The Most Difficult Philosopher to Read, Ranked

Choose the philosopher you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on May 21, 2024 06:25
Many avid readers have ventured into the dense texts of philosophy, only to find themselves tangled in complex ideas and intricate prose. Understanding which philosopher might present a steep learning curve can be immensely beneficial for setting the right expectations and preparing adequately. This list and your contributions help in identifying which thinkers pose the greatest challenge to their audience, thereby aiding in scholarly navigation and personal reading choices. By casting your vote, you contribute to a dynamic assessment that reflects collective experiences and opinions regarding the accessibility of philosophical writings. Such participation not only enriches the accuracy of the ranking but also engages a community of thinkers and readers in a meaningful dialogue about the intellectual demands of these works. Your input is valuable in sculpting a resource that guides potential readers towards making informed decisions about their philosophical engagements.

What Is the Most Difficult Philosopher to Read?

  1. 1
    Immanuel Kant
    Becker · Public domain

    Immanuel Kant

    Immanuel Kant
    Kant's writing is notoriously difficult to comprehend due to his dense and convoluted prose, as well as his complex ideas about metaphysics, ethics, and epistemology.
    Immanuel Kant is a German philosopher who is widely regarded as one of the most difficult philosophers to read due to the complexity and depth of his philosophical writings. Kant's work primarily focused on metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics.
    • Categorical Imperative: Kant's moral philosophy revolves around the concept of the categorical imperative, which emphasizes moral duties and obligations based on reason.
    • Transcendental Idealism: Kant proposed the philosophy of transcendental idealism, which suggests that our perception of reality is shaped by the structure of our minds.
    • Critique of Pure Reason: Kant's most notable work, the 'Critique of Pure Reason,' explores the limits of human knowledge, distinguishing between phenomena (appearances) and noumena (things-in-themselves).
    • Aesthetic Judgment: Kant introduced the concept of aesthetic judgment, which focuses on the subjective experience of beauty and the universality of aesthetic taste.
    • Practical Reason: Kant's ethical philosophy highlights the significance of practical reason in determining moral actions and the importance of acting in accordance with moral laws.
    Immanuel Kant in other rankings
  2. 2
    Heidegger's philosophy is notoriously difficult to understand due to his use of neologisms, his emphasis on poetry and language, and his abstract concepts about Being and time.
    Martin Heidegger in other rankings
  3. 3
    Friedrich Nietzsche
    Friedrich Hermann Hartmann · Public domain

    Friedrich Nietzsche

    Friedrich Nietzsche
    Nietzsche's writing is notoriously difficult to read due to his use of aphorisms, his fragmented style, and his complex ideas about morality, power, and the human condition.
    Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher and cultural critic who is considered one of the most challenging philosophers to read. His works are characterized by their complex and often contradictory ideas, aphoristic writing style, and extensive use of metaphor and rhetoric. Nietzsche scrutinized various philosophical, moral, and cultural assumptions prevalent in Western society, questioning traditional values and advocating for a reevaluation of morality, religion, and human existence. His philosophy has had a profound influence on various disciplines including philosophy, literature, psychology, and anthropology.
    • Aphoristic Writing Style: Nietzsche's works are often composed in short, concise statements or aphorisms that require careful interpretation.
    • Idea of Eternal Recurrence: Nietzsche proposed the concept of eternal recurrence, suggesting that all events in the universe would recur infinitely.
    • Will to Power: Nietzsche theorized that the driving force behind all human actions is the will to power, asserting that power is the fundamental determinant of human behavior.
    • Death of God: Nietzsche famously proclaimed the death of God, signaling the decline of traditional religious beliefs and the need for new values and meaning.
    • Master-Slave Morality: Nietzsche critiqued traditional moral systems, arguing that they are rooted in a slave mentality that suppresses individual potential and creativity.
    Friedrich Nietzsche in other rankings
  4. 4
    Jacques Derrida
    Pablosecca · CC BY 3.0

    Jacques Derrida

    Jacques Derrida
    Derrida's philosophy is notoriously difficult to understand due to his use of deconstruction, his emphasis on language and textuality, and his abstract concepts about meaning and identity.
    Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher known for his complex and challenging writings. He is associated with the philosophical movement of deconstruction, which seeks to question and destabilize traditional hierarchies and binary oppositions.
    • Phenomenology: Derrida engaged with phenomenology, particularly the works of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger.
    • Deconstruction: He developed the concept of deconstruction, which involves analyzing and revealing the inherent contradictions and hierarchies within texts.
    • Différance: He introduced the term 'différance,' which refers to the constant deferral of meaning and the inherent instability of language.
    • Structuralism: Derrida critically engaged with structuralist theories, particularly those of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Ferdinand de Saussure.
    • Writing: He emphasized the primacy of writing over speech, challenging the traditional privileging of speech as a means of communication.
  5. 5
    Ludwig Wittgenstein
    Moritz Nähr · Public domain

