Who Is the Greatest Modern-Day Thinker?

The e-mail gods recently delivered this interesting query from a reader named Derek Wilhelm:

I go to the University of Richmond, which requires [us] to take a class called Core, where we read famous historical books. (Gandhi, Marx, Plato, Augustine, just to name a few). Anyway, my question for you is: Who do you think is the greatest modern-day thinker?

I love this question. It first requires you to define what a “thinker” is, and also raises the question of what incentives exist in the modern world to be a thinker. Also, is someone a great thinker if they’re never able to communicate their thoughts to a broad audience?

On a related note: The Times recently ran a piece about a rise in college philosophy majors; interestingly, the Wall Street Journal published a piece shortly thereafter (sorry, can’t find a link, but here’s a reprint of the pertinent info) ranking the first-year salaries for 16 selected college majors: engineers were first (at $48,707) and philosophers were dead last (at $28,234).

Once you’ve thought about what it means to be a thinker, then comes the hard part of thinking about who best fits the description.

So who are your nominees, and why?

Tord Steiro

I would vote for Jared Diamond. He manages to communicate complex aspects of human history in a simple and understandable language. And, equally important, he see it as an obligation for any scientist to use his wit and insight to debunk popular myth's and other rubbish like racism and the like. At last, Diamond has put down considerable effort in multidiscipline thinking, connecting together insights from various sciences.

A runner up would be George Gamow for his fantastic books on physics and science, and Konrad Lorenz for his wonderful books on ethology and human-animal coexistence.

Diane Fox

Oscar Wilde, P. G. Wodehouse, Stephen Fry, Aldous Huxley, Anita Loos, Dostoyevsky, W. Somerset Maugham, George Carlin, Chris Rock.

saint nicholas

Is this a cult gathering?


I can hardly believe that Hilary Putnam has only been suggested once. I figure history will show that he was the most influential thinker of the late 20th century and the early 20th.

Lorrne Gates

Russ Feingold

In voting against the "Patriot Act", Senator Feingold proved that he is an extraordinary man of thought. He could not have missed the opprobrium that would result from his vote. He has honorably carried on the Wisconsin/Fighting Bob La Follette tradition of doing the right thing when it is most needed.


David Pearce, creator of HedWeb.com.
or David D. Friedman.


A few more name that come to mind
Lewis Mumford
Reinhold Niebuhr
Abraham J Muste
Henry Geiger - the guiding force for the magazine that was named Manas


More thinkers Lewis Mumford, Reinhold Niebuhr, Henry Geiger, the late driving force of the small magazine that was called Manas, A J Muste


Scott Adams. The Dilbert blog is evidence enough..
On a semi-lighter vein, how about Dr.House?


First I have to define what is a thinker, and second what modern day means.

Let me start with the second. Modern day. If it means present day then it is very difficult to give justice. If it means the last 50 years, then we could somehow glimps on some and see who they are. So let us define modern day as the last 50 years.

What is a thinker? Do monks think when they meditate? most likely they do. A cyclist is said to make millions of decisions while on bike so it means the cycling cyclist is a thinker (and think of it, they train for about 8 to 10 hours a day). And how about the chess player, the computer hacker, they are all thinkers. If the question means the thinker who has the greatest enfluence on our lives; or the thinker who have change the way we see things like copernicus or Darwin; then we could narrow it down to fields of expertise like politics, physics, economics, mathematics; then narrow it down by placing geographic bounderies like western thought, eastern. Because it is hard to compare the chinese scholar to an american scholar, specially if they are covering different diciplines.

Having nominated no one in particular, I think the greatest thinker of all is the flat screen in front of you.



The answer to the question: A thinker is great when they can scare the hell out of people through the act of the articulation of their ideas. Not to be confused with articulating scary ideas. A thinker is the greatest when they have the knowledge to create an earth engulfing vortex by using the crystal radio, ball of yarn, and particle collider in their basement yet have the wisdom to do something else instead, like paint or compose music.

Split Infinitive

Norman Borlaug seconded... at least in terms of translating thought to action... directly responsible for making sure at least 1 billion people did not die of starvation....


Chomsky, Pinker or Colbert. And I mean it.


I agree that it is nearly impossible to choose a single greatest thinker of our time.

However, my personal vote is for Loren Eiseley. He was an anthropologist, ecologist, insomniac, reader of literature, lover of nature and master of prose. His mind works like none other I have encountered. His books opened my world as it had never been opened before.

(Thank you, Dr. Dolzani.)

Doctor Spurt

Jeff Lint. No question.


Who is the greatest thinker?

Not the first to think of a great idea. Most of the 'great thinkers' were not the first to think of their ideas. Rather, they were the first to make an idea great in the conciousness of people at large. Originality of ideas doesnt count for much in the league of great thinkers - however, living and/or demonstrating that idea does. The first to BELIEVE in the greatness of an idea enough, to make everyone realize it.

For me, for having thought of and initiated mass revolutions in computing, visual and audio media and now maybe telephony and mobile internet, the answer is Steve Jobs.


So few names from the life sciences! In the last 60 years we have gone from the first antibiotic to sequencing the human genome, and it was done without any great thinking at all. Apparently.

David Glover



Sri Sri Ravishankar!


Charlie Chaplin