Philosophy has shaped the world. From science to politics, the great philosophers challenged the ways that we see things. And while you probably know many famous Greek philosophers, the list of philosophers is much longer than that. From unknown to famous philosophers, get ready for a trip through time because they are the 25 Greatest Philosophers Who Ever Lived!
A student of Plato in Ancient Greece, Aristotle contributed to numerous areas including metaphysics, logic, poetry, linguistics, and government. He is one of the most well known philosophers in history.
Born in Germany, Kant is well known for his ideas about perception. He argued that we cannot know what the world is really like (noumenal world). We can only know what we perceive the world to be like (phenomenal world). Basically, we can’t know whether or not everything is just one big Matrix.
As you have already seen, Plato was Aristotle’s teacher, and he is famous for starting the Academy in Athens. This was the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
A Chinese philosopher who lived about 500 BC, he focused on relationships and how the family was important and necessary to society. His views shaped later Chinese thought and led to what is now called Confucianism.
A Scottish philosopher, Hume was a strong skeptic and empiricist. He claimed that our beliefs don’t come from our reason but rather from our feelings and ideas of how the world should be. In fact, Kant (#24) got many of his ideas from Hume.
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Considered the “Father of Modern Philosophy,” Descartes is famous for his statement, “I think, therefore I am.”
You’ve already met Socrates’ most famous student, Plato, but Socrates himself was a very well known philosopher. He is famous for the Socratic Method in which a series of questions are asked in order to lead the listener to a conclusion.
Living during the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli is famous for his contributions to political philosophy. His book “The Prince” explains to rulers how they can stay in power at all costs. This book shocked people because before that time, everyone thought rulers were (or should be) virtuous. He claimed that, “Might makes right,” and “It is better to be feared than loved.”
An English physician, Locke is famous for believing that all knowledge comes from our senses. His ideas influenced later philosophers like Hume and Kant. He is also well known for using very simple words in his writings. When asked how we can know that external objects really exist at all, Locke said to simply stick your hand in a fire.
Diogenes of Sinope
An Ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes is known for claiming that Aristotle had perverted the teachings of Plato. Diogenes believed that Athens had become corrupt with vanity and wanted to bring back virtuous living. He would even walk through the streets of Athens while holding a lamp and saying that he was “looking for an honest man.”
Having combined Greek thought with Christian theology, the Italian philosopher and theologian Aquinas is known as the most famous philosopher of Europe’s Middle Ages.
A Chinese philosopher from the 6th century BC, Laozi founded Daoism (sometimes seen spelled Taoism). This belief system focuses on the “Dao” (sometimes, Tao, which means “the Way”). Basically, it involves “action through inaction.” In some ways, this was the opposite of Confucius’s very active philosophies. Laozi’s ideas, however, went on to influence Confucianism, Buddhism, and other areas of Chinese society.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz
Along with Descartes, Leibniz is a well known Idealist thinker. His training as an engineer led him to believe that the mind could not be a machine (even a very complicated one). Instead, he believed that the entire world (including the mind) was made of immaterial forces that he called, Monads.
Spinoza was a Jewish philosopher born in Amsterdam during the 1600’s. He is famous for intellectualizing many parts of the Judeo-Christian belief system. For example, he argued that the miracles were not supernatural. Many of these beliefs got him in trouble with the authorities.
A French philosopher of the Enlightenment period, Voltaire drew attention to human suffering, criticized organized religion, and advocated for the use of reason.
An English philosopher, Hobbes lived during a civil war. This caused him to argue that people must obey authority at all costs as long as it provides peace (because nothing is worse than war).
Augustine of Hippo
An African philosopher born in present day Algeria, Saint Augustine is famous for his work “Confessions” where he explains how became a Christian. His most notable positions include just war and bridging the divide between free will and predestination.
An Islamic philosopher born in Persia, Al-Ghazali is famous for rejecting many of Aristotle’s positions (like the world being eternal instead of created). He is also known for popularizing Sufism, or Islamic mysticism.
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha
Possibly the most famous Indian philosopher, Buddha concluded that all human suffering is caused by the desire for permanence in a world where nothing is permanent.
Baron de Montesquieu
A French philosopher, Montesquieu’s contributions to political philosophy greatly influenced the constitutions of the United States and many other nations.
Born in Switzerland, Rousseau is famous for his argument that people were more free in their natural state (basically anarchy) than within society. Rousseau actually became well known by winning a competition in which the question was, “Has science and art made humans more or less moral?” His answer, that it has made humans less moral, surprised people. He argued that advancements in science only created more inequality and gave the government more power.
Berkeley was an Irish philosopher who is well known for arguing that the material world may not exist. He suggested that it may just be a bunch of ideas in God’s mind.
Born in Russia but having moved to the US, Ayn Rand was a strong advocate of reason and laissez-faire capitalism, or capitalism in which the government doesn’t interfere. Her ideas have strongly shaped modern libertarianism and conservatism.
Simone de Beauvoir
Although she never considered herself a philosopher, Beauvoir was a French author who strongly influenced feminism and existentialism.
Born in China sometime around 500 BC, Sun Tzu was a military general and philosopher who is famous for writing “The Art Of War.” His ideas continue to influence modern business, politics, and warfare.
If you enjoyed this post, check out 25 Profound Greek Philosopher Quotes You’ll Want To Hear.
Photos: Feature Image: Matt Neale from UK, Greek philosopher busts, CC BY 2.0, 25. Con-struct, P Aristotle grey, CC BY-SA 3.0, 23. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 2.5, Plato Silanion Musei Capitolini MC1377, CC BY 2.5, 22. Kevinsmithnyc, Confucius Sculpture, Nanjing, CC BY-SA 3.0, 19. Sting, Socrates Louvre, CC BY-SA 2.5, 17. Saaasasd, John-Locke-660×350-1412917543, CC BY-SA 4.0, 14. Thanato, Laozi 002, CC BY-SA 3.0, 1. 663highland, Enchoen27n3200, CC BY-SA 3.0