Here are your John Notes for some of the major honchos in Western philosophy:
Socrates: Liked to call himself a “gadfly.” No one argued it. Turned unceasingly asking annoying questions into the basis for Western civilization.
Plato: Believed knowledge was more about remembering than learning. Yet founded the first college in the Western World. Been confusing people ever since. Famous for the Socratic dialogues, which were later refashioned into scripts for the hit TV show, My Two Dads. Wrote Republic, in which he posited that the key to harmonious communal living was unisexual clothing, plenty of stop signs, and people picking up after their dogs. Spent majority of life trying to get people to call him just anything but “Plato.”
Aristotle: Believed all of nature was subject to rational analysis and understanding. Legacy includes systematic logic, scholasticism, and global warming.
St. Thomas Aquinas: Famous for writing Summa Theologiae, wherein he proved that, through the strict application of logic, a rational man could confuse himself into a religious stupor. Summa proved invaluable to surgeons of the Middle Ages, whose primary tools were sharp sticks and their teeth. Two sentences from Summa Theologiae, carefully whispered into a patient’s ear by an aquinaesthesiologist, would instantly numb the patient from the neck down. For brain surgery, a third sentence was read. For public executions, a fourth.
Descartes: Proved true his famous axiom “I think; therefore I am” by one day falling asleep, and instantly vanishing.
Berkeley: Renowned for being the first (and last) famous philosopher named George. Felt that reality divorced from human perception was logically unsupportable. Died wondering why he never got invited to any parties.
Kant: Held that all ethical decisions should be formed in response to the single question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” Famous for writing The Critique of Pure Reason. It was his freakish good luck that his publisher happened to be a moron: the book was supposed to be titled, The Reason of Pure Critique. Written as a humorous guide to Berlin’s museums and cafes, it was immediately hailed as breakthrough work on metaphysical speculation. No idiot, Kant kept quiet. Died smiling.
William James: The Mr. Goodwrench of philosophy. American. Felt that philosophy was too far removed from reality to serve any verifiably useful purpose. As a result, started his own school of philosophy, Pragmatism, which quickly grew into a franchise operation, “Uncle Willie’s 1-Stop Philosophy Shop,” where drive-through customers could receive instant adjustments to their philosophical positions. Later started “Positions to Go!,” which promised philosophical constructs delivered to one’s home in thirty minutes or less. Died penniless.
Sartre: Important, but why should we care?