Top 10: The Most Important Philosophers of History

The word philosophy comes from the Greek word phileo, which means “to love”, and sophia, which means “wisdom”. So, in a few words, philosophy means “the love of wisdom”. There are several definitions of philosophy. It can be defined as “the study of ideas about knowledge, truth, the nature and meaning of life ,etc” or even as “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”.

Philosophy is considered to have developed as a form of rational inquiry in the cities of Ancient Greece. Philosophers usually ask many questions and try to reach the understanding of metaphysical and physical world of man.

There are some influential characters that shaped deeply the field that we know today as philosophy. Let’s look at 10 of the greatest philosophers of all times.

1. Plato (427—347 BCE)


Beauty is the splendor of truth.

Plato, was a philosopher and a mathematician, and is considered one of the major Greek philosophers, due to his profoundly influence in Western philosophy.

Plato belonged to an aristocratic and influential family and became a devoted young follower of Socrates. Plato founded the Academy in Athens, a school of philosophy with the purpose of recovering and developing the Socratic ideas and thoughts. With Socrates and Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the foundations of western philosophy and science.

Plato’s dialogues have been used to teach a range of subjects, including philosophy, logic, ethics, rhetoric, religion and mathematics. The Theory of Forms is another dialogue from Plato, which began a unique perspective on abstract objects, and lead to a school of thought called Platonism.

Plato’s ideas are based on the distinction of the world between sensible things and visible things. According to Plato, students should discover things by overcoming the problems posed by life, valuing the methods of debate and conversation as ways of achieving knowledge. Education should devote efforts to the intellectual and physical development of students, and for this, should include rhetoric lessons, debates, music , geometry, astronomy, and military discipline.

2. Aristotle (384—322 BCE)


The true disciple is one who can surpass the master.

Aristotle was a great philosopher and scientist born in the ancient city of Stagira, in Greece, considered as the father of logical thought.

He was a student of Plato at the Plato’s Academy in Athens. His writings cover many subjects as logic, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, biology, botany, zoology, ethics, politics, linguistics, agriculture, medicine, dance and theatre.

At the invitation of Philip of Macedonia Aristotle became the tutor of his son Alexander the Great at the Temple of the Nymphs at Meiza; he did this for five years. During this time, Aristotle founded a philosophical school at a place called the Lyceum, where his studies were based on experiments to demonstrate the phenomena of nature. When teaching at the Lyceum, Aristotle had a habit of walking about as he discoursed.

After Plato’s death, Aristotle immersed himself in empirical studies and shifted from Platonism to Empiricism. He believed all peoples’ concepts and all of their knowledge was ultimately based on perception.

The Organon compiles six works of Aristotle on logic.

According to Aristotle, there are four causes implied in the existence of something:
– Material Cause: what something is made of, for example, iron;
– Formal Cause: the thing itself, for example, an iron knife;
– Efficient Cause: what makes the thing done, for example, the hands of artisan iron;
– Final cause: it would be the function for which the thing was done, for example, cutting meat.

3. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)


Two things awe me most, the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.

Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, Prussia, on April 22, 1724 and lived until February 12, 1804.

He was a German philosopher, son of a merchant of Scottish descent.

Received a Pietist education, studying philosophy and mathematics at the University.

He devoted himself to teaching, come to act as professor at the University of Konisberg and was the founder of critical philosophy.

His first period (until 1770) corresponds to the dogmatic philosophy, influenced by Leibniz and Wolf. Then made important studies in the field of natural sciences and physics of Newton.

Among the works of this period, there is the Universal History of Nature and Theory of Heaven (1755), which features the famous cosmological hypothesis of the “nebula” to explain the origin and evolution of our solar system.

Shows its support for the theory of the existence of life on other planets, seeks to show that God exists based on the order and beauty of the universe. From 1762, Kant begins to manifest a lively interest in philosophical questions, especially for the critical of the faculties of man.

The second period corresponds to the awakening of the “dogmatic slumber” caused by the impact it had on him the philosophy of Hume.

It is during this phase that Kant produces his great works “Critique of Pure Reason,” “Critique of Practical Reason” and “Critique of Judge” in which demonstrates the impossibility of constructing a metaphysical philosophical system before having previously investigated the forms and limits of our cognitive faculties.

Reality itself is unknowable, as well as God.

This theory will allow the Kant to substantiate the dualism “thing in itself” and “phenomenon” (which is given us to know). This concept had profound repercussions in philosophy to the present day.

4. David Hume (1711-1776)


The corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.

Hume was a Scottish philosopher and historian, born in Edinburgh in 1711.

After attending literary studies as a teenager, went to France, where he wrote his “Research on Human Nature”. Shortly after wrote the Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary.

