The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary French Philosophers of all time. This list of famous French Philosophers is sorted by HPI (Historical Popularity Index), a metric that aggregates information on a biography’s online popularity. Visit the rankings page to view the entire list of French Philosophers.
With an HPI of 92.74, René Descartes is the most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 154 different languages on wikipedia.
René Descartes ( or UK: ; French: [ʁəne dekaʁt] (listen); Latinized: Renatus Cartesius; 31 March 1596 – 11 February 1650: 58 ) was a French philosopher, mathematician, scientist and lay Catholic who invented analytic geometry, linking the previously separate fields of geometry and algebra. He spent a large portion of his working life in the Dutch Republic, initially serving the Dutch States Army of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces. One of the most notable intellectual figures of the Dutch Golden Age, Descartes is also widely regarded as one of the founders of modern philosophy. Many elements of Descartes' philosophy have precedents in late Aristotelianism, the revived Stoicism of the 16th century, or in earlier philosophers like Augustine. In his natural philosophy, he differed from the schools on two major points: first, he rejected the splitting of corporeal substance into matter and form; second, he rejected any appeal to final ends, divine or natural, in explaining natural phenomena. In his theology, he insists on the absolute freedom of God's act of creation. Refusing to accept the authority of previous philosophers, Descartes frequently set his views apart from the philosophers who preceded him. In the opening section of the Passions of the Soul, an early modern treatise on emotions, Descartes goes so far as to assert that he will write on this topic "as if no one had written on these matters before." His best known philosophical statement is "cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"; French: Je pense, donc je suis), found in Discourse on the Method (1637; in French and Latin) and Principles of Philosophy (1644, in Latin).Descartes has often been called the father of modern philosophy, and is largely seen as responsible for the increased attention given to epistemology in the 17th century. He laid the foundation for 17th-century continental rationalism, later advocated by Spinoza and Leibniz, and was later opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. The rise of early modern rationalism – as a highly systematic school of philosophy in its own right for the first time in history – exerted an immense and profound influence on modern Western thought in general, with the birth of two influential rationalistic philosophical systems of Descartes (Cartesianism) and Spinoza (Spinozism). It was the 17th-century arch-rationalists like Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz who have given the "Age of Reason" its name and place in history. Leibniz, Spinoza, and Descartes were all well-versed in mathematics as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well.Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy (1641) continues to be a standard text at most university philosophy departments. Descartes' influence in mathematics is equally apparent; the Cartesian coordinate system was named after him. He is credited as the father of analytic geometry, the bridge between algebra and geometry—used in the discovery of infinitesimal calculus and analysis. Descartes was also one of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution.
With an HPI of 89.08, Montesquieu is the 2nd most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 96 different languages.
Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (; French: [mɔ̃tɛskjø]; 18 January 1689 – 10 February 1755), generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French judge, man of letters, historian, and political philosopher. He is the principal source of the theory of separation of powers, which is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world. He is also known for doing more than any other author to secure the place of the word "despotism" in the political lexicon. His anonymously published The Spirit of Law (1748), which was received well in both Great Britain and the American colonies, influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States in drafting the U.S. Constitution.
With an HPI of 85.46, Auguste Comte is the 3rd most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 89 different languages.
Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (French: [oˈɡyst kɔ̃t] (listen); 19 January 1798 – 5 September 1857) was a French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is often regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. Comte's ideas were also fundamental to the development of sociology; indeed, he invented the term and treated that discipline as the crowning achievement of the sciences.Influenced by the utopian socialist Henri de Saint-Simon, Comte developed positive philosophy in an attempt to remedy the social disorder caused by the French Revolution, which he believed indicated imminent transition to a new form of society. He sought to establish a new social doctrine based on science, which he labelled 'positivism'. He had a major impact on 19th-century thought, influencing the work of social thinkers such as John Stuart Mill and George Eliot. His concept of Sociologie and social evolutionism set the tone for early social theorists and anthropologists such as Harriet Martineau and Herbert Spencer, evolving into modern academic sociology presented by Émile Durkheim as practical and objective social research. Comte's social theories culminated in his "Religion of Humanity", which presaged the development of non-theistic religious humanist and secular humanist organisations in the 19th century. He may also have coined the word altruisme (altruism).
With an HPI of 85.09, Michel de Montaigne is the 4th most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 82 different languages.
