Famous French Intellectuals & Academics

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Albert Einstein truly stated ‘Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death’. Though many in the world aspire to become intellectual, only a handful of the lot have the courage to voice against the opposition and the capability to pay the price that the aspiration comes with. France has been one of the blessed nations in the world when it comes to counting intellectuals and academicians. The country has been a powerhouse of people who used their intelligence and thinking to play an influential role in the development of the world. Who can forget the contribution of Blaise Pascal and his theory of probabilities in mathematics or the 20th century intellectual, Jean Paul Sartre and his idea of existentialism or even Auguste Comte who advanced social science to form a new genre called sociology? Not just men, French women too played an imperative role as academicians. To name a few we have, Simone de Beauvoir, Danica Seleskovitch and Isabell Maxwell. These people changed the society through their critical thinking, analysis, reasoning and research. What’s more, they made their presence felt in all the fields, be it literature, science, medicine, philosophy, religion and the like. Read this section to find out the life and works of some French intellectuals and academicians.
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 1 
Voltaire
(French Historian and Philosopher Known for His Wit and His Pointed Social Critique)
Voltaire
13
Birthdate: November 21, 1694
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: May 30, 1778
18th-century historian, author, philosopher, and advocate of freedom of speech Voltaire was a leading figure of the French Age of Enlightenment. He often ran into trouble for his criticism of the French nobility and the Roman Catholic Church. He once went to Britain on voluntary exile, fearing imprisonment in France.
 2 
René Déscartes
(French Philosopher, Mathematician and Inventor of ‘Analytic Geometry’)
René Déscartes
7
Birthdate: March 31, 1596
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Descartes, France
Died: February 11, 1650
René Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, laid down the idea of rationalism, later followed by Spinoza and Leibniz. Descartes also contributed to the field of analytical geometry and led to the Cartesian coordinate system being named after him. His Meditations on First Philosophy is still taught at many universities.
 3 
Albert Camus
(Philosopher & Novelist)
Albert Camus
14
Birthdate: November 7, 1913
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Drean, Algeria
Died: January 4, 1960

Albert Camus was a French philosopher and the second-youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. His philosophical views contributed to the rise of absurdism, a philosophical concept. Also a prolific writer, Albert Camus had an illustrious literary career; most of his philosophical essays and novels are still influential.

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 4 
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
(Philosopher, Writer, & Composer)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
7
Birthdate: June 28, 1712
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Geneva, Switzerland
Died: July 2, 1778

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, composer, and writer. His political philosophy influenced aspects of the French Revolution. He also helped develop modern economic, political, and educational thought. His writing inspired a transformation in French drama and poetry. His works also influenced such writers around the world as Tolstoy. His works as a composer were acknowledged by composers like Mozart.

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 5 
Jean-Paul Sartre
(Novelist, Playwright, & Philosopher)
Jean-Paul Sartre
19
Birthdate: June 21, 1905
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 15, 1980

Jean-Paul Sartre was a French philosopher, writer, literary critic, and political activist. One of the most important personalities in the philosophy of phenomenology and existentialism, Sartre played a crucial role in 20th-century French philosophy. His work continues to influence literary studies, post-colonial theory, sociology, and critical theory. He was honored with the 1964 Nobel Prize in Literature.

 6 
Blaise Pascal
(One of the Greatest Mathematicians of All Time Who Invented the Mechanical Calculator)
Blaise Pascal
6
Birthdate: June 19, 1623
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Clermont-Ferrand, France
Died: August 19, 1662

Blaise Pascal was a French physicist, mathematician, philosopher, and inventor. A child prodigy, Pascal's work on projective geometry, at the age of 16 is commendable. He is one of the earliest inventors of the mechanical calculator, which he did when he was still a teenager. His work on probability theory influenced the development of social science and modern economics.

