Famous American Philosophers

Do you deem philosophy as vacuous nonsense — a route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing? Contrary to how most of us deem philosophy as, there is little denying that it is the noblest of all academic disciplines? But as the great Cicero once said, “There is no statement so absurd that no philosopher will make it.” So it’s easy to stumble upon philosophies that will boggle your mind and appear as pure strange. But that does not diminish the worth of it. We eat, live and sleep philosophy. Even if we don't realize it, nearly everything we believe is based on someone's philosophical soundings. To dishonor philosophy, the mother of all sciences as a "waste of the taxpayer's money" is to admit blatant witlessness. Despite many of us deeming philosophy is a “useless major” or a “clear waste of time,” it is as some may call it the path to enlightenment. Read on to explore the biography, timeline, trivia and fact of America’s famous philosophers.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky
23
Famous As: The Father of Modern Linguistics
Birthdate: December 7, 1928
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Regarded by many as the father of modern linguistics, Noam Chomsky has authored over 100 books on varied topics, such as politics, linguistics, and war. A multi-talented personality, Noam Chomsky is considered a popular figure in analytic philosophy. Apart from influencing a wide array of academic fields, he has also contributed to the development of cognitivism.

 2 Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson
8
Famous As: Essayist
Birthdate: May 25, 1803
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: April 27, 1882

Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher who led the transcendentalist movement that developed in the eastern United States in the 1820s and 1830s. He is credited with popularizing individualism through his numerous lectures and essays. Emerson influenced many thinkers and writers that followed him; he mentored Henry David Thoreau, who went on to become a leading transcendentalist.

 3 John Dewey

John Dewey
7
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 20, 1859
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Burlington, Vermont, United States
Died: June 1, 1952

A staunch advocate of progressive education and liberalism, the American philosopher and psychologist was the founder of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. John Dewey’s famous writings included The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology and Human Nature and Conduct. According to him, passion for knowledge and intellectual curiosity were central to a teacher. He called himself a democratic socialist.

 4 William James

William James
4
Famous As: Philosopher, Psychologist
Birthdate: January 11, 1842
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York City, New York, United States
Died: August 26, 1910

William James was an American psychologist and philosopher. Widely regarded as the father of American psychology and one of the most influential American philosophers, James was the first educator in the United States to offer a course in psychology. He is also credited with co-founding a psychological school of thought called functional psychology and establishing a philosophical school called pragmatism.

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 5 Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau
4
Famous As: Naturalist, Philosopher & Author Of 'Walden'
Birthdate: July 12, 1817
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Concord, Massachusetts, United States
Died: May 6, 1862

Henry David Thoreau was an American philosopher, essayist, poet, and naturalist. He is credited with popularizing transcendentalism and simple living. His philosophy of civil disobedience, which was detailed in his essay of the same name, later influenced world-renowned personalities like Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi.

 6 Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand
24
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: February 2, 1905
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died: March 6, 1982

Ayn Rand was a Russian-American philosopher and writer. Apart from publishing two best-selling novels, Ayn Rand is credited with developing a philosophical system called Objectivism. Over the years, Ayn Rand has been a major influence among American conservatives and libertarians. Some of the famous personalities influenced by her include Amber Heard, Vince Vaughn, Jimmy Wales, Ayelet Shaked, and Mary Ruwart.

 7 Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams
4
Famous As: Founding Father of the United States
Birthdate: September 27, 1722
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Died: October 2, 1803
Samuel Adams, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, also served as the governor of Massachusetts. Samuel formed the Boston Tea Party and also played a major role in drafting the Articles of Confederation and the Massachusetts Constitution. He was a second cousin of President John Adams.
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 8 John Rawls

John Rawls
9
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 21, 1921
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died: November 24, 2002

The Schock Prize and National Humanities Medal-winning American moral and political philosopher John Bordley Rawls is often counted among the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth-century. Notable books of Rawls, where he elucidated his theory of justice and which has influenced a variety of thinkers, includes A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism.

 9 Cornel West

Cornel West
9
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 2, 1953
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States

Cornel West is an American philosopher, social critic, political activist, and author. He is renowned for drawing intellectual contributions from several traditions, such as Marxism, Christianity, transcendentalism, and neopragmatism. West is credited with authoring many influential books, such as Democracy Matters and Race Matters.

