what is philosopher

philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term philosopher comes from the Ancient Greek: φιλόσοφος, romanizedphilosophos, meaning ‘lover of wisdom’. The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek thinker Pythagoras (6th century BCE).[1]

In the classical sense, a philosopher was someone who lived according to a certain way of life, focusing upon resolving existential questions about the human condition; it was not necessary that they discoursed upon theories or commented upon authors.[2] Those who most arduously committed themselves to this lifestyle would have been considered philosophers, and they typically followed a Hellenistic philosophy.

In a modern sense, a philosopher is an intellectual who contributes to one or more branches of philosophy, such as aestheticsethicsepistemologyphilosophy of sciencelogicmetaphysicssocial theoryphilosophy of religion, and political philosophy. A philosopher may also be someone who has worked in the humanities or other sciences which over the centuries have split from philosophy, such as the artshistoryeconomicssociologypsychologylinguisticsanthropologytheology, and politics.[3]

Occupation typeprofession
Activity sectorsphilosophy
Competenciesverbal reasoning, intellect, academic ability
Education requireduniversity education (usually postgraduate) or (mostly historically) equivalent tertiary education
Fields of
Related jobslecturerauthoressayist



This section is about the history of philosophers as an occupation. For a history of philosophy in general, see History of philosophy.

Ancient India and the Vedas[edit]

The first account of philosophy composed can be found in the ancient Hindu vedas, written between 1500 and 1200 BCE (Rigveda) and circa 1200-900 BCE (Yajur VedaSama VedaAtharva Veda). Before the Vedas were composed, they were orally passed down from generation to generation.

The word veda means “knowledge.” In the modern world, the term “science” is used to identify the kind of authoritative knowledge upon which human progress is based. In Vedic times, the primary focus of science was the eternal; human progress meant the advancement of spiritual awareness yielding the soul’s release from the entrapment of material nature etc.

Vedic Philosophy provides answers to all unanswered questions i.e. why there is pain and pleasure, rich and poor, healthy and sick; God – His qualities, nature and works. Soul – Its nature and qualities, souls of humans and animals; reincarnation – how does it happens, why one is born as he or she is. What is the purpose of life? What we ought to do?

Vedic knowledge comprises the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sāma, and Atharva) with their numerous Samhita, 108 Upanishad, 18 Purāna, Mahabharata, several Tantra texts. The entire Vedic Philosophy is divided into six systems:

  1. Nyaya: The Philosophy of Logic and Reasoning
  2. Vaisesika: Essence of things
  3. Sankhya: Nontheistic Dualism
  4. Yoga: Self-Discipline for Self-Realization
  5. Mīmāṁsā: Reflection of dharma
  6. Vedanta: The Conclusion of the Vedic Revelation The understanding of this system involves the pragmatic knowledge of how society must be organized, how the economy should be managed, and how the political class must govern society

In short, all six schools of Vedic philosophy aim to describe the nature of the external world and its relationship to the individual, to go beyond the world of appearances to ultimate Reality, and to describe the goal of life and the means for attaining this goal.

Ancient Iran[edit]

The Iranian poet and philosopher Zarathustra was contemporary to the Vedic authors but his teachings have much more individual character. His Gathas contain the basic teachings of Zoroastrian philosophy: the idea of free will, free choice and human self-determination. According to Zarathustra the universe is a rational one, created by Wisdom (mazda) and man therefore knows the cosmos through reason (xratu). The highest good (vohu vahishta) is the highest ethical principle. Zoroaster can be considered the first philosopher.[4]

Ancient Greece and Rome[edit]

The School of Athens by Raphael, 1509–1511, depicts Plato and Aristotle (center) exchanging their knowledge with other ancient philosophers.

The separation of philosophy and science from theology began in Greece during the 6th century BC.[5] Thales, an astronomer and mathematician, was considered by Aristotle to be the first philosopher of the Greek tradition.[6]

While Pythagoras coined the word, the first known elaboration on the topic was conducted by Plato. In his Symposium, he concludes that love is that which lacks the object it seeks. Therefore, the philosopher is one who seeks wisdom; if he attains wisdom, he would be a sage. Therefore, the philosopher in antiquity was one who lives in the constant pursuit of wisdom, and living in accordance to that wisdom.[7] Disagreements arose as to what living philosophically entailed. These disagreements gave rise to different Hellenistic schools of philosophy. In consequence, the ancient philosopher thought in a tradition.[8] As the ancient world became schism by philosophical debate, the competition lay in living in a manner that would transform his whole way of living in the world.[9]