 7 
Simone de Beauvoir
(French Existentialist Philosopher, Writer, Social Theorist, and Feminist Activist)
Simone de Beauvoir
13
Birthdate: January 9, 1908
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 14, 1986
French author and existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir is best remembered for her feminist treatise The Second Sex and her novels The Mandarins and She Came to Stay. Her literary contributions also include essays, biographies, and her autobiographical works. She won the Prix Goncourt and the Jerusalem Prize.
 8 
Montesquieu
(Political Philosopher Who Gave the Doctrine of 'Separation of Powers')
Montesquieu
4
Birthdate: January 18, 1689
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: La Brède, France
Died: February 10, 1755

French Enlightenment political philosopher, historian, judge, and man of letters Montesquieu remains the main source of the separation of powers system that is followed in many constitutions across the globe. His treatise The Spirit of the Laws on political theory greatly influenced work of many others, including drafting of the U.S. Constitution by the founding fathers of the United States.

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 9 
Emile Durkheim
(French Sociologist Who Established the 'Academic Discipline of Sociology')
Emile Durkheim
5
Birthdate: April 15, 1858
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Épinal, France
Died: November 15, 1917

Emile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He is credited with establishing the discipline of sociology for academic purposes and is widely regarded as the chief architect of modern social science. During his lifetime, Emile Durkheim published several works on topics like morality, religion, and education. He also played a major role in the development of sociology and anthropology as disciplines.

 10 
Jacques Derrida
(French Philosopher Who Developed the Philosophical Approach Known as 'Deconstruction')
Jacques Derrida
8
Birthdate: July 15, 1930
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: El Biar, Algeria
Died: October 9, 2004

Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher remembered for developing deconstruction, a form of semiotic analysis. Derrida is one of the most influential figures associated with postmodern philosophy and post-structuralism. He also had a major influence on academic disciplines like philosophy, law, political theory, anthropology, applied linguistics, and historiography. He also influenced music, art criticism, art, and architecture.

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 11 
Albert Schweitzer
(Physician and Founder of the “Albert Schweitzer Hospital” in Lambaréné,)
Albert Schweitzer
9
Birthdate: January 14, 1875
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kaysersberg-Vignoble, France
Died: September 4, 1965

Albert Schweitzer was an Alsatian polymath who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his philosophical work, Reverence for Life. He is credited with founding the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, which was a direct result of his philosophical expression. Schweitzer is also credited with influencing the Organ reform movement, which began in the mid-20th-century.

 12 
Auguste Comte
(French Philosopher and Founder of Sociology and Positivism )
Auguste Comte
5
Birthdate: January 19, 1798
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Montpellier, France
Died: September 5, 1857
Known as the pioneer of sociology and positivism, philosopher Auguste Comte had an elite schooling at the prestigious École Polytechnique. Though infamous for being egocentric, he was known for his dedication to society and social upliftment. He authored The Positive Philosophy and was influenced by Henri de Saint-Simon.
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 13 
Denis Diderot
(French Philosopher, Co-Founder and Chief Editor of the ‘Encyclopédie’)
Denis Diderot
4
Birthdate: October 5, 1713
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Langres, France
Died: July 31, 1784

Denis Diderot revolutionized the Age of Enlightenment as the co-founder of Encyclopédie, which was banned for questioning religion. He had flirted with the idea of joining the theater and becoming a priest, and even studied law, but later devoted himself to languages, literature, and philosophy.

 14 
Roland Barthes
(French Literary Theorist Best Known for His Essay Collection 'Mythologies' and His Essay 'The Death of the Author')
Roland Barthes
8
Birthdate: November 12, 1915
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, France
Died: March 25, 1980
Born to middle-class parents in France, literary theorist and critic Roland Barthes explored Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiology and influenced fields such as structuralism. His iconic works, such as Mythologies and The Death of the Author, influenced later thinkers. He died of injuries sustained in a road accident at 64.
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 15 
Jacques Lacan
(Psychoanalyst, Psychiatrist)
Jacques Lacan
8
Birthdate: April 13, 1901
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 9, 1981
French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan is remembered for his philosophical approach that explored Freudian concepts, to which he applied elements of structuralism and anthropology to create his own concepts. His controversial suggestions led to his expulsion from the International Psychoanalytic Association. One of his key concepts was “Return to Freud.”
 16 
Claude Lévi-Strauss
(Anthropologist)
Claude Lévi-Strauss
4
Birthdate: November 28, 1908
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Brussels, Belgium
Died: October 30, 2009

French social anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss is remembered for his contribution to structural anthropology. His book Tristes Tropiques was based on his research deep in the Brazilian Amazon. While he left France for the U.S. during World War II, he later returned to Paris and received his doctorate.

