Western philosophy

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Western philosophy refers to the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics such as Thales (c. 624 – c. 546 BC) and Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC), and eventually covering a large area of the globe.[1][2] The word philosophy itself originated from the Ancient Greek philosophía (φιλοσοφία), literally, "the love of wisdom" (φιλεῖν phileîn, "to love" and σοφία sophía, "wisdom").


The scope of ancient Western philosophy included the problems of philosophy as they are understood today; but it also included many other disciplines, such as pure mathematics and natural sciences such as physics, astronomy, and biology (Aristotle, for example, wrote on all of these topics).

Pre-Socratic period[edit]

The pre-Socratic philosophers were interested in cosmology; the nature and origin of the universe, while rejecting mythical answers to such questions.[3] They were specifically interested in the arche (the cause or first principle) of the world. The first recognized philosopher, Thales of Miletus (born ca. 625 BCE in Ionia) identified water as the arche (claiming "all is water"). His use of observation and reason to derive this conclusion is the reason for distinguishing him as the first philosopher.[4] Thales' student Anaximander claimed that the arche was the apeiron, the infinite. Following both Thales and Anaximander, Anaximenes of Miletus claimed that air was the most suitable candidate.

Ionia, source of early Greek philosophy, in western Asia Minor

Pythagoras (born ca. 570 BCE), from the island of Samos off the coast of Ionia, later lived in Croton in southern Italy (Magna Graecia). Pythagoreans hold that "all is number", giving formal accounts in contrast to the previous material of the Ionians. The discovery of consonant intervals in music by the group enabled the concept of harmony to be established in philosophy, which suggested that opposites could together give rise to new things.[5] They also believed in metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls, or reincarnation.

Living around the time of Anaximander and Pythagoras, Xenophanes was an atheist, rejecting the Greek gods and arguing for a naturalistic interpretation of the world.[6] A possible student of Xenophanes,[6] Parmenides argued that, unlike the other philosophers who believed the arche was transformed into multiple things, the world must be singular, unchanging and eternal, while anything suggesting the contrary was an illusion.[7] An opposite view was presented by Heraclitus, who claimed that everything was in flux all the time, notably noting that one could not step into the same river twice.[8] The adopted son and lover of Parmenides,[9] Zeno of Elea formulated his famous paradoxes in order to support the former's views about the illusion of plurality and change (in terms of motion), by demonstrating them to be impossible.[10]

Empedocles may have been an associate of both Parmenides and the Pythagoreans.[11] He claimed the arche was in fact composed of multiple sources, giving rise to the model of the four classical elements. These in turn were acted upon by the forces of Love and Strife, creating the mixtures of elements which form the world.[11] Another view of the arche being acted upon by an external force was presented by his older contemporary Anaxagoras, who claimed that nous, the mind, was responsible for that.[12]

A final alternative view of the fundamental nature of the universe was offered by Leucippus and Democritus, who argued in favor of atomism. Like Parmenides, they accepted the idea that the world was eternal and unchanging, while also defending pluralism by arguing that these could be the properties of the building blocks which compose the many things that exist.[13] On Zeno's arguments against infinite divisibility, they accepted them by arguing that atoms could not be further divided.[13] Jonathan Barnes called atomism "the culmination of early Greek thought".[13]

The sophists represented the last group among the pre-Socratic philosophers. As teachers of rhetoric who taught students to win the debate on any side of an issue, they were not representative of specific views but would generally argue in favor of subjectivism and relativism. In this spirit, Protagoras claimed that "man is the measure of all things", suggesting there is no objective truth.[14] This was also applied to issues of ethics, with Prodicus arguing that laws could not be taken seriously because they changed all the time, while Antiphon made the claim that conventional morality should only be followed when in society.[15]

Bust of Socrates, Roman copy after a Greek original from the 4th century BC

Classical period[edit]


A key figure in Greek philosophy is Socrates. Socrates studied under several Sophists[citation needed] but transformed Greek philosophy into a branch of philosophy that is still pursued today. It is said that following a visit to the Oracle of Delphi he spent much of his life questioning anyone in Athens who would engage him, in order to disprove the oracular prophecy that there would be no man wiser than Socrates.[16] In this, Socrates used a critical approach called the Socratic method to examine people's views. He aimed to study issues of human life: the good life, justice, beauty, and virtue. Although Socrates wrote nothing himself, his disciples Plato and Xenophon wrote down some of his conversations. He was tried for corrupting the youth and impiety by the Greek democracy, and was found guilty and sentenced to death. Although his friends offered to help him escape from prison, he chose to remain in Athens and abide by his principles. His execution consisted of drinking the poison hemlock and he died in 399 BC.


