When it comes to greatest philosophers, everyone’s heard of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They’re practically celebrity philosophers. But as much clout as these three titans of philosophy bring to the table, there are many others who’ve influenced philosophical thought throughout history. There are so many sages that don’t get the credit they deserve. While some may point to Ancient Greece as the originator of philosophy, many others around the world have also pushed it into new directions. Not surprisingly, some of these obscure philosophers even influenced the work of the great thinkers of history. That being said, put on your thinking caps, here are the Greatest Philosophers You’ve Never Heard Of.
Albertus Magnus is credited with tutoring one of medieval Europe’s most influential theologians and philosophers, Thomas Aquinas. Though Aquinas gets far more recognition in the historical record, his teacher was adept in many fields of study and even gained the nickname “Doctor Universalis” for his many contributions to philosophy, science, theology, and law. An expert on Aristotelian philosophy, Magnus added to the empirical observations of the Greek philosopher through his own systematic research in the natural sciences. His approach would be deemed quite modern for his time since he claimed that it was not the task of science to “accept what we are told but to inquire into the causes of natural things.”
Diogenes of Sinope
Diogenes of Synope is one of the most eccentric and influential philosophers of the ancient world. He helped found a school of Greek philosophy known as Cynicism. Rejecting everything in life excepting what was necessary, Diogenes gave away all of his possessions and relegated himself to living in a large wine barrel. He rudely challenged the niceties of Athenian social custom because they masked the true nature of a person.
A contemporary of Plato, Diogenes famously challenged the esteemed philosopher’s definition of man as nothing more than a “featherless biped” by bringing a plucked chicken to Plato’s Academy. His peculiar manner caught the attention of another famous figure, Alexander the Great, who visited him and praised his wisdom. Alexander asked if Diogenes wanted anything from him and the Cynic asked if he could stand away from his sunlight.
German-born American Jewish philosopher, Hans Jonas, was a pioneer of bioethics and environmental philosophy. His book, “The Imperative of Responsibility,” outlines the social and ethical problems posed by modern technology. Jonas taught that the necessity of human survival depended upon caring for the planet and its future. In the 1960s, he made significant contributions to medical ethics by addressing moral problems with using human beings for scientific research. Much of the standards of ethics in modern medicine and biological research have ties to Jonas’ influential contributions to the field.
Anaximander was a pre-Socratic philosopher from Miletus and an early proponent of science. The first of the ancient philosophers to write down his studies, Anaximander speculated about the “Boundless” as the origin of all existence. He defined the Boundless as the eternal principle of all things and to which all things return to when they die. In addition to his contributions to early philosophy he created the first map of the world and argued that celestial bodies have an elliptical orbit.
Aristotle credited Thales as the first person to investigate the basic principles and question the origins of matter. Thus, the Miletian has the renowned distinction of being the founder of Western philosophy. His scientific hypotheses were considered bold and radical in the 7th century BCE when most Greeks believed the gods intervened in every aspect of life. Like his student, Anaximander, Thales believed in an originating principle though he defined it as the material element of water. To add further to his accomplishments as a philosopher, he’s also believed to be the first mathematician in the Greek tradition.
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