Famous French Philosophers

Human lives are undoubtedly filled with infinite complexities. Philosophy can be termed as a study of such complexities revolving around our lives, and an attempt to deal with them better. Many countries around the world have produced great philosophers, who have influenced the world with their thoughts, and like any other country France has its own list of great philosophers. 'Prejudices are what fools use for reason', is one such famous saying by French writer and philosopher, Voltaire. Philosophy makes a positive impact on human beings, since it changes their approach towards life. Philosophy has also indirectly paved way for better literature, since many writers started weaving their tales around philosophical theories.  Over the years France has produced some of the greatest thinkers comprising of names such as Peter Abelard, Pierre d'Ailly, Émile Chartier and Ferdinand Alquié. Some of the famous works of these individuals include ‘Petit Traité d'Harmonie pour les aveugles’, ‘Logica Ingredientibus’ and ‘Histoire littéraire de la France’. Here we bring you a collection of biographies of some of the most famous French philosophers. Read on and find out all about their life stories, timelines and also few interesting facts & trivia related to their lives.

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
15
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: February 20, 1694
Sun Sign: Pisces
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
9
Famous As: Former Philosopher known as father of modern philosophy
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

Albert Camus
14
Famous As: Philosopher & Novelist
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.

 4 Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
6
Famous As: Philosopher, Writer, & Composer
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 Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal
7
Famous As: Mathematician
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.

 6 Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault
18
Famous As: Philosopher & Historian
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.

 7 Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir
21
Famous As: Writer
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.
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 8 Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre
20
Famous As: Novelist, Playwright, & Philosopher
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.

 9 Montesquieu

Montesquieu
4
Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 10 Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida
9
Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 11 Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer
7
Famous As: Theologian, Polymath
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

Auguste Comte
4
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.

 13 Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes
7
Famous As: Essayist
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.

 14 Denis Diderot

Denis Diderot
4
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.

 15 Simone Weil

Simone Weil
5
Famous As: French philosopher, mystic and activist in the French Resistance during WWII.
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. 

 16 Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan
6
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.”

 17 Michel de Montaigne

Michel de Montaigne
4
Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 18 Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze
4
Famous As: Most popular for his works with Felix Guattari, Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus from 1972 and A Thousand Plateaus from 1980
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.

 19 Henri Bergson

Henri Bergson
4
Famous As: Philosopher
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.

 20 Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville
4
Famous As: Historian Known for His Works 'Democracy in America' & 'The Old Regime' & 'The Revolution'
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.

 21 Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard
4
Famous As: Sociologist
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.

 22 Frantz Fanon

Frantz Fanon
6
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.

 23 Henri Poincare

Henri Poincare
4
Famous As: Mathematician and Philosopher
Birthdate: April 29, 1854
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Nancy, France
Died: July 17, 1912
Known as The Last Universalist for his expertise in a variety of domains, French mathematician Henri Poincare conducted research that formed the basis of the modern chaos theory. Apart from his work on relativity and the three-body problem, he also laid the foundation of algebraic topology.

 24 Louis Althusser

Louis Althusser
8
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 16, 1918
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Bir Mourad Raïs, 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.

 25 Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu
4
Famous As: Sociologist
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.

 26 Georges Bataille

Georges Bataille
3
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.

 27 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
3
Famous As: Jesuit Priest who Co-developed the Concept of Noosphere & was Part of the Discovery of took part in the Discovery of Peking Man
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.

 28 Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Maurice Merleau-Ponty
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: March 14, 1908
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Rochefort-sur-Mer, Charente-Inférieure, France
Died: May 3, 1961

 29 Emmanuel Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas
3
Famous As: Philosopher most remembered for his work on subjects like Jewish philosophy and existentialism.
Birthdate: January 12, 1906
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kaunas, Lithuania
Died: December 25, 1995

 30 Émilie du Châtelet

Émilie du Châtelet
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: December 17, 1706
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: September 10, 1749

 31 René Girard

René Girard
3
Famous As: Historian
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.

 32 Vilfredo Pareto

Vilfredo Pareto
3
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.

 33 Henri Lefebvre

Henri Lefebvre
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: June 16, 1901
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Hagetmau, France
Died: June 29, 1991

One of the greatest Marxist philosophers ever, Henri Lefebvre is remembered for introducing iconic ideas such as right to the city and the production of space. He initially mingled with the Surrealists and the Dadaists before moving toward Communism. His Dialetical Materialism remains one of his most celebrated books.

