Socrates, Lao-Tzu, and René Descartes are some people who have been considered among the wisest of their time.
Socrates (470–399 BCE)
- Socrates plays was essentially the founder of Western Philosophy. Despite producing no written works to reflect his main ideas and principles, his principles are embodied in the works of his two most prominent students, Plato and Xenophon, and a collection of historians and critics of his work.
- Socrates is probably best known through Plato's dialogues for his contributions to ethics and education. His most widely recognized contribution is the ever-relevant Socratic Method of approaching education, which involves the adoption of questions and debate to encourage open dialogue on complex topics and to drive students to make up their minds on the topics.
- "One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing."
- "Be slow to fall into friendship; but when thou art in, continue firm and constant."
- "False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil."
Lao-Tzu (Between the 6th and 4th Century BCE)
- Historians largely hold that Lao-Tzu founded Taoism somewhere between the 6th and 4th century BCE. Traditional Chinese religions view him in divine light and alongside Confucius and the Buddha, his ideas and writings formed one of the key pillars of Eastern thought. He encouraged people to live an ideal life through the Dao or Tao (loosely translated as "the way") making Taoism take root equally in religion and philosophy.
- As an archivist for the royal court of the Zhou Dynasty, he had access to a comprehensive body of writing and artifacts, from which he created his poetry and prose. His writings made him influential during his lifetime, with one version of his biography implying that he may have directly mentored the Buddha or was the Buddha himself according to other versions.
- "Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step."
- "Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment."
- "A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves."
René Descartes (1596–1650)
- Descartes was a French philosopher, mathematician, scientist, and writer who spent 20 years of his life in the Dutch Republic. During the Dutch Golden Age, in his position as a high-ranking member of the Dutch States Army, he wielded considerable intellectual influence. Descartes frequently distinguished himself by refuting or trying to undo the ideas of his predecessors.
- His writings earned him the designation as the Father of Modern Philosophy. Notably, universities globally still use his work, the Meditations on First Philosophy, as a standard reference.
- "If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things."
- "It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well."
- "When it is not in our power to follow what is true, we ought to follow what is most probable."
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951)
- Wittgenstein was born into wealth in Austria and is one of the more eccentric characters in philosophy, living a life of professional nomadism. Although he wrote voluminously, he published only a single manuscript, and yet, his contemporaries recognized him as a genius. Many of his volumes were published posthumously, confirming this view for future generations, and inadvertently sealing his place in the "hall of fame" of logic, semantics, and the philosophy of mind.
- "The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- "If people never did silly things nothing intelligent would ever get done.
- "Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself."
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986)
- Simone de Beauvoir was a French existentialist, Marxist, and founding mother of second-wave feminism. She wrote dozens of books and is noted for her very accessible style of writing. As opposed to the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, her life partner, her's is often directed at the pragmatic matters of existentialism.
- She spent her life being a social critic, playing an active role in French politics, as a protester, and a member of the French resistance.
- "The curse which lies upon marriage is that too often the individuals are joined in their weakness rather than in their strength, each asking from the other instead of finding pleasure in giving."
- “It is perfectly natural for the future woman to feel indignant at the limitations posed upon her by her sex. The real question is not why she should reject them: the problem is rather to understand why she accepts them.”
Hypatia of Alexandria (350/370-415 CE)
- Hypatia was a Greek philosopher and scientist who was regarded as the greatest philosopher of the age by many of her contemporaries. She was so famous that prospective students traveled great distances to hear her speak.
- The scope of her writing is unclear - a common issue for ancient authors - but she at least wrote various surviving works with her father, such as extensive commentaries on Greek science and philosophy. Some evidence suggests that she was killed over a controversial astronomical work.
- "Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all."
- "All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by self-respecting persons as final.
Anne Dufourmantelle (1964-2017)
- Anne Dufourmantelle was a French philosopher and psychoanalyst whose philosophy was grounded in risk-taking. Particularly, she believed that we must take risks, often considerable ones, if we are to truly experience life. She authored 30 books and held many interesting lectures.
- "When there is really a danger to be faced, there is a very strong incentive to devotion, to surpassing oneself."
- "Life, as a whole, is a risk. To live without taking risks is not living."