Last updated

Occupation type
Activity sectors
Competenciesverbal reasoning, intellect, academic ability
Education required
university education (usually postgraduate) or (mostly historically) equivalent tertiary education
Fields of
Related jobs
lecturer, author, essayist

A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy. The term philosopher comes from the Ancient Greek : φιλόσοφος, romanized: philosophos, 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.


In a modern sense, a philosopher is an intellectual who contributes to one or more branches of philosophy, such as aesthetics, ethics, epistemology, philosophy of science, logic, metaphysics, social theory, philosophy 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 arts, history, economics, sociology, psychology, linguistics, anthropology, theology, and politics.


The separation of philosophy and science from theology began in Greece during the 6th century BC. [3] Thales, an astronomer and mathematician, was considered by Aristotle to be the first philosopher of the Greek tradition. [lower-alpha 1] While Pythagoras coined the word[ citation needed ], the first[ citation needed ] 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. [4] 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. [5] 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. [6]

According to the Classicist Pierre Hadot, the modern conception of a philosopher and philosophy developed predominately through three changes [6] : 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. [6] 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. [6] 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. [6]

Many philosophers still emerged from the Classical tradition, as saw their philosophy as a way of life. However, 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. [7] 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. [8] 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). Various prizes in philosophy exist; including the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy, the Rolf Schock Prizes the Avicenna Prize and the Berggruen Philosophy Prize. Some philosophers have also won the Nobel Prize in Literature and The John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity. Outside academia, philosophers may employ their writing and reasoning skills in other careers, such as medicine, bioethics, business, publishing, free-lance writing, media, and law. [9]

See also


  1. Aristotle, Metaphysics Alpha, 983b18
  1. φιλόσοφος . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel. p. 4
  3. Russell 1946, pp. 10–11.
  4. Hadot 1995, p. 27.
  5. Hadot 1995, p. 5.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Hadot 1995, pp. 30–32.
  7. Hadot 1995, p. 271.
  8. Purcell, Edward A. (1979). Kuklick, Bruce (ed.). "The Professionalization of Philosophy". Reviews in American History. 7 (1): 51–57. doi:10.2307/2700960. ISSN   0048-7511. JSTOR   2700960.
  9. APA Committee on Non-Academic Careers (June 1999). "A non-academic career?" (3rd ed.). American Philosophical Association . Retrieved 24 May 2014.

Related Research Articles

Pre-Socratic philosophy Greek philosophers active before and during the time of Socrates

Pre-Socratic philosophy, also known as early Greek philosophy, is ancient Greek philosophy before Socrates. Pre-Socratic philosophers were mostly interested in cosmology, the beginning and the substance of the universe, but the inquiries of these early philosophers spanned the workings of the natural world as well as human society, ethics, and religion. They sought explanations based on natural law rather than the actions of gods. Their work and writing has been almost entirely lost. Knowledge of their views comes from testimonia, i.e. later authors' discussions of the work of pre-Socratics. Philosophy found fertile ground in the ancient Greek world because of the close ties with neighboring civilizations and the rise of autonomous civil entities, poleis.

Cosmos Universe as a complex and orderly system or entity

The cosmos is another name for the Universe. Using the word cosmos implies viewing the universe as a complex and orderly system or entity.

Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC, marking the end of the Greek Dark Ages. Greek philosophy continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense of the world using reason. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, epistemology, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.

Christian philosophy Philosophy carried out by Christians

Christian philosophy includes all philosophy carried out by Christians, or in relation to the religion of Christianity. Christian philosophy emerged with the aim of reconciling science and faith, starting from natural rational explanations with the help of Christian revelation. Several thinkers such as Augustine believed that there was a harmonious relationship between science and faith, others such as Tertullian claimed that there was contradiction and others tried to differentiate them.

Aristotelian theology God as described by Aristotle

Aristotelian theology and the scholastic view of God have been influential in Western philosophy and intellectual history.

Virtue ethics Normative ethical theories

Virtue ethics are a class of normative ethical theories which treat the concept of moral virtue as central to ethics. Virtue ethics are usually contrasted with two other major approaches in normative ethics, consequentialism and deontology, which make the goodness of outcomes of an action (consequentialism) and the concept of moral duty (deontology) central. While virtue ethics does not necessarily deny the importance of goodness of states of affairs or moral duties to ethics, it emphasizes moral virtue, and sometimes other concepts, like eudaimonia, to an extent that other theories do not.

Pythagoreanism Philosophical system

Pythagoreanism originated in the 6th century BC, based on and around the teachings and beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans. Pythagoras established the first Pythagorean community in the ancient Greek colony of Kroton. Early Pythagorean communities spread throughout Magna Graecia.

