Thinkers on the human sciences
These thinkers will provide you with brilliant insights into the world, and help you to consolidate your understanding of the human sciences.
You can draw on their ideas to help develop and justify your TOK essay arguments, and add depth and authority to the assertions you make about knowledge. To explore them in more detail, consult our Knowledge Heroes resource.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)
Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. Aristotle’s writings were the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics.
Julian Baggini (b. 1968)
Baggini is a British philosopher, educationalist, and journalist. He has written many books on philosophy for a general audience. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore how knowers do not exist independently of their physical and mental worlds.
Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832)
Bentham was a British philosopher and reformer who tried to develop a scientific formula for the happiness created by any action we take. This became known as utilitarianism, and is the most well-known form of consequentialist moral philosophy.
Paul Bloom (b. 1963)
Bloom is a Canadian American psychologist who works at Yale University. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore the extent to which we should – and shouldn’t – draw on empathy to arrive at ethical conclusions.
Crockett is an American neuroscientist, writer, and science communicator, who studies the relationship between morality and decision making. She is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore the way scientific knowledge is manipulated by the way it is communicated within the media.
Antonio Damasio (b. 1944)
Damasio is a Portuguese neuroscientist who works at the University of Southern California. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore the relationship between emotion and reason, and how the latter relies on the former to help us understand the world.
Émile Durkheim (1858 – 1917)
Durkheim typified the naturalist approach to human science, and sought to understand questions using purely objective evidence. His ‘scientific’ approach resulted in sociology gaining a great deal of respectability during his lifetime. Along with Weber, he is considered one of the founding fathers of the subject.
David Eagleman (b. 1971)
Eagleman is an American neuroscientist, writer, and science broadcaster. He teaches neuroscience at Stanford University and is CEO of Neosensory, which develops devices for sensory substitution. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore the brain’s connection with the outside world.
Harris is an American filmmaker and journalist, based in Washington, D.C. He produces and hosts the Borders series for Vox. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore the way our understanding of the world is shaped by the way it is presented.
Judith Harris (1938 – 2018)
Author of the ‘The Nurture Assumption’, Harris questioned the importance of parents in the forming of a person’s character. She believed that environment does play an important part in determining someone’s personality, but the effect of a child’s peers is much stronger than the effect of his or her parents. This is important as a source for the nature versus nurture debate in the human sciences.
Sam Harris (b. 1967)
Harris is a philosopher, neuroscientists, and writer who is an advocate of skepticism, and who believes that morality needs a solid foundation. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore how ‘we’ do not exist as independent knowers.
Donald Hoffman (b. 1955)
Hoffman is an American cognitive psychologist and popular science writer. He is based at the University of California, Irvine. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore how we construct our own versions of reality.
Horovitz is a philosophy professor and entrepreneur. He has delivered TED talks on teaching philosophy in prison, and the ethics of the tech industry. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore the need for a ‘moral operating system’.
David Hume (1711 – 1776)
Hume was an Edinburgh philosopher and historian, and is regarded as the most important of the British empiricists (along with Locke and Berkeley). He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore the importance of drawing on our emotions when understanding the world.
William James (1842 – 1910)
James was an American psychologist and philosopher, and one of the founding figures of the pragmatic school of thinking. He believed that truth was ‘mutable’ or changeable, rather than something concrete and absolute. James believed that it often takes a long time to figure out whether something is true or not, based on whether it works successfully. This help us in formulating an understanding on the nature of ‘truth’.
Gish Jen (b. 1955)
Jen is an American writer and public speaker who deals with topics such as cultural identity. She is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore different cultural perspectives, and how they lead to contrasting moral outlooks.
Daniel Kahneman (b. 1934)
Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winning economist, who is also one of the most influential thinkers of psychology in the world. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore the extent to which we draw on generalizations when trying to make sense of the world.
Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)
Kant is arguably the most important philosopher since classical Greece, and totally modified our understanding of how we view the world. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore how we construct our moral outlooks.
Barbara Kingsolver (b. 1955)
Kingsolver, (b. 1955) is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She writes on topics such as social justice, ethics, and the interaction between humans and the natural world.
Stanley Milgram (1933 – 1984)
Milgram was an American psychologist, who designed the (in)famous Milgram experiment to investigate the extent to which we respond to authority. His conclusions on the human capacity to go along with immoral acts are deeply disturbing.
Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980)
Piaget was a Swiss philosopher, sociologist, educational thinker, and psychologist. His belief that education was the key to building a successfull society can be summed up in his words: “Only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.”
Massimo Pigliucci (b. 1964)
Italian philosopher and biological scientist, Pigliucci belives that genes work with the environment to help shape our personalities. In his essay ‘Beyond Nature versus Nurture’ he points out that ‘if one changes either the genes or the environment, the resulting behaviour can be dramatically different.’
Steven Pinker (b. 1954)
Pinker, a Harvard professor, is one of the best known popular science writers in the world, and his books on psychology have sold millions of copies. He is one of our knowledge heroes, helping us to explore whether we can measure whether society is improving over time.
Reich is an American sociologist, researcher, and writer who is based at the University of Colorado Denver. She specializes in healthcare, welfare, and social policy. She is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us to explore how to approach the human sciences in a nuanced way.
Sam Richards (b. 1960)
Richards is a sociologist, and teacher of race relations. He specializes in addressing and exploring difficult, controversial subjects; a process that he believes involves viewing the world through multiple perspectives, and drawing on kills of empathy.
Hans Rosling (1948 – 2017)
Rosling was a Swedish physician, statistician, and speaker. He specialized in international health at the Karolinska Institute, and co-founded the Gapminder Foundation. He is one of our knowledge heroes, appearing in the BQ lessons to help us explore how statistical data is needed to develop an objective view of the world.
BF Skinner (1904 – 1990)
Skinner was many things, among them, a philosopher, psychologist, author, and inventor. His experiment on pigeons, in which he observed them behaving ‘superstitiously’, suggest that such a tendency is not limited to human beings.
Max Weber (1864 – 1920)
Along with Durkheim, one of the fathers of sociology. But unlike Durkheim, Weber believed that to understand society, one had to study its individual members and develop an empathy with the people you were studying, and understand the meaning that they themselves placed on their actions.
Philip Zimbardo (1933 – )
Zimbardo is a psychologist best known for his Stanford Prison experiment of 1971, in which graduate students given power over their peers quickly began to abuse it in unexpected and brutal ways. For Zimbardo, it is generally the system that causes ‘evil’ to happen, rather than individuals.
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