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Honoring the Impact of Philosophers on World Philosophy Day

While philosophers are often written off as dreamy-eyed daydreamers, the truth is that their work has very real impact: It helps us make sense of the world we live in while working toward a better one. We can think of no better occasion to celebrate the value of this field than with the celebration of World Philosophy Day.

Nov 18, 2016
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Honoring the Impact of Philosophers on World Philosophy Day

Let’s take a closer look at this annual observation, along with highlighting a few philosophers who have had a profound influence on the world as we know it across a variety of different disciplines.

Why Does Philosophy Matter?

Why is philosophy so important that UNESCO designated this discipline with its very own day? UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova explains, “Faced with the complexity of today’s world, philosophical reflection is above all a call to humility, to take a step back and engage in reasoned dialogue, to build together the solutions to challenges that are beyond our control. This is the best way to educate enlightened citizens, equipped to fight stupidity and prejudice. The greater the difficulties encountered the greater the need for philosophy to make sense of questions of peace and sustainable development."

While we often think of philosophy as theoretical in nature, it not only has practical applications, but multidisciplinary ones.

Seven Influential Philosophers Across the Disciplines

Still think the musings of philosophers are more ethereal than earthly? Read on for a roundup of philosophers whose work directly shaped understanding in a particular field or area of study.

1. Influential Philosophers: Michel Foucault

While largely regarded as a historian and philosopher, Foucault is also well known for his contributions the social sciences -- particularly for his ideas about the link between knowledge, power and social control. His work has enlightening applications across a number of topics, ranging from socio-legal studies and the sociology of race to feminist and political theory.

2. Influential Philosophers: Michel de Montaigne

While more of a statesman in his time, de Montaigne is now heralded as an author whose intellectually heady essay directly influenced writers from all over the world, including Descartes, Bacon, Pascal, Rousseau, Emerson, Nietzsche, Asimov and even Shakespeare. He’s also credited with the acceptance of the essay as a literary genre in its own right. His ideas about psychology -- particularly as related to education, fear, motivation, happiness, and thought -- also had a significant impact on psychology.

Honoring the Impact of Philosophers on World Philosophy Day

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3. Influential Philosophers: Saul Kripke

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, this American logician and philosopher seminal publication, Naming and Necessity, forever altered analytical philosophy by providing “the first cogent account of necessity and possibility as metaphysical concepts” as well as in distinguishing “both concepts from the epistemological notions of a posteriori knowledge and a priori knowledge (knowledge acquired through experience and knowledge independent of experience, respectively) and from the linguistic notions of analytic truth and synthetic truth, or truth by virtue of meaning and truth by virtue of fact."

Kripke’s work yielded fascinating new insights into language and linguistic meaning -- particularly pertaining to common nouns and proper names.

4. Influential Philosophers: Robert M. Pirsig

While we often think of philosophy as primarily in the domain of the humanities and social sciences, Pirsig is recognized for his contributions to science and technology. Best known for his cult favorite autobiographical novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (ZAMM), Pirsig’s work addressed distinctly 20th-century questions related to what defines good and what defines bad -- in other words, “the metaphysics of quality.”

5. Influential Philosophers: Galen

A prominent physician, surgeon and philosopher during the Roman Empire, Galen, AKA Aelius Galenus, Claudius Galenus and Galen of Pergamon, is credited with having influenced the development of a number of different scientific disciplines in addition to philosophy and logic, including physiology, pathology, anatomy, pharmacology, and neurology. He saw himself neither as physician nor philosopher but as both, as evidenced by his famous treatise, That the Best Physician is Also a Philosopher.

6. Influential Philosophers: René Descartes

No mention of the intersection of medicine and philosophy is complete without mention of Descarte, whose attempts to recognize the body and the soul. The contemporary concept of brain-stem death can be traced back to this French philosopher and mathematician work. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Descartes succeeded in eliminating the soul’s general physiological role altogether and in circumscribing its cognitive role to the human species. Descartes’s writings about death show that his concept of the soul clearly implied both mind and the immaterial principle of immortality.”

Honoring the Impact of Philosophers on World Philosophy Day

7. Influential Philosophers: Plato

While Plato’s work was significant across areas from ethics and epistemology to metaphysics and aesthetics, law was a constant theme. In fact, his work remains today as the “foundation of political theory and jurisprudence.” Because of this, his The Republic is largely regarded as required reading for any student considering law studies.

Honoring the Impact of Philosophers on World Philosophy Day

But these are just a small fraction of the many philosophers who for millennia have not only asked big questions and tried to solve them, but also applied them across the disciplines to expand, enrich and improve our collective understanding of the world.

Joanna Hughes


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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