 10 Kurt Gödel

Kurt Gödel
7
Famous As: Logician, Mathematician, Philosopher
Birthdate: April 28, 1906
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Brno, Czech Republic
Died: January 14, 1978

Hailed as one of the greatest logicians since Aristotle, Kurt Gödel was Austrian-born American mathematician, logician, and philosopher, who earned international stardom for his incompleteness theorem. Also credited with developing a technique called Gödel numbering, he later started working on Mathematical Platonism, a philosophical theory that failed to attract wide acceptance.

 11 Thomas Kuhn

Thomas Kuhn
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: July 18, 1922
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Died: June 17, 1996

American philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is noted for his book on history of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, publication of which marked a significant event in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. He presented his notion of paradigm shift and identified and elaborated on normal science in this book which remained influential in academic and popular circles.

 12 John Cage

John Cage
6
Famous As: Composer, Writer
Birthdate: September 5, 1912
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States
Died: August 12, 1992
John Cage was one of the most influential avant-garde composers of the post-World War II era. He pioneered many innovative techniques in music, such as the prepared piano and electroacoustic music. His composition 4′33″ involved musicians sitting silently, without playing any instrument, while the audience heard environmental sounds. 

 13 Judith Butler

Judith Butler
13
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 24, 1956
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

 14 Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: September 4, 1931
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Died: June 8, 2007

 15 Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr
4
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: June 21, 1892
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Wright City, Missouri, United States
Died: June 1, 1971
An American Reformed theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote and spoke frequently about the intersection of religion, politics, and public policy. He is widely known for his philosophical perspective known as Christian Realism and his book Moral Man and Immoral Society. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 and the Time magazine posthumously called him "the greatest Protestant theologian in America since Jonathan Edwards."

 16 Ethan Allen

Ethan Allen
3
Famous As: Revolutionary War Hero
Birthdate: January 21, 1738
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Litchfield, Connecticut, United States
Died: February 12, 1789

As a child, Ethan Allen was fond of deciphering passages from the Bible. He grew up to co-establish Vermont and led the Green Mountain Boys during the American Revolutionary War. After failing to achieve Vermont’s separation from New York, he tried to unite Vermont with Canada.

 17 Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
0
Famous As: Founding Father of the United States
Birthdate: January 29, 1737
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Thetford, England
Died: June 8, 1809

English-born American political activist, philosopher, and revolutionary, Thomas Paine, is credited to have penned some of the most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution. His works inspired the common people of America and motivated them to fight for independence from British rule. He was ostracized for criticizing Christianity and died a lonely man.

 18 George Herbert Mead

George Herbert Mead
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 27, 1863
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: South Hadley, Massachusetts, United States
Died: April 26, 1931

American philosopher and social psychologist George Herbert Mead was one of the pioneers of pragmatism and symbolic interactionism. He taught at the University of Chicago, and his ideas later came to be known as the Chicago school of sociology. His notable lectures were published as books only after his death.

 19 Willard Van Orman Quine

Willard Van Orman Quine
3
Famous As: Mathematician, Analytic philosopher, Philosopher of language, Epistemologist, Philosopher of science, University teacher, Professor, Philosopher
Birthdate: June 25, 1908
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Akron
Died: December 25, 2000

 20 Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Marcuse
8
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: July 19, 1898
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Berlin, Germany
Died: July 29, 1979

The proponent of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, Herbert Marcuse largely influenced the leftist student revolts of the 1960s. Equipped with a PhD in German literature, he wrote Hegel’s Ontology and the Theory of Historicity, with Martin Heidegger. His Eros and Civilization spoke at length about capitalism.

 21 Christina Hoff Sommers

Christina Hoff Sommers
4
Famous As: Author, Philosopher
Birthdate: September 28, 1950
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Petaluma, California, U.S.

