Philosophyis one of the oldest sciences, perhaps even the oldest in the world. We first find philosophy in written form around six centuries before Christ (Pythagoras called the word for the first time), and since then the number of practitioners (philosophers or philosophers)has steadily increased.Philosophy is the study of fundamental problems surrounding reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, language and so on. It strives for knowledge and wisdom. The word philosophy comes from ancient Greek, and it literally means ‘love for wisdom’. Filo in ancient Greek means love (think of heterophilia, and homophilia, for example). Sofie comes from the word sophis, which of course means wisdom.
Philosophy is a science with very many branches, or sub-disciplines (philosophy itself is a discipline like physics, chemistry and mathematics). For example, within the philosophy of metaphysics, ethics, logic and continuing. Many of these branches are closely linked to other disciplines (such as metaphysics is a brother of physics, and the logic inseparable of mathematics), among other things because many of our current disciplines arise because philosophers focused on certain subjects.
The science of wisdom and knowledge has been more than two millennia ‘popular’ among the intelligentsia of the world, and so there are countless many good (and also less good) philosophers to call throughout the entire human (written) history. However, we will not do that, we have chosen only ten. Let’s stay reasonable, ten is more than enough for such a lucky top ten! We have mainly tried to get a little spread in both geographical origin of philosopher, and the time he or she lived. Nevertheless, this list is a somewhat ‘Europe’ oriented. We hope to be able to give other continents their own top ten soon.
Before we begin this clarification: many science (especially the “nature” science) believe holy in empiry, in other words, test and measure. Philosophers often do not test or measure, but critical thinking. A philosopher picks up a problem by thinking about it, while a physicist in his lab would run an experiment. This division is very black and you will see that many famous philosophers were also physicists or other scientists. Indeed, it has only been the case since very recently that one specializes in natural science without being a philosopher. In the time before the Renaissance, almost every “scientist” was first a philosopher, and then maybe something else (an astronaut, for example, or a physician). This became rare after the Renaissance, although real science specialization only developed in the last century.
How did we compile this list? This is worth paying attention because it is quite difficult to choose ten philosophers from the huge stock we have. We have based this list on another list, which was based on the criterion: which philosophers have had the greatest impact or influence on the world, in the time of their own lives up to our present day. It’s quite a subjective choice, so. Feel free to complete.
10. Niccolo Machiavelli, Italy, 1469-1527
Many philosophers seek the ultimate truth, but Niccolo Machiavelli was not one of them. Niccolo Machiavelli (now almost always called ‘Machiavelli’) lived in Italy (at that time the Republic of Florence) and died at the age of 58. He is a good example of a scientist who was “among others” a philosopher.Machiavelli was also a political scientist, statesman, diplomat, historian and humanist. In addition to historical and philosophical treaties, he also wrote comedies and poems. A versatile man so.
He was born as first son and third child of Bernando di Niccolo Machiavelli, a lawyer, and came from an old reputable family. His most important work is ‘De Vorst’ (Il Principe) and this book is still a favorite among many philosophers and politicians. The central theme of the book is: “The purpose saves the means,” and with this Machiavelli took a very practical view of the world, a characteristic he shared with many other humanists of his time. He said that if a princess has the choice to be loved or feared, the best for all is when the frost is feared.
The flow to which Machiavelli belonged (which is now seen as one of the archbishops) is political realism. His “branch” in philosophy is therefore political philosophy. He was inspired mainly by philosophers of antiquity such as Cicero and Tacitus (both Roman statesmen) and Plutarchus (Greek historian). Machiavelli would in turn be a great source of inspiration for the well-known philosophers: Bacon, Hobbes, Hume, Nietzsche, and Spinoza.
Machiavelli’s grave monument is located in the Santa Croce basilica and on its grave is “Tanto nomini nullum par elogium” (no praise is sufficient for such a name). A famous quote from him is: “One can not avoid war, just postpone, to the benefit of others.”