When named as librarian of the College of Advocates in Edinburgh, Hume wrote a History of England, which was gradually published, giving the philosopher some fortune and fame.

Hume’s philosophy stems from both the empiricism of Locke as the idealism of Berkeley.

Attempts to reduce the rational principles, the associations of ideas which habit and repetition will strengthen.

This is for example the case of the principle of causality. Make it a law about things, when in reality it expresses no more than something that we hope, a completely subjective necessity developed by the habit.

Scientific laws summarize past experience, but comprise no certainty to future concerns.
The substance, whether material or spiritual, does not exist. The bodies are nothing more than groups of sensations linked together by association of ideas.

Also the self is only a collection of states of consciousness. In this way, Hume comes to absolute skepticism and phenomenalism.

5. René Descartes (1569-1650)


I think therefore I am.

René Descartes, philosopher and mathematician, was born in La Haye, Touraine, on March 31, 1596.

From 1604 to 1614, he studied at the Jesuit college of La Flèche.

Descartes states, in “Discourse on Method” – disappointed with the teaching that has been taught – scholastic philosophy does not lead to any indisputable fact, “did not find anything there about which no compete.”

Only the mathematical demonstrate that claim: “The mathematical pleased me particularly because of the certainty and evidence of their reasonings.” But mathematics is an exception, since it has not yet attempted to apply its rigorous method to other domains.

In 1619, Descartes, prepares a work of physics, the Treaty of the World, whose publication he resigns in 1633 by becoming aware of the condemnation of Galileo.

As a matter of fact, he has nothing to fear of the Inquisition. Between 1629 and 1649, he was in Holland, Protestant country. And in 1637, decided to publish three short summaries of his scientific work: The Dioptrics, The Meteors and Geometry. These summaries, which are rarely read today, are accompanied by a preface which became famous: is the Discourse on Method.

He does see that his method, inspired by mathematics, is able to rigorously prove the existence of God.

In 1641, are brought to light the Metaphysical Meditations, his masterpiece, accompanied by answers to objections.

In 1644, Descartes published a sort of Cartesian manual. The Principles of Philosophy, dedicated to the Princess Palatine Elisabeth, with who exchanges important correspondence, becoming her director of consciousness.

He died in Stockholm, Sweden, February 9, 1650, aged 54.

6. Socrates (469-399 AC)


As for me, all I know is that i know nothing.

Socrates was born in Athens, probably in the year 470 BC, and became one of the leading thinkers of ancient Greece. We can say that Socrates founded what we know today by Western philosophy.

He was influenced by the knowledge of another great Greek philosopher, Anaxagoras.

His early studies and thoughts discuss the essential nature of the human soul.

Considered by his contemporaries one of the most wise and intelligent men, through their reflections, Socrates indicates a great need to bring the knowledge to Greek citizens.

His method of passing on knowledge and wisdom was the dialogue. Through the word, the philosopher tried to bring the knowledge of the things of the world and the human being.

Socrates left no writings, we know his thoughts through the works of two of his disciples, Plato and Xenophon.

Critical of many aspects of Greek culture, affirmed that many traditions, religious beliefs and customs did not help in the intellectual development of Greek citizens.

Due to their innovative ideas to society, begins to attract the attention of many young Athenians. His qualities as an orator and his intelligence also contributed to the increase of its popularity.

The conservative elite of Athens began to look at Socrates as a public enemy and a potential agitator.

He was arrested, accused of trying to subvert the social order, corrupting the youth and cause changes in Greek religion. In his cell, was sentenced to commit suicide by taking a poison called hemlock in 399 BC.

7. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)


The Things That tell us we love what we are.

Italian philosopher and theologian, his work marks a key step in scholasticism. It was him who pursued and completed the work of Albertus Magnus.

The Dominican monk became known as the “Angelic Doctor”. In 1879, his works were recognized as being the basis of Catholic theology. The philosophy of Thomas Aquinas is known as Thomism.
He was born in Roccasecca, near Cassino, in the kingdom of Naples, southern Italy, in the family of the Counts of Aquino.

Began his education at the Abbey of Montecassino. In 1243, in Naples, he entered the order of the Dominicans. Shortly after studying with the German scholar Albertus Magnus in Paris (1243-1248) and Cologne (1248-1252).

In Paris, in 1252, starts his commentaries on the Bible.

He starts giving classes in this city, and was appointed master of the University in 1257, two years after returning to Italy. In 1265 is responsible for organizing the study of the Dominican Order in Rome.

Comes back to Paris in 1269 returning to his chair of theology master.
In 1272 returns again to Italy to teach at the University of Naples. He died in 1274 while on his way to the Council of Lion.

Main areas of research:

The work of Thomas Aquinas is immense, highlighting however the “precedents”. platonic inspiration.

