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16
votes

Greatest Western Philosophers of All Time

Out of billions of people, only a small handful are responsible for radically changing mankind's understanding of itself. Behold these legendary minds.

Greatest Western Philosophers of All Time

11.

1
vote

Willard Von Orman Quine

Willard Von Orman Quine

Quine (1908-2000) was an American analytic philosopher who made important contributions to our understanding of how scientific theories are developed. He proposed that theory-building, and knowledge in general, was only true holistically. Knowledge was not an individual true or false statement, but an entire fabric of statements and beliefs that only loosely corresponds with reality. Famously, "Statements about the external world face the tribunal of sense experience as a whole". Meaning, any statement can be held come-what-may. Only in relation to other statements can we identify inconsistencies. Quine saw scientific theories as abstract, largely under-determined models of reality that could only be validated as a whole.

12.

1
vote

Gottfried Leibniz

Gottfried Leibniz

Leibniz (1646-1716) was a mathematician and philosopher whose greatest contribution to history was calculus, which he developed independently, alongside Newton. As a philosopher, Leibniz was a Rationalist along Carteisan lines, arguing metaphysics from a priori grounds, including the existence of God. His best-known contribution to philosophy is a sort of theistic optimism: the universe we inhabit must be the best of all possible worlds because it was created by God, and he would have chosen the create the best one logically possible. Leibniz believed that rationality and faith could (and must) be reconciled, because God ultimately created our reasoning faculties.

13.

0
votes

John Locke

John Locke

Locke (1632-1704) was the grandfather of British Empiricism, today best remembered for his political theory, which set the foundation for American democracy. What Locke is less well-known for are his contributions to theory of knowledge and theory of mind. Locke rejected Cartesian notions that individuals were born with innate ideas, but rather that they were clean slates, and that all knowledge was reducible to matters of sense perception. Locke's political writings famously defined government as a social contract between individuals, who retain the right to life, liberty, and property, and are free to disband government if it infringes on these rights or no longer serves their aims.

14.

0
votes

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Marx (1818-1883), founder of communist theory, was a political theorist and historian, arguably affecting more influence on world events than any other philosopher on this list. Marx painted a picture of the history of society as a struggle of the working class. Capitalism was the enemy; an internally conflicted system that would ultimately eat itself from within. The ideal state was a classless society where workers would own their own means of production and distribute wealth fairly. Just as capitalism replace feudalism, Marx believed socialism would take its turn. After his death, Marx's theories were put into action by the Bolsheviks in Russia and spread across half the globe.

15.

0
votes

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Wittgenstein (1889-1951) was an Austrian philosopher of language and logic whose popularity is perhaps only second to Russell as far as 20th century philosophers go. A pupil of Russell, Wittgenstein shifted the grand question to one about language. Wittenstein proposed that language was inextricable from thought, mediating between us and the world. Interesting, Wittenstein proposed two different and contradictory theories of reference. The first one, written in his early years, equated language to a picture, whose elements, taken together, represent a state of affairs. The second, written years later, defined language as the sum of its uses in everyday life. Why is language so important in philosophy? As Wittenstein famously says, "To show the fly a way out of bottle".

16.

0
votes

Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre (1905-1980) was a French philosopher and literary critic who founded modern existentialism. Sartre offers the idea that mankind is fundamentally different from all other objects and species; we create our own functions. Unlike ordinary objects, man comes into existence first and only through experience and suffering, comes to define himself. This notion is famously summarized as "Existence preceded essence". Sartre's views in a way reformulate the basic idea that our actions are not instinct-based, but self-generated. Sartre is the best known and most influential continental philosopher of the 20th century, spawning an entire sub-culture.

17.

0
votes

Charles Sanders Peirce

Charles Sanders Peirce

Peirce (1839-1914) was an American scientist, logician, and the father of Pragmatism. Before Peirce, for nearly 500 years, philosophers were chiefly concerned with building a solid, justifiable foundation for scientific and mathematical inquiry. But Pragmatism re-framed this notion. Peirce proposed that it was silly to begin by doubting everything we know, as Descartes had done. Instead, we take as knowledge those things we would never even consider doubting and work from there. We no longer expect beliefs to be justified absolutely, but only in relation to other beliefs. At its core, then, knowledge and science are fallible. But that's okay. Over time scientific inquiry corrects itself, approaching truth.

18.

0
votes

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes (1588-1679) was an influential British political theorist concerned with the justifications of legitimate government. Writing during the time of the British Civil War, in a treatise call the Leviathan, Hobbes lays the foundation for what man's natural state of order is without the state. Basically, it's "nasty, brutish, and short". Hobbes argued that government was the price to pay to avoid the grim alternative. Upon close reflection, any citizen will realize that peace is worth the cost of ceding certain liberties to a sovereign, all-powerful authority, and in so doing establish a justification for legitimate government. While some would argue that Hobbes' cure is worse than the disease, none would deny his contributions to social contract theory.

19.

0
votes

George Berkeley

George Berkeley

Berkeley (1685-1753) was an Irish Bishop and Idealist who argued against abstract notions of existence, such as "matter", on the grounds that to exist is to be perceived. Everything we think we know about "external" things is merely a perception within our mind. Other people or atoms do not exist outside of us; they are ideas inside a thinking spirit. To speak of an object's "real" properties, beyond those that we know from everyday sense-experience is to speak nonsense. Berkeley's views can seem absurd and counter-intuitive on first blush, but he argues them convincingly. Being a Bishop and a stern believer, he proposed that God was the source of all our perceptions, thus making them objective.

20.

0
votes

Baruch Spinoza

Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza (1632-1677) was a Dutch Rationalist who, building off Descartes' ideas, famously proposed that God and nature are one and the same. Spinoza was strongly influenced by Descartes but disagreed with him on several key points, most notably, the idea that the universe consists of two distinct substances, bodies and minds. To Spinoza, everything in nature was one, and the underlying substance, God or nature, had infinite properties and causes and effects, of which extension and thought were just two. Interestingly, Spinoza was a determinist, characterizing free-will as our lack of understanding of the infinitely complex chain of cause and effect that made up the universe.

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