Among the last of these philosophers was Marcus Aurelius, who is widely regarded as a philosopher in the modern sense, but personally refused to call himself by such a title, since he had a duty to live as an emperor.[10]


According to the Classicist Pierre Hadot, the modern conception of a philosopher and philosophy developed predominately through three changes:

The first is the natural inclination of the philosophical mind. Philosophy is a tempting discipline which can easily carry away the individual in analyzing the universe and abstract theory.[11]

The second is the historical change throughout the Medieval era. With the rise of Christianity, the philosophical way of life was adopted by its theology. Thus, philosophy was divided between a way of life and the conceptual, logical, physical, and metaphysical materials to justify that way of life. Philosophy was then the servant to theology.[12]

The third is the sociological need with the development of the university. The modern university requires professionals to teach. Maintaining itself requires teaching future professionals to replace the current faculty. Therefore, the discipline degrades into a technical language reserved for specialists, completely eschewing its original conception as a way of life.[12]

Medieval Era[edit]

In the fourth century, the word philosopher began to designate a man or woman who led a monastic life. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, describes how his sister Macrina persuaded their mother to forsake “the distractions of material life” for a life of philosophy.[13]

Later during the Middle Ages, persons who engaged with alchemy were called philosophers – thus, the Philosopher’s Stone.[14]

Early Modern Era[edit]

Generally speaking, university philosophy is mere fencing in front of a mirror. In the last analysis, its goal is to give students opinions which are to the liking of the minister who hands out the Chairs… As a result, this state-financed philosophy makes a joke of philosophy. And yet, if there is one thing desirable in this world, it is to see a ray of light fall onto the darkness of our lives, shedding some kind of light on the mysterious enigma of our existence.— Arthur Schopenhauer

Many philosophers still emerged from the Classical tradition, as saw their philosophy as a way of life. Among the most notable are René DescartesBaruch SpinozaNicolas Malebranche, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. With the rise of the university, the modern conception of philosophy became more prominent. Many of the esteemed philosophers of the eighteenth century and onward have attended, taught, and developed their works in university. Early examples include: Immanuel KantJohann Gottlieb FichteFriedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.[15]

After these individuals, the Classical conception had all but died with the exceptions of Arthur SchopenhauerSøren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The last considerable figure in philosophy to not have followed a strict and orthodox academic regime was Ludwig Wittgenstein.[16]

Philosophers during the Nazi era[edit]

In the time of Nazism, philosophers were also affected by the then new way of thinking. While many of the philosophers left Germany, often Jewish, others were very open to the Nazi system and support it. These included Alfred RosenbergAlfred BaeumlerErnst KrieckHans HeyseErich Rothacker, and Martin Heidegger. Despite the reservations of the NSDAP against the humanities, certain philosophers were promoted. The security service of the Reichsführer SS recorded ideological assessments of the university professors in the “SD dossiers on philosophy professors”.[17][18][19][20] In contrast to most German philosophers, the later executed Austrian priest and philosopher Heinrich Maier and his group resisted Nazi Germany and forwarded information that was decisive for the war to the Allies.[21][22] After the war, most of the philosophers were able to continue working at German universities. In contrast to Ernst Krieck, Baeumler and Heyse, Erich Rothacker also returned to the university.[23]

Modern Academia[edit]

In the modern era, those attaining advanced degrees in philosophy often choose to stay in careers within the educational system as part of the wider professionalisation process of the discipline in the 20th century.[24] According to a 1993 study by the National Research Council (as reported by the American Philosophical Association), 77.1% of the 7,900 holders of a PhD in philosophy who responded were employed in educational institutions (academia). Outside academia, philosophers may employ their writing and reasoning skills in other careers, such as medicine[vague]bioethics, business, publishing, free-lance writing, media, and law.[25]

Key thinkers[edit]

Some known French social thinkers are Claude Henri Saint-SimonAuguste Comte, and Émile Durkheim. British social thought, with thinkers such as Herbert Spencer, addressed questions and ideas relating to political economy and social evolution. The political ideals of John Ruskin were a precursor of social economy (Unto This Last had a very important impact on Mahatma Gandhi‘s philosophy). Important German philosophers and social thinkers included Immanuel KantGeorg Wilhelm Friedrich HegelKarl MarxMax WeberGeorg Simmel, and Martin Heidegger. Important Italian social scientists include Antonio GramsciGaetano MoscaVilfredo ParetoFranco Ferrarotti, and Elena Cornaro Piscopia.