 34 Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour
4
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.

 35 Peter Abelard

Peter Abelard
4
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.

 36 Charles Fourier

Charles Fourier
3
Famous As: Philosopher, an influential early socialist thinker and one of the founders of utopian socialism
Birthdate: April 7, 1772
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Besançon, France
Died: October 10, 1837

French social theorist Charles Fourier is regarded as one of the pioneers of utopian socialism. Apart from advocating social reconstruction based on phalanges, or Fourierism, he is also credited with coining the term feminism with respect to women’s rights. The Social Destiny of Man remains one of his notable works.

 37 Paul Ricœur

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

 38 Sophie Germain

Sophie Germain
3
Famous As: Mathematician
Birthdate: April 1, 1776
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Rue Saint-Denis, Paris, France
Died: June 27, 1831

French mathematician Sophie Germain had used the pseudonym M. Le Blanc to get hold of notes from the École Polytechnique, as being a woman, she was not allowed to attend the institute. She later contributed to the number theory and also pioneered the elasticity theory. She died of breast cancer.

 39 Jacques Ellul

Jacques Ellul
3
Famous As: Theologian, Philosopher
Birthdate: January 6, 1912
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Bordeaux, France
Died: May 19, 1994

French philosopher, Christian anarchist, and social scientist Jacques Ellul initially wished to be a naval officer but was pushed to study law. He is best remembered for his iconic volume La Technique, or The Technological Society. He taught social history and the history of law at various universities.

 40 Luce Irigaray

Luce Irigaray
4
Famous As: Philosopher, linguist, Feminist
Birthdate: May 3, 1930
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Bernissart, Belgium

 41 Héloïse

Héloïse
3
Famous As: French nun
Birthdate: 1101 AD
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: May 16, 1164
French nun Héloïse was also a philosopher, writer, and abbess and was a renowned "woman of letters". She was noted as a  philosopher of love and friendship. In 1147, she was granted the rank of prelate nullius, approximately the level of a bishop. Her surviving letters are considered a foundation of French and European literature and inspiration for courtly love.

 42 Hélène Cixous

Hélène Cixous
4
Famous As: Writer
Birthdate: June 5, 1937
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Oran, Algeria

Hélène Cixous is a professor, poet, playwright, rhetorician, literary critic, philosopher, and French feminist writer. She is best known for writing an article titled The Laugh of the Medusa, which earned her popularity and established her as a thinker in post-structural feminism.

 43 Guy Debord

Guy Debord
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: December 28, 1931
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: November 30, 1994

 44 Marquis de Condorcet

Marquis de Condorcet
3
Famous As: Mathematician, Philosopher
Birthdate: September 17, 1743
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Ribemont, France
Died: March 29, 1794

French mathematician and philosopher Marquis de Condorcet was a champion for liberal economy and women’s rights. He was a significant contributor of the Encyclopédie and was part of the Academy of Sciences. He is also remembered for his political activities in the wake of the French Revolution.

 45 Alain Badiou

Alain Badiou
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: January 17, 1937
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Rabat, Morocco

 46 Gustave Le Bon

Gustave Le Bon
3
Famous As: Physician, Anthropologist, Archaeologist, Psychologist, Philosopher, Historian, Sociologist
Birthdate: May 7, 1841
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Nogent-le-Rotrou
Died: December 13, 1931

French social psychologist Gustave Le Bon is best remembered for his research on crowd psychology. In his iconic work La psychologie des foules, or The Crowd, he stated that people are driven by their emotions and not by their intellect when they act as part of a crowd.

 47 René Guénon

René Guénon
3
Famous As: Former Philosopher who remains an influential figure in the domain of metaphysics
Birthdate: November 15, 1886
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Blois, France
Died: January 7, 1951

 48 Jean-François Lyotard

Jean-François Lyotard
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: August 10, 1924
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Versailles, France
Died: April 21, 1998

French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard initially wished to be a monk and even a painter. He started his career as a school teacher in Algeria and later various socialist groups. While he later taught French and philosophy at various institutes, he also became a leading figure of the postmodernist movement.

 49 Germaine de Staël

Germaine de Staël
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: April 22, 1766
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: July 14, 1817

Germaine de Staël was a French political theorist and woman of letters. She is best remembered for her collaboration with the popular  Swiss-French political thinker Benjamin Constant. Germaine, who was way ahead of her time, is widely regarded as a precursor of feminism.

 50 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
5
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?