 22 Charles Sanders Peirce

Charles Sanders Peirce
3
Famous As: Scientist, Philosopher
Birthdate: September 10, 1839
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Died: April 19, 1914

 23 Alfred North Whitehead

Alfred North Whitehead
3
Famous As: Mathematician, Philosopher
Birthdate: February 15, 1861
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Ramsgate, Kent, England
Died: December 30, 1947

Alfred North Whitehead was a British mathematician and philosopher, best known for his collaboration with his student Bertrand Russell on Principal of Mathematics, a three-volume work on the foundations of mathematics. Also known for his pioneering works on process philosophy and metaphysics, he is credited with developing a comprehensive metaphysical system that differs from most Western philosophies.

 24 Will Durant

Will Durant
3
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: November 5, 1885
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: North Adams, Massachusetts, United States
Died: November 7, 1981

Will Durant was an American writer, philosopher, and historian. He is credited with writing The Story of Philosophy which helped popularize philosophy in the USA. Will is also remembered for co-writing an 11-volume set of books titled The Story of Civilization along with his wife Ariel. Will and Ariel were awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 25 Martha Nussbaum

Martha Nussbaum
7
Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, University teacher
Birthdate: May 6, 1947
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: New York City

 26 William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig
5
Famous As: Philosopher, Theologian, University teacher, Writer
Birthdate: August 23, 1949
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Peoria
William Lane Craig is an American analytic philosopher and theologian who is known for defending the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God. He has authored or edited over 30 books, and a hundred articles in professional journals. Craig is a professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University and Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.

 27 Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: September 20, 1899
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Kirchhain, Germany
Died: October 18, 1973
Though he never received enough fame during his lifetime, political philosopher Leo Strauss made significant contributions to classical political theory. Apart from penning scholarly works such as On Tyranny and Natural Right and History, he had also served in World War I and taught political science. 

 28 Robert Nozick

Robert Nozick
3
Famous As: Philosopher, University Teacher
Birthdate: November 16, 1938
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: January 23, 2002

 29 Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich
3
Famous As: Christian existentialist philosopher
Birthdate: August 20, 1886
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Starosiedle, Poland
Died: October 22, 1965

German-American theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich is remembered for his work in the field of Christian existentialism and for concepts such as the method of correlation. His notable works, such as The Courage to Be and the three-volume Systematic Theology, has inspired intellectual thinkers and commoners alike.

 30 Norbert Wiener

Norbert Wiener
3
Famous As: Father of Cybernetics
Birthdate: November 26, 1894
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Columbia, Missouri, United States
Died: March 18, 1964

 31 Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias
9
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: March 26, 1946
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Chennai, India
Died: May 19, 2020

Born in India, Ravi Zacharias was attracted to Christianity while recovering in hospital following a suicide attempt. He moved to Canada and then to the U.S., and gained fame as a Christian apologist and as the host of Let My People Think. He was later accused of sexual abuse.

 32 Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson
3
Famous As: Writer, Novelist, Philosopher, Essayist, Playwright, Psychologist, Science fiction writer
Birthdate: January 18, 1932
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Brooklyn
Died: January 11, 2007

 33 Sam Harris

Sam Harris
37
Famous As: Philosopher, Author
Birthdate: April 9, 1967
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

One of the "Four Horsemen of Atheism," neuroscientist and author Sam Harris is known for his works on topics such as religion, artificial intelligence, and terrorism. His books include the New York Times bestseller The End of Faith. He hosted the podcast Making Sense and released a meditation app, too.

 34 John Lilly

John Lilly
4
Famous As: Neuroscientist
Birthdate: January 6, 1915
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
Died: September 30, 2001

Born to rich Catholic parents, John Lilly spent his childhood treating science as a hobby. While studying medicine, he performed gruelling medical experiments on himself. He later invented isolating floatation tanks, studied bottlenose dolphins, and researched on psychedelic drug-induced near-death experiences. He also explored yoga and human consciousness.

 35 Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron
5
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: July 14, 1936
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: New York City, New York (state) New York, United States

Pema Chodron is an American Tibetan Buddhist and an ordained nun. Born as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in New York, she began studying with Tibetan Buddhist Lama Chime Rinpoche as a young woman. She eventually became a fully ordained nun or bhikṣuṇī. She is the author of several dozen books and audiobooks. She is the principal teacher at Gampo Abbey. 