 17 
Gilles Deleuze
(Most popular for his works with Felix Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus from 1972 and A Thousand Plateaus from 1980)
Gilles Deleuze
4
Birthdate: January 18, 1925
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: November 4, 1995

Gilles Deleuze was a French philosopher who wrote extensively on philosophy, film, fine art, and literature. Widely regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Deleuze's works have influenced a wide range of disciplines, such as philosophy, literary theory, and art. His work has also influenced movements like postmodernism and post-structuralism.

 18 
Jean Baudrillard
(French Sociologist Known for His Analyses of Media, Contemporary Culture, and Technological Communication)
Jean Baudrillard
5
Birthdate: July 27, 1929
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Reims, France
Died: March 6, 2007

Renowned sociologist and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard is remembered for introducing concepts of hyperreality and simulacrum. Initially a teacher of German literature in schools, he later taught sociology at Paris X Nanterre. He coined the phrase the desert of the real, which was later used in the film The Matrix.

 19 
Simone Weil
(French Mystic, Social Philosopher and Resistance Activist During World War II)
Simone Weil
5
Birthdate: February 3, 1909
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: August 24, 1943
Paris-born philosopher and activist Simone Weil could speak in Sanskrit and Greek as a student. Called The Martian by her classmates, due to her peculiar nature, she died of cardiac failure at 34, refusing to eat more than the people of German-occupied France, in spite of being diagnosed with tuberculosis. 
 20 
Henri Bergson
(French Philosopher and Winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Literature)
Henri Bergson
5
Birthdate: October 18, 1859
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: January 4, 1941

French philosopher, Henri Bergson, is remembered for his contribution to the tradition of continental philosophy. His works were considered extremely influential,  especially during the first half of the 20th century. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature (1927) and  Grand-Croix de la Legion d'honneur (1930). He was a simple man who led a humble life despite his great achievements.

 21 
Pierre Bourdieu
(French Sociologist Known for 'Theorizing the Link Between Education and Culture')
Pierre Bourdieu
5
Birthdate: August 1, 1930
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Denguin, France
Died: January 23, 2002

Renowned sociologist and intellectual Pierre Bourdieu is best remembered for his theory of habitus. Initially sent to Algeria as part of the French Army, he later taught and conducted ethnographic research there. His best-known work remains La Distinction, and he also inspired a hit French documentary.

 22 
Alexis de Tocqueville
(Historian Known for His Works 'Democracy in America' & 'The Old Regime' & 'The Revolution')
Alexis de Tocqueville
4
Birthdate: July 29, 1805
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: April 16, 1859

French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville is best remembered for his written works The Old Regime and the Revolution and Democracy in America. He was part of French politics, primarily during the July Monarchy and the Second Republic. He had been the minister of foreign affairs briefly.

Bernard of Clairvaux
5
Birthdate: 1090 AD
Birthplace: Fontaine-lès-Dijon, France
Died: August 20, 1153

Bernard of Clairvaux, or Saint Bernard, was a 12th-century Burgundian monk, who became the abbot of the abbey of Clairvaux, founded by him. He chose to live a life of physical austerities, which caused him ailments such as anemia. He is revered as the patron saint of beekeepers and candlemakers.

 24 
Vilfredo Pareto
(Economist, Writer, Philosopher, Sociologist, University teacher)
Vilfredo Pareto
4
Birthdate: July 15, 1848
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Paris
Died: August 19, 1923

A qualified civil engineer, Vilfredo Pareto had initially worked for the railways and the ironworks. However, he gradually deviated to philosophy, sociology, and politics and gained fame for his application of math to economic issues and his introduction of Pareto efficiency. Mind and Society remains his best-known work.

 25 
Henri Fayol
(Industrialist, Management Thinker)
Henri Fayol
11
Birthdate: July 29, 1841
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Constantinople, Ottoman Empire
Died: November 19, 1925

Henri Fayol was a French mining engineer, author, mining executive, and director of mines. He is credited with developing a theory of business administration called Fayolism. Along with Frederick Winslow Taylor, Henri Fayol is credited with founding modern management methods.

