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 Voltaire

Voltaire.
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Famous As: Writer
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

René Déscartes.
2
Famous As: Mathematician, Philosopher and Writer
Birthdate: March 31, 1596
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: La Haye en Touraine, Touraine, 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.
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 3 Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
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Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, & Composer
Birthdate: June 28, 1712
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Geneva
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.

 4 Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault.
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Famous As: French philosopher
Birthdate: October 15, 1926
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Poitiers
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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 5 Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre.
4
Famous As: Philosopher, Novelist
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 John Calvin

John Calvin.
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Famous As: Protestant Reformer, Theologian, Pastor
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.

 7 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
Birthplace: Clermont-Ferrand,, Auvergne, 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.

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 8 Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir.
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Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: January 9, 1908
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris
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.
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 9 Montesquieu

Baron de Montesquieu.
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: January 18, 1689
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Château de la Brède, La Brède, Aquitaine, 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.

 10 Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan.
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Famous As: Psychoanalyst, Psychiatrist
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.”
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 11 Albert Schweitzer

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

Auguste Comte.
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Famous As: Philosopher
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 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
Birthplace: Paris
Died: November 4, 1995

 14 Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes.
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Famous As: French Literary Theorist & Philosopher
Birthdate: November 12, 1915
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Cherbourg-Octeville
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 Denis Diderot

Denis Diderot.
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Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 16 Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty
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Famous As: Economist
Birthdate: May 7, 1971
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Clichy, France

French economist and professor Thomas Piketty is best known for his book Capital in the Twenty-first Century, which became a New York Times bestseller. He has taught at prestigious institutes such as LSE and MIT. He proposed taxing the rich to prevent high incomes and not merely to increase government revenue.

 17 Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss.
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Famous As: Anthropologist
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.

 18 Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim.
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Famous As: Sociologist & Philosopher
Birthdate: April 15, 1858
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Épinal
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.

 19 Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux
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Famous As: Abbot
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.

 20 Louis Althusser

Louis Althusser.
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 16, 1918
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: French Algeria
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.

 21 Henri Bergson

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

 22 Peter Abelard

Peter Abelard
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Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 23 Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon
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Famous As: Psychiatrist
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.

 24 Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Dominique Strauss-Kahn
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Famous As: Economist, Politician, Lawyer, University teacher
Birthdate: April 25, 1949
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Neuilly-sur-Seine
French economist and former MD of IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn grew up in Morocco, where his parents worked. Before joining politics, he taught economics. He has been in the midst of many controversies, including a sex scandal, in which a hotel maid accused him of sexual assault.

 25 Vilfredo Pareto

Vilfredo Pareto
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Famous As: Economist, Writer, Philosopher, Sociologist, University teacher
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.

 26 Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville.
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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.

 27 Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu
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Famous As: Sociologist
Birthdate: August 1, 1930
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Denguin, France
Died: January 23, 2002

 28 Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour
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Famous As: Philosopher
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 Maurice Merleau-Ponty

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

 30 Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne.
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 28, 1533
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Château de Montaigne
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.

 31 Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard
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Famous As: Sociologist
Birthdate: July 27, 1929
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Reims, France
Died: March 6, 2007

 32 Henri Fayol

Henri Fayol.
2
Famous As: Industrialist, Management Thinker
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.

 33 Alain Badiou

Alain Badiou
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: January 17, 1937
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Rabat, Morocco

 34 Alfred Binet

Alfred Binet
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Famous As: Psychologist, Educationist
Birthdate: July 8, 1857
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Nice
Died: October 18, 1911

 35 Emmanuel Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas
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Famous As: Philosopher, University teacher, Ethicist, Writer
Birthdate: January 12, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kaunas
Died: December 25, 1995

 36 Jean-François Lyotard

Jean-François Lyotard
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: August 10, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Versailles, France
Died: April 21, 1998

 37 Esther Duflo

Esther Duflo.
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Famous As: American-French Economist
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.

 38 Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
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Famous As: Naturalist
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.

 39 Simone Weil

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

 40 Fernand Braudel

Fernand Braudel
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Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: August 24, 1902
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Luméville-en-Ornois, France
Died: November 27, 1985

 41 France Nuyen

France Nuyen
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Famous As: Actress
Birthdate: July 31, 1939
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Marseille, France

 42 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
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Famous As: Politician
Birthdate: January 15, 1809
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Besançon, France
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?

 43 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
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Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 44 Teilhard de Chardin

Teilhard de Chardin
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Birthdate: May 1, 1881
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Orcines, France
Died: April 10, 1955

 45 René Girard

René Girard.
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Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 46 Luce Irigaray

Luce Irigaray
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Famous As: Philosopher, Linguist, University teacher, Psychologist, Feminist
Birthdate: May 3, 1930
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Bernissart

 47 Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille.
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Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 48 Paul Ricœur

Paul Ricœur
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Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: February 27, 1913
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Drome, France
Died: May 20, 2005

 49 Marcel Mauss

Marcel Mauss
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Famous As: Sociologist, Anthropologist
Birthdate: May 10, 1872
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Épinal, Vosges, France
Died: February 10, 1950

 50 Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Jean-Baptiste Colbert
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Famous As: Economist, Politician
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.