    Ludwig Wittgenstein

    Ludwig Wittgenstein
    Wittgenstein's writing is notoriously difficult to comprehend due to his use of language games, his rejection of traditional philosophy, and his emphasis on the limits of language and thought.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein is a 20th-century philosopher known for his complex and challenging writings on language, logic, and the nature of meaning. His work has significantly influenced fields such as philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of mathematics. Wittgenstein's writings are characterized by their unique style, often presenting ideas through a series of concise and aphoristic remarks, making his works difficult to interpret and understand fully.
    • Philosophy of Language: Wittgenstein's exploration of language and its role in communication and thought
    • Logical Positivism: Wittgenstein's influence on the Vienna Circle and their verification theory of meaning
    • Language Games: Wittgenstein's concept of language as a complex system of interconnected 'language games' with their own rules and context
    • Private Language Argument: Wittgenstein's critique of the possibility of a private language and the necessity of shared meanings
    • Family Resemblance: Wittgenstein's notion that categories are not defined by necessary and sufficient conditions, but by a network of resemblances
    Ludwig Wittgenstein in other rankings
  6. 6

    Jean Baudrillard

    Jean Baudrillard
    Baudrillard's philosophy is notoriously difficult to grasp due to his use of hyperreality, his critique of modernity, and his abstract concepts about simulation and simulacra.
    Jean Baudrillard was a French sociologist, philosopher, and cultural theorist known for his complex and often challenging writings. His work explores themes of simulation, hyperreality, consumerism, and the intertwining of reality and representation.
    • Seminal Works: Some of Baudrillard's most important works include 'The System of Objects,' 'Simulacra and Simulation,' 'The Consumer Society,' and 'The Gulf War Did Not Take Place'.
    • Postmodern Thought: Baudrillard is often associated with postmodernism as his ideas critically engage with the hyperreal and the impact of media and technology on contemporary society.
    • Hyperreality: Baudrillard famously discussed the concept of hyperreality, where simulated or artificial representations become more real than reality itself, blurring the lines between truth and fiction.
    • Simulacra: He introduced the idea of simulacra, which refers to copies or simulations that have no original, emphasizing the prevalence of hyperreal simulations in contemporary culture.
    • Critique of Consumerism: Baudrillard extensively critiqued consumer culture and argued that it creates an excessive focus on material objects, leading to the loss of genuine meaning and value.
    Jean Baudrillard in other rankings
  7. 7

    Gilles Deleuze

    Gilles Deleuze
    Deleuze's philosophy is notoriously difficult to follow due to his use of rhizomatic thinking, his emphasis on difference and repetition, and his abstract concepts about desire and power.
    Gilles Deleuze was a French philosopher known for his complex and challenging writings that have greatly influenced various fields such as philosophy, cultural studies, and aesthetics. Deleuze's work often explores concepts of power, desire, and difference, challenging traditional modes of thinking and established philosophical frameworks.
    • 1: Deleuze is known for his collaboration with Felix Guattari, resulting in works like 'Anti-Oedipus' and 'A Thousand Plateaus'.
    • 2: He has formulated concepts like the 'rhizome,' 'nomadology,' and 'schizoanalysis' that seek to break away from hierarchical organization and fixed boundaries.
    • 3: Deleuze often explores the relationship between philosophy and other fields such as literature, cinema, and art, making interdisciplinary connections.
    • 4: His concept of 'difference' challenges traditional binary thinking, emphasizing the multiplicity and complexity of existence.
    • 5: Deleuze's writing style is known for its intricate and non-linear structure, requiring careful attention and multiple readings to grasp his ideas fully.
  8. 8
    Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
    Jakob Schlesinger · Public domain

    Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

    Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
    Hegel's writing is notoriously difficult to understand due to his use of dialectics, his complex ideas about history and the state, and his dense prose style.
    Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher who is widely considered one of the most challenging thinkers in the history of Western philosophy. His works are known for their complex and intricate nature, and reading Hegel often requires a dedicated effort and a deep understanding of philosophical concepts.
    • Phenomenology of Spirit: Hegel's most famous work, exploring the concept of self-consciousness and the development of human knowledge.
    • Dialectical method: Hegel's unique approach to philosophy, involving the interplay of contradictory ideas to arrive at a synthesis.
    • Absolute idealism: Hegel's metaphysical theory that reality is ultimately grounded in a universal, all-encompassing consciousness called the Absolute.
    • Master-slave dialectic: A concept in Hegel's philosophy that explores the struggle for recognition between individuals.
    • Historical determinism: Hegel's belief that history unfolds according to a rational plan, driven by the development of human consciousness.
  9. 9