Plato was a student of Socrates. Plato founded the Academy of Athens and wrote a number of dialogues, which applied the Socratic method of inquiry to examine philosophical problems. His philosophy comprises a coherent system of thought, with all of the components intended to give answers to different questions which were interrelated.[17] In order to understand the good life, Plato followed Socrates who had identified virtue with knowledge, leading to the questions of epistemology on what knowledge is and how it is acquired.[18] Following Parmenides, he believed that the sense are illusionary and could not be trusted to this end.[18] He illustrated this point with the allegory of the cave. Instead, knowledge had to be sourced from eternal, unchanging and perfect objects, which he believed to exist in a different realm, leading to the theory of forms.[18] Alfred North Whitehead claimed that "Philosophy is footnotes to Plato".[19]


Aristotle in The School of Athens, by Raphael

Aristotle was a pupil of Plato. Aristotle was perhaps the first truly systematic philosopher and scientist. He wrote about physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, politics and logic. Aristotelian logic was the first type of logic to attempt to categorize every valid syllogism. Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great, who in turn conquered much of the ancient world at a rapid pace. Hellenization and Aristotelian philosophy exercised considerable influence on almost all subsequent Western and Middle Eastern philosophers, including Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Western medieval, Jewish, and Islamic thinkers.

Hellenistic period[edit]

Following Socrates a variety of schools of thought emerged. In addition to Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Peripatetic school, other schools of thought derived from Socratic philosophy included the Academic Skeptics, the Cynics, the Cyrenaics, the Stoics, and the Neoplatonists. In addition, two non-Socratic schools derived from the teachings of Socrates' contemporary Democritus flourished, Pyrrhonism and Epicureanism.

Roman period[edit]

Roman philosophy was heavily influenced by the traditions of Greek philosophy. Thorough study of Greek philosophy was first introduced by Cicero. In Imperial times Epicureanism and Stoicism were particularly popular, especially the latter, as represented by the works of Seneca the Younger and Marcus Aurelius.[20]


Saint Augustine was the greatest philosopher of the early Middle Ages[21]
St. Anselm of Canterbury is credited as the founder of scholasticism.
St. Thomas Aquinas, painting by Carlo Crivelli, 1476

Medieval philosophy roughly extends from the Christianization of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance.[22] Medieval philosophy is defined partly by the rediscovery and further development of classical Greek and Hellenistic philosophy, and partly by the need to address theological problems and to integrate the then widespread sacred doctrines of Abrahamic religion (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) with secular learning. Early medieval philosophy was influenced by the likes of Stoicism, Neoplatonism, but, above all, the philosophy of Plato himself.

Some problems discussed throughout this period are the relation of faith to reason, the existence and unity of God, the object of theology and metaphysics, the problems of knowledge, of universals, and of individuation. The prominent figure of this period was Augustine of Hippo (one of the most important Church Fathers in Western Christianity) who adopted Plato's thought and Christianized it in the 4th century and whose influence dominated medieval philosophy perhaps up to end of the era but was checked with the arrival of Aristotle's texts. Augustinianism was the preferred starting point for most philosophers (including Anselm of Canterbury, the father of scholasticism) up until the 13th century.

The Carolingian Renaissance of the 8th and 9th century was fed by Church missionaries travelling from Ireland, most notably John Scotus Eriugena, a Neoplatonic philosopher.

The modern university system has roots in the European medieval university, which was created in Italy and evolved from Catholic Cathedral schools for the clergy during the High Middle Ages.[23]

Thomas Aquinas, an academic philosopher and the father of Thomism, was immensely influential in Catholic Europe; he placed a great emphasis on reason and argumentation, and was one of the first to use the new translation of Aristotle's metaphysical and epistemological writing.

Philosophers from the Middle Ages include the Christian philosophers Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Anselm, Gilbert de la Porrée, Peter Abelard, Roger Bacon, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Jean Buridan; the Jewish philosophers Maimonides and Gersonides; and the Muslim philosophers Alkindus, Alfarabi, Alhazen, Avicenna, Algazel, Avempace, Abubacer, Ibn Khaldūn, and Averroes. The medieval tradition of scholasticism continued to flourish as late as the 17th century, in figures such as Francisco Suárez and John of St. Thomas.

Erasmus is Credited as the Prince of the Humanists


Bronze statue of Giordano Bruno by Ettore Ferrari, Campo de' Fiori, Rome

The Renaissance ("rebirth") was a period of transition between the Middle Ages and modern thought,[24] in which the recovery of classical texts helped shift philosophical interests away from technical studies in logic, metaphysics, and theology towards eclectic inquiries into morality, philology, and mysticism.[25][26] The study of the classics and the humane arts generally, such as history and literature, enjoyed a scholarly interest hitherto unknown in Christendom, a tendency referred to as humanism.[27][28] Displacing the medieval interest in metaphysics and logic, the humanists followed Petrarch in making man and his virtues the focus of philosophy.[29][30]

At the point of passage from Renaissance into early/classical modern philosophy, the dialogue was used as a primary style of writing by Renaissance philosophers, such as Giordano Bruno.[31]

How much of Renaissance intellectual history is part of modern philosophy is disputed.[32]


The term "modern philosophy" has multiple usages. For example, Thomas Hobbes is sometimes considered the first modern philosopher because he applied a systematic method to political philosophy.[33][34] By contrast, René Descartes is often considered the first modern philosopher because he grounded his philosophy in problems of knowledge, rather than problems of metaphysics.[35]