Michel Eyquem de Montaigne ( mon-TAYN; French: [miʃɛl ekɛm də mɔ̃tɛɲ]; 28 February 1533 – 13 September 1592), also known as Lord of Montaigne, was one of the most significant philosophers of the French Renaissance. He is known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. His work is noted for its merging of casual anecdotes and autobiography with intellectual insight. Montaigne had a direct influence on numerous Western writers; his massive volume Essais contains some of the most influential essays ever written. During his lifetime, Montaigne was admired more as a statesman than as an author. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation, and his declaration that "I am myself the matter of my book" was viewed by his contemporaries as self-indulgent. In time, however, Montaigne came to be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt that began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his skeptical remark, ''Que sçay-je?" ("What do I know?", in Middle French; now rendered as "Que sais-je?" in modern French).
With an HPI of 84.34, Michel Foucault is the 5th most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 85 different languages.
Paul-Michel Foucault (UK: , US: ; French: [pɔl miʃɛl fuko]; 15 October 1926 – 25 June 1984) was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, writer, political activist, and literary critic. Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions. Though often cited as a structuralist and postmodernist, Foucault rejected these labels. His thought has influenced academics, especially those working in communication studies, anthropology, psychology, sociology, criminology, cultural studies, literary theory, feminism, Marxism and critical theory. Born in Poitiers, France, into an upper-middle-class family, Foucault was educated at the Lycée Henri-IV, at the École Normale Supérieure, where he developed an interest in philosophy and came under the influence of his tutors Jean Hyppolite and Louis Althusser, and at the University of Paris (Sorbonne), where he earned degrees in philosophy and psychology. After several years as a cultural diplomat abroad, he returned to France and published his first major book, The History of Madness (1961). After obtaining work between 1960 and 1966 at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, he produced The Birth of the Clinic (1963) and The Order of Things (1966), publications which displayed his increasing involvement with structuralism, from which he later distanced himself. These first three histories exemplified a historiographical technique Foucault was developing called "archaeology." From 1966 to 1968, Foucault lectured at the University of Tunis before returning to France, where he became head of the philosophy department at the new experimental university of Paris VIII. Foucault subsequently published The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969). In 1970, Foucault was admitted to the Collège de France, a membership he retained until his death. He also became active in several left-wing groups involved in campaigns against racism and human rights abuses and for penal reform. Foucault later published Discipline and Punish (1975) and The History of Sexuality (1976), in which he developed archaeological and genealogical methods which emphasized the role that power plays in society. Foucault died in Paris from complications of HIV/AIDS; he became the first public figure in France to die from complications of the disease. His partner Daniel Defert founded the AIDES charity in his memory.
With an HPI of 83.96, Henri Bergson is the 6th most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 93 different languages.
Henri-Louis Bergson (French: [bɛʁksɔn]; 18 October 1859 – 4 January 1941) was a French philosopher who was influential in the tradition of analytic philosophy and continental philosophy, especially during the first half of the 20th century until the Second World War, but also after 1966 when Gilles Deleuze published Le Bergsonisme. Bergson is known for his arguments that processes of immediate experience and intuition are more significant than abstract rationalism and science for understanding reality. He was awarded the 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature "in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented". In 1930 France awarded him its highest honour, the Grand-Croix de la Legion d'honneur. Bergson's great popularity created a controversy in France where his views were seen as opposing the secular and scientific attitude adopted by the Republic's officials.
With an HPI of 82.84, Peter Abelard is the 7th most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 73 different languages.
Peter Abelard (; French: Pierre Abélard; Latin: Petrus Abaelardus or Abailardus; c. 1079 – 21 April 1142) was a medieval French scholastic philosopher, leading logician, theologian, poet, composer and musician.In philosophy he is celebrated for his logical solution to the problem of universals via nominalism and conceptualism and his pioneering of intent in ethics. Often referred to as the "Descartes of the twelfth century", he is considered a forerunner of Rousseau, Kant, and Spinoza. He is sometimes credited as a chief forerunner of modern empiricism.In history and popular culture, he is best known for his passionate and tragic love affair, and intense philosophical exchange, with his brilliant student and eventual wife, Héloïse d'Argenteuil. He was a defender of women and of their education. After having sent Héloïse to a convent in Brittany to protect her from her abusive uncle who did not want her to pursue this forbidden love, he was castrated by men sent by this uncle. Still considering herself as his spouse even though both retired to monasteries after this event, Héloïse publicly defended him when his doctrine was condemned by Pope Innocent II and Abelard was therefore considered, at that time, as a heretic. Among these opinions, Abelard professed the innocence of a woman who commits a sin out of love.In Catholic theology, he is best known for his development of the concept of limbo, and his introduction of the moral influence theory of atonement. He is considered (alongside Augustine) to be the most significant forerunner of the modern self-reflective autobiographer. He paved the way and set the tone for later epistolary novels and celebrity tell-alls with his publicly distributed letter, The History of My Calamities, and public correspondence. In law, Abelard stressed that, because the subjective intention determines the moral value of human action, the legal consequence of an action is related to the person that commits it and not merely to the action. With this doctrine, Abelard created in the Middle Ages the idea of the individual subject central to modern law. This eventually gave to School of Notre-Dame de Paris (later the University of Paris) a recognition for its expertise in the area of Law (and later led to the creation of a faculty of law in Paris).