    Theodor W. Adorno

    Theodor W. Adorno
    Adorno's philosophy is notoriously difficult to comprehend due to his use of critical theory, his emphasis on culture and society, and his abstract concepts about reason and domination.
    Theodor W. Adorno was a German philosopher, sociologist, and musicologist. He was a prominent member of the Frankfurt School and known for his critical theory of society. Adorno's works are often dense and challenging to read, characterized by complex language and intricate arguments.
    • Birthdate: September 11, 1903
    • Death date: August 6, 1969
    • Nationality: German
    • Influences: Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche
    • Influenced by: Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer
  10. 10
    Slavoj Žižek
    Amrei-Marie · CC BY-SA 4.0

    Slavoj Žižek

    Slavoj Žižek
    Žižek's philosophy is notoriously difficult to follow due to his use of Lacanian psychoanalysis, his critique of ideology, and his abstract concepts about the unconscious and the Real.
    Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst, and cultural critic known for his provocative and challenging writings on a wide range of topics including ideology, politics, film, and popular culture. He is considered one of the most difficult philosophers to read due to his highly complex and dense writing style, extensive use of psychoanalytic concepts, and his tendency to employ a wide array of references spanning philosophy, literature, film, and other disciplines.
    • Birthdate: March 21, 1949
    • Nationality: Slovenian
    • Genres: Philosophy, psychoanalysis, cultural criticism
    • Influences: Jacques Lacan, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx
    • Style: Highly complex, dense, and often paradoxical
    Slavoj Žižek in other rankings

Missing your favorite philosopher?


Ranking factors for difficult philosopher

  1. Language and translation
    The original language the philosopher wrote in and the quality of translations can greatly affect the difficulty of reading their works. Some philosophers use highly specialized language or neologisms, which can be challenging to understand.
  2. Writing style
    The clarity and organization of a philosopher's writing can affect how difficult they are to read. Some philosophers have dense and convoluted prose while others write in a more straightforward and accessible manner.
  3. Complexity of ideas
    Philosophers who tackle complex and abstract concepts or create elaborate systems of thought can be more difficult to read compared to those who focus on simpler ideas.
  4. Familiarity with the subject matter
    A reader's prior knowledge and understanding of the philosopher's ideas, their context, and the history of philosophy can significantly influence the difficulty of reading a particular philosopher. A reader well-versed in a specific area of philosophy may find it easier to understand a philosopher's work within that area.
  5. Interconnectedness of ideas
    The extent to which a philosopher's ideas build on or refer to each other and other works can impact the difficulty of reading their work. This may require readers to have knowledge of the philosopher's broader body of work or other philosophers' works for context.
  6. Use of jargon, technical terms, and metaphors
    Some philosophers use a great deal of specialized vocabulary or employ abstract metaphors, making their work more challenging to read for those unfamiliar with the terminology.
  7. Historical and cultural context
    Understanding the historical and cultural context in which a philosopher wrote can be crucial to fully grasping their ideas. Philosophers may reference or critique other thinkers or incumbent ideas from their time, which can be difficult to understand without proper context.
  8. Accessibility of secondary literature
    The availability and accessibility of quality secondary literature, such as commentaries or guides, can help to clarify a philosopher's ideas and make their work easier to read and understand.
  9. Familiarity with philosophical methods
    Some philosophers may employ specific methods or approaches in their writing, such as dialectics or phenomenology. Familiarity with these methods can greatly influence a reader's difficulty in reading a philosopher's work.
  10. Personal preference and cognitive style
    Ultimately, difficulty in reading a philosopher's work may also depend on a reader's own preferences and cognitive style. Some individuals may find certain writing styles or subject matters more challenging to engage with than others.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult philosopher to read. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or philosopher is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 172 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each philosopher once every 24 hours. The rank of each philosopher is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.

More information on most difficult philosopher to read

Philosophy is a complex and thought-provoking field that has produced some of the most influential thinkers in history. However, the works of some philosophers can be notoriously difficult to read and comprehend. From the dense language of German philosopher Martin Heidegger to the convoluted arguments of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, there are many contenders for the title of "most difficult philosopher to read". Despite the challenges these works present, many readers find the effort well worth it, as they offer insights into the nature of existence, ethics, and the human condition. In this article, we will explore some of the most challenging philosophers to read and examine what makes their works so complex.

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