Important Chinese philosophers and social thinkers included Shang YangLaoziConfuciusMenciusZhuangziWang ChongWang YangmingLi ZhiZhu XiGu YanwuGong Zizhen, Wei Yuan, Kang Youweiand Lu Xun. Indian philosophers include Adi ShankaracharyaRamanujaChanakyaBuddhaMahaviraŚāntarakṣitaDharmakirti, and Nagarjuna.

Female philosophers[edit]

Main article: Women in philosophy

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it(November 2019)

Women have engaged in philosophy throughout the field’s history. There have been women philosophers since ancient times, and women were accepted as philosophers during the ancientmedievalmodern and contemporary eras– more during the 20th and 21st century, as educational systems and society became more inclusive.[26][27] Notable female philosophers include MaitreyiGargi Vachaknavi,[28] Ghosha,[29] Hypatia,[30] Hipparchia of Maroneia,[31] Mary Wollstonecraft,[32] G. E. M. Anscombe,[33] and Susanne Langer.[34] Other prominent female philosophers include: Judith Butler, Kaja Silverman, Simone de Beauvoir, and Gayatri Spivak.

Prizes in philosophy[edit]

See also: Philosophy Prize Category

Various prizes in philosophy exist; among the most prominent:

Certain esteemed philosophers, such as Henri BergsonBertrand RussellRudolf Christoph EuckenAlbert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre, have also won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity, created by the Library of Congress to recognize work not covered by the Nobel Prizes, has been given to philosophers: Leszek Kołakowski in 2003, Paul Ricoeur in 2004, and Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor in 2015.[35]

See also[edit]


Philosopherat Wikipedia’s sister projects

  1. ^ φιλόσοφοςLiddell, Henry GeorgeScott, RobertA Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ Pierre HadotThe Inner Citadel. p. 4
  3. ^ Shook, John R., ed. (2010). “Introduction”Dictionary of Modern American philosophers (online ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199754663OCLC 686766412The label of “philosopher” has been broadly applied in this Dictionary to intellectuals who have made philosophical contributions regardless of an academic career or professional title. The wide scope of philosophical activity across the timespan of this dictionary would now be classed among the various humanities and social sciences which gradually separated from philosophy over the last one hundred and fifty years. Many figures included were not academic philosophers but did work at the philosophical foundations of such fields as pedagogy, rhetoric, the arts, history, politics, economics, sociology,turtles , psychology, linguistics, anthropology, religion, and theology. Philosophy proper is heavily represented, of course, encompassing the traditional areas of metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, logic, ethics, social/political theory, and aesthetics, along with the narrower fields of philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of law, applied ethics, philosophy of religion, and so forth
  4. ^ Olga Louchakova-Schwartz, “Intersubjectivity and Multiple Realities in Zarathushtra’s Gathas”, Open Theology, 4(1), 2018, 471-488. doi:
  5. ^ Russell, Bertrand (1946). A History of Western Philosophy. Great Britain: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. p. 11. Retrieved 31 March 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ Aristotle, Metaphysics Alpha, 983b18.
  7. ^ That is to say philosophically – Pierre HadotPhilosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase. Blackwell Publishing, 1995. p. 27: Introduction: Pierre Hadot and the Spiritual Phenomenon of Ancient Philosophy by Arnold I. Davidson. Citing Hadot, ‘Presentation au College International de Philosophie,’ p. 4.
  8. ^ Pierre HadotPhilosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase. Blackwell Publishing, 1995. p. 5: Introduction: Pierre Hadot and the Spiritual Phenomenon of Ancient Philosophy by Arnold I. Davidson. Citing Hadot, ‘Theologie, exegese, revelation’ p. 22
  9. ^ Pierre HadotPhilosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase. Blackwell Publishing, 1995. p. 30: Introduction: Pierre Hadot and the Spiritual Phenomenon of Ancient Philosophy by Arnold I. Davidson. Citing Hadot, Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, p. 13
  10. ^ Wikisource:Meditations#THE EIGHTH BOOK
  11. ^ Pierre HadotPhilosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase. Blackwell Publishing, 1995. p. 31: Introduction: Pierre Hadot and the Spiritual Phenomenon of Ancient Philosophy by Arnold I. Davidson. Citing Hadot, ‘Presentation au College

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