troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
Kickstarter Message
TV Tropes Needs Your Help
X
Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
View Kickstarter Project
The Philosopher
"Why did the universe come to be in a state suitable for human habitation? A minor change in the gravitational constant would mean a completely different universe from the one we're in. Other sets of rules such as Planck's Constant or the mass ratio of atomic molecules seem to be designed specifically so that humans can live in this universe. Don't you find this incredible?"

This is a character who brings into question various philosophical concepts, and discusses them at length. This is usually a supporting character, but can sometimes be the main protagonist, depending on the scenario. In either case, other characters tend to flock to them, looking for answers.

While usually highly intelligent, The Philosopher differs from The Smart Guy and The Strategist in one vital area; while the philosopher is clever, his great thoughts rarely amount to any direct, effective action. It's up to the more practical heroes to make sense of what he's saying and implement a plan.

The characterisation of The Philosopher is dependent on the nature of the show/book/comic they're appearing in. A straight fantasy tale will usually make the Philosopher sage-like, a valuable source of information for the characters. If it's a video game, this is probably the guy to talk to if you want a hint as to what to do next - though he'll probably tell you in a roundabout way. Instead of saying "Go to the harbour," he's likely to muse out loud that all life comes from the sea. Usually male, he's generally a mage, a sage, or a bookkeeper of some sort. In action series, though, the Philosopher might be surprising - in superhero teams anyone can fall into this category, even the most vicious and seemingly cynical member of the team can suddenly start quoting Socrates.

In a comedy series, particularly Sadist Shows and dark comedies, however, The Philosopher is extremely rare and if they do exist, may vary from the Only Sane Man to the Butt Monkey. Perhaps due to the assumed anti-intellectualism of television culture, or simply the perception that people who like to ponder the nature of life never get around to doing anything useful, the fact that this character "thinks too much" is likely to get him punched or killed off, mostly if the philosopher is a Wide-Eyed Idealist (cynics are often portrayed as Deadpan Snarkers). An alternative tactic is to have said idealist ponder something at great length while coming to no useful conclusion, whereupon The Ditz (or other appropriate character type) will pipe up with a mind-numbingly simple and effective solution.

Another version is the tragic philosopher, someone who understands life at a deeper level because life has made them suffer for that knowledge. This can go one of three ways; he is either motivated to change the world around him, using his personal angst as proof that the world is basically unfair and needs to be remodeled, and, in the process, becoming a Well-Intentioned Extremist. Or, he is totally paralysed by "knowing too much", and virtually useless, unless the hero can snap him out of it. Still another, more extreme one, is, of course, the Straw Nihilist. A tragic philosopher is difficult to write without descending into Wangst, however, as he's not only angsty, but pretty verbose about it.

Many people find this type of character to be annoying or heavy-handed, but keep in mind that this trope is not, intrinsically, a bad thing. When written well, this character can give another layer of importance, or meaning, to the overall story. When done sloppily, however, this can fall into Fauxlosophic Narration, which can often contain an overload of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. When writing about people like this, tread carefully, for it can be a very fine line.

Compare The Fatalist. The Warrior Poet may have aspects of this... Indeed, if The Philosopher holds his own in combat, they'll often overlap. He may also be an Erudite Stoner. If he holds a position of power, he would be a Philosopher King.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Itsuki of Suzumiya Haruhi. Not only effective as The Philosopher but nearly as difficult to follow as his ancient Greek forerunners. Just trying to make sense of what he's saying is a mental workout, for the audience as well as Kyon.
    • Kyon himself is a more down-to-Earth version of The Philosopher (especially in the books), but unlike Itsuki, usually keeps it to himself.
    • Shamisen deserves an honorable mention. Although he only has one speech, he's a good enough philosopher that upon being introduced he manages to sidetrack the brigade members into a debate over the nature of conversation and away from the fact that, you know, he's a talking cat.
    • Sasaki exemplifies this trope, so much that even the aforementioned Itsuki is impressed. You have to admire someone who can come up with a clever and confusing speech about light and quantum mechanics on the drop of the hat while talking about schoolwork.
  • YuYu Hakusho: And speaking of characters named Itsuki... the Yu Yu version is somewhat of a subversion, as he is arguably unhinged. His personality is arguably a response to the Koan, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
  • Surprisingly, Team Rocket's Meowth is one of these in the Pokémon anime. It always involves him looking at a full moon, maybe with a Pokemon from Ash's team (and his advice is quite helpful — Chimchar got used to being with the more friendly atmosphere after one of these moments). This makes the kitty not be as bad as he seems sometimes.
  • Almost all of the cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion are Philosophers to some degree, most notably Rei, Gendo, Fuyuski, Ritsuko and the SEELE members. Most of them also fall into the second category of "tragic philosopher" or "Nietzsche Wannabe", except for the fact that everyone else is too psychologically messed up to save them.
    • Asuka lampshades this after Rei delivers her oft-quoted "mankind has always feared the darkness" line.
  • Aion, the villain of Chrono Crusade has a tendency to go into long speeches about how demons need to "break free from the system". Chrono is presented as Aion's much more emotional (and less rational) counterpart, but when the plot calls for one of the heroes to be philosophical it's normally him. By the end of the manga they're trading speeches back and forth.
  • In Princess Tutu, Edel leads the heroine (and occasionally other main characters) through the plot with a series of riddles musing on emotions and fairytale tropes. Drosselmeyer, himself, can get rather philosophical when he wishes.
  • Herakles aka Greece from Axis Powers Hetalia looks like a relaxed slacker, but if you read his lines carefully, you'll see that he can have quite the trains of thoughts under the Cloud Cuckoo Lander facade.
  • Mahou Sensei Negima! has Yue doing this on occasion. She usually engages in Walls of Text only to find that everyone else is ignoring her.
  • Amon Garam of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX often quotes René Descartes and other famous philosophers. He later puts some of his own thoughts into action.
  • These characters are staples of the films of Mamoru Oshii, at times taking up the majority of the cast.
  • Graham Specter of Baccano!. He never stops talking, and while he's talking, he philosophizes. However, he will change his philosophies and contradict himself in the same few sentences(or sentence) sometimes.
  • Naruto plays with philosophy from time to time. Characters like Neji, Gaara, Rock Lee, Pain, Madara, Kakashi and Naruto himself amongst others will now and then exposit musings on war and peace, destiny and free will, hard work, bonds and other such topics.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist has many characters muse on the meaning of life and what it means to be human. The most notable example, however, is probably Mad Bomber Solf J. Kimblee, who combines Rousseau Was Right with a dose of Social Darwinism for a truly unusual outlook on life.
  • Gundam SEED has Rau Le Creuset, a deranged Nietzsche Wannabe who isn't afraid to share his views on the meaninglessness of life with the rest of the cast. Gilbert Durandal of Gundam SEED Destiny might count as well.
  • A lot of the characters in Vagabond could qualify as this, notably the monk Takuan and the protagonist Musashi as time goes on and he becomes wiser.

