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History
IN OUR TIME'S GREATEST PHILOSOPHER VOTE
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GREATEST PHILOSOPHER

A list of eminent philosophers which may help you when considering a candidate for nomination.

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Ancient World | Medieval and Renaissance | Enlightenment | Nineteenth Century | Twentieth Century | View All Philosophers

Thales (c.585 BC) - Everything is made of water

Pythagoras (c.570-495 BC) - The universe is underpinned by mathematics

Heraclitus (c.535-475 BC) - Everything changes, fire is the basic matter of the universe

Parmenides (c.510-450 BC) - Nothing changes, change and motion are illusions of the senses

Confucius.Confucius (6th / 5th century BC) Founder of Confucianism; the highest moral ideal is jen (humanity or goodness) which is achievable by all; the rites and traditions of society are to be followed but not without question.

Gorgias (c.485-380 BC) - founding Sophist; believed there is no truth, only argument; mastered the art of rhetoric

Socrates.Socrates (469-399 BC) Said "All I know is that I know nothing" and yet was prepared to die for his beliefs. Saw philosophy as the pursuit of moral good.

Democritus (460-370 BC) - Conceived the atomic theory of matter

Plato.Plato (427-347 BC) - The father of Western philosophy; most famous for his theory of The Forms.

Aristotle.Aristotle (384-322 BC) - The first scientist; emphasised direct observation of nature and believed that theory should follow fact. Hugely influential on Islam, Christianity and Judaism; also tutored Alexander the Great.

Epicurus.Epicurus (341-271 BC) - All sensations are true; pleasure is our natural goal.

Zeno of Citium (335-263 BC) - founder of stoicism; pointed out that humans have two ears and one mouth so should listen more than they speak.

Seneca (4BC-65AD) - Archetypal Roman Stoic and tutor to Emperor Nero; believed philosophy was for the edification of the soul.

Marcus Aurelius.Marcus Aurelius (121-180) Emperor and Philosopher; his Meditations reveal a man applying philosophy to the highest office in the Roman world.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) - Greatest of the early church fathers; converted to Christianity after finding Manicheanism and Neo-Platonism unsatisfying; upheld the doctrine of original sin and wrote The Confessions and City of God .

Hildegaard of Bingen (1098-1179) - Medieval theologian who wrote Scivias, 'Know the Way' interpreting her own visions. Also a poet and musician.

Ibn-Rushd (Averroes) (1126-98) - Introduced much of Aristotle to Medieval Europe; magisterial commentator on both Aristotle and Plato; also defended philosophy's role in Islam

Maimonides (1135 - 1204) - His masterpiece, The Guide to the Perplexed , combined Aristotelian rationalism with Jewish theology; also organised and systematised Jewish law.

Thomas Aquinas.Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) - Reconciled faith and reason for the Christian church.

Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) - Renaissance Humanist; criticised the Catholic church but also contested with Luther on free will; made a seminal translation of the Greek New Testament.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) - Political philosopher and father of Realpolitik ; believed morality is subordinate to power. Set down his ideas in The Prince.

Thomas Hobbes.Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) - people are inherently selfish and need strong governance, otherwise anarchy will reign and life become "nasty brutish and short". Such social contract thinking influenced Rousseau, Spinoza and Locke.

Rene Descartes.Rene Descartes (1596-1650) - Declared Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am) as the only proposition not open to doubt. A dualist, he separated mind and matter as incompatible substances.

Baruch Spinoza.Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) - Pantheist; believed the universe to be a single substance with infinite attributes; God and nature are therefore the same thing. Influenced German idealism, especially Goethe

John Locke (1632-1704) Founder of British Empiricism; the mind is a tabula rasa (a blank canvas) in which knowledge arises from sensation and is perfected by reflection. Science is possible because the senses faithfully represent reality.

Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) - Claimed we live in the best of all possible worlds; believed the universe possessed a divinely established harmony and developed the calculus to unlock how it worked.

George Berkeley (1685-1753) - believed matter cannot exist independent of perception, thus reality only exists in the mind. However, God organises sensations to give the impression of a real world.

Voltaire (1694-1778) - Enlightenment rationalist; based religious tolerance on empirical scepticism - if we cannot know things ourselves, we cannot persecute those with whom we disagree.

David Hume.David Hume (1711-76) Reason is subject to the emotions; knowledge cannot go beyond experience.

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) "Man was born free but everywhere he is in chains". Philosopher of the French Revolution.

Immanuel Kant.Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) "Act as if the maxim from which you act were to become through your will a universal law" (Kant's Categorical Imperative or moral law).


Mary Wollstoncraft.Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) - Advocated equality of education between the sexes; her Vindication of the Rights of Women is a founding work of feminist thinking.

Georg Hegel (1770-1831) Thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis - the inevitable dialectic of history.

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) - Founder of Utilitarianism; believed morality was a question of 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number".

Arthur Schopenhauer.Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) - Man is a slave to his will, pleasure is merely the absence of pain

John Stuart Mill.John Stuart Mill (1806-73) - Utilitarian and campaigner for women's rights; influential empiricist especially on Bertrand Russell and J.M. Keynes

Karl Marx.Karl Marx (1818-83) - "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs".

Soren Kierkegaard.Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55) - Suffering is necessary; the individual must stand alone against the crowd.

William James (1842-1910) - wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience ; believed the individual is free from biological or social context.

Friedrich Nietzsche.Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) - God is dead; man is governed by the 'will to power'.

W.E.B. Dubois (1868-1963) pioneering advocate of Pan-Africanism, that all people of African descent had common interests and should work together to achieve their freedom; huge influence on post colonial thought.

Bertrand_Russell.Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) - Analytic philosopher; argued philosophy should be conducted with the rigour of science; masterful logician.

Ludwig Wittgenstein.Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) - Analytic philosopher; philosophical problems are primarily confusions about language; language is a game without formal relationships to reality.

Gilbert Ryle (1900-76) - The mind belongs to the body and is not "a ghost in the machine"; philosophical problems are usually problems of language not logic.

A.J. Ayer (1910-89) - Meaningful statements must be empirically verifiable; otherwise they are simply expressions of like and dislike.

Karl Popper.Karl Popper (1902-94) - philosopher of science; conceived the falsification principle - a claim must be capable of being proven false to be a proper scientific theory.

Jean-Paul Sartre.Jean Paul Sartre (1905-80) - Grand existentialist; "Man is condemned to be free"

Simone De Beauvoir (1908-86) Feminist existentialist; tried to make women subjects of their own lives; not objects of men's lives.

Fanon, Frantz (1925 - 1961) - Psychologist and theorist of colonialism who studied the effects of racism and colonization; an inspiration for freedom causes throughout the Third World.

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) - Meaning is internal to language; language must be deconstructed to reveal how its assumptions and ideologies masquerade as reality.


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