Portrait of René Descartes, after Frans Hals, second half of 17th century
Portrait of John Locke, by Sir Godfrey Kneller, 1697

Modern philosophy and especially Enlightenment philosophy[36] is distinguished by its increasing independence from traditional authorities such as the Church, academia, and Aristotelianism;[37][38] a new focus on the foundations of knowledge and metaphysical system-building;[39][40] and the emergence of modern physics out of natural philosophy.[41]

Early modern (17th and 18th centuries)[edit]

Portrait of David Hume, by Allan Ramsay, 1754

Some central topics of Western philosophy in its early modern (also classical modern)[42][43] period include the nature of the mind and its relation to the body, the implications of the new natural sciences for traditional theological topics such as free will and God, and the emergence of a secular basis for moral and political philosophy.[44] These trends first distinctively coalesce in Francis Bacon's call for a new, empirical program for expanding knowledge, and soon found massively influential form in the mechanical physics and rationalist metaphysics of René Descartes.[45]

Other notable modern philosophers include Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, John Locke, George Berkeley, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant.[43][46][47][48] Many other contributors were philosophers, scientists, medical doctors, and politicians. A short list includes Galileo Galilei, Pierre Gassendi, Blaise Pascal, Nicolas Malebranche, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, Christiaan Huygens, Isaac Newton, Christian Wolff, Montesquieu, Pierre Bayle, Thomas Reid, Jean le Rond d'Alembert, Adam Smith, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The approximate end of the early modern period is most often identified with Kant's systematic attempt to limit metaphysics, justify scientific knowledge, and reconcile both of these with morality and freedom.[49][50][51]

Late modern (19th-century)[edit]

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, steel engraving, after 1828
Arthur Schopenhauer

Late modern philosophy is usually considered to begin around the pivotal year of 1781, when Gotthold Ephraim Lessing died and Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason appeared.[52]

Friedrich Nietzsche, photograph by Friedrich Hartmann, c. 1875

German philosophy exercised broad influence in this century, owing in part to the dominance of the German university system.[53] German idealists, such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the members of Jena Romanticism (Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel), transformed the work of Kant by maintaining that the world is constituted by a rational or mind-like process, and as such is entirely knowable.[54][55] Arthur Schopenhauer's identification of this world-constituting process as an irrational will to live influenced later 19th- and early 20th-century thinking, such as the work of Friedrich Nietzsche.

The 19th century took the radical notions of self-organization and intrinsic order from Goethean science and Kantian metaphysics, and proceeded to produce a long elaboration on the tension between systematization and organic development. Foremost was the work of Hegel, whose Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) and Science of Logic (1813–16) produced a "dialectical" framework for ordering of knowledge.

As with the 18th century, developments in science arose from philosophy and also challenged philosophy: most importantly the work of Charles Darwin, which was based on the idea of organic self-regulation found in philosophers such as Smith, but fundamentally challenged established conceptions.

After Hegel's death in 1831, 19th-century philosophy largely turned against idealism in favor of varieties of philosophical naturalism, such as the positivism of Auguste Comte, the empiricism of John Stuart Mill, and the historical materialism of Karl Marx. Logic began a period of its most significant advances since the inception of the discipline, as increasing mathematical precision opened entire fields of inference to formalization in the work of George Boole and Gottlob Frege.[56] Other philosophers who initiated lines of thought that would continue to shape philosophy into the 20th century include:

Contemporary (20th and 21st centuries)[edit]

Martin Heidegger

The three major contemporary approaches to academic philosophy are analytic philosophy, continental philosophy and pragmatism.[57] They are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive.

The 20th century deals with the upheavals produced by a series of conflicts within philosophical discourse over the basis of knowledge, with classical certainties overthrown, and new social, economic, scientific and logical problems. 20th century philosophy was set for a series of attempts to reform and preserve, and to alter or abolish, older knowledge systems. Seminal figures include Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The publication of Husserl's Logical Investigations (1900–1) and Russell's The Principles of Mathematics (1903) is considered to mark the beginning of 20th-century philosophy.[58] The 20th century also saw the increasing professionalization of the discipline and the beginning of the current (contemporary) era of philosophy.[59]

Since the Second World War, contemporary philosophy has been divided mostly into analytic and continental traditions; the former carried in the English speaking world and the latter on the continent of Europe. The perceived conflict between continental and analytic schools of philosophy remains prominent, despite increasing skepticism regarding the distinction's usefulness.

Analytic philosophy[edit]

Bertrand Russell

In the English-speaking world, analytic philosophy became the dominant school for much of the 20th century. The term "analytic philosophy" roughly designates a group of philosophical methods that stress detailed argumentation, attention to semantics, use of classical logic and non-classical logics and clarity of meaning above all other criteria. Though the movement has broadened, it was a cohesive school in the first half of the century. Analytic philosophers were shaped strongly by logical positivism, united by the notion that philosophical problems could and should be solved by attention to logic and language.

Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore are also often counted as founders of analytic philosophy, beginning with their rejection of British idealism, their defense of realism and the emphasis they laid on the legitimacy of analysis. Russell's classic works The Principles of Mathematics,[60] "On Denoting" and Principia Mathematica (with Alfred North Whitehead), aside from greatly promoting the use of mathematical logic in philosophy, set the ground for much of the research program in the early stages of the analytic tradition, emphasizing such problems as: the reference of proper names, whether 'existence' is a property, the nature of propositions, the analysis of definite descriptions, and discussions on the foundations of mathematics. These works also explored issues of ontological commitment and metaphysical problems regarding time, the nature of matter, mind, persistence and change, which Russell often tackled with the aid of mathematical logic.

Gottlob Frege, c. 1905

Gottlob Frege's The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884) was the first analytic work, according to Michael Dummett (Origins of Analytical Philosophy, 1993). Frege took "the linguistic turn," analyzing philosophical problems through language. Some analytic philosophers held that philosophical problems arise through misuse of language or because of misunderstandings of the logic of human language.

In 1921, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who studied under Russell at Cambridge, published his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which gave a rigidly "logical" account of linguistic and philosophical issues. Years later, he reversed a number of the positions he set out in the Tractatus, in for example his second major work, Philosophical Investigations (1953). Investigations was influential in the development of "ordinary language philosophy," which was mainly promoted by Gilbert Ryle and J. L. Austin.

In the United States, meanwhile, the philosophy of Willard Van Orman Quine was having a major influence, with the paper "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". In that paper Quine criticizes the distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, arguing that a clear conception of analyticity is unattainable.

Notable students of Quine include Donald Davidson and Daniel Dennett. The later work of Russell and the philosophy of Willard Van Orman Quine are influential exemplars of the naturalist approach dominant in the second half of the 20th century. But the diversity of analytic philosophy from the 1970s onward defies easy generalization: the naturalism of Quine and his epigoni was in some precincts superseded by a "new metaphysics" of possible worlds, as in the influential work of David Lewis. Recently, the experimental philosophy movement has sought to reappraise philosophical problems through social science research techniques.

Some influential figures in contemporary analytic philosophy are: Timothy Williamson, David Lewis, John Searle, Thomas Nagel, Hilary Putnam, Michael Dummett, John McDowell, Saul Kripke, Peter van Inwagen, and Patricia Churchland.

Analytic philosophy has sometimes been accused of not contributing to the political debate or to traditional questions in aesthetics. However, with the appearance of A Theory of Justice by John Rawls and Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick, analytic political philosophy acquired respectability. Analytic philosophers have also shown depth in their investigations of aesthetics, with Roger Scruton, Nelson Goodman, Arthur Danto and others developing the subject to its current shape.

Continental philosophy[edit]

Sigmund Freud by Max Halberstadt, c. 1921[61]

Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. 20th-century movements such as German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, modern hermeneutics (the theory and methodology of interpretation), critical theory, structuralism, post-structuralism and others are included within this loose category. While identifying any non-trivial common factor in all these schools of thought is bound to be controversial, Michael E. Rosen has hypothesized a few common continental themes: that the natural sciences cannot replace the human sciences; that the thinker is affected by the conditions of experience (one's place and time in history); that philosophy is both theoretical and practical; that metaphilosophy or reflection upon the methods and nature of philosophy itself is an important part of philosophy proper.[62]

The founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, sought to study consciousness as experienced from a first-person perspective, while Martin Heidegger drew on the ideas of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Husserl to propose an unconventional existential approach to ontology.

Phenomenologically oriented metaphysics undergirded existentialismMartin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Albert Camus—and finally post-structuralismGilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard (best known for his articulation of postmodernism), Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida (best known for developing a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction). The psychoanalytic work of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, and others has also been influential in contemporary continental thought. Conversely, some philosophers have attempted to define and rehabilitate older traditions of philosophy. Most notably, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Alasdair MacIntyre have both, albeit in different ways, revived the tradition of Aristotelianism.


Existentialism is a term applied to the work of a number of late 19th- and 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences,[63][64] shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual.[65] In existentialism, the individual's starting point is characterized by what has been called "the existential attitude", or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.[66] Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophy, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.[67][68]

Although they did not use the term, the 19th-century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche are widely regarded as the fathers of existentialism. Their influence, however, has extended beyond existentialist thought.[69][70][71]

German idealism[edit]

Portrait of Immanuel Kant, c. 1790

German idealism emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It developed out of the work of Immanuel Kant in the 1780s and 1790s.[72]

Transcendental idealism, advocated by Immanuel Kant, is the view that there are limits on what can be understood, since there is much that cannot be brought under the conditions of objective judgment. Kant wrote his Critique of Pure Reason (1781) in an attempt to reconcile the conflicting approaches of rationalism and empiricism, and to establish a new groundwork for studying metaphysics. Although Kant held that objective knowledge of the world required the mind to impose a conceptual or categorical framework on the stream of pure sensory data—a framework including space and time themselves—he maintained that things-in-themselves existed independently of human perceptions and judgments; he was therefore not an idealist in any simple sense. Kant's account of things-in-themselves is both controversial and highly complex. Continuing his work, Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schelling dispensed with belief in the independent existence of the world, and created a thoroughgoing idealist philosophy.