In the “Summa Contra Gentiles”, defends the compatibility between reason and faith. Sought to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy with the principles of Christianity, as opposed to the trend that prevailed at the time, and thus adopting a Christianity of Neoplatonic inspiration.
In Summa Theologica, deals with the nature of God, morality and mission of Jesus. In these and other works, he gave the body to the Christian world view that was taught in universities until the mid-seventeenth century, which included the scientific ideas of Aristotle.

Thomas Aquinas worked Aristotle’s works from new Latin translations produced by the Dominican William of Moerbeke (1215-1286). Aristotle’s influence is so evident in his philosophy that this is also known as a Christian Aristotelianism.
In addition to Aristotle, took jobs as a source inspiration of St. Augustine, Avicenna, Averroes and the Neoplatonists.

8. Karl Marx (1818-1883)


Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.

The economist, social scientist and revolutionary socialist German Karl Heinrich Marx, was the founder of a company with a fair and balanced distribution of capital.

He was born on May 5, 1818, and studied philosophy, law and history at the Universities of Bonn and Berlin. Was one of the followers of the ideas of Hegel.

He was expelled from most European countries because of its radicalism.

His involvement with French and German radicals in the busy period of 1840 made him raise the flag of communism and attacked the capitalist system.

According to the economist, capitalism was primarily responsible for human disorientation.
He advocated the idea that the working class must unite with the purpose of overthrowing the capitalists and annihilate every feature of this abusive system that, according to him, was largely responsible for the crises that were getting increasingly intensified by large social differences.

Great revolutionary, also actively participated in clandestine organizations with exiled workers.

Wrote Capital, a book published in 1867, which has as its main theme the economy. This book shows studies on the accumulation of capital, by identifying the excess originated by workers always ends up in the hands of the capitalists, class that is increasingly rich by impoverishing the proletariat. In collaboration with Engels, Marx also wrote the Communist Manifesto, which spared no criticism of capitalism.

He died in London, England on March 14, 1883, leaving many followers of his ideals. Lenin was one of them, and in the Soviet Union, Marxist ideas used to support communism, which, under his leadership, was renamed to Marxism-Leninism. However, some Marxists disagreed with certain chosen ways by the Russian leader.

Until today, the Marxist ideas continue to influence many historians and social scientists who, whether they do or not accept the theories of the German thinker, agree with the idea that to understand a society must first understand their way of production.

9. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it Prolongs the torments of man.

Born in 1844 in Germany, a city known for Röcken, Friedrich Nietzsche, came from a Lutheran family and his destiny was to be a pastor like his father. Nietzsche loses faith during adolescence, but the studies and the studies of philology become incompatible with what he learned about theology.

During his studies at the University of Leipzig, his philosophical vocation grows. He was a brilliant student, provided with solid classical training, and at age 25 he was appointed professor of philology at the University of Basel.

For 10 years he developed his philosophy according to the ideas of the ancient Greeks Masters.

In 1879 his health forced him to stop being a teacher. His voice was inaudible.

Nietzsche began a wandering life in search of a favorable climate for both your health and for your thought (Venice, Genoa, Turin, Nice, Sils-Maria …).

In 1882 Start typing “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” at dizzying speed, until the finish in January 3, 1889, when a crisis of madness that lasted until his death, placed him under the tutelage of his mother and sister.

The success of Nietzsche, came when a Danish teacher read his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra and therefore spreading it in 1888. Many scholars of the time tried to find the moments that Nietzsche wrote under nervous breakdowns or high on drugs (Nietzsche studied biology and tried to find their own way to minimize the effects of their disease).

10. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)


Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains

Rousseau was born on June 28, 1712 in Geneva (Switzerland) and died on July 2, 1778 in Ermenoville (France). He is considered one of the leading philosophers of the Enlightenment, and his ideas influenced the French Revolution (1789).

After the tragic death of both his parents, still as a teenager , he went studying at a strict religious school. At this time, he studied a lot and developed a great interest in music and reading.

Moved to Paris at the end of his adolescence, where he contacted the intellectual elite of the city, being invited by Diderot to write some entries for the Encyclopedia.

Begins to be pursued in the year 1762, because his works were considered an affront to the moral and religious customs.

Took refuge in Swiss city of Neuchâtel. In 1765, he moved to England at the invitation of philosopher David Hume, and Rousseau back to France by marrying Thérèse Levasseur, in 1767.
Rousseau wrote, beyond political studies, novels and essays on education, religion and literature. His main work is The Social Contract. In this work, Rousseau, defends the idea that man is born good, but society leads to degeneration, also stating that society works as a social contract in which individuals if organized in society, grant certain rights to the state in exchange of protection and organization.


The world is… the natural setting of, and field for, all my thoughts and all my explicit perceptions. Truth does not inhabit only the inner man, or more accurately, there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself.
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty