Famous French Intellectuals & Academics

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.

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 Albert Camus

Albert Camus
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: November 7, 1913
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Nationality: Algerian, French
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.

 2 Voltaire

Voltaire
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: November 21, 1694
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Nationality: French
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.
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 3 René Déscartes

René Déscartes
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Famous As: Mathematician, Philosopher and Writer
Birthdate: March 31, 1596
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: French
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.

 4 Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
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Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, & Composer
Birthdate: June 28, 1712
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: Swiss, French
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

Jean-Paul Sartre
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 21, 1905
Sun Sign: Gemini
Nationality: French
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 Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 9, 1908
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
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.

 7 Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault
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Famous As: French philosopher
Birthdate: October 15, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Nationality: French
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.

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 8 Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal
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Famous As: French Mathematician, Physicist, Inventor, Writer and Catholic Philosopher
Birthdate: June 19, 1623
Sun Sign: Gemini
Nationality: French
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.

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 9 Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim
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Famous As: Sociologist & Philosopher
Birthdate: April 15, 1858
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: French
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 Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville
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Birthdate: July 29, 1805
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: French
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.

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 11 Henri Fayol

Henri Fayol
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Famous As: Industrialist, Management Thinker
Birthdate: July 29, 1841
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: French
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.

 12 Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour
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Famous As: Philosopher, Anthropologist, Sociologist, University teacher
Birthdate: June 22, 1947
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: French
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 13 Gustave Le Bon

Gustave Le Bon
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Famous As: Physician, Anthropologist, Archaeologist, Psychologist, Philosopher, Historian, Sociologist
Birthdate: May 7, 1841
Sun Sign: Taurus
Nationality: French
Died: December 13, 1931

 14 Eliphas Levi

Eliphas Levi
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Famous As: Philosopher, Non-fiction writer, Occultist
Birthdate: February 8, 1810
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: French
Died: May 31, 1875
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 15 Christine Lagarde

Christine Lagarde
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Famous As: Economist, Lawyer, Diplomat, Politician, Synchronized swimmer, Banker
Birthdate: January 1, 1956
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French

 16 Montesquieu

Baron de Montesquieu
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: January 18, 1689
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
Died: February 10, 1755

 17 Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes
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Famous As: French Literary Theorist & Philosopher
Birthdate: November 12, 1915
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Nationality: French
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.

 18 Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn
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Famous As: Economist, Politician, Lawyer, University teacher
Birthdate: April 25, 1949
Sun Sign: Taurus
Nationality: French

 19 Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan
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Famous As: Psychoanalyst, Psychiatrist
Birthdate: April 13, 1901
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: French
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.”

 20 Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer
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Famous As: Philosopher, Theologian
Birthdate: January 14, 1875
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
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.

 21 Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: January 19, 1798
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
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.

 22 Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu
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Famous As: Philosopher, Sociologist, Anthropologist, Publisher, Essayist, Writer, Professor
Birthdate: August 1, 1930
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: French
Died: January 23, 2002

 23 Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze
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Famous As: Philosopher, Historian, Writer, University teacher, Philosophy historian, Journalist
Birthdate: January 18, 1925
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
Died: November 4, 1995

 24 Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 28, 1533
Sun Sign: Pisces
Nationality: French
Died: September 13, 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.

 25 Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard
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Famous As: Sociologist
Birthdate: July 27, 1929
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: French
Died: March 6, 2007

 26 Denis Diderot

Denis Diderot
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 5, 1713
Sun Sign: Libra
Nationality: French
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.

 27 Louis Althusser

Louis Althusser
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 16, 1918
Sun Sign: Libra
Nationality: French
Died: October 22, 1990

French philosopher Louis Althusser is remembered for his effort to merge Marxism and structuralism. He taught at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris and had been part of the French Communist Party. He spent several years in a mental institution after strangling his wife, Hélène, to death.

 28 Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty
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Famous As: Economist, University teacher
Birthdate: May 7, 1971
Sun Sign: Taurus
Nationality: French

 29 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
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Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: January 15, 1809
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
Died: January 19, 1865

Often referred to as the Father of Anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was born to a tavern keeper and grew up working on farms. Largely educated on scholarships, he later became known for his slogan “Property is theft!” and his idea of mutualism. His notable works include What is Property?

 30 Esther Duflo

Esther Duflo
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Famous As: American-French Economist
Birthdate: October 25, 1972
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Nationality: French, American

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.

 31 Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
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Famous As: Naturalist
Birthdate: August 1, 1744
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: French
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.

 32 Simone Weil

Simone Weil
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Famous As: Philosopher, mystic and social activist
Birthdate: February 3, 1909
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Nationality: French
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. 

 33 Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux
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Famous As: Abbot
Birthdate: 1090 AD
Nationality: French
Died: August 20, 1153

 34 France Nuyen

France Nuyen
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Famous As: Psychotherapist, Psychologist, Stage actor, Film actor
Birthdate: July 31, 1939
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: French

 35 Henri Bergson

Henri Bergson
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Famous As: Philosopher and Writer
Birthdate: October 18, 1859
Sun Sign: Libra
Nationality: French
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.

 36 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: May 1, 1881
Sun Sign: Taurus
Nationality: French
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.

 37 Teilhard de Chardin

Teilhard de Chardin
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Birthdate: May 1, 1881
Sun Sign: Taurus
Nationality: French
Died: April 10, 1955

 38 René Girard

René Girard
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: December 25, 1923
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
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.

 39 Peter Abelard

Peter Abelard
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: 1079 AD
Nationality: French
Died: April 21, 1142

 40 Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: September 10, 1897
Sun Sign: Virgo
Nationality: French
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.

 41 Vilfredo Pareto

Vilfredo Pareto
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Famous As: Economist, Writer, Philosopher, Sociologist, University teacher
Birthdate: July 15, 1848
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: French, Italian
Died: August 19, 1923

 42 Julia Kristeva

Julia Kristeva
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Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, Feminist
Birthdate: June 24, 1941
Sun Sign: Cancer
Nationality: Bulgarian, French

 43 Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Jean-Baptiste Colbert
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Famous As: Economist, Politician
Birthdate: August 29, 1619
Sun Sign: Virgo
Nationality: French
Died: September 6, 1683

 44 Georges Cuvier

Georges Cuvier
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Famous As: Naturalist
Birthdate: August 23, 1769
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: French
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.

 45 Guy Debord

Guy Debord
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Famous As: Film maker, Artist, Philosopher, Film director, Graphic designer, Screenwriter, Essayist, Writer, Autobiographer, Translator
Birthdate: December 28, 1931
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
Died: November 30, 1994

 46 Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Maurice Merleau-Ponty
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Famous As: Philosopher, Professor
Birthdate: March 14, 1908
Sun Sign: Pisces
Nationality: French
Died: May 3, 1961

 47 Charles Fourier

Charles Fourier
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Famous As: Economist, Sociologist, Philosopher
Birthdate: April 7, 1772
Sun Sign: Aries
Nationality: French
Died: October 10, 1837

 48 Luc Montagnier

Luc Montagnier
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Famous As: Physician, Biologist, Virologist, Researcher, Professor, Scientist
Birthdate: August 18, 1932
Sun Sign: Leo
Nationality: French

 49 Savitri Devi

Savitri Devi
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Famous As: Writer, Poet
Birthdate: September 30, 1905
Sun Sign: Libra
Nationality: French
Died: October 22, 1982

 50 Jean-François Champollion

Jean-François Champollion
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Famous As: Philologist
Birthdate: December 23, 1790
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Nationality: French
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.