The Most Famous

PHILOSOPHERS from United Kingdom

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This page contains a list of the greatest British Philosophers. The pantheon dataset contains 1,267 Philosophers, 96 of which were born in United Kingdom. This makes United Kingdom the birth place of the 3rd most number of Philosophers behind Germany, and France.

Top 10

The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary British Philosophers of all time. This list of famous British 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 British Philosophers.

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1. Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

With an HPI of 85.99, Francis Bacon is the most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 116 different languages on wikipedia.

Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Alban PC (; 22 January 1561 – 9 April 1626), known as Lord Verulam between 1618 and 1621, was an English philosopher and statesman who served as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England under King James I. Bacon led the advancement of both natural philosophy and the scientific method, and his works remained influential even in the late stages of the Scientific Revolution. Bacon has been called the father of empiricism. He argued for the possibility of scientific knowledge based only upon inductive reasoning and careful observation of events in nature. He believed that science could be achieved by the use of a sceptical and methodical approach whereby scientists aim to avoid misleading themselves. Although his most specific proposals about such a method, the Baconian method, did not have long-lasting influence, the general idea of the importance and possibility of a sceptical methodology makes Bacon one of the later founders of the scientific method. His portion of the method based in scepticism was a new rhetorical and theoretical framework for science, whose practical details are still central to debates on science and methodology. He is famous for his role in the scientific revolution, promoting scientific experimentation as a way of glorifying God and fulfilling scripture. Bacon was a patron of libraries and developed a system for cataloguing books under three categories – history, poetry, and philosophy – which could further be divided into specific subjects and subheadings. About books he wrote: "Some books are to be tasted; others swallowed; and some few to be chewed and digested." The Shakespearean authorship thesis, a fringe theory which was first proposed in the mid-19th century, contends that Bacon wrote at least some and possibly all of the plays conventionally attributed to William Shakespeare. Bacon was educated at Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, where he rigorously followed the medieval curriculum, which was presented largely in Latin. He was the first recipient of the Queen's counsel designation, conferred in 1597 when Elizabeth I reserved him as her legal advisor. After the accession of James I in 1603, Bacon was knighted, then created Baron Verulam in 1618 and Viscount St Alban in 1621. He had no heirs, and so both titles became extinct on his death of pneumonia in 1626 at the age of 65. He is buried at St Michael's Church, St Albans, Hertfordshire.

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2. John Locke (1632 - 1704)

With an HPI of 85.32, John Locke is the 2nd most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 141 different languages.

John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "father of liberalism". Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, Locke is equally important to social contract theory. His work greatly affected the development of epistemology and political philosophy. His writings influenced Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American Revolutionaries. His contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are reflected in the United States Declaration of Independence. Internationally, Locke's political-legal principles continue to have a profound influence on the theory and practice of limited representative government and the protection of basic rights and freedoms under the rule of law. Locke's theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self, figuring prominently in the work of later philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant. He postulated that, at birth, the mind was a blank slate, or tabula rasa. Contrary to Cartesian philosophy based on pre-existing concepts, he maintained that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience derived from sense perception, a concept now known as empiricism. Locke is often credited for describing private property as a Natural Law principle arguing that when a person mixes their labor with nature, the labor enters the object conferring individual ownership.

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3. Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679)

With an HPI of 82.00, Thomas Hobbes is the 3rd most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 108 different languages.

Thomas Hobbes ( HOBZ; 5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) was an English philosopher. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, in which he expounds an influential formulation of social contract theory. He is considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes was born prematurely due to his mother's fear of the Spanish Armada. His early life, overshadowed by his father's departure following a fight, was taken under the care of his wealthy uncle. Hobbes's academic journey began in Westport, leading him to Oxford University, where he was exposed to classical literature and mathematics. He then graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1608. He became a tutor to the Cavendish family, which connected him to intellectual circles and initiated his extensive travels across Europe. These experiences, including meetings with figures like Galileo, shaped his intellectual development. After returning to England from France in 1641, Hobbes witnessed the destruction and brutality of the English Civil War from 1642 to 1651 between Parliamentarians and Royalists, which heavily influenced his advocacy for governance by an absolute sovereign in Leviathan, as the solution to human conflict and societal breakdown. Aside from social contract theory, Leviathan also popularized ideas such as the state of nature ("war of all against all") and laws of nature. His other major works include the trilogy De Cive (1642), De Corpore (1655), and De Homine (1658) as well as the posthumous work Behemoth (1681). Hobbes contributed to a diverse array of fields, including history, jurisprudence, geometry, optics, theology, classical translations, ethics, as well as philosophy in general, marking him as a polymath. Despite controversies and challenges, including accusations of atheism and contentious debates with contemporaries, Hobbes's work profoundly influenced the understanding of political structure and human nature.

