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Famous French Philosophers

Throughout history, there have been a great deal of famous French philosophers who have written works that shaped entire societies and revolutionized the manner in which people think, act, and rationalize. Philosophy has played a role in the development of almost every society in history and has helped to create governments and democracies throughout the world. Through the French Renaissance and afterward, the number of French philosophers who wrote influential works gained prominence, offering the world a studied view of the many different important topics of the time.

Famous French Philosophers

The Works of French Philosophers

Like many revolutionary thinkers, the most famous French philosophers challenged authority and questioned everything, making them frequent targets for persecution by the French authorities. Most of them published articles or even books based on the fact that the government must be questioned. In many cases, this was considered a form of treason by the rulers and military forces during the time the works were written. Still, no matter how daring, the writings of many of these philosophers were circulated and protected by those who read them, mainly because of their enlightening nature and revolutionary viewpoints.

Famous French Philosophers

Voltaire is easily one of the most famous of the philosophers and writers of French origin. Voltaire was born with the name Francois Marie Arouet in 1694 in Paris. Voltaire's writing style and scathing wit when writing about the French government landed him in trouble with the authorities quite often, once sending him to prison for 11 months in the Bastille. Though his views often landed him in the hot seat, his writing style made him a favorite among many different French circles, including both French commoners and the aristocratic circles of the time.

Adopting his pen name of Voltaire while imprisoned in the Bastille, he directly insulted the integrity of a French nobleman named Chevalier De Rohan and was given the choice between exile and imprisonment. He chose to be exiled and went to England for three years until 1729. While there, Voltaire discovered the philosophies and ideas of both John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton and studied the English constitutional monarchy. He was especially interested in the religious tolerance of the government there. Upon his return to France, Voltaire wrote a book which cited and praised the customs of the English government. He was forced out of France once again when his praise of England's government was interpreted as an insult of the French rule.


Another of the most famous French philosophers who, much like Voltaire, rebuked his own education, was Rene Descartes. Also a mathematician and scientist, Descartes published a number of different works on his own philosophies. One of his most famous quotes is from his written work called Discourse on Method and is translated today as "I think, therefore I am." He was born in La Haye, which is now known in France as Descartes and made himself famous through a heated debate with then widely-known philosopher Chandoux in November 1628, during which he argued that the only way to attain knowledge is through scientific certainty.

More Philosophers from France

The list of philosophers who honed their craft in France is an extensive one, but only a select few of them were invited to a seat at the Academie Francaise, which was the ruling party on many academic factors throughout the French university circuit. There are a number of functions that are carried out by the French Academy, but the main purpose of the 40-chair administration is to maintain and make decisions on the basis of the French language. Philosophers have long held chairs on the Academy board, with Pierre Bardin being one of the original 40 members. Bardin and a number of other French Philosophers have been invited to hold chairs in the Academy throughout its existence. This makes their membership list a good place to start when looking for a longer list of French philosophers. This list can be found at