The most notable work of absolute idealism was G. W. F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, of 1807. Hegel admitted his ideas were not new, but that all the previous philosophies had been incomplete. His goal was to correctly finish their job. Hegel asserts that the twin aims of philosophy are to account for the contradictions apparent in human experience (which arise, for instance, out of the supposed contradictions between "being" and "not being"), and also simultaneously to resolve and preserve these contradictions by showing their compatibility at a higher level of examination ("being" and "not being" are resolved with "becoming"). This program of acceptance and reconciliation of contradictions is known as the "Hegelian dialectic".

Philosophers influenced by Hegel include Ludwig Feuerbach, who coined the term "projection" as pertaining to humans' inability to recognize anything in the external world without projecting qualities of ourselves upon those things; Karl Marx; Friedrich Engels; and the British idealists, notably T. H. Green, J. M. E. McTaggart, F. H. Bradley, and R. G. Collingwood.

Few 20th-century philosophers embraced the core tenets of German idealism after the demise of British idealism. However, quite a few have embraced Hegelian dialectic, most notably Frankfurt School critical theorists, Alexandre Kojève, Jean-Paul Sartre (in his Critique of Dialectical Reason), and Slavoj Žižek. A central theme of German idealism, the legitimacy of Kant's "Copernican revolution", remains an important point of contention in 21st-century post-continental philosophy.

Marxism and critical theory[edit]

Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis, originating from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It analyzes class relations and societal conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and a dialectical view of social transformation. Marxist analyses and methodologies influenced political ideologies and social movements. Marxist understandings of history and society were adopted by academics in archeology, anthropology, media studies, political science, theater, history, sociology, art history and theory, cultural studies, education, economics, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, critical psychology and philosophy.

In contemporary philosophy, the term "critical theory" describes the Western Marxist philosophy of the Frankfurt School, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s. Critical theory maintains that ideology is the principal obstacle to human emancipation.[73]

Phenomenology and hermeneutics[edit]

Edmund Husserl, in the 1910s

Edmund Husserl's phenomenology was an ambitious attempt to lay the foundations for an account of the structure of conscious experience in general.[74] An important part of Husserl's phenomenological project was to show that all conscious acts are directed at or about objective content, a feature that Husserl called intentionality.[75] Husserl published only a few works in his lifetime, which treat phenomenology mainly in abstract methodological terms; but he left an enormous quantity of unpublished concrete analyses. Husserl's work was immediately influential in Germany, with the foundation of phenomenological schools in Munich (Munich phenomenology) and Göttingen (Göttingen phenomenology). Phenomenology later achieved international fame through the work of such philosophers as Martin Heidegger (formerly Husserl's research assistant and a proponent of hermeneutic phenomenology, a theoretical synthesis of modern hermeneutics and phenomenology), Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Through the work of Heidegger and Sartre, Husserl's focus on subjective experience influenced aspects of existentialism.

Structuralism and post-structuralism[edit]

Inaugurated by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, structuralism sought to clarify systems of signs through analyzing the discourses they both limit and make possible. Saussure conceived of the sign as being delimited by all the other signs in the system, and ideas as being incapable of existence prior to linguistic structure, which articulates thought. This led continental thought away from humanism, and toward what was termed the decentering of man: language is no longer spoken by man to express a true inner self, but language speaks man.

Structuralism sought the province of a hard science, but its positivism soon came under fire by post-structuralism, a wide field of thinkers, some of whom were once themselves structuralists, but later came to criticize it. Structuralists believed they could analyze systems from an external, objective standing, for example, but the poststructuralists argued that this is incorrect, that one cannot transcend structures and thus analysis is itself determined by what it examines. While the distinction between the signifier and signified was treated as crystalline by structuralists, poststructuralists asserted that every attempt to grasp the signified results in more signifiers, so meaning is always in a state of being deferred, making an ultimate interpretation impossible.

Structuralism came to dominate continental philosophy throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, encompassing thinkers as diverse as Claude Lévi-Strauss, Roland Barthes and Jacques Lacan. Post-structuralism came to predominate from the 1970s onwards, including thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and even Roland Barthes; it incorporated a critique of structuralism's limitations.


Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870.[76] It asserts that the truth of beliefs consists in their usefulness and efficacy rather than their correspondence with reality.[77] Charles Sanders Peirce and William James were its co-founders and it was later modified by John Dewey as instrumentalism. Since the usefulness of any belief at any time might be contingent on circumstance, Peirce and James conceptualized final truth as something established only by the future, final settlement of all opinion.[78]

Pragmatism attempted to find a scientific concept of truth that does not depend on personal insight (revelation) or reference to some metaphysical realm. It interpreted the meaning of a statement by the effect its acceptance would have on practice. Inquiry taken far enough is thus the only path to truth.[79]

For Peirce commitment to inquiry was essential to truth-finding, implied by the idea and hope that inquiry is not fruitless. The interpretation of these principles has been subject to discussion ever since. Peirce's maxim of pragmatism is, "Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object."[80]

Critics accused pragmatism falling victim to a simple fallacy: that because something that is true proves useful, that usefulness is an appropriate basis for its truthfulness.[81] Pragmatist thinkers include Dewey, George Santayana, and C. I. Lewis.