 36 John Searle

John Searle
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: July 31, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Denver, Colorado, United States

 37 Douglas Hofstadter

Douglas Hofstadter
3
Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, University teacher, Computer scientist
Birthdate: February 15, 1945
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: New York City

 38 Murray Bookchin

Murray Bookchin
4
Famous As: Writer, Historian, Philosopher, University teacher, Anarchist, Libertarian municipalism, Social ecology
Birthdate: January 14, 1921
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: New York City
Died: July 30, 2006

Murray Bookchin, also known by his pseudonyms M.S. Shiloh and Lewis Herber, was an anarchist, a political philosopher, and an academic, best known for his fight against capitalism. The son of Russian immigrants, he followed communism since age 9. He had also penned books such as The Ecology of Freedom.

 39 Robert M. Pirsig

Robert M. Pirsig
3
Famous As: Writer, Philosopher
Birthdate: September 6, 1928
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Minneapolis, U.S.
Died: April 24, 2017

 40 Ronald Dworkin

Ronald Dworkin
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: December 11, 1931
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Providence, Rhode Island, United States
Died: February 14, 2013

 41 Alasdair MacIntyre

Alasdair MacIntyre
3
Famous As: Philosopher, Professor
Birthdate: January 12, 1929
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Glasgow

Scottish-American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre is noted for his contributions to moral and political philosophy. His major writings include Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and After Virtue. The latter is considered to be a significant work of Anglophone moral and political philosophy and an important text in the contemporary revival of virtue theory.  

 42 Thomas Nagel

Thomas Nagel
3
Famous As: Philosopher, University teacher
Birthdate: July 4, 1937
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Belgrade, Yugoslavia

 43 Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer
3
Famous As: Writer, Philosopher, Psychologist
Birthdate: July 25, 1902
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: New York City
Died: May 21, 1983

Social philosopher and author Eric Hoffer was rendered half-blind at 7 due to an accident but regained his sight at 15. Orphaned in his 20s, he took up odd jobs, and once even contemplated suicide. His first book, The True Believer, catapulted him to fame, and he never looked back.

 44 Daniel Dennett

Daniel Dennett
6
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: March 28, 1942
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

 45 Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer
3
Famous As: Theologian, Philosopher
Birthdate: January 30, 1912
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia
Died: May 15, 1984

Francis Schaeffer was an American philosopher, evangelical theologian, and Presbyterian pastor. He is credited with co-founding the L'Abri community, an evangelical Christian organization, along with his wife Edith Schaeffer. Francis Schaeffer's work has influenced several Christian conservative leaders like Tim LaHaye as well as members of the L'Abri community.

 46 Rudolf Carnap

Rudolf Carnap
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: May 18, 1891
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Ronsdorf, Wuppertal, Germany
Died: September 14, 1970

 47 Murray Rothbard

Murray Rothbard
4
Famous As: Economist
Birthdate: March 2, 1926
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Bronx, New York, United States
Died: January 7, 1995

 48 Hilary Putnam

Hilary Putnam
3
Famous As: Mathematician, Philosopher
Birthdate: July 31, 1926
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died: March 13, 2016

 49 Gregory Bateson

Gregory Bateson
3
Famous As: Anthropologist, Philosopher, Sociologist, Psychologist
Birthdate: May 9, 1904
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Grantchester
Died: June 11, 1980

Gregory Bateson was an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, and visual anthropologist. Along with his colleagues, he developed the double-bind theory of schizophrenia. Also a cyberneticist, he was part of the core group of the Macy Conferences in Cybernetics. He was a member of philosopher William Irwin Thompson's esoteric nonprofit foundation Lindisfarne Association.  

 50 L Ron Hubbard

L Ron Hubbard
17
Famous As: Founder of Church of Scientology
Birthdate: March 13, 1911
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Tilden, Nebraska
Died: January 24, 1986

L. Ron Hubbard was an American author of fantasy and science fiction stories. In 1950, he wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health and worked towards promoting Dianetics by conducting seminars and establishing a series of organizations. Credited with founding the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard oversaw the development of the church into a worldwide organization.