9. Jean-Paul Sartre, France, 1905 – 1980
Jean-Paul Sartre was a Frenchman who was born in Paris on 21 June 1905 and also died on April 15, 1980, at the age of 74. He was also a novel and playwright, and for many is one of the “fathers” of existentialism, a flow of philosophy (and in other arts) that ultimately represents individual freedom, responsibility and subjectivity. Other well-known existentialists are Sören Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Sartre himself was a very convinced leftist and even Marxist thinker. He was also one of the very few people who received the Nobel Prize, but this refused. Sartre never knew his father, this naval officer died just after his birth. The story wants him to never feel at home in the school where he grew up (in a town called La Rochelle). He found his fellow students to be cruel and aggressive. At the age of fifteen, he had to go to Paris because of medical reasons, and his mother decided to stay there because she was also of the opinion that Sartre was not at school at La Rochelle. In Paris, he did much better, and made friends for life with famous writer Paul Nizan. In the subsequent educational institution, the Lyceum, he met, among other things, Simone de Beauvoir (also a well-known philosopher), and in her he would find his life companion.
For Sartre it was a big issue. One of the things he has always bent was the difference between being “being and being” a human being. “ He believed, like Karl Marx, that man is “condemned to freedom,” and that free choice is not a pleasure at all, but involves great responsibilities. He was never a real optimist, but in his work, it is nevertheless seen that after the Second World War he adopted a somewhat more optimistic view of the matter. With this he is probably in the company of the minority, most people adopted a very sad worldview after the world wars.
Sartre was a freedom lover, and that is not better to illustrate than his remarkable refusal of the Nobel prize. The Nobel Committee was prepared and ready to hand over him the prize (and the nice sum of Nobel winners), but Sartre refused. Namely, he found that this prize could rob him of his freedom by placing him on a pedestal.
Sartre is the first to capture at least one of the central ideas of existentialism (although the idea originally came from Kierkegaard), namely existence precedes ‘essence’ (the ‘being’ or ‘nature’). A famous quote from Sartre reads: “Hell is other people”
Major influences on Sartre include: Simone de Beauvoir, Freud, Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. In turn, he would be a great source of inspiration for: Michel Foucault, and Che Guevara (among others).
8. Michel Foucault, France, 1926-1984
A contemporary and fellow countryman of Sartre was Foucault, born October 15, 1926 in Poitiers (middle France) and died in Paris on June 25, 1984.
Foucault came from a family of medicine, and his father had the same future in mind for his son.However, Foucault junior was of a different opinion, and wanted to become a history teacher. He went out of his way to be admitted to one of the best universities of France, the Ecole Normal Superieure, but did not succeed directly, just by way of a detour. This may indicate that the young Foucault had perseverance and determination because there was no doubt that his family was busy behind the alternative career as a medical practitioner.
Foucault struggled both with homosexual tendencies (at that time a major “medical” problem or even illness) and with suicidal thoughts. Despite his difficulties in the emotional and relational field, he succeeded in studying in philosophy. Not until the 1970s, he gained global brand awareness, with the book ‘The words and things’ – an archeology of human sciences. This book is still well-known to philosophers, and it stifled its reputation. He was suddenly one of the most well-known and most visited university teachers, and he pulled up halls for his “History of Thinking Systems” chair. In 1984, however, he died of AIDS at the age of 57.
Foucault had a typical ‘philosophical’ view of the world. He posed constant questions about the nature of things, business, events and everything and everything. His specialty was to reject widespread “assumptions” around human nature, and to investigate how humans lived together in society, without making the logical assumptions.
One of the things Foucault believed was that madness and mental illnesses (“disturbed or typed”) were developments of the last few centuries, the “century of reason”. In addition, he believed that there were always several reasons for everything that happens in life, not just one reason. Difficult ideas to understand, but if you are interested, please read his book especially: “Folie et déraison. Histoire de la folie à l’âge Classique “(History of madness in the seventeenth and eighteenth century).
Great influence on Foucault’s work came from Freud, Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, Kant, Marx and Nietzsche (among others). A famous quote: “In her function, the power to punish is not essential other than that of cure or lesson.”
7. Confucius, China, 551 – 479 BC)
Time to take a look at a whole different kitchen, namely Chinese cuisine. Confucius was a Chinese thinker, also a teacher, political scientist and writer, of Chinese antiquity. His name is a Latinization of Chinese ‘Kong Fuzi, which literally means Master King). During the time that Confucius lived, there was no central Chinese Empire, and therefore lived in a smaller empire called Lu (in the present province of Shandong). Confucius came from a wealthy family of great landowners, but his family had two generations before leaving behind property due to political developments. Consequently, Confucius lived in a family that was almost ruined financially. He had to work for his bread, and did this as a private teacher. He seems to have coached about 3,000 students throughout his life span (what a heap, considering he was a private teacher), and only 70 of them regarded him as gifted. He and a crowd of his best students traveled from hot to her and were often warmly welcomed as “wise men”, yet his moral opinions had little impact in the time he lived. Not so obscure remained his legacy, however!
