The greatest thinker of all time

Man, right elbow on left knee is so uncomfortable. Rodin, you done yet?

Man, right elbow on left knee is so uncomfortable. Rodin, you done yet?

The Hannibal Blog is starting a short series of posts to figure out who the greatest thinker of all time was/is.

This is very tangentially related to my book, because some of the people I will feature–either to dismiss or to anoint them–may have lived lives or produced ideas that come up in my book (although I promise that the book is a very light read!).

But the main point is just to have some fun, and to clarify my own thoughts. It gives us a chance, for instance, to boil various thinkers and their ideas down to a digestible morsel, almost in the vein of the great Shit happens series that explains the world religions.

And, of course, The Hannibal Blog wants to hear from you. Feel free to propose/reject candidates for greatest thinker of all time starting now.

That said, I have already decided whom I will propose as the greatest thinker of all time. Stay tuned. It will surprise you.

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29 thoughts on “The greatest thinker of all time

  1. Nietzsche is a great one (though not the one I will nominate), and I’ll have a post on him. If your reasons for picking him were to be put on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

  2. My current favorite is Godel (o with umlaut, of course). Godel’s First Incompleteness Theorem might be the the reduction of everything that is unanswered. Boiling this down (with apologies): something can be true and unproveable. This gives me vertigo.

  3. If we are discussing great thinkers. I think Descartes should at least get some consideration. His contribution in setting the foundations for knowledge and providing objections to skepticism makes him a figure worth discussing.

    • Hi Scorpian7,

      I never got that excited by Descartes. A great mathematician, for sure! But a lasting thinker? How would you summarize his contribution?

      (I don’t mean Cogito Ergo Sum. I mean what he has to say to us that is relevant today.)

      I’ll re-read a bit by him and see if my memory has played tricks on me.

    • A great thinker, no doubt. But somewhat, how shall I put this, … boring, no?

      I don’t mean to belittle him. He is profound. I just remember reading him in my classes and finding the categorical imperative rather obvious, left-brained, innocent, naive. I can’t find anything wrong with him. Nor do I have anything to say about him at all.

      You can help me out by making your own argument for nominating him, though.

    • Absolutely, Man of Roma. And that is indeed the premise of this thread. I just framed the opening post provocatively.

      As you see I keep adding great thinkers to the list.

    • Certainly on the list for “greatest innovator”, though perhaps not greatest thinker. But I love Archimedes, in part because he lived and died during the Second Punic War, in which my upcoming book is set.

  4. I am assuming you are looking for global thinkers both occidental and oriental ?
    I am afraid that there are thinkers who may not be known to the world because they have not been known to western historians and philosophers.
    To name a few unknown Oriental thinkers whose impact are huge locally in terms of culture and thought that may be unrecognized because modern world view being west centric :
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thiruvalluvar
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahavira
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chanakya

    • Very intriguing submissions, Suresh.

      Never heard of the first, and the second, I believe, is the founder of Jainism. The third, i see, is described as the Indian Machiavelli.

      Quite promising, but it will take a lot of time before I can make myself smart on them.

      Here’s the game I’ve played with others: If you submit candidates, also submit a 100-200 word “elevator pitch” for why they should be nominated. Ie, what is the kernel of their most essential thought.

    • Ok I must confess that I am not that familiar with Thiruvalluvar myself though as a south indian I should be. But I did not grow up in the south but have heard about his influence on tamil literature, society and thought from my tamil relatives.

      As far a Mahavir goes I think I can probably submit something. I grew up near a Jain temple and my understanding is that Mahavir was not the founder but the 24th in the line of “tirthankaras” or “liberators” of jainism. The first liberator was adinath. Jainism or fundamental Jain philosophy I understand is centuries perhaps even 1000 year older than Mahavir and like patanjali he was responsible for its codification and resurgence of sorts and may have been responsible for the Jainism we know today. Here are my reasons for why I would recommend Mahavir though I am not sure if its in support of Mahavir or general Jain thinking and philosophy which Mahavir can be seen as a representative of. I leave it upto you to either distinguish or merge the signifiance of the two for the greatest thinker decision. Here it goes :
      – Mahavir (Jainism) was the original environmental and Animalist. First to propose that all living things have equal rights on this planet. Harm to other animals should be avoided or be minimal unless its for sustenance.
      – Jains were the first biologist. They documented 8.4 million species that are on this planet and human being just one of them.
      – They were the first minimalist and were against materialism and coveting material things.
      – Non-violence or ahimsa. Violence of any form towards living things was not acceptable.Gandhi was inspired by this aspect jain religion and that alone has had an impact on the world we live in so indirectly I would say Mahavir’s thinking has had an impact as well.
      – Compassion. Mahavir’s teachings were about getting rid of internal violence in the thought and brain before eliminating from the outside. Compassion to all living things was recommended as the basic building block for achieving that.
      – Now lot of the ideas I have listed above has been subsequently picked up by Jesus, buddha who all came later but Jainism was much more than that.
      – Jains also had a scientic and mathematical bend trying to explain this world and the connection between all things. I find that their thought to be much superior to all other thougts we have now that came from greco-western or abrahamic thoughts which to me tend to be material in nature. In fact jain thinking has the most relevent in the eco-endangered we live in. They backed up this thought with huge advances in astronomy and mathematics. Jains invented geometry and the original mathematical ideas of mankind based on this understanding and thinking of the world we live in.

    • Chanakya :
      Chanakya aka kautilya aka vishnugupta was a brahmin who is considered as the greatest thinker responsible for the original ideas of economics, political science and diplomacy.
      His seminal works arthshastra and neetishastra have supposed to have left permanent mark on all the indian and indo-greek empires that ruled india subsequently.
      As I am writing this I am not sure if I would attribute them as “great thinking” but “greatest thinking” does not mean “benenvolent thinking” right ? His cunningness and shrewdness were legendary and maybe considered as “great” thinking as well. Perhaps something like machiavelli or sun tzu or confuscious who may not always be considered benevolent.
      His ideas of diplomacy through the use of 4 important tools – Sama, Dhama, Dhanda, Bheda which stands for “treating as same”, “bribery or monetary enticement”, “Use of force or stick” and finally use of ” fomenting dissension through backdoor” is still used by all governemtns especially the most powerful nation’s diplomatic machinery – pentagon and state department :-).
      He was also a brahmin by caste and by that here is a reputation of brahmins being good at political slyness and shrewdness and if i were to take that liberty to compare it with modern world order where sometimes if feels like a bunch of modern boston brahmins (white brahmins :-)) are sitting in a tower somewhere plotting how to divide and run this world. Hence I would say his thoughts still have relevance and perhaps what he laid down may hold true in terms of how wealth, power and diplomacy is conducted no matter which millenium one belongs to.

      Some google words for further research on Mahavir and Chanayka:
      – “Jain Mathematics”, “Tirthankaras”, “Chanakya”, “kautilya”

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