to find a popular audience. Upon arriving in London, Marx took up work with fellow German Friedrich Engels.

Together, they devised an assessment of class, society, and power dynamics that revealed deep inequalities, and exposed the economic prerogatives for state-sponsored violence, oppression, and war.

Marx predicted that the inequalities and violence inherent in capitalism would ultimately lead to its collapse.

From its ashes would rise a new socialist system, a classless society where all participants (as opposed to just wealthy private owners) have access to the means for production.

What made the Marxist system of thought so impactful though was its innate call to action, couched in Marx’s advocacy for a working-class revolution aimed at overthrowing an unequal system.

The philosophy underlying Marxism, and his revolutionary fervour, would ripple throughout the world, ultimately transforming entire spheres of thought in places like Soviet Russia, Eastern Europe, and Red China.

In many ways, Karl Marx presided over a philosophical revolution that continues in the present day in myriad forms of communism, socialism, socialized democracy, and grassroots political organization.

Marx’s Big Ideas

1. Advocated a view called historical materialism, arguing for the demystification of thought and idealism in favour of closer acknowledgement of the physical and material actions shaping the world;

2. Argued that societies develop through class struggle and that this would ultimately lead to the dismantling of capitalism;

3. Characterized capitalism as a production system in which there are inherent conflicts of interest between the bourgeoisie (the ruling class), and the proletariat (the working class), and that these conflicts are couched in the idea that the latter must sell their labour to the former for wages that offer no stake in production.

15. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–80)

A French novelist, activist, and philosopher, Sartre was a leading exponent of the 20th-century existentialist movement as well as a vocal proponent of Marxism and socialism.

He advocated for resistance to oppressive social constructs and argued for the importance of achieving an authentic way of being.

His writing coincided with and contrasted, the sweep of fascism through Europe, the rise of authoritarian regimes, and the spread of Nazism.

Sartre’s ideas took on increased importance during this time, as did his actions. Sartre became active in the socialist resistance, which aimed its activities at French Nazi collaborators.

Of note, one of his activist collaborators was both a romantic partner and a fellow major cohort of existentialism, Simone de Beauvoir.

Following the war, Sartre’s writing and political engagement centred on efforts at anticolonialism, including involvement in the resistance to the French colonization of Algeria.

In fact, his involvement earned Sartre two near-miss bomb attacks at the hands of French paramilitary forces.

Also notable, Sartre was supportive of the Soviet Union throughout his lifetime.

Though occasionally serving to raise issues regarding human rights abuses as an outside observer, he praised the Soviet Union’s attempt at manifesting Marxism.

Sartre’s Big Ideas

1. Believed that human beings are “condemned to be free,” that because there is no Creator who is responsible for our actions, each of us alone is responsible for everything we do;

2. Called for the experience of “death consciousness,” an understanding of our mortality that promotes an authentic life, one spent in search of experience rather than knowledge;

3. Argued that the existence of free will is in fact evidence of the universe’s indifference to the individual, an illustration that our freedom to act toward objects is essentially meaningless and therefore of no consequence to be intervened upon by the world.

16. Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951)

Born in Austria to a wealthy family, Wittgenstein is one of philosophy’s more colourful and unusual characters.

He lived a life of eccentricity and professional nomadism, dabbling in academia, military service, education, and even as a hospital orderly.

Moreover, during his life, he wrote voluminously but published only a single manuscript. And yet, he was recognized by his contemporaries as a genius.

The posthumous publication of his many volumes confirmed this view for future generations, ultimately rendering Wittgenstein a towering figure in the areas of logic, semantics, and the philosophy of mind.

His investigations of linguistics and psychology would prove particularly revelatory, offering a distinctive window through which to newly understand the nature of meaning and the limits of human conception.

Wittgenstein’s Big Ideas

1. Argued that conceptual confusion about language is the basis for most intellectual tension in philosophy;

2. Asserted that the meaning of words presupposes our understanding of that meaning and that our particular assignment of meaning comes from the cultural and social constructs surrounding us;

3. Resolved that because thought is inextricably tied to language, and because language is socially constructed, we have no real inner-space for the realization of our thoughts, which is to say that the language of our thoughts renders our thoughts inherently socially constructed.

17. Confucius (551–479 BCE)

Chinese teacher, writer, and philosopher Confucius viewed himself as a channel for the theological ideas and values of the imperial dynasties that came before him.

With an emphasis on family and social harmony, Confucius advocated for a way of life that reflected a spiritual and religious tradition, but which was also distinctly humanist and even secularist.

Confucius — thought to be a contemporary of Taoist progenitor Lao-Tzu — had a profound impact on the development of Eastern legal customs and the emergence of a scholarly ruling class.

Confucianism would engage in historic push-pull with the philosophies of Buddhism and Taoism, experiencing ebbs and flows in influence, its high points coming during the Han (206 BCE–220 CE), Tang (618–907 CE), and Song (960–1296 CE) Dynasties.

As Buddhism became the dominant spiritual force in China, Confucianism declined in practice.

However, it remains a foundational philosophy underlying Asian and Chinese attitudes toward scholarly, legal, and professional pursuits.

Confucius’ Big Ideas

1. Developed a belief system focused on both personal and governmental morality through qualities such as justice, sincerity, and positive relationships with others;

2. Advocated for the importance of strong family bonds, including respect for the elder, veneration of one’s ancestors, and marital loyalty;

3. Believed in the value of achieving ethical harmony through skilled judgment rather than knowledge of rules, denoting that one should achieve morality through self-cultivation.

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