Pragmatism was later worked on by neopragmatists Richard Rorty who was the first to develop neopragmatist philosophy in his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979),[82] Hilary Putnam, W. V. O. Quine, and Donald Davidson. Neopragmatism has been described as a bridge between analytic and continental philosophy.[83]

Process philosophy[edit]

Process philosophy is a tradition beginning with Alfred North Whitehead, who began teaching and writing on process and metaphysics when he joined Harvard University in 1924.[84] This tradition identifies metaphysical reality with change.

Process philosophy is sometimes classified as closer to continental philosophy than analytic philosophy, because it is usually only taught in continental departments.[85] However, other sources state that process philosophy should be placed somewhere in the middle between the poles of analytic versus continental methods in contemporary philosophy.[86][87]


Largely Aristotelian in its approach and content, Thomism is a philosophical tradition that follows the writings of Thomas Aquinas. His work has been read, studied and disputed since the 13th century, especially by Roman Catholics. Aquinas enjoyed a revived mainstream interest beginning in contemporary philosophy, among both atheists (Philippa Foot) and theists (Elizabeth Anscombe).[88] Thomist philosophers tend to be rationalists in epistemology, as well as metaphysical realists and virtue ethicists. They claim that humans are rational animals whose good can be known by reason that can be achieved by the will. Thomists argue that soul or psyche is real and immaterial but inseparable from matter in organisms. Soul is the form of the body. Thomists accept Aristotle's causes as natural, including teleological or final causes. In this way, although Aquinas argued that whatever is in the intellect begins in the senses, natural teleology can be discerned with the senses and abstracted from nature through induction.[89]

Contemporary Thomism encompasses multiple variants, from neo-scholasticism to existential Thomism.[90]

The so-called new natural lawyers like Germain Grisez and Robert P. George applied Thomistic legal principles to contemporary ethical debates, while Freeman proposed that Thomism's cognition was most compatible with neurodynamics. Analytical Thomism (John Joseph Haldane) encourages dialogue between analytic philosophy and broadly Aristotelian philosophy of mind, psychology and hylomorphic metaphysics.[91] Other contemporary Thomists include Eleonore Stump, Alasdair MacIntyre and John Finnis.

Western philosophical subdisciplines[edit]

Western philosophers have often been divided into some major branches, or schools, based either on the questions typically addressed by people working in different parts of the field, or notions of ideological undercurrents. In the ancient world, the most influential division of the subject was the Stoics' division of philosophy into logic, ethics, and physics (conceived as the study of the nature of the world, and including both natural science and metaphysics). In contemporary philosophy, specialties within the field are more commonly divided into metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics (the latter two of which together comprise axiology, or value theory). Logic is sometimes included as a main branch of philosophy, sometimes as a separate science philosophers happen to work on, and sometimes just as a characteristically philosophical method applying to all branches of philosophy. Within these broad branches there are now numerous sub-disciplines of philosophy. At the broadest level there is the division between analytic (the English-speaking world and Nordic countries) and continental philosophy (in the rest of Europe).

See also[edit]

