Top Ten Celebrities who Studied Philosophy

Philosophy is, generally speaking, the study of knowledge, reality and reason. It is one of mankind's most ancient academic disciplines. But it isn't just Aristotle and the like who have studied Philosophy. Some of the world's greatest celebrities have studied the subject, including some you may not expect.

10. Rashida Jones

Perhaps best known for her roles in Parks and Recreation and the Office (US), Rashida Jones has also appeared in the Social Network and the Muppets. Jones' talents are not limited to acting, as she also enjoys writing – from articles in Vogue to her comic book series, Frenemy of the State.

Clearly a woman of many talents, Jones graduated from Harvard University in 1997 with a degree in Religion and Philosophy. It is, however, the achievement of being in our list of the top ten celebrities who studied Philosophy at university that Rashida Jones will be most proud of.

Rashida Jones
© Digitas Photos / flickr

9. Wes Craven

Ok, so the picture below isn't of the late Wes Craven himself. However, since writing and directing A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, Craven has become synonymous with the film's lead character, Freddy Krueger. Using razor-armed gloves to kill his victims in their dreams, Krueger is one of the most famous (or infamous) villains in cinematic history and is the brainchild of Wes Craven.

In addition to A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven wrote a number of other successful horror films, including Scream. Scream featured another big-screen icon in the shape of Ghostface, which Craven co-created with Kevin Williamson. As if all that wasn't enough, Wes Craven was also scarily intelligent, holding a master's degree in Philosophy and Writing which earns him a place on our list.

Wes Craven
© Hersson Piratoba / flickr

8. Susan Sarandon

As an Academy Award and BAFTA winner, Susan Sarandon's success alone makes her a shoe-in for our list of celebrities who studied Philosophy. While her Oscar for Best Actress came for her performance in the 1995 film Dead Man Walking, her BAFTA was awarded a year earlier after starring in the Client.

Beyond this, Sarandon has had leading roles in Thelma & Louise, Atlantic City and Lorenzo's Oil, as well as cameos on Friends and Malcolm in the Middle. When she's not in front of the camera, Sarandon is a passionate social and political activist, and the combination of this and her filmography means that she is truly worthy of her place in this list. 

Susan Sarandon
© Raoul Luoar / flickr

7. Wes Anderson

It seems that if your name is Wesley and you have a degree in Philosophy, a successful career in film beckons. The second Wes on our list is director, producer and all-round hipsters' favourite, Wes Anderson. Anderson's films have a distinctive visual and narrative feel, with some of his trademark styles including a limited colour palette and an obsession with symmetry.

Anderson earns his place on this list having studied Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, and it was during his time here that he met future Hollywood star Owen Wilson. Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson have worked together on a number of films, including Fantastic Mr. Fox (pictured below).

Wes Anderson
© Wally Gobetz / flickr

6. Bill Clinton

Sixth on our list is a man whose time as president of the United States was nothing if not turbulent. Despite a major scandal that resulted in being impeached and subsequently acquitted, Bill Clinton is still one of the most popular presidents in recent history. Clinton's end-of-office approval rating was the highest of any US president since World War II, and even since leaving office, Clinton is still rated highly in public opinion polls of US presidents.

His popularity is perhaps not surprising, as despite the scandals, Clinton presided over the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in American history. Bill Clinton earns his place on this list having studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford and Yale University.

Bill Clinton

© Center for American Progress Action Fund / flickr

5. Ethan Coen

As one half of the Coen Brothers, Ethan Coen (pictured below, left) is one of the most important figures in modern-day Hollywood. Along with his brother Joel, Ethan Coen has directed films such as No Country for Old Men, True Grit and Inside Llewyn Davis. However, the Coen Brothers are not just skilled directors, and as well as writing the three previously mentioned films, they also penned the scripts for Unbroken, Bridge of Spies and the Big Lebowski (the latter of which was directed by Joel Coen).

Ethan Coen makes the list of the top ten celebrities who studied Philosophy having graduated from Princeton University with a degree in the subject area, completing his studies with a thesis titled 'Two Views of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy'.

Ethan Coen
© Craig Duffy / flickr

4. Matt Groening

Despite being one of the most recognisable names on our list, the pronunciation of Matt Groening's name is still confusing to many. Incidentally, Groening himself likes to describe it as 'rhyming with complaining'. What isn't up for debate, however, is that in the Simpsons, Groening has created the longest running US primetime television series in history.

The Simpsons is also the longest running animated series and sitcom in history, and its success afforded Groening the opportunity to create Futurama, which proved to be another animated hit. The wealth of hidden philosophy jokes in the Simpsons is no surprise as Groening studied the subject at the Evergreen State College (no doubt the inspiration for the Simpson family's road name...). 

Matt Groening
© Gage Skidmore / flickr

3. Susan Sontag

American author, filmmaker, philosopher, teacher and political activist Susan Sontag achieved an impressive amount during her lifetime. After studying philosophy, ancient history and literature at the University of Chicago she wrote and directed numerous novels, essays, plays and feature-length films. In 1989 she became the president of the American Centre of PEN where she lead many campaigns that fought for the freedom of persecuted and imprisoned writers.

As well as achieving a prestigious top three spot in this countdown, Sontag won many admirable awards, including the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the National Book Critics Circle Award. A passionate yet sometimes controversial critic, she shared accounts from her travels to areas of conflict, which impacted and influenced many. A true humanitarian.

Susan Sontag
© rocor / flickr

2. Pope John Paul II

There are a number of myths surrounding Pope John Paul II. It's often said that he supported Fulham Football Club, and that he had his plane change flight-path to avoid flying over alleged 'evil' towns. However, one thing that is certain is that John Paul II is one of the most significant popes in modern history. As the second longest serving pope in the modern era, Pope John Paul II was the head of the Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005.

In 2014, John Paul II became only the seventh pope to be canonised in the last 1,000 years, sharing this occasion with Pope John XXIII to mark the first time in the history of the church that two popes were declared saints at once. It is, however, his degree in Philosophy from the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas that earns Pope John Paul II his place on this list. 

Pope John Paul II, Santo Domingo 1979
© Winston Vargas / flickr

1. Ricky Gervais

As the creator and star of one the greatest sitcoms of all time, Ricky Gervais is truly worthy of his place in our top ten list of celebrities who studied Philosophy at university. However, he almost didn't make it to this list. When he began his studies at University College London (UCL), Gervais was enrolled on a Biology degree. Luckily for him, he switched to Philosophy after two weeks and achieved a 2:1, which in turn earned him the right to appear here.

Despite beginning his career in radio, Ricky Gervais came to prominence in mockumentary the Office. Gervais has since capitalised on this success by penning several other sitcoms and films, and of course, bringing to prominence "the little round headed buffoon that is, Karl Pilkington".

Ricky Gervais
© Kempton / flickr

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