     Comics 
  • Wobbly Headed Bob in the works of Jhonen Vasquez is an example of the tragic philosopher, an incredibly intelligent and enlightened individual trapped in a land of happy-go-lucky morons.
  • Many, many examples in The Sandman. Even the peripheral characters are apt to wax philosophical to some degree. For a specific case, try this remark by Destruction:
    "They are using reason as a tool. Reason. It is no more reliable a tool than instinct, myth, or dream. But it has the potential to be far more dangerous, for them."

     Film 
  • A surprising number of these moments can be can be found in the film Conan the Barbarian, first with Conan's father (whose speech becomes a Chekhov's Sword, and later in various conversations with Subotai.
    Conan: Ha! My God is Crom! He sits high on his mountain... Crom laughs at your puny air God.
    Subotai: Heh, my God is the sky. Your God, he is beneath him!
    Conan pauses and ponders this.
  • Pvt. Witt, the messianic character in The Thin Red Line, is responsible for raising most of the film's questions in his Inner Monologues.
  • In the film, Blazing Saddles, Mongo, of all characters is surprisingly philosophical. When asked what does "where the choo-choo go?" have to do with Rock Ridge, he responds, "Don't know. Mongo only pawn in game of life."

     Literature 
  • Discworld's Lord Vetinari gets disturbingly philosophical at times, especially towards the later books. He does generally have some kind of point, though...ish.
    Vetinari: (concluding long speech)...If there is any kind of supreme being, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior. (Unseen Academicals)
    • The Unseen Academicals blurb: But the important thing about football — the really important thing about football — is that it is not just about football.
    • Ephebe seems to be inhabited almost entirely by Philosophers, particularly in Pyramids and Small Gods.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Ruler of the Universe is a crazy old guy in a hut somewhere who doesn't believe in anything. Zaphod and Trillian think that the universe is in good hands.
  • Classic literary example: Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide. His insistence that "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds" leads his faithful student Candide to wonder how horrible the other worlds could be.
  • Most of the characters in The Brothers Karamazov do their fair bit of philosophizing when any topics subject to an Author Tract come up in polite conversation, but Ivan Karamazov and Father Zosima come across most strongly as The Philosopher in their discussions with the protagonist.
  • Pierre Bezukhov falls into this characterization often in War and Peace, and is made more tragic in that he attempts to enact his ideals on the real world only to be deceived into thinking he's making a difference.
  • Woland in The Master and Margarita finds time between his impish pranks on Muscovites to wax philosophically about ignorance and totalitarianism.
    Woland: "Would you remove all trees and living things from the world to realise your fantasy of basking in naked light?"
  • Sostratos in Over the Wine-Dark Sea is this. He is an amateur of course and his job was as an Intrepid Merchant. Though when you think about it a number of famous philosophers were "dabblers" held jobs that had little relation to philosophy. Socrates was a farmer and Marcus Aurlerius was an Emperor and C. S. Lewis was a Literature professor and so on.
    • Not surprising, since, except for philosophy professors and the now-obsolete job of court philosopher, no one is going to pay you to sit around and philosophize. Viewed economically, even full-time sages have the "job" of beggar or monastery factotum.
      • There is still the job of Philosophy Professor.
  • Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in Invisible Cities, who spend most of their time sitting around and talking about cities rather than trading and ruling, respectively.
  • Most of Raymond Smullyan's dialogues (for instance in This Book Needs No Title or 5000 BC) feature surprisingly understandable and humorous philosophers.
  • The Neverending Story is full of them. However, special mentions goes to the Three Deep Thinkers, leaders of the Star Cloister of Ghigam, who head an entire order to monks who are dedicated to knowledge and the discovery of the secrets of Fantastica.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "The Tower of the Elephant" Conan the Barbarian remembers listening to their disputes. He was unimpressed. When he references them again in a later story, though, he has grown more respectful of them, probably because he himself had had his share of experiences with the things of which they spoke.
  • In C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, Oruals' Greek tutor, the Fox, serves this role. He is the king's most valued adviser, as well was Orual's, when she becomes queen.