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4. David Hume (1711 - 1776)

With an HPI of 80.25, David Hume is the 4th most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 106 different languages.

David Hume (; born David Home; 7 May 1711 – 25 August 1776) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist and essayist who was best known for his highly influential system of empiricism, philosophical skepticism and metaphysical naturalism. Beginning with A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40), Hume strove to create a naturalistic science of man that examined the psychological basis of human nature. Hume followed John Locke in rejecting the existence of innate ideas, concluding that all human knowledge derives solely from experience. This places him with Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and George Berkeley as an empiricist. Hume argued that inductive reasoning and belief in causality cannot be justified rationally; instead, they result from custom and mental habit. We never actually perceive that one event causes another but only experience the "constant conjunction" of events. This problem of induction means that to draw any causal inferences from past experience, it is necessary to presuppose that the future will resemble the past, a metaphysical presupposition which cannot itself be grounded in prior experience. An opponent of philosophical rationalists, Hume held that passions rather than reason govern human behaviour, famously proclaiming that "Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." Hume was also a sentimentalist who held that ethics are based on emotion or sentiment rather than abstract moral principle. He maintained an early commitment to naturalistic explanations of moral phenomena and is usually accepted by historians of European philosophy to have first clearly expounded the is–ought problem, or the idea that a statement of fact alone can never give rise to a normative conclusion of what ought to be done. Hume denied that humans have an actual conception of the self, positing that we experience only a bundle of sensations, and that the self is nothing more than this bundle of perceptions connected by an association of ideas. Hume's compatibilist theory of free will takes causal determinism as fully compatible with human freedom. His philosophy of religion, including his rejection of miracles, and of the argument from design for God's existence, were especially controversial for their time. Hume left a legacy that affected utilitarianism, logical positivism, the philosophy of science, early analytic philosophy, cognitive science, theology, and many other fields and thinkers. Immanuel Kant credited Hume as the inspiration that had awakened him from his "dogmatic slumbers."

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5. Thomas More (1478 - 1535)

With an HPI of 78.30, Thomas More is the 5th most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 97 different languages.

Sir Thomas More (7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), venerated in the Catholic Church as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, judge, social philosopher, author, statesman, amateur theologian, and noted Renaissance humanist. He also served Henry VIII as Lord High Chancellor of England from October 1529 to May 1532. He wrote Utopia, published in 1516, which describes the political system of an imaginary island state. More opposed the Protestant Reformation, directing polemics against the theology of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and William Tyndale. More also opposed Henry VIII's separation from the Catholic Church, refusing to acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church of England and the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, he was convicted of treason on what he claimed was false evidence, and executed. On his execution, he was reported to have said: "I die the King's good servant, and God's first". Pope Pius XI canonised More in 1935 as a martyr. Pope John Paul II in 2000 declared him the patron saint of statesmen and politicians.

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6. Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903)

With an HPI of 77.31, Herbert Spencer is the 6th most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 75 different languages.

Herbert Spencer (27 April 1820 – 8 December 1903) was an English polymath active as a philosopher, psychologist, biologist, sociologist, and anthropologist. Spencer originated the expression "survival of the fittest", which he coined in Principles of Biology (1864) after reading Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species. The term strongly suggests natural selection, yet Spencer saw evolution as extending into realms of sociology and ethics, so he also supported Lamarckism. Spencer developed an all-embracing conception of evolution as the progressive development of the physical world, biological organisms, the human mind, and human culture and societies. As a polymath, he contributed to a wide range of subjects, including ethics, religion, anthropology, economics, political theory, philosophy, literature, astronomy, biology, sociology, and psychology. During his lifetime he achieved tremendous authority, mainly in English-speaking academia. Spencer was "the single most famous European intellectual in the closing decades of the nineteenth century" but his influence declined sharply after 1900: "Who now reads Spencer?" asked Talcott Parsons in 1937.

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7. Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832)

With an HPI of 74.11, Jeremy Bentham is the 7th most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 77 different languages.