With an HPI of 80.87, Jean Bodin is the 8th most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 49 different languages.
Jean Bodin (French: [ʒɑ̃ bɔdɛ̃]; c. 1530 – 1596) was a French jurist and political philosopher, member of the Parlement of Paris and professor of law in Toulouse. He is known for his theory of sovereignty. He was also an influential writer on demonology.Bodin lived during the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation and wrote against the background of religious conflict in France. He seemed to be a nominal Catholic throughout his life but was critical of papal authority over governments and there was evidence he may have converted to Protestantism during his time in Geneva. He favoured the strong central control of a national monarchy as an antidote to factional strife. Towards the end of his life he wrote a dialogue among different religions, including representatives of Judaism, Islam and natural theology in which all agreed to coexist in concord, but was not published.
With an HPI of 80.58, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is the 9th most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 66 different languages.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (UK: , US: , French: [pjɛʁ ʒɔzɛf pʁudɔ̃]; 15 January 1809, Besançon – 19 January 1865, Paris) was a French socialist, politician, philosopher, economist, and the founder of mutualist philosophy. He was the first person to declare himself an anarchist, using that term, and is widely regarded as one of anarchism's most influential theorists. Proudhon is considered by many to be the "father of anarchism". Proudhon became a member of the French Parliament after the Revolution of 1848, whereafter he referred to himself as a federalist. Proudhon described the liberty he pursued as "the synthesis of communism and property". Some consider his mutualism to be part of individualist anarchism while others regard it to be part of social anarchism.Proudhon, who was born in Besançon, was a printer who taught himself Latin in order to better print books in the language. His best-known assertion is that "property is theft!", contained in his first major work, What Is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government (Qu'est-ce que la propriété? Recherche sur le principe du droit et du gouvernement), published in 1840. The book's publication attracted the attention of the French authorities. It also attracted the scrutiny of Karl Marx, who started a correspondence with its author. The two influenced each other and they met in Paris while Marx was exiled there. Their friendship finally ended when Marx responded to Proudhon's The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty with the provocatively titled The Poverty of Philosophy. The dispute became one of the sources of the split between the anarchist and Marxist wings of the International Working Men's Association. Some such as Edmund Wilson have contended that Marx's attack on Proudhon had its origin in the latter's defense of Karl Grün, whom Marx bitterly disliked, but who had been preparing translations of Proudhon's work.Proudhon favored workers' council and associations or cooperatives as well as individual worker/peasant possession over private ownership or the nationalization of land and workplaces. He considered social revolution to be achievable in a peaceful manner. Proudhon unsuccessfully tried to create a national bank, to be funded by what became an abortive attempt at an income tax on capitalists and shareholders. Similar in some respects to a credit union, it would have given interest-free loans. After the death of his follower Mikhail Bakunin, Proudhon's libertarian socialism diverged into individualist anarchism, collectivist anarchism, anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, with notable proponents such as Carlo Cafiero, Joseph Déjacque, Peter Kropotkin and Benjamin Tucker.
With an HPI of 80.06, Roland Barthes is the 10th most famous French Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 60 different languages.
Roland Gérard Barthes (; French: [ʁɔlɑ̃ baʁt]; 12 November 1915 – 26 March 1980) was a French literary theorist, essayist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. His work engaged in the analysis of a variety of sign systems, mainly derived from Western popular culture. His ideas explored a diverse range of fields and influenced the development of many schools of theory, including structuralism, anthropology, literary theory, and post-structuralism. Barthes is perhaps best known for his 1957 essay collection Mythologies, which contained reflections on popular culture, and 1967 essay "The Death of the Author," which critiqued traditional approaches in literary criticism. During his academic career he was primarily associated with the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) and the Collège de France.
Pantheon has 123 people classified as philosophers born between 85 and 1959. Of these 123, 11 (8.94%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living philosophers include Bruno Latour, Edgar Morin, and Jean-Luc Nancy. The most famous deceased philosophers include René Descartes, Montesquieu, and Auguste Comte. As of October 2020, 10 new philosophers have been added to Pantheon including Peter John Olivi, Michael Baius, and Lucien Sève.
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Which Philosophers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Philosophers since 1700.