National traditions
Non-mainstream movements


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  4. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-06-20). The History of Philosophy. Penguin UK. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-241-98086-6.
  5. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019). The history of philosophy. New York. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-9848-7874-8. OCLC 1054371393.
  6. ^ a b Grayling, A. C. (2019). The history of philosophy. New York. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-9848-7874-8. OCLC 1054371393.
  7. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-06-20). The History of Philosophy. Penguin UK. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-241-98086-6.
  8. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-06-20). The History of Philosophy. Penguin UK. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-241-98086-6.
  9. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-06-20). The History of Philosophy. Penguin UK. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-241-98086-6.
  10. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-06-20). The History of Philosophy. Penguin UK. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-0-241-98086-6.
  11. ^ a b Grayling, A. C. (2019-06-20). The History of Philosophy. Penguin UK. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-241-98086-6.
  12. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-06-20). The History of Philosophy. Penguin UK. pp. 43–45. ISBN 978-0-241-98086-6.
  13. ^ a b c Grayling, A. C. (2019-11-05). The History of Philosophy. Penguin. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-9848-7875-5.
  14. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-11-05). The History of Philosophy. Penguin. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-9848-7875-5.
  15. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-11-05). The History of Philosophy. Penguin. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-9848-7875-5.
  16. ^ West, Thomas G., and Platon. Plato's Apology of Socrates: an interpretation, with a new translation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979.
  17. ^ Grayling, A. C. (2019-11-05). The History of Philosophy. Penguin. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-1-9848-7875-5.
  18. ^ a b c Grayling, A. C. (2019-11-05). The History of Philosophy. Penguin. p. 68. ISBN 978-1-9848-7875-5.
  19. ^ Evangeliou, Christos C. (2001). "European Philosophy: Simply a Series of Footnotes to Plato?". Mediterranean Studies. 10: 167–180. ISSN 1074-164X. JSTOR 41166929.
  20. ^ Roman Philosophy (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  21. ^ The World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 15. World Book. 2000.
  22. ^ Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume II: From Augustine to Scotus (Burns & Oates, 1950), p. 1, dates medieval philosophy proper from the Carolingian Renaissance in the eighth century to the end of the fourteenth century, though he includes Augustine and the Patristic fathers as precursors. Desmond Henry, in Edwards 1967, pp. 252–257 volume 5, starts with Augustine and ends with Nicholas of Oresme in the late fourteenth century. David Luscombe, Medieval Thought (Oxford University Press, 1997), dates medieval philosophy from the conversion of Constantine in 312 to the Protestant Reformation in the 1520s. Christopher Hughes, in A.C. Grayling (ed.), Philosophy 2: Further through the Subject (Oxford University Press, 1998), covers philosophers from Augustine to Ockham. Gracia 2008, p. 620 identifies medieval philosophy as running from Augustine to John of St. Thomas in the seventeenth century. Kenny 2012, volume II begins with Augustine and ends with the Lateran Council of 1512.
  23. ^ Haskins, Charles H. (1898). "The Life of Medieval Students as Illustrated by their Letters". The American Historical Review. 3 (2): 203–229. doi:10.2307/1832500. JSTOR 1832500.
  24. ^ Schmitt & Skinner 1988, p. 5, loosely define the period as extending "from the age of Ockham to the revisionary work of Bacon, Descartes and their contemporaries.
  25. ^ Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume III: From Ockham to Suarez (The Newman Press, 1953), p. 18: "When one looks at Renaissance philosophy … one is faced at first sight with a rather bewildering assortment of philosophies."
  26. ^ Brian Copenhaver and Charles Schmitt, Renaissance Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 4: "one may identify the hallmark of Renaissance philosophy as an accelerated and enlarged interest, stimulated by newly available texts, in primary sources of Greek and Roman thought that were previously unknown or partially known or little read."
  27. ^ Gracia, Jorge J.E. Philosophy 2: Further through the Subject. p. 621. the humanists … restored man to the centre of attention and channeled their efforts to the recovery and transmission of classical learning, particularly in the philosophy of Plato. in Bunnin & Tsui-James 2008.
  28. ^ Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume III: From Ockham to Suarez (The Newman Press, 1953), p. 29: "The bulk of Renaissance thinkers, scholars and scientists were, of course, Christians … but none the less the classical revival … helped to bring to the fore a conception of autonomous man or an idea of the development of the human personality, which, though generally Christian, was more 'naturalistic' and less ascetic than the mediaeval conception."
  29. ^ Schmitt & Skinner 1988, pp. 61, 63: "From Petrarch the early humanists learnt their conviction that the revival of humanae literae was only the first step in a greater intellectual renewal" […] "the very conception of philosophy was changing because its chief object was now man—man was at centre of every inquiry."
  30. ^ Cassirer; Kristeller; Randall, eds. (1948). "Introduction". The Renaissance Philosophy of Man. University of Chicago Press.
  31. ^ James Daniel Collins, Interpreting Modern Philosophy, Princeton University Press, 2015, p. 85.
  32. ^ Brian Leiter (ed.), The Future for Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 44 n. 2.
  33. ^ "Hobbes: Moral and Political Philosophy". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Hobbes is the founding father of modern political philosophy. Directly or indirectly, he has set the terms of debate about the fundamentals of political life right into our own times."
  34. ^ "Contractarianism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.: "Contractarianism […] stems from the Hobbesian line of social contract thought"
  35. ^ Diane Collinson (1987). Fifty Major Philosophers, A Reference Guide. p. 125.
  36. ^ Rutherford 2006, p. xiii, defines its subject thus: "what has come to be known as "early modern philosophy"—roughly, philosophy spanning the period between the end of the sixteenth century and the end of the eighteenth century, or, in terms of figures, Montaigne through Kant." Nadler 2008, p. 1, likewise identifies its subject as "the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Kenny 2012, p. 107, introduces "early modern philosophy" as "the writings of the classical philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe".