Jeremy Bentham (; 4 February 1747/8 O.S. [15 February 1748 N.S.] – 6 June 1832) was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism. Bentham defined as the "fundamental axiom" of his philosophy the principle that "it is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong." He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism. He advocated individual and economic freedoms, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and (in an unpublished essay) the decriminalising of homosexual acts. He called for the abolition of slavery, capital punishment, and physical punishment, including that of children. He has also become known as an early advocate of animal rights. Though strongly in favour of the extension of individual legal rights, he opposed the idea of natural law and natural rights (both of which are considered "divine" or "God-given" in origin), calling them "nonsense upon stilts". Bentham was also a sharp critic of legal fictions. Bentham's students included his secretary and collaborator James Mill, the latter's son, John Stuart Mill, the legal philosopher John Austin and American writer and activist John Neal. He "had considerable influence on the reform of prisons, schools, poor laws, law courts, and Parliament itself." On his death in 1832, Bentham left instructions for his body to be first dissected, and then to be permanently preserved as an "auto-icon" (or self-image), which would be his memorial. This was done, and the auto-icon is now on public display in the entrance of the Student Centre at University College London (UCL). Because of his arguments in favour of the general availability of education, he has been described as the "spiritual founder" of UCL. However, he played only a limited direct part in its foundation.

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8. Roger Bacon (1220 - 1292)

With an HPI of 73.99, Roger Bacon is the 8th most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 70 different languages.

Roger Bacon (; Latin: Rogerus or Rogerius Baconus, Baconis, also Frater Rogerus; c. 1219/20 – c. 1292), also known by the scholastic accolade Doctor Mirabilis, was a medieval English philosopher and Franciscan friar who placed considerable emphasis on the study of nature through empiricism. In the early modern era, he was regarded as a wizard and particularly famed for the story of his mechanical or necromantic brazen head. He is sometimes credited (mainly since the 19th century) as one of the earliest European advocates of the modern scientific method, along with his teacher Robert Grosseteste. Bacon applied the empirical method of Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) to observations in texts attributed to Aristotle. Bacon discovered the importance of empirical testing when the results he obtained were different from those that would have been predicted by Aristotle. His linguistic work has been heralded for its early exposition of a universal grammar, and 21st-century re-evaluations emphasise that Bacon was essentially a medieval thinker, with much of his "experimental" knowledge obtained from books in the scholastic tradition. He was, however, partially responsible for a revision of the medieval university curriculum, which saw the addition of optics to the traditional quadrivium. Bacon's major work, the Opus Majus, was sent to Pope Clement IV in Rome in 1267 upon the pope's request. Although gunpowder was first invented and described in China, Bacon was the first in Europe to record its formula.

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9. William of Ockham (1285 - 1347)

With an HPI of 72.93, William of Ockham is the 9th most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 76 different languages.

William of Ockham or Occam ( OK-əm; Latin: Gulielmus Occamus; c. 1287 – 10 April 1347) was an English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher, apologist, and Catholic theologian, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the 14th century. He is commonly known for Occam's razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, and also produced significant works on logic, physics and theology. William is remembered in the Church of England with a commemoration on the 10th of April.

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10. John Venn (1834 - 1923)

With an HPI of 72.29, John Venn is the 10th most famous British Philosopher.  His biography has been translated into 51 different languages.

John Venn, FRS, FSA (4 August 1834 – 4 April 1923) was an English mathematician, logician and philosopher noted for introducing Venn diagrams, which are used in logic, set theory, probability, statistics, and computer science. In 1866, Venn published The Logic of Chance, a groundbreaking book which espoused the frequency theory of probability, arguing that probability should be determined by how often something is forecast to occur as opposed to "educated" assumptions. Venn then further developed George Boole's theories in the 1881 work Symbolic Logic, where he highlighted what would become known as Venn diagrams.

People

Pantheon has 101 people classified as British philosophers born between 360 and 1968. Of these 101, 13 (12.87%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living British philosophers include Alasdair MacIntyre, Perry Anderson, and Richard Swinburne. The most famous deceased British philosophers include Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes. As of April 2024, 5 new British philosophers have been added to Pantheon including Richard of Saint Victor, Damaris Cudworth Masham, and Anthony Collins.

Living British Philosophers

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Deceased British Philosophers

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Newly Added British Philosophers (2024)

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Overlapping Lives

Which Philosophers were alive at the same time? This visualization shows the lifespans of the 25 most globally memorable Philosophers since 1700.