  • Ham in the Mistborn books is prone to annoying his friends by constantly musing about philosophical questions at them. His favorite victims are Breeze and Lord Cett, because they always argue with him.
    • It doesn't go unnoticed by the characters, though, that he is more fond of posing philosophical questions than actually trying to answer them, and it is implied at various pointa that he is not as genuinelly philosophical as he first appears- most notably, when Vin gives a well-deserved "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Kelsier and the crew about how, since they are all wealthy and well-off gentlemen thieves, their lives and experiences are as far removed from the harsh realities of Skaa life as can be and their devotion to the cause of Skaa liberation is more than a little shallow; Ham, alone of the crew it appears, seems to act like she had just spoke in a foreign language and doesn't understand what she was talking about.
  • Ishamael from The Wheel of Time is a very creepy villainous version. Once he was Elan Morin Tedronai, one of the most respected philosophical minds of the Age of Legends, but as he delved deeper into esoteric knowledge he became aware of the true nature of time and was driven into despair and madness, feeling that nothing anyone did could ever matter in such a world. He proceeded to ally with the Dark One, at first because if everything was meaningless he might as well grab power, but later as his evil began to weigh increasingly heavily on him, he decided it would be best to end his own existence- and all existence while he was at it. He remains prone to waxing philosophical and theological to the end; the other Forsaken think he's a madman as a result, though it's more a case of his interests being esoteric beyond their ability (or desire) to follow.
    • Later in the series, Rand also wrestles with nihilism in a very similar way, but comes to the opposite conclusions, showing that he has surpassed Ishamael at his own game.
  • Professor Narayan Godbole from A Passage to India.
  • There's also the philosophy professor from Decision Of Fate, who spends the first third or so of the short story giving a lecture on fate.
  • Nicholas Renzi is fond of talking about the philosophies of David Hume and the like with Kydd, and in The Admiral's Daughter, he begins doing research for his own book.

     Live Action TV 
  • Jubal Early from the Firefly episode "Objects In Space" was a bounty hunter prone to quasi-philosophical ramblings while engaged in a mission. He often followed such comments with the rhetorical question, "Does that seem right to you?"
  • Mohinder, in Heroes.
  • Lister, in Red Dwarf, was surprisingly effective as The Philosopher, but his more intelligent insights and musings were often undermined by the plot - Red Dwarf is, after all, a comedy.
    • One particularly memorable example of Lister's more thoughtful attributes can be found in "Justice"; after escaping a world where law-abiding behaviour is cleverly enforced by turning the effects of any misdeed back on the perpetrator (for example, hitting someone means you get hurt), Lister reflects on how the nature of reality has to be unfair in order to allow for free will...then promptly falls down a manhole mid-rant, much to his comrades' relief.
  • Wilson from Home Improvement tended to deliver the show's aesop with stories and quotes, much to the confusion of Tim Allen's character. However, even though the show was a comedy, he was almost never the Butt Monkey.
  • Chris Stevens spun many philosophical musings between records on Northern Exposure.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of averts this with Oz, who apparently has an elaborately philosophical internal monologue, but one that only becomes apparent when Buffy gains the ability to read his thoughts.
  • Delenn from Babylon 5 is a mystical philosopher, of an alien tradition that seems to be based on emanationist pantheism, mainly because she's a member of her people's religious caste.
    • Babylon 5 in general likes to wax philosophical, and most of the characters get at least an occasional turn in The Philosopher's chair. At its best, the ideas it puts forward are genuinely thought-provoking and contribute to the great depth and richness of the show. At its worst, it devolves into Contemplate Our Navels and Fauxlosophic Narration.

     Theater 
  • William Shakespeare's Hamlet is a classic example of a ponderous protagonist who spends a lot of time with philosophical soliloquies and reflections.
  • Lucentio in The Taming of the Shrew... for about two seconds. Then he sees Bianca and his plans to study at the University of Padua instantly fly out the window, to be replaced by a Zany Scheme to win her which occupies him for the rest of the play.

     Video Games 

     Visual Novels 

     Web Comics 

     Western Animation 


Original Position FallacyPhilosophy TropesThe Presents Were Never from Santa
Persecuted IntellectualsIntelligence TropesThe Professor
Pet HomosexualCharacters as DevicePhony Veteran

alternative title(s): Philosopher
random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
52229
0