The following people are considered by Pantheon to be the top 10 most legendary American Philosophers of all time. This list of famous American 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 American Philosophers.
With an HPI of 79.13, John Rawls is the most famous American Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 61 different languages on wikipedia.
John Bordley Rawls (; February 21, 1921 – November 24, 2002) was an American moral and political philosopher in the liberal tradition. Rawls received both the Schock Prize for Logic and Philosophy and the National Humanities Medal in 1999, the latter presented by President Bill Clinton, in recognition of how Rawls's work "revived the disciplines of political and ethical philosophy with his argument that a society in which the most fortunate help the least fortunate is not only a moral society but a logical one".In 1990, Will Kymlicka wrote in his introduction to the field that "it is generally accepted that the recent rebirth of normative political philosophy began with the publication of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice in 1971". Rawls has often been described as one of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th century. He has the unusual distinction among contemporary political philosophers of being frequently cited by the courts of law in the United States and Canada and referred to by practising politicians in the United States and the United Kingdom. In a 2008 national survey of political theorists, based on 1,086 responses from professors at accredited, four-year colleges and universities in the United States, Rawls was voted first on the list of "Scholars Who Have Had the Greatest Impact on Political Theory in the Past 20 Years".Rawls's theory of "justice as fairness" recommends equal basic liberties, equality of opportunity, and facilitating the maximum benefit to the least advantaged members of society in any case where inequalities may occur. Rawls's argument for these principles of social justice uses a thought experiment called the "original position", in which people deliberately select what kind of society they would choose to live in if they did not know which social position they would personally occupy. In his later work Political Liberalism (1993), Rawls turned to the question of how political power could be made legitimate given reasonable disagreement about the nature of the good life.
With an HPI of 76.61, George Herbert Mead is the 2nd most famous American Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 41 different languages.
George Herbert Mead (February 27, 1863 – April 26, 1931) was an American philosopher, sociologist, and psychologist, primarily affiliated with the University of Chicago, where he was one of several distinguished pragmatists. He is regarded as one of the founders of symbolic interactionism and of what has come to be referred to as the Chicago sociological tradition.
With an HPI of 72.82, Robert Nozick is the 3rd most famous American Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 43 different languages.
Robert Nozick (; November 16, 1938 – January 23, 2002) was an American philosopher. He held the Joseph Pellegrino University Professorship at Harvard University, and was president of the American Philosophical Association. He is best known for his books Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974), a libertarian answer to John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (1971), in which Nozick also presented his own theory of utopia as one in which people can freely choose the rules of the society they enter into, and Philosophical Explanations (1981), which included his counterfactual theory of knowledge. His other work involved ethics, decision theory, philosophy of mind, metaphysics and epistemology. His final work before his death, Invariances (2001), introduced his theory of evolutionary cosmology, by which he argues invariances, and hence objectivity itself, emerged through evolution across possible worlds.
With an HPI of 72.63, John Searle is the 4th most famous American Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 39 different languages.
John Rogers Searle (; born July 31, 1932) is an American philosopher widely noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and social philosophy. He began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959, and was Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Language and Professor of the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley until 2019. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Searle was secretary of "Students against Joseph McCarthy". He received all his university degrees, BA, MA, and DPhil, from the University of Oxford, where he held his first faculty positions. Later, at UC Berkeley, he became the first tenured professor to join the 1964–1965 Free Speech Movement. In the late 1980s, Searle challenged the restrictions of Berkeley's 1980 rent stabilization ordinance. Following what came to be known as the California Supreme Court's "Searle Decision" of 1990, Berkeley changed its rent control policy, leading to large rent increases between 1991 and 1994. In 2000, Searle received the Jean Nicod Prize; in 2004, the National Humanities Medal; and in 2006, the Mind & Brain Prize. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2010. Searle's early work on speech acts, influenced by J.L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein, helped establish his reputation. His notable concepts include the "Chinese room" argument against "strong" artificial intelligence. In June 2019, Searle's status as professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, was revoked for his repeated violations of the university's sexual harassment policies.
With an HPI of 72.59, Anne Sullivan is the 5th most famous American Philosopher. Her biography has been translated into 35 different languages.
Anne Sullivan Macy (born as Johanna Mansfield Sullivan; April 14, 1866 – October 20, 1936) was an American teacher best known for being the instructor and lifelong companion of Helen Keller.At the age of five, Sullivan contracted trachoma, an eye disease, which left her partially blind and without reading or writing skills. She received her education as a student of the Perkins School for the Blind; soon after graduation at age 20, she became a teacher to Keller.
With an HPI of 72.20, Hilary Putnam is the 6th most famous American Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 44 different languages.
