The Greatest Western Philosophers (Chronologically)

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  • The task of philosophy is to challenge and re-assess our preconceptions, and these are the philosophers (or revolutionary thinkers) who have shaped the field of thought the most.
  • Socrates (470-399 BC)
  • Socrates is widely considered to be the founder of Western Philosophy, however there are no written works by him and so we base our knowledge of him and his philosophy on the writings of other philosophers, most notably his student Plato. It is because of the lack of literary contributions to philosophy that it is very hard to discern as to what were his own philisophical ideas and thoughts from the character that he plays in some of Plato's texts. He is credited to having invented the Socratic Method, which is probably his most impoortant contribution to the field. He is famously described as 'The Martyr of Philosophy' as he was executed for his beliefs and disturbing the peace in Athens, and although he was offered an escape by his many loyal followers, Socrates declared that a true philosopher had no fear of death and would accept his fate. Despite little certain knowledge as to his beliefs, Socrates is easily a contender for the most important philosopher on this list, having been one of the men responsible for the popularising of philosophy in Greece.
  • Antisthenes (445-365 BC)
  • Plato (427-347 BC)
  • Diogenes (404-323 BC)
  • Aristotle (384-322 BC)
  • Pyrrho (365-270 BC)
  • Epicurus (341-270 BC)
  • Zeno (334-262 BC)
  • Timon (320-230 BC)
  • Arcesilaus (315-240 BC)
  • Carneades (214-129 BC)
  • Seneca (c.4 BC-65 AD)
  • Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD)
  • Augustine (354-430 AD)
  • Boethius (480-524 AD)
  • Anselm (1033–1109 AD)
  • Peter Abelard (1079–1142 AD)
  • Roger Bacon (1214–1294 AD)
  • Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274 AD)
  • John Duns Scotus (1266–1308 AD)
  • William of Ockham (1288-1347 AD)
  • Copernicus (1473-1543 AD)
  • Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527 AD)
  • Tycho Brahe (1546-1601 AD)
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626 AD)
  • Galileo (1564-1642 AD)
  • Johannes Kepler (1571-1630 AD)
  • Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679 AD)
  • René Descartes (1596-1650 AD)
  • Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677 AD)
  • John Locke (1632-1704 AD)
  • Isaac Newton (1642-1727 AD)
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716 AD)
  • Pierre Bayle (1647-1706 AD)
  • George Berkeley (1685-1753 AD)
  • François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire) (1694-1778)
  • David Hume (1711-1776 AD)
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
  • Denis Diderot (1713-1784 AD)
  • Adam Smith (1723-1790 AD)
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804 AD)
  • Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786 AD)
  • Edmund Burke (1729-1797 AD)
  • William Paley (1743-1805 AD)
  • Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832 AD)
  • Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814 AD)
  • George Wilhem Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831 AD)
  • David Ricardo (1772-1823 AD)
  • Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854 AD)
  • Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860 AD)
  • John Stuart Mill (1806-1873 AD)
  • Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855 AD)
  • Karl Marx (1818-1883 AD)
  • Charles Sanders Pierce (1839-1914 AD)
  • William James (1842-1910 AD)
  • Alfred Marshall (1842-1924 AD)
  • Friedrich Neitzshe (1844-1900 AD)
  • Gottlob Frege (1848-1925 AD)
  • Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929 AD)
  • Edmund Husserl (1859-1938 AD)
  • Henri Bergson (1859-1941 AD)
  • John Dewey (1859-1952 AD)
  • Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947 AD)
  • Bertrand Russell (1872-1970 AD)
  • George Edward Moore (1873-1958 AD)
  • Albert Einstein (1879-1955 AD)
  • John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946 AD)
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951 AD)
  • Martin Heidegger (1889-1976 AD)
  • Jacques Lacan (1901-1981 AD)
  • Karl Popper (1902-1994 AD)
  • John-Paul Sartre (1905-1980 AD)
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961 AD)
  • Willard Van Orman Quine (1908-2000 AD)
  • John Langshaw Austin (1911-1960 AD)
  • Milton Friedman (1912-2006 AD)
  • Louis Althusser (1918-90 AD)
  • Hilary Putnam (1926-? AD)
  • Jacques Derrida (1930-2004 AD)
  • Richard Rorty (1931-2007 AD)

Of course, your selections for the past century will be the most interesting and controversial. Looking forward to that.

Yes, It's harder to chose from the more recent thinkers as the greatest from the past are much more set in stone in people's opinions. Glad you like it so far.

I'm thinking of removing Marx. He had a huge impact on the entire world and is possibly the most influential man on this list, but his thinking wasn't that great. His basic economic premises were incorrect so despite some very impressive math to back it up, his criticisms of capitalism and backing of socialism was flawed from its foundations. As for his political and philisophical prowess, numerous other thinkers had expressed ideas similar to socialism before him, so he wasn't original. What do other people think about his removal?

I'm glad Marx is on there. He's easily one of the most influential people of all time. I believe he was included as one of the top 10 most cited scholars ever.

Derrida can suck it.

