Top 10 Philosophers

Script written by Kelly MacDonald. What does it all mean? These guys had an idea. Whether they were musing about being and nothingness, the golden rule or the “death of God,” these are the influential figures in philosophy who really challenged and changed the way the world thinks. In this video, counts down our picks for top 10 philosophers. For this list, we looked for historically significant thinkers whose philosophies directly affected the societies in which they lived, and whose intellectual approaches, ideas, and/or principles remain relevant to contemporary civilizations. Special thanks to our users NintendoShyGuy, Jimmy Kowalczyk, Martin Acoustics12, guil143jem, βινιτ οζα, bigpapazagon and Anjali Gosain for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Kelly MacDonald.

Top 10 Philosophers

What does it all mean? These guys had an idea. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for top 10 philosophers.

For this list, we looked for historically significant thinkers whose philosophies directly affected the societies in which they lived, and whose intellectual approaches, ideas, and/or principles remain relevant to contemporary civilizations.

#10: David Hume
(1711 - 1776)

Scottish philosopher and historian Hume is considered to be the leading neo-skeptic of the early modern period. “Any hypothesis,” he states, “that pretends to discover the ultimate original qualities of human nature ought at first to be rejected as presumptuous and chimeral.” He also postulated that human behavior is ruled by passion rather than reason, and encouraged a system of free will. Interested in the exploration of what we know and what we can know, his philosophy established the foundation of studies in cognitive science.

#9: Jean-Paul Sartre
(1905 - 1980)

Synonymous with existential philosophy, Sartre claimed “To be human is to be conscious. It is to be free to imagine, free to choose, and to be responsible for one’s lot in life.” If we perceive something, then we must be conscious of perceiving it, he argued. These views heavily informed Sartre’s seminal work “Being and Nothingness,” as well as his own life as an artist, public figure and activist and are an essential contribution to post-modern thought of the late twentieth-century.

#8: John Locke
(1632 - 1704)

A British philosopher in the late 1600s, Locke proposed that the mind was a blank slate – or tabula rasa – at birth. He also called for man’s right to “Life, Liberty and Estate.” Natural law, he argued, dictates that these rights are essential, and it is the government’s duty to protect them at all costs. Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Nature” and his “Two Treatises of Government” were inspirational to other Enlightenment thinkers and a driving ideological force behind both the French and American Revolutions.

#7: Jean-Jacques Rousseau
(1712 - 1778)

Author of “The Social Contract,” Rousseau’s political theories are essential to the understanding of modern-day democracy. Basing his ideas on an anthropological study of human nature, Rousseau concluded that “man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.” To solve this paradox, Rousseau outlines an idealized political structure, citing the duties of citizens to the state, and in turn, the state’s obligation to protect the citizen’s inherent right to freedom.

#6: Socrates
(c. 469 - 399 BC)

Declaring that “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates’ philosophy focused on justice and virtue. This study took form through a dialectic strategy of contemplating certain questions to reveal universal truths; a process now known as the Socratic Method. But perhaps his most enduring statement was “I know that I know nothing.” Highly critical of the ruling elite in Athens, Socrates was sentenced to death for impiety and corrupting the youth, becoming a martyr to the love of knowledge and the legendary father of Western philosophy.

#5: Confucius
(551 - 479 BC)

Also known as K’ung Ch’iu, Confucius searched for remedies to the social and political chaos of his time. He believed in the restoration and maintenance of traditional Chinese values to re-establish an ethical society. This philosophy was built on the principles of loving others, self-discipline and self-restraint, and an early precursor of the Golden Rule. Though he never saw the fulfilment of these ideals within his lifetime, Confucianism continues to have a meaningful impact on cultural practices in many parts of East Asia.

#4: René Descartes
(1596 - 1650)

Deemed “Founder of the modern age,” Descartes saw the whole of philosophy as an intricate web, anchored in metaphysics and physics with practical applications in others sciences and ethics. Integral to Descartes ideas was Cartesian Dualism. “I think therefore I am,” he explained, noting that one’s existence is housed in the mind, completely separate from the body. A champion of rationalism and empirical study, Descartes provided the foundations of modern scientific methodology and thought.

#3: Friedrich Nietzsche
(1844 - 1900)

German philosopher and cultural critic, Nietzsche highlighted “the death of God,” predicting an end to traditional modes of philosophy and religion, and the ushering-in of an era of nihilism. Though Nietzsche rejected the notion of universal constants or “truth,” it is hotly debated as to whether or not Nietzsche was nihilistic or working towards overcoming nihilism. A prolific thinker whose life was cut short by illness, his ideas continue to ignite controversy and inspire debate.

#2: Plato
(c. 427 - c. 347 BC)

Believing that truth was best pursued through rational inquiry, Plato conceptualized two realms – one of idealized versions of all things, which he called forms, and our physical world where imperfect versions of these forms exist – as illustrated by his “Allegory of the Cave.” Plato’s “Republic” best outlines these ideas, applying them to the conceptualization of an ideal society. Though his work veers toward the abstract, Plato’s writing is an essential contribution to the annals of western philosophy, inspiring thinkers for the past two and a half millennia.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804)
- Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677)
- Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679)
- Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 - 1527)
- Michel Foucault (1926 - 1984)
- Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274)
- Karl Marx (1818 - 1883)

#1: Aristotle
(384 - 322 BC)

Famed tutor of Alexander the Great, Aristotle’s works cover everything from physics to theatre. A student of Plato’s Academy, Aristotle diverged from his predecessors’ rationalist pursuits by embarking on empirical study of the natural world. This focus led him to conclude that no metaphysical notion of form exists without evidence of real substance. A quintessential characteristic of Aristotelian thought, this idea would have far reaching influence on the development of Western philosophy, theology and science, as did his principles of causality and the golden mean.

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