It was his students who, after his death, knew Confucius’s doctrine, and it became one of the great achievements in China. A central idea of Confucius (revolutionary for his time) was that everyone was, in principle, equal regardless of the state in which they were born. This was, of course, not strictly acceptable in a strict holding company. He felt that high government posts had to be covered by people who were qualified for it (learned and politically skilled) and not necessarily because they came from a good family.
That does not mean that he himself was against the stand company. In contrast, Confucius was a supporter of the stability offered by the Zhou Dynasty, where positions were determined by rituals and ceremonies. He found that everyone had to lay down on his position in life. How that associated with his above-mentioned ideas, you need clarification to ask with a real confucianist. In addition, he also found that higher posts should be kept from lower-ranking, genuine and true feelings. There, of course, the nobility had a little bit of trouble.
This idea is also reflected in his books (roles). He wrote, among other things, that the first aspiration of a ruler should be the welfare of his people. In addition, personal and administrative morality, order, respect for the multiple and strict rules were the backbone of his thinking, and still a great deal of confucianism.
Confucius’ branch of philosophy is clearly the ‘moral’ philosophy. A famous quote is: “A trip of a thousand miles begins in a single step”
6. Socrates, Greece, 469-399 BC
Ten years after the death of Confucius, Socrates was born in Europe. Socrates is seen by many as the founder of Western philosophy, but in fact we know bitter little of him. He has never written a word (at least not known) and everything we know about him, we know through other writers, such as (most important source) Plato and Xenophon, his students, and Aristophanes, his contemporaries.
If we were to accept Plato’s word for true, Socrates was especially concerned with ethics, the study of what is “good” and what’s “bad”. He is also known for the slogan ‘Know Yourself’ (Gnothi Saute).Socrates wondered how a person could know something without first knowing himself. If one does not know who knows “knowing” something, then that knowledge is not well founded. Therefore, Socrates sought what he did not know. If one thought so, but knew what one did not know, then at least something was known. Are you still there?
Knowledge helped Socrates achieve his midwife technology. He saw midwifes encouraging, massaging and pushing the pregnant in question, and so he saw himself as a teacher towards the learner, pushing, pulling, encouraging. He did that by repeatedly asking for it. When one answered, he asked for it. Afijn, a little sizzling child ‘and then? And then? And then?. All of these questions were seen by many Greeks as arrogant and pedantic, and at last they were so pleased to condemn him. He was asked to drink the poison cup, which he had to assume to liberate society from his presence.
It’s hard to say who Socrates has influenced, he has probably influenced almost all Western philosophers. However, most of his influence directly occurs in Plato, Aristotle and Antisthenes. A famous quote: “an unexplored life is not worth living” and another “the only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance”
5. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Switzerland, 1712-1778
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva on 28 June 1712, and died in Ermenonville (north-east of Paris) on July 2, 1778, at the age of 66. He was mainly a philosopher and writer, and at a time when philosophers often had ten other activities, he was quite unique in the fact that he did almost nothing else. He was therefore very good, according to many of his contemporaries as well as fans of the modern age. He wrote, thought and composed, and that was more than enough to make a lasting impression. In addition to his seven opera and many books, he is mainly known for his personality.Later more over there.
He wrote, among other things, the famous book “The Social Treaty”, a dissertation that visibly influenced the Human Rights Declaration and the French Constitution in 1793 as a result of The French Revolution. In addition, Rousseau was one of the first to write autobiography, and one of the forerunners of Romance, a flow of art and philosophy that focuses on nature, intuition, imagination, emotion and sentiment.
Rousseau was an autodidact, which means that he himself (with the help of his father) learned everything he could. We already said that he was “known” for his personality, but this was not always as easy. As a child, Rousseau was a belhamel who wanted to get rid of cat disease. Thus he would have plucked into the neighbor’s cooking pot. When Rousseau was ten, and his mother had already died, his father got rid of a landowner. Rousseau senior was convicted of imprisonment and fled, leaving his son behind. It may be clear that Rousseau had no easy youth.
