Follow TV Tropes


The Philosopher

Go To

Comicus: I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.
Dole Office Clerk: Oh. A bullshit artist.

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, as 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. These characters are particularly prone to Leaning on the Fourth Wall and other ways of invoking Metafiction, especially through discussing The Power of Language.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • In Captain America, the Red Skull is often found alluding more or less clearly to various fascist or reactionary German philosophers in the Nietzsche-Spengler-Juenger tradition, as well as offering his own philosophical observations on the sad and heroic nature of the universe. As we would expect, since he is essentially an exaggerated Expy of Adolf Hitler.
  • Many, many examples in The Sandman (1989). 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."
  • Adam Warlock and The Silver Surfer have both always been prone to waxing philosophical on the nature of their existences. Much of Silver Surfer #1 is taken up with Norinn Radd (the Surfer's original identity) bemoaning the stagnation of life on his home planet, and after he's empowered, he likes to go on about the wonders of the universe; the Surfer tended to be quite angsty during the period when Galactus imprisoned him on Earth, but he cheered up after he finally broke free. Warlock, on the other hand, would scarcely be recognizable without his towering angst, and he will go on about it at great length, but we love him for it.
    • Actually, most of Marvel's Cosmic Entities fit this trope to some extent. It comes with the territory.

  • In the film Blazing Saddles, Mongo of all characters is surprisingly philosophical. When asked what "where the choo-choo go?" has to do with Rock Ridge, he responds, "Don't know. Mongo only pawn in game of life."
  • A surprising number of these moments can be can be found in Conan the Barbarian (1982), 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.
  • Tom Edison in Dogville.
  • My Name Is Emily: Robert appears to have taught philosophy, advocating for people to enjoy their life by having more sex and swimming, along with epistemic relativism ("a fact is a point of view"). Emily later argues for the latter while talking to Arden, which annoys him, since he disagrees but can't rebut what she says.
  • Stealing Heaven: Abelard, who is a famous teacher at the University of Paris. Héloïse is to a lesser degree too, with her questions impressing him. In reality, they were both renowned philosophers, and their work is still read, with lasting influence.
  • Pvt. Witt, the messianic character in The Thin Red Line, is responsible for raising most of the film's questions in his Inner Monologues.

  • Alien in a Small Town: both protagonists, the human woman and the Starfish Alien, would qualify as this. Part of why they are such close friends is that they're the only people with whom they can engage in conversations like this.
  • 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.
  • 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. This was a deliberate satire by Voltaire or some ideas current at the time which he vehemently disagreed with.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Besides the regular God-gazing sinners and saints of The Divine Comedy, a sphere in Heaven is dedicated to those who in life embodied wisdom and knowledge of God. This includes the likes of Doctor Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis, Saint Dominic, and the many scholars and writers from the history of Christianity up to 1300. A number of other pagan philosophers who were admired also have the nicest spot in the Inferno (as they cannot reach heaven without Christ, but were virtuous) such as Aristotle and Plato. However, others such as Epicurus and his followers are eternally tormented (as their philosophy denied there was an afterlife) in the first circle, for the heretics.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Knowledge Of Angels: Beneditx and Palinor. Also oft-mentioned is Thomas Aquinas, a real example.
  • 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 points that he is not as genuinely 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 spoken in a foreign language and doesn't understand what she was talking about.
  • 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.
  • 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" and 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. It's 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.
  • 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.
  • Most of Raymond Smullyan's dialogues (for instance in This Book Needs No Title or 5000 BC) feature surprisingly understandable and humorous philosophers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Victoria's ex-military protagonist John Rumford makes constant references to philosophers ranging from Plato and Aristotle to Chesterton to John Boyd as he struggles to defend his embattled community, and wonders how the great thinkers of old would have applied their ideas to his problems.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In the Zodiac Series, House Aquarius deals in philosophy. In Black Moon, the Aquarian ambassador even gives a rather philosophical speech to the Tomorrow Pary.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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?"
  • Chidi Anagonye in The Good Place. In fact, he is literally a moral philosophy professor who had a doctoral thesis in the thousands of pages, and part of the reason he is so well-respected by the rest of the cast is because he offers the perfect advice at the perfect time. However, his extensive knowledge of moral dilemmas and competing theories, coupled with an unspecified mental disorder and his former Child Prodigy status, have led to him being shy and extremely indecisive. Being a rare example of a philosopher as a sitcom lead, Chidi eventually undergoes tons of Character Development to become more confident and assured, enough to almost single-handedly reform a demon into an angel and redesign the entire afterlife even though he already starts out much more well-written than most comedic examples of this trope.
  • 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.
  • Detective Watts from Murdoch Mysteries, whose musings on Marx, Kierkegaard etc. cause the more pragmatic Detective Murdoch to have a bad first impression of him.
  • 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.
  • Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation is shown to be extremely erudite and well-read, and he frequently takes a philosophical approach to the various Moral Dilemmas the crew of the Enterprise find themselves entangled in. (In fact, this is such a trademark of his character that there's a trope named for it.) That being said, Picard is rarely long-winded, and is always ready to take action when the time for talking has passed.

