Who is the Wisest Philosopher?

Who is the Wisest Philosopher?

My Lukewarm Relationship with Philosophy

My roommate likes studying philosophy. He claims it’s because he likes learning how to form clear, rational thoughts from people he considers smarter than him.

I think he’s just doing it for the attention.

While I’m not against philosophy, I’m less of a fan. I respect the logic of philosophy, but part of me just sees philosophy as a bunch of people arguing with each other over questions that fundamentally don’t have answers.

As a result, we frequently debate about the value of philosophy. After yet another heated discussion, I decided to pursue a philosophy-related project to broaden my horizons and to give philosophy another chance (and to gather arguments for future debates).

The question I landed on was this: Who is the wisest philosopher? 

There have been a lot of thinkers and philosophers in history. I thought it would be entertaining to compare them against each other and see if there is a way to crown a wisest among the wise.

 
 

 

Methodology

I had my roommate draft a list of 40+ philosophers that he considered extremely influential. Because of how my roommate defines philosopher (e.g. anyone who thinks), his list included several people who were not traditionally associated with philosophy (Einstein, Newton, Darwin, etc.) but were just influential thinkers.

I scraped a quote website to find all the quotes attributed to each person on the list. The more quotes attributed to each philosopher/thinker the wiser he/she obviously was (I’ll be honest, it was all guys).[1]

 

Most Quotes

 

For the most quoted, I wasn’t surprised to see Nietzsche on top.

While I don’t know a lot about Nietzsche, he seems to be constantly brought up in pop culture. Want to know who the stereotypical intellectual is on any TV show? It's the guy quoting Nietzsche.

Digging into Nietzsche’s beliefs a little more, I can see why.

Nietzsche’s philosophy can be easily taken out of context as he pushed humanity to be superhuman (what he called an ubermensch) by embracing things he thought made you strong (e.g. envy) and rejecting things he thought made you weak (alcohol and Christianity).

Some quotes by Nietzsche include:

That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
-
Friedrich Nietzsche

God is dead.
-Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 
FN-01.jpg
 

Additionally he had an outrageous mustache if you are into that type of thing.

Lucius Seneca's did take me by surprise mostly because I had no idea who he was. When I asked my roommate, he said that Seneca was a stoic. This meant nothing to me other than the fact that maybe Seneca didn't like talking.[2]

After being corrected by both my roommate and Wikipedia, I learned that stoicism is a branch of philosophy that encourages people to master their emotions.  I also discovered the fun fact that apparently Seneca was a fairly popular philosopher of his time until he was accused of plotting to kill the emperor and forced to commit suicide. This raises the classic philosophical question - “Is it really suicide if someone made you do it?”

 

Wordiest Thinkers

I also calculated the wordiness of the philosophers/thinkers based on their average number of words per quote.

Newton and Leibniz were by far the wordiest and needed five more words per quote to get their point across than the next wordiest philosopher/thinker.

Pulling up some of Newton's quotes, I can see why:

Gravity may put the planets into motion, but without the divine Power, it could never put them into such a circulating motion as they have about the Sun; and therefore, for this as well as other reasons, I am compelled to ascribe the frame of this System to an intelligent Agent.
-Sir Isaac Newton

I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
-Sir Isaac Newton

I found it ironic that Leibniz came right behind Newton in terms of Average Quote length given Newton's history overshadowing Leibniz's. Some guys just never win.

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.
-Sir Isaac Newton

Most Concise

The award for most concise philosopher goes to Heraclitus. On average, his quotes were a full two words shorter than the next most concise philosopher.

Heraclitus seems to have mastered the art of stealing lines from Chinese Fortune Cookies (or maybe it was the other away around).

“The sun is new each day.”
-Heraclitus

“Character is destiny.”
-Heraclitus

“Big results require big ambitions.”
-Heraclitus

The Winner

Back to the original question, who is the wisest philosopher of them all? I created a graph that combined the number of quotes per philosopher with the average quote length per philosopher. The length of the bars is the number of quotes and the color is the average words (more blue - more wordy; more orange - more concise).

If I had to choose a "winner," it would be Marcus Tullius Cicero. He not only had the 4th highest number of quotes, but he was also very efficient with his words (he was the second briefest).

Poking around Cicero's background, I learned that Cicero was a famous orator/politician/philosopher that impacted history through both his political career (this guy is the definition of a career politician) as well as his translations of Greek philosophy.

Although his direct contributions to philosophy were not as impressive as some other thinkers (e.g. Aristotle, Epicurus),  Cicero had clearly mastered the art of self-promotion. He has a large number of quotes because he was a prolific writer and a large portion of his writings remain.

Even if you have nothing to write, write and say so.
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

His quotes seem to be a mixture of inspirational quotes and quotes that outline his views on government.

In a republic this rule ought to be observed: that the majority should not have the predominant power.
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

Ultimately Cicero wrote one too many things because when Mark Antony rose to power, he had Cicero killed for some of Cicero's less-than-less commentary on Antony. In fact, Antony had Cicero's head and hands chopped up and displayed in Rome. Political assassinations just don't have the same style anymore.

 

Closing Thoughts

If nothing else, this project taught me a lot about various philosophers/thinkers I otherwise would never have researched. While there are still a lot of philosophical questions that I think are pointless, I do have a little bit more respect and interest in some philosophy that provide a viewpoint on how people can improve our lives.

 

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[1] I am joking. Hopefully this is clear.

[2] That is my interpretation of what my roommate said, he actually explicitly said “stoicism does not mean he doesn’t talk it just means he didn’t let emotiosn affect him too much”


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