The philosophy of Rousseau was Romantic, not in the sense of love, but in the sense of the art of romance. He opposed the idea of philosopher Hobbes, who believed that since human beings in his natural state have no idea of ’Good’ and ‘Bad’, he must therefore be bad by nature. This reasoning was not good at Rousseau, he believed that uncorrupted (natural) morals were a thousand times more pure and better than the “smudged” values of people in the society of his time. He believed in the “good” of man, and the corrupt of society. The idea of the optimal ‘wild’ came from Rousseau (savage). The Wild was, according to him, the best optimal human development, better than the brutal wild animals (who do not have compassion) and better than the “civilized” modern person (who also did not seem compassionate!). However, the idea of the ‘noble savage’, which is often attributed to Rousseau, does not come from him. This expression came from John Dryden, a poet of the century before Rousseau.
An important area on which Rousseau had an opinion was the state. In his most well-known work, ‘The Social Contract’, he argues that ideally man (the wild) lives together without rules and without legislation. Since this is not possible in today’s society (already in its time, and let’s be, today not at all), one has to get together in a social contract. In it, every individual gives his natural right, and surrender this power to a “higher” power. That may sound a bit like democracy, as we know him now, however, Rousseau strongly preferred to retain the power to legislate in the hands of the individual. Ideally, Rousseau wants to rule in a direct democracy, in which everyone can say, directly, in meetings. He was thus an opponent of representative democracy.
Rousseau was mainly engaged in political philosophy, and also did a lot of groundbreaking work in the philosophy of education and didactics. He was inspired especially by Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza and Locke, and in turn would be a source of inspiration for: Kant, Hume, the whole Romantic movement, Marx, and so on. A famous quote: “Man is born free, and yet he is everywhere in chains”.
4. Friedrich Nietzsche, Germany, 1844 – 1900
Friedrich Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844, something south-west of Leipzig. He was the son of a dominee who died darling 5 years after his birth. He was raised in a “women’s household” in which five women dictated life, his mother, his younger sister, his mother’s grandmother and two unmarried aunts. No wonder, therefore, that Nietzsche’s horendol became women!
He studied theology at Bonn University for a short while, but because of a lost faith he went on to philosophy. He could do that in Leipzig, and went back to his native region. In Basel, he eventually became professor, in 1869, at the age of 25 years (that’s almost impossible for you now!). However, he could not cope with the stress of teaching, suffered from migraine and even became completely blind, and increased his posture after ten years. From that time on, he was a free philosopher, and “dropped off” to more Mediterranean climates, such as Genoa and Turin. Again ten years later he poured in spiritually. He was retrieved by his friends in Germany to his native region, but he soon recognized nobody, and was eventually taken care of by his mother and sister until his death. He died relatively young at the age of 55. Nowadays, historians believe that he suffered from Syfilis, but it is still not entirely agreed.
Either way, his work: his work was strongly influenced by Artur Schopenhauer, another philosopher who believed that there is something else behind our sensory world in which we are people only phenomenal manifestations (“things”). In this perspective, man is a “willing” being that desires, and that desire is central, not so much the reason. Nietzsche used this thought and picked up the fight. He found that man (the übermensch) had to strive for fulfilling desires.
Nietzsche called himself the philosopher with the hammer, because in his own words he spoke straight to the prevailing ideas. He typed this with his saying ‘God is dead’. Besides, it is difficult to give a brief summary of his ideas (other than being “against the prevailing norm”) because he changed his mind several times. It is important to mention that, although many of his ideas were used by the Nazis in the Second World War, Nietzsche itself had no political inclinations.
His work would be especially inspiration for Evola, Heidegger, Derrida, Freud and Foucault. A famous quote: “The higher we fly, the smaller we look for those who can not fly”
3. Rene Descartes, France, 1596 – 1650
René Descartes (or in the style of that time, gelatinized Renatus Cartesius) was born in La Haye (south of Paris and West of Nantes) on March 31, 1596, and died in Stockholm (Sweden) on February 11, 1650. He was a Frenchman, and besides philosopher he was also mathematician. He is especially famous for his approach and pronoun ‘cogito ergo sum’, (I think so I am). He has been the father of modern philosophy by many, and is the first philosopher who rejected the philosophy of antiquity after the time of Aristotle, and built an entirely own philosophical system. He laid the foundation for rationalism, in which reason and thought are central.