 26 
John Calvin
(Theologian)
John Calvin
4
Birthdate: July 10, 1509
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Noyon, France
Died: May 27, 1564

French theologian, pastor, and reformer John Calvin was a major figure during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. He was influential in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church to embrace Protestantism. As an apologetic writer, he generated much controversy.

 27 
Thomas Merton
(Writer & theologian was ordained to the Catholic priesthood and given the name "Father Louis".)
Thomas Merton
5
Birthdate: January 31, 1915
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Prades, France
Died: December 10, 1968

American Trappist monk and theologian Thomas Merton was ordained a priest and named Father Louis. He was a member of the monastery Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. He is remembered for his bestselling autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and for his study of Eastern religions such as Buddhism.

 28 
Bruno Latour
(French Philosopher Known for His Innovative and Iconoclastic Work in the Study of Science and Technology in Society)
Bruno Latour
7
Birthdate: June 22, 1947
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Beaune, France

Holberg Prize-winning French sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour had initially studied theology and even received his PhD in the subject. His later research Ivory Coast drew him to anthropology, and he soon gained fame as a renowned academic in the field, having co-written iconic books such as Laboratory Life.

 29 
Georges Bataille
(French Philosopher and Intellectual)
Georges Bataille
4
Birthdate: September 10, 1897
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Billom, France
Died: July 9, 1962

Georges Bataille was a French intellectual and philosopher best remembered for his work in various fields, such as philosophy, sociology, history of art, anthropology, literature, and consumerism. His work would later have a huge impact on subsequent schools of social theory and philosophy. Also a prolific writer, Georges Bataille wrote on subjects like mysticism, erotism, transgression, and surrealism.

 30 
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
(Naturalist and Biologist Best Known for Proposing that Acquired Characteristics can be Inherited.)
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
4
Birthdate: August 1, 1744
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Bazentin, France
Died: December 18, 1829

French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck acquired his love for plants while serving as a soldier in the French army. Following an injury, he quit his military career but retained his love for botany. He later taught zoology, studied the classification of invertebrates, and also coined the term biology.

 31 
Alfred Binet
(Psychologist, Educationist)
Alfred Binet
4
Birthdate: July 8, 1857
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Nice
Died: October 18, 1911
 32 
Peter Abelard
(French Scholastic Philosopher, Logician and Theologian Known for Developing the Concept of 'Limbo')
Peter Abelard
4
Birthdate: 1079 AD
Birthplace: Le Pallet, France
Died: April 21, 1142

Medieval French philosopher, theologian, and poet Peter Abelard was born to a knight but gave up his inheritance to study philosophy and logic. He fell in love with his pupil, Héloïse, but her uncle got Abelard castrated, following which Abelard became a monk and made Héloïse a nun.

 33 
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
(Jesuit Priest who Co-developed the Concept of Noosphere & was Part of the Discovery of Peking Man)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
5
Birthdate: May 1, 1881
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Orcines, France
Died: April 10, 1955

French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is remembered as someone who deviated from theology to science. He discovered the fossilized remains known as the Peking man in China, but faced a lot of opposition from his religious superiors when it came to publishing his scientific thoughts.

 34 
France Nuyen
(Actress)
France Nuyen
4
Birthdate: July 31, 1939
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Marseille, France
 35 
Esther Duflo
(American-French Economist)
Esther Duflo
4
Birthdate: October 25, 1972
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Paris, France

Esther Duflo is a French–American economist. She is credited with co-founding the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a global research center that works towards reducing poverty worldwide. In 2019, she shared the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Michael Kremer and Abhijit Banerjee for their efforts to reduce poverty.

 36 
Maurice Merleau-Ponty
4
Birthdate: March 14, 1908
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Rochefort-sur-Mer, Charente-Inférieure, France
Died: May 3, 1961
 37 
Emmanuel Levinas
(Philosopher most remembered for his work on subjects like Jewish philosophy and existentialism.)
Emmanuel Levinas
3
Birthdate: January 12, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kaunas, Lithuania
Died: December 25, 1995
 38 
Frantz Fanon
(Psychiatrist)
Frantz Fanon
8
Birthdate: July 20, 1925
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Fort-de-France, Martinique, France
Died: December 6, 1961

Frantz Fanon was a French-West Indian born in Martinique, a former French colony. A skilled psychiatrist and physician, he realized the impact of colonialism on the human mind while treating French soldiers and Algerians. The author of books such as The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon supported the Algerian independence movement.