Aristotelianism Tradition in philosophy

Aristotelianism is a philosophical tradition inspired by the work of Aristotle, usually characterized by deductive logic and an analytic inductive method in the study of natural philosophy and metaphysics. It covers the treatment of the social sciences under a system of natural law. It answers why-questions by a scheme of four causes, including purpose or teleology, and emphasizes virtue ethics. Aristotle and his school wrote tractates on physics, biology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics, and government. Any school of thought that takes one of Aristotle's distinctive positions as its starting point can be considered "Aristotelian" in the widest sense. This means that different Aristotelian theories may not have much in common as far as their actual content is concerned besides their shared reference to Aristotle.

Natural philosophy Philosophical study of nature

Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature is the philosophical study of physics, that is, nature and the physical universe. It was dominant before the development of modern science.

Porphyry (philosopher) 3rd-century Greek Neoplatonist philosopher

Porphyry of Tyre was a Tyrian Neoplatonic philosopher born in Tyre, Roman Syria during Roman rule. He edited and published The Enneads, the only collection of the work of Plotinus, his teacher. His commentary on Euclid's Elements was used as a source by Pappus of Alexandria.

Platonism Philosophical system

Platonism is the philosophy of Plato and philosophical systems closely derived from it, though contemporary platonists do not necessarily accept all of the doctrines of Plato. Platonism had a profound effect on Western thought. Platonism at least affirms the existence of abstract objects, which are asserted to exist in a third realm distinct from both the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness, and is the opposite of nominalism. This can apply to properties, types, propositions, meanings, numbers, sets, truth values, and so on. Philosophers who affirm the existence of abstract objects are sometimes called platonists; those who deny their existence are sometimes called nominalists. The terms "platonism" and "nominalism" also have established senses in the history of philosophy. They denote positions that have little to do with the modern notion of an abstract object.

Aristotelian ethics Attempt to offer a rational response to the question of how humans should best live

Aristotle first used the term ethics to name a field of study developed by his predecessors Socrates and Plato. In philosophy, ethics is the attempt to offer a rational response to the question of how humans should best live. Aristotle regarded ethics and politics as two related but separate fields of study, since ethics examines the good of the individual, while politics examines the good of the City-State, which he considered to be the best type of community.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to philosophy:

Pierre Hadot French historian and philosopher (1922–2010)

Pierre Hadot was a French philosopher and historian of philosophy specializing in ancient philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism.

Philosophy Study of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct

Philosophy is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. Some sources claim the term was coined by Pythagoras ; others dispute this story, arguing that Pythagoreans merely claimed use of a preexisting term. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation.

Western philosophy Philosophy of the Western world

Western philosophy encompasses the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics. The word philosophy itself originated from the Ancient Greek philosophía (φιλοσοφία), literally, "the love of wisdom" Ancient Greek: φιλεῖν phileîn, "to love" and σοφία sophía, "wisdom").

Stoicism Philosophical system

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It is a philosophy of personal eudaemonic virtue ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world, asserting that the practice of virtue is both necessary and sufficient to achieve eudaimonia—flourishing by means of living an ethical life. The Stoics identified the path to eudaimonia with a life spent practicing the cardinal virtues and living in accordance with nature.

A sage, in classical philosophy, is someone who has attained wisdom. The term has also been used interchangeably with a 'good person', and a 'virtuous person'. Among the earliest accounts of the sage begin with Empedocles' Sphairos. Horace describes the Sphairos as "Completely within itself, well-rounded and spherical, so that nothing extraneous can adhere to it, because of its smooth and polished surface." Alternatively, the sage is one who lives "according to an ideal which transcends the everyday."

Italian philosophy Philosophical tradition of Italy

Over the ages, Italian philosophy had a vast influence on Western philosophy, beginning with the Greeks and Romans, and going onto Renaissance humanism, the Age of Enlightenment and modern philosophy. Philosophy was brought to Italy by Pythagoras, founder of the Italian school of philosophy in Crotone, Magna Graecia. Major Italian philosophers of the Greek period include Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, Empedocles and Gorgias. Roman philosophers include Cicero, Lucretius, Seneca the Younger, Musonius Rufus, Plutarch, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Clement of Alexandria, Sextus Empiricus, Alexander of Aphrodisias, Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Augustine of Hippo, Philoponus of Alexandria and Boethius.

Medieval philosophy Philosophy during the medieval period

Medieval philosophy is the philosophy that existed through the Middle Ages, the period roughly extending from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century until after the Renaissance in the 13th and 14th centuries. Medieval philosophy, understood as a project of independent philosophical inquiry, began in Baghdad, in the middle of the 8th century, and in France, in the itinerant court of Charlemagne, in the last quarter of the 8th century. It is defined partly by the process of rediscovering the ancient culture developed in Greece and Rome during the Classical period, and partly by the need to address theological problems and to integrate sacred doctrine with secular learning.