Many of his life lived Descartes in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (now the Netherlands, among others, Franeker, Leiden, Amsterdam and Utrecht) where he wrote and published his most important publications (The Netherlands was the only place where such revolutionary pieces could be printed and spreading).
Descartes not only suspected the ideas of philosophers before his time, he also suspected his own perceptions. He finally came to the conclusion that the mind or “thoughts” are a completely detached thing from our physical bodies, a so-called dual (double) system. In addition, he concluded that all we can know is that we know, and therefore that we are (that we exist).
Descartes and thinkers after him formed the philosophical stream called ‘rationalists’ and they stood in line with the other philosophical flow of that time; the empirists (Hobbes, Locke and Hume, among others, were part of this philosophical flow).
Descartes was influenced by his predecessors, in particular Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Aquinas, Ockham and Augustine, despite trying to follow his own thought pattern and not to contaminate other people’s ideas. On whose mindset all had influence … well, all Western philosophers after his time, presumably.His immediate followers were Spinoza and Leibniz, who both built on his ideas (with the necessary criticism of course).
His quote, should we write it down? Of course: “Cogito ergo sum”
2. Karl Marx, Germany, 1818-1883
Karl Marx was a sociologist, philosopher, economist, journalist and revolutionary thinker. All in one life, not even a very long life. He was born on May 5, 1818, in Germany (Germany, but the Kingdom of Prussia), died in London on March 14, 1883. However, he would spend most of his life in London. He is especially known for his groundbreaking work in economics and occupational sociology. His most famous books are ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and ‘Das Kapital’.
Marx was a socialist in heart and kidney, before the term socialism was invented. His theories about society, economics and politics, something gathered today under the name of “Marxism”, stipulates that a society is making progress through class struggles. According to Marx, there is always a struggle between the class that has the power and the classes that must work to survive, and only through a revolt of the lower classes can ultimately create a classless state (the dictatorship of the proletariat, and ultimately a communist state). One of the most important thoughts behind Marxism is the possibility of escaping to a certain (bad, dishonest) class system through revolt or revolution. It is this idea of revolution that was later enthusiastically taken over by communists, especially in Russia and Cuba. It may be clear that Marx was a political philosopher.
Marx was influenced mainly by Hegel, Spinoza, Rousseau, Darwin and Epicurus, and left his own impression with philosophers around the world. The quote we leave behind him is “Philosophers have already seen the world in different ways, the point / problem is to change her!”
1. Aristotle, Macedonia / Greece, 384-322 BC
This list is not complete without Aristotle. Aristotle was the pupil of Plato, and lived in ancient Greece.He is probably the most influential philosopher of Western philosophy. We saw that the previous philosophers also had other jobs (such as economist, sociologist, writer), Aristotle saves them all in that regard. He was a physicist, biologist, philosopher, poet, composer, musician, rhetoric, political scientist, statesman and teacher. He was, among other things, a private teacher of Alexander the Great, the founder of the education institute Lyceum, and a believer in empirics, testing and measuring things. He especially believed in observing things, and he has done groundbreaking work in this perception and cataloging. He cataloged this not only for biological things (such as animal species and plants) but with all that he encountered. As such, he has left his tracks in almost all scientific disciplines.
His philosophical ideas mainly influenced the medieval and early Renaissance periods, but are certainly not forgotten today. In particular, ethics today finds a lot of resonance with moral philosophers. Aristotle built a virtue ethics, recognizing the “good” of the goodness of something. The most beneficial is the ‘middle of the middle’, the perfect midway between two extremes. Thus one could be extremely cowardly, or extremely reckless, but the best, or most proper, was to be just brave, the guilds in the middle of both.
We conclude this top ten with an Aristotle quote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act but a habit “.
Finally, two things. First of all, I apologize if your favorite philosopher did not sit there. There are simply too many good philosophers to put in one top ten. Leave a comment to let others know which philosophers we all forget!
Secondly, a disclaimer. We are not graduates and promoted philosophers.Therefore, we know (little) of philosophy to explain everything. As good and as bad as we can, we do our utmost, but there is always the risk that we are wrong.Again, leave a comment if you discover a fatal error! It is highly appreciated by both the author of these top ten and the other readers!
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