  • 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 
  • Reading Altaïr's codex pages are philosophical in themselves. Someone on tumblr even once wrote “The man was a philosopher first and an assassin second."
  • Tons of characters in Chrono Cross — even random NPCs!
  • Zizek from The Closer: Game of the Year Edition; not only is he based on the real-life Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, he's also a playable character whose combat is essentially holding impromptu debates against enemies and applying a couple types of critiques at them. To deal "damage", you have to pick the appropriate response to a certain dilemma according to the chosen philosophy. For that matter, his combat tutorial is not against any person or concrete thing, but rather the Concept Of Irony.
  • Dawn of Crafting: Parodied with a man named Filos O'Fiero that you encounter, who claims to your character that they are all characters within a video game. Your character borders toward Existential Horror in great disbelief of such claims, believing Filos O'Fiero to be insane.
  • A large variety of characters from the Mass Effect series will wax philosophical, particularly allies. They vary from Mordin to Wrex. Heck even Shepard can get in on the action.
  • Yusuke Kitagawa from Persona 5 could be seen as this, given that as a student of the artist Ichiryusai Madarame, the subject of the game's second Palace, he speaks eloquently and profoundly, even about such mundane creatures as lobsters, which he believes are as beautiful as Ann.
  • In Pillars of Eternity:
    • This is a possible background for an Ixamitl player character, and the one given for Zahua. Like any background, they get unique lines, including some great ones in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon.
    • Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire introduces a Godlike philosopher-pirate, from the aforementioned Ixamitl. He shows up in Pallegina's personal quest and asks a bunch of seemingly only loosely-related questions that determine whether the animancer who convinced Pallegina to not commit suicide lives or dies.
  • There are a worrying amount of philosophers in the Pokémon games — every third person you meet will wax lyrical about the nature and origin of Pokemon and the right way to train them. Most of these musings are useless, but some provide a clue as to what you should do next, or hint at a secret location.
  • Citan Uzuki from Xenogears, doubtlessly. Of course, he is also The Professor, a Double Agent, the best swordsman in the world, and rather the Magnificent Bastard, and therefore a living reminder that one very well ought to Beware the Nice Ones.

    Visual Novels 
  • A good chunk of the cast from Dies Irae fall into this category one way or the other, but the two main Big Bad's are by far the most prominent thinkers, often musing about their place in the universe and the underlying meaning of things or various other esoteric concepts.
  • Godot from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials & Tribulations. You'd be surprised how philosophical you can get about coffee.

  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! — Galatea uses alien tech to create a superhuman artificial intelligence — and is then dismayed to find that he's more concerned with abstract philosophical questions than any of the tasks she wanted him to do.
  • Koan of the Day: The central character is a guru who waxes philosophical.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Transformers: Beast Wars, Dinobot spent the second season see-sawing between the Philosopher and the Warrior Poet, pondering heavy questions of honor, loyalty, and free will that have started hitting a little too close to home.
    • Silverbolt, the Knight in Shining Armor to Dinobot's Samurai, does the same thing from time to time, albeit in a more lighthearted fashion. While he does muse on honour — specifically, chivalry — he likes to mix romance in as well, particularly regarding Blackarachnia. Unfortunately, come Beast Machines, Silverbolt returns with a radically altered personality...and starts stealing Dinobot's lines.
  • A Running Gag in Milo Murphy's Law involves the factual or philosophical musings of a character named "Jim". When the titular and Character and his friends talk about finding the creator of a distraught robot, Jim starts raising philosophical questions about whether the Robot's feelings are real only to be told what he's told every single time: "Nobody cares, Jim." Aside from Milo he definitely qualifies as a Butt-Monkey.

Alternative Title(s): Philosopher