Hilary Whitehall Putnam (; July 31, 1926 – March 13, 2016) was an American philosopher, mathematician, and computer scientist, and a major figure in analytic philosophy in the second half of the 20th century. He made significant contributions to philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, and philosophy of science. Outside philosophy, Putnam contributed to mathematics and computer science. Together with Martin Davis he developed the Davis–Putnam algorithm for the Boolean satisfiability problem and he helped demonstrate the unsolvability of Hilbert's tenth problem.Putnam was known for his willingness to apply equal scrutiny to his own philosophical positions as to those of others, subjecting each position to rigorous analysis until he exposed its flaws. As a result, he acquired a reputation for frequently changing his positions. In philosophy of mind, Putnam is known for his argument against the type-identity of mental and physical states based on his hypothesis of the multiple realizability of the mental, and for the concept of functionalism, an influential theory regarding the mind–body problem. In philosophy of language, along with Saul Kripke and others, he developed the causal theory of reference, and formulated an original theory of meaning, introducing the notion of semantic externalism based on a thought experiment called Twin Earth.In philosophy of mathematics, he and his mentor W. V. O. Quine developed the Quine–Putnam indispensability argument, an argument for the reality of mathematical entities, later espousing the view that mathematics is not purely logical, but "quasi-empirical". In epistemology, he is known for his critique of the well-known "brain in a vat" thought experiment. This thought experiment appears to provide a powerful argument for epistemological skepticism, but Putnam challenges its coherence. In metaphysics, he originally espoused a position called metaphysical realism, but eventually became one of its most outspoken critics, first adopting a view he called "internal realism", which he later abandoned. Despite these changes of view, throughout his career he remained committed to scientific realism, roughly the view that mature scientific theories are approximately true descriptions of ways things are.In the philosophy of perception, Putnam came to endorse direct realism, according to which perceptual experiences directly present one with the external world. He once further held that there are no mental representations, sense data, or other intermediaries that stand between the mind and the world. By 2012, however, he rejected this commitment in favor of "transactionalism", a view that accepts both that perceptual experiences are world-involving transactions, and that these transactions are functionally describable (provided that worldly items and intentional states may be referred to in the specification of the function). Such transactions can further involve qualia. In his later work, Putnam became increasingly interested in American pragmatism, Jewish philosophy, and ethics, engaging with a wider array of philosophical traditions. He also displayed an interest in metaphilosophy, seeking to "renew philosophy" from what he identified as narrow and inflated concerns. He was at times a politically controversial figure, especially for his involvement with the Progressive Labor Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At the time of his death, Putnam was Cogan University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University.
With an HPI of 71.09, Judith Butler is the 7th most famous American Philosopher. Her biography has been translated into 61 different languages.
Judith Pamela Butler (born February 24, 1956) is an American philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, and the fields of third-wave feminism, queer theory, and literary theory. In 1993, Butler began teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, where they have served, beginning in 1998, as the Maxine Elliot Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory. They are also the Hannah Arendt Chair at the European Graduate School.Butler is best known for their books Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990) and Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), in which they challenge conventional notions of gender and develop their theory of gender performativity. This theory has had a major influence on feminist and queer scholarship. Their work is often studied and debated in film studies courses emphasizing gender studies and performativity in discourse. Butler has supported lesbian and gay rights movements, and they have spoken out on many contemporary political issues, including criticism of Israeli politics.
With an HPI of 71.00, Ronald Dworkin is the 8th most famous American Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 33 different languages.
Ronald Myles Dworkin (; December 11, 1931 – February 14, 2013) was an American philosopher, jurist, and scholar of United States constitutional law. At the time of his death, he was Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University and Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London. Dworkin had taught previously at Yale Law School and the University of Oxford, where he was the Professor of Jurisprudence, successor to philosopher H.L.A. Hart. An influential contributor to both philosophy of law and political philosophy, Dworkin received the 2007 Holberg International Memorial Prize in the Humanities for "his pioneering scholarly work" of "worldwide impact." According to a survey in The Journal of Legal Studies, Dworkin was the second most-cited American legal scholar of the twentieth century. After his death, the Harvard legal scholar Cass Sunstein said Dworkin was "one of the most important legal philosophers of the last 100 years. He may well head the list."His theory of law as integrity as presented in his book titled Law's Empire, in which judges interpret the law in terms of consistent moral principles, especially justice and fairness, is among the most influential contemporary theories about the nature of law. Dworkin advocated a "moral reading" of the United States Constitution, and an interpretivist approach to law and morality. He was a frequent commentator on contemporary political and legal issues, particularly those concerning the Supreme Court of the United States, often in the pages of The New York Review of Books.
With an HPI of 70.97, Richard Rorty is the 9th most famous American Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 38 different languages.
Richard McKay Rorty (October 4, 1931 – June 8, 2007) was an American philosopher. Educated at the University of Chicago and Yale University, he had strong interests and training in both the history of philosophy and in contemporary analytic philosophy. Rorty had a long and diverse academic career, including positions as Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, Kenan Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia, and Professor of Comparative literature at Stanford University. Among his most influential books are Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Consequences of Pragmatism (1982), and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989). Rorty rejected the long held idea that correct internal representations of objects in the outside world is a necessary prerequisite for knowledge. Rorty argued instead that knowledge is an internal and linguistic affair; knowledge only relates to our own language. Rorty argues that language is made up of vocabularies that are temporary and historical, and concludes that "[...] since vocabularies are made by human beings, so are truths." The acceptance of the preceding arguments leads to what Rorty calls "ironism"; a state of mind where people are completely aware that their knowledge is dependent on their time and place in history, and are therefore somewhat detached from their own beliefs. However, Rorty also argues that "[...] a belief can still regulate action, can still be thought worth dying for, among people who are quite aware that this belief is caused by nothing deeper than contingent historical circumstance."
With an HPI of 70.13, Daniel Dennett is the 10th most famous American Philosopher. His biography has been translated into 45 different languages.
Daniel Clement Dennett III (born March 28, 1942) is an American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science.As of 2017, he is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Dennett is a member of the editorial board for The Rutherford Journal.
Pantheon has 75 people classified as philosophers born between 1703 and 1971. Of these 75, 30 (40.00%) of them are still alive today. The most famous living philosophers include John Searle, Judith Butler, and Daniel Dennett. The most famous deceased philosophers include John Rawls, George Herbert Mead, and Robert Nozick. As of October 2020, 9 new philosophers have been added to Pantheon including Lon L. Fuller, Ram Dass, and Charles Hartshorne.
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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.