Jacques Derrida

1930 (El-Biar, Algeria) – 2004 (Paris)

He met and befriended Althusser (who taught him) on his first day as a student in Paris; Hyppolite, Foucault and Ricoeur also taught him, while Serres and Bourdieu were fellow-students. Blanchot, a close friend, was one of his influences. Jabès invited Derrida and Celan to lunch together, so the two could meet properly. De Man, Cixous, Lyotard and Deleuze were among his friends and intellectual colleagues (though revelations of de Man’s pro-fascist past proved unsettling). He gave funeral orations for his friend Lévinas, for Gadamer and for Althusser (Derrida had been his only permitted prison-hospital visitor).

Henri Lefebvre

Henri Lefevre

1901 (Hagetmau, France) – 1991 (Navarrenx)

Nizan and Guterman were members of the marxist ‘Philosophie’ group that he formed, and Guterman a long-term collaborator despite basing himself across the Atlantic for his last 40 years. Debord and Lefebvre were both concerned with the politics of space, and were close friends as well as colleagues for a number of years. Lefebvre complained about his fellow-communist Aragon’s lack of support, supervised Baudrillard’s doctorate, and gave the young unknown Perec house-room to write.

Henri Bergson

1859 (Paris) – 1941 (Paris)

Proust and Bergson knew each other through family connections: Proust always denied that Bergson’s ideas had been influential on his own writing (the strength of insistence has led some to believe this shouldn’t be taken too literally). The bilingual Bergson visited James when both were in London; James described him as a modest man, but intellectually a genius. The two had strong sympathy for each other’s work. Valéry was influenced by Bergson, though also disagreed with him. In the debate with Einstein, Bergson is generally regarded as having come off second best.

A. J. Ayer

Alfred Jules Ayer

1910 (London) – 1989 (London)

Ayer was the leading British logical positivist philosopher. Ryle taught him; Quine was the only other anglophone admitted to Vienna Circle meetings. Berlin, a friend and colleague, said he was more a mechanic than an inventor as a philosopher (their fathers, in the timber trade, also knew each other). He wrote about Russell, in whose tradition he followed, and joined Bronowski, Huxley and Medawar in radio discussions. Cummings was a lifelong (if unlikely) friend, despite Ayer’s fling with Cummings’ wife. He met Giacometti and Camus (but not Sartre, who called him “un con”).

Gilles Deleuze

1925 (Paris) – 1995 (Paris)

He studied under Canguilhem and Hyppolite. Tournier was a fellow-student, and said he transformed his peers’ ideas into cannon-balls of iron and steel. Foucault proposed Deleuze for his university post and became a close friend; Guattari (with whom he wrote his most influential works), Derrida (another close friend) and Lyotard were also colleagues at Vincennes. Deleuze wanted to publish a long impromptu conversation with Derrida, but it never happened. Virilio and he were politically at odds with each other. When Lacan stayed with him after an ‘unbelieveable’ seminar, he had to drink a ‘special’ whisky.

Gilles Deleuze knew…

Georges Canguilhem

1904 (Castelnaudary, France) – 1995 (Marly-le-Roi)

Alain (Émile Chartier) taught him; Sartre, Nizan and Aron were fellow-students. Cavaillès encouraged him to join the resistance during WWII. Bachelard taught alongside him. Deleuze and Bourdieu studied under him; he sponsored Foucault’s doctoral thesis on the history of madness, and advised Derrida to establish himself seriously before indulging in intellectual humour. Althusser declared that his debt to Canguilhem was incalculable.

Friedrich Schiller

1759 (Marbach, Germany) – 1805 (Weimar)

Schiller met Moritz, Hiller and Weisse as a student. Reinhart became a lifelong friend. He befriended Herder and Wieland while in Weimar, hoping to meet Goethe (who was in fact in Italy). The strength of the intellectual and creative bond with Goethe (whom he eventually got to know after years of tentative approaches) is reflected in their paired tombs. Schlegel, Fichte, Herder, both Humboldts and Hölderlin all contributed to his periodical ‘die Horen’, though Schlegel and he eventually fell out with one another, and Herder disliked him. Schelling, Niethammer and Fichte had all been university colleagues in Jena.

Alexandre Kojève

Alexandre Vladimirovich Kojevnikov

1902 (St. Petersburg) – 1968 (Brussels)

Kandinsky was his uncle and close friend. Jaspers supervised his PhD, though Kojève spent more time studying Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese. Koyré, an early influence, became his university colleague in France (after Kojève lost his fortune investing badly). His famous weekly Hegel seminars were attended by Breton, Bataille, Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Klossowski, Queneau, Aron, Caillois, and briefly Arendt: Queneau and Bataille becoming close friends strongly influenced by his ideas, Bataille regularly going to eat and drink with him following the seminar. Lévinas and he loved discussing Dostoyevsky together.

Denis Diderot

1713 (Langres, France) – 1784 (Paris)

D’Alembert co-edited his great project, the Encyclopédie; Grimm was his closest friend. Rousseau, Voltaire (who corresponded for 30 years), d’Holbach, Turgot and Montesquieu were the most noted of other contributors to the Encyclopédie. Rameau objected to its denigration of French music, and entered into a running argument with Diderot as well as Rousseau, who’d written the offending sections. Voltaire and d’Épinay were instrumental in getting Diderot’s imprisonment alleviated. Sterne, Hume, Marmontel, Helvétius and Sedaine were all good friends, while Greuze embodied his ideas of what of a painter should be.

David Hume

1711 (Edinburgh) – 1776 (Edinburgh)

Smith first met Hume in Glasgow; Hutton, Ramsay and Boswell were all members of the same Edinburgh enlightenment circles. Hume made over his librarian’s salary to the blind Blacklock, before resigning in favour of Ferguson. Diderot, d’Alembert and d’Holbach were intellectual companions in Paris, Buffon a correspondent. He brought Rousseau to England and took him to supper with Garrick; but Rousseau turned on him, convinced he was conspiring against him. Hume helped Smollett, comparing him to a coconut. Sterne knew Hume in Paris and London, and said that his amiability reinforced his scepticism.