 39 
Fernand Braudel
(French Historian and Leader of the Annales School)
Fernand Braudel
3
Birthdate: August 24, 1902
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Luméville-en-Ornois, France
Died: November 27, 1985

Fernand Braudel was a French historian who led a group of historians who were associated with the Annales School. Braudel is credited with popularizing the school in France. As the leader of the school during the 1950s and 1960s, Braudel had a major influence on historical writings around the world. He is also counted among the forefathers of world-systems theory.

 40 
Émilie du Châtelet
4
Birthdate: December 17, 1706
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 10, 1749
 41 
Michel Foucault
(Philosopher & Historian)
Michel Foucault
21
Birthdate: October 15, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Poitiers, France
Died: June 25, 1984

If others thought the body was the prison of the soul, Paul-Michel Foucault felt the other way round. The French philosopher, literary critic and Leftist who interpreted the link between power and knowledge, was a post-structuralist whose theories have left a mark on anthropology, psychology and criminology. The feminist was one of the noted personalities to have died of HIV/AIDS.

 42 
Elisabeth Maxwell
(Researcher)
Elisabeth Maxwell
4
Birthdate: March 11, 1921
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: La Grive, France
Died: August 7, 2013
 43 
Georges Cuvier
(French Naturalist and Zoologist Known for Establishing the Field of 'Comparative Anatomy' and 'Paleontology')
Georges Cuvier
4
Birthdate: August 23, 1769
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Doubs, France
Died: May 13, 1832

Georges Cuvier was a French zoologist and naturalist. A major figure in the early 19th century's research of natural sciences, Cuvier played an important role in establishing the fields of comparative paleontology and anatomy by comparing fossils with living animals, for which he is sometimes regarded as the founding father of paleontology.

 44 
Jean-Baptiste Colbert
(Economist, Politician)
Jean-Baptiste Colbert
4
Birthdate: August 29, 1619
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Reims
Died: September 6, 1683

Born into a merchant family in France, Jean-Baptiste Colbert grew up to hold various administrative posts. Patronized by Cardinal Mazarin, he became affluent and later became one of the most efficient administrators during the regime of Louis XIV. He also established the French merchant navy.

 45 
Jean-François Champollion
(French Historian, Linguist and Founder of the Scientific 'Egyptology')
Jean-François Champollion
4
Birthdate: December 23, 1790
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Figeac, France
Died: March 4, 1832

Jean-François Champollion was a French orientalist, philologist, and scholar. A founding figure of Egyptology, Champollion is credited with deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs, which paved the way for several research and studies in the field of Egyptology. Not surprisingly, Champollion is often referred to as the Founder and Father of Egyptology.  

 46 
Emmanuelle Charpentier
4
Birthdate: December 11, 1968
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Juvisy-sur-Orge, France
 47 
René Girard
(French Polymath, Historian and Philosopher of Social Science)
René Girard
6
Birthdate: December 25, 1923
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Avignon, France
Died: November 4, 2015

René Girard was a French philosopher of social science, literary critic, and historian. Over the years, Girard's work has had an influence on disciplines like philosophy, anthropology, psychology, mythology, theology, economics, sociology, and cultural studies among other important disciplines. In 2006, René Girard was honored by the University of Tübingen with the prestigious Dr. Leopold Lucas Prize.

 48 
Guy Debord
(Philosopher)
Guy Debord
4
Birthdate: December 28, 1931
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: November 30, 1994
 49 
Michel de Montaigne
(One of the Most Significant Philosophers of the French Renaissance)
Michel de Montaigne
4
Birthdate: February 8, 1533
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Château de Montaigne, France
Died: September 3, 1592

French philosopher Michel de Montaigne was a significant figure of the French Renaissance in the 16th century. He is credited for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. His massive collection of essays was published in the volume Essais. His work had a direct influence on Western writers, including René Descartes, Francis Bacon, Blaise Pascal, and Voltaire.

 50 
Paul Ricœur
(Philosopher)
Paul Ricœur
3
Birthdate: February 27, 1913
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Drome, France
Died: May 20, 2005