BTW, why/how are you "neptune" and "Blind"?

LOL I second that. I also don't like Satre, I only included them because of their fame within the field.

I didn't like Blind anymore, so I asked jim a while back if I could change it and very kindly he agreed. My posts themselves now list my new username, but on 'recent posts' it's still my old one for when I hadn't changed yet.

Update: I now like Sartre :)

Sartre is not bad, but he doesn't blow me away. I almost get the feeling he's so highly regarded more because he was a prolific commentator and celebrity intellectual. I get really annoyed how his core philosophical doctrine appears to completely ignore things like biology, heredity, evolution and childhood development. I don't think people have complete control over their lives, though perhaps more than we'd like to admit. By the way, props again for this list. It totally got me into Nietzsche, who I have a total crush on now. Also, I'm starting to get into Kierkegaard who is really damn fascinating as well.

I was lying in bed last night thinking about Sartre before falling asleep, and I had to come back and pay the man some dues. He is indeed a formidable philosopher. I'm going to try and say what I like about him and also what I loathe! I think what I admire most about the man is his idea of existence preceding essence; which roughly means that when we're born we come into a world devoid of purpose. We then spend much of our lives painting this blank canvas with meaning. We ourselves are part of this picture, we're blank slates (tabula rasas) waiting to be filled with values, ideas, aims...the world is a constructed design.

Now, I admit: that's a very attractive point of view. Not only attractive, but even highly relevant. How often have we heard people say, for example, that homosexuality is unnatural. That God or Nature didn't make us that way. Or the long held belief of what boys should be and what they should not be. Boys should be strong, boys should not be weak. Girls should be nurturing, they should not be selfish. In these cases, Sartre's theory flutters gracefully through the window like a welcomed blessing and declares: We have created these natural laws! We have judged what is natural or unnatural! We have decided what nature wants. WE HAVE CREATED THE GODS! In other words: life is whatever we make it.

And basically my main problem with Sartre is how he completely fails to examine the other side of the coin. In my opinion, his philosophy is far too narrow-minded and shows a general lack of understanding especially when it comes to archaeology & history. Sure, he's right: we do force ourselves into a particular social role. What boys and girls should be is a lie; but what about what boys and girls are? Science & history has undoubtedly proved that boys and girls are different. Archaeology has taught us that even primitive man had society and it was a hunter-gatherer patriarchy. Man went out and got food & protected tribe, Woman nurses children & tended dwelling. These early humans were guided by their drive to survive. They didn't invent these instincts, they were born with them. Their lives unfolded according to their physiological needs. The same is true for all life on Earth. Society is, in many ways, a reflection of human nature.

I dunno, that's how I see it. Sartre just kind of annoys me. Maybe because my ex-girlfriend's parents were really into him and she was sort a stuck up bitch (I MISS YOU).

Freud! One of the fathers of modern psychology.

psychology...not philosophy. What merits his placement? And if him, why not Jung too?

You already have economists & scientists and probably some others who aren't philosophers by trade, but nonetheless changed the way we think about the world. In this sense, Freud is one of the most influential people of all time. His ideas of the unconscious (of hidden desires & emotions), ego & its clash with society, the interpretation of dreams (how dreams can hold significance). There's literally hundreds of thousands of people who make a living applying Freud's theories in clinical practice with patients and I would say that makes him more influential than say, Nietzsche (who is absolutely brilliant). Jung was considerably less influential, but was the logical extension of Freud's theories (ie personal unconscious vs. the collective unconscious that a civilization shares).

You make a good argument, I'll see he gets included next time I edit this list (very soon) and I may put Jung in there too, even though he was as you say less influential. Thanks for your suggestion.

Cool, thanks : D! This is a great idea for a list btw.

I've started reading a bit of Bertrand Russell and I'm really enjoying him thus far. Why I'm Not a Christian is excellent...Russell debunked religion far better than Dawkins or Hitchens did (and long before them too). I also read his entries on Nietzsche & Rousseau in History of Western Philosophy and they are absolutely hilarious (if not extremely oversimplified). Anyways, he's one of the few philosophers that's both entertaining and smart, and is just a heck of a lot of fun to read.

It's a brilliant book, focuses a bit too much on Greek Philosophy but I don't care as I find the period fascinating. His writing is so easy to digest, when I'm not in a 'full on' mood (Kant, Aristotle, Wittgenstein) I'll read some Bertrand.

What's the philisophical work which has given you the most insight?

Thus Spake Zarathustra. It's my Bible. I like On the Genealogy of Morality & Beyond Good & Evil as well. I have a bit of thing for Nietzsche. No one speaks to me like he does. I also really like Freud & Jung.

Yes, On the Genealogy of Morality is one of my fav books. I found it when one of my freelancers browse it in Amazon. You can get decent freelancers at Freelancer.com and they are pretty cheap too. If you want to hire one, use this code "FAMILYTREE" to get more advantages. Good luck.

Ralph Waldo Emerson?

Read his essays... life changing. Right up there with my favorite artworks.

Also; do you subscribe to William James?