  37. ^ Steven Nadler, A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, 2008, pp. 1–2: "By the seventeenth century […] it had become more common to find original philosophical minds working outside the strictures of the university—i.e., ecclesiastic—framework. […] by the end of the eighteenth century, [philosophy] was a secular enterprise."
  38. ^ Anthony Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3 (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. xii: "To someone approaching the early modern period of philosophy from an ancient and medieval background the most striking feature of the age is the absence of Aristotle from the philosophic scene."
  39. ^ Donald Rutherford, The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 1: "epistemology assumes a new significance in the early modern period as philosophers strive to define the conditions and limits of human knowledge."
  40. ^ Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, p. 211: "The period between Descartes and Hegel was the great age of metaphysical system-building."
  41. ^ Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, pp. 179–180: "the seventeenth century saw the gradual separation of the old discipline of natural philosophy into the science of physics […] [b]y the nineteenth century physics was a fully mature empirical science, operating independently of philosophy."
  42. ^ Jeffrey Tlumak, Classical Modern Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction, Routledge, 2006, p. xi: "[Classical Modern Philosophy] is a guide through the systems of the seven brilliant seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European philosophers most regularly taught in college Modern Philosophy courses".
  43. ^ a b Richard Schacht, Classical Modern Philosophers: Descartes to Kant, Routledge, 2013, p. 1: "Seven men have come to stand out from all of their counterparts in what has come to be known as the 'modern' period in the history of philosophy (i.e., the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries): Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Kant".
  44. ^ Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, pp. 212–331.
  45. ^ Nadler, A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, pp. 2–3: "Why should the early modern period in philosophy begin with Descartes and Bacon, for example, rather than with Erasmus and Montaigne? […] Suffice it to say that at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and especially with Bacon and Descartes, certain questions and concerns come to the fore—a variety of issues that motivated the inquiries and debates that would characterize much philosophical thinking for the next two centuries."
  46. ^ Rutherford, The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, p. 1: "Most often this [period] has been associated with the achievements of a handful of great thinkers: the so-called 'rationalists' (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) and 'empiricists' (Locke, Berkeley, Hume), whose inquiries culminate in Kant's 'Critical philosophy.' These canonical figures have been celebrated for the depth and rigor of their treatments of perennial philosophical questions..."
  47. ^ Nadler, A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, p. 2: "The study of early modern philosophy demands that we pay attention to a wide variety of questions and an expansive pantheon of thinkers: the traditional canonical figures (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume), to be sure, but also a large 'supporting cast'..."
  48. ^ Bruce Kuklick, "Seven Thinkers and How They Grew: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz; Locke, Berkeley, Hume; Kant" in Rorty, Schneewind, and Skinner (eds.), Philosophy in History (Cambridge University Press, 1984), p. 125: "Literary, philosophical, and historical studies often rely on a notion of what is canonical. In American philosophy scholars go from Jonathan Edwards to John Dewey; in American literature from James Fenimore Cooper to F. Scott Fitzgerald; in political theory from Plato to Hobbes and Locke […] The texts or authors who fill in the blanks from A to Z in these, and other intellectual traditions, constitute the canon, and there is an accompanying narrative that links text to text or author to author, a 'history of' American literature, economic thought, and so on. The most conventional of such histories are embodied in university courses and the textbooks that accompany them. This essay examines one such course, the History of Modern Philosophy, and the texts that helped to create it. If a philosopher in the United States were asked why the seven people in my title comprise Modern Philosophy, the initial response would be: they were the best, and there are historical and philosophical connections among them."
  49. ^ Rutherford 2006, p. 1: "epistemology assumes a new significance in the early modern period as philosophers strive to define the conditions and limits of human knowledge."
  50. ^ Kenny, A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 3, p. xiii.
  51. ^ Nadler, A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy, p. 3.
  52. ^ Karl Ameriks, Kant's Elliptical Path, Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 307: "The phenomenon of late modern philosophy can be said to have begun right around the pivotal year of 1781, when Kant's Critique of Pure Reason appeared. It was around this time that German thought started to understand itself as existing in a period when philosophy's main traditional options appeared to have been played out, and it no longer seemed appropriate to define oneself as simply modern or enlightened."
  53. ^ Baldwin 2003, p. Western philosophy, p. 4, at Google Booksby the 1870s Germany contained much of the best universities in the world. […] There were certainly more professors of philosophy in Germany in 1870 than anywhere else in the world, and perhaps more even than everywhere else put together.
  54. ^ Beiser, Frederick C., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel (Cambridge, 1993), page 2.
  55. ^ Frederick C. Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781–1801, Harvard University Press, 2002, p. viii: "the young romantics—Hölderlin, Schlegel, Novalis—[were] crucial figures in the development of German idealism."
  56. ^ Baldwin 2003, p. 119: "within a hundred years of the first stirrings in the early nineteenth century [logic] had undergone the most fundamental transformation and substantial advance in its history."
  57. ^ Nicholas Joll, "Contemporary Metaphilosophy"
  58. ^ Spindel Conference 2002 – 100 Years of Metaethics. The Legacy of G.E. Moore, University of Memphis, 2003, p. 165.
  59. ^ M.E. Waithe (ed.), A History of Women Philosophers: Volume IV: Contemporary Women Philosophers, 1900-Today, Springer, 1995.
  60. ^ Russell, Bertrand (22 February 1999). "The Principles of Mathematics (1903)". Fair-use.org. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  61. ^ Halberstadt, Max (c. 1921). "Sigmund Freud, half-length portrait, facing left, holding cigar in right hand". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on 28 December 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  62. ^ Michael Rosen, "Continental Philosophy from Hegel", in A. C. Grayling (ed.), Philosophy 2: Further through the Subject, Oxford University Press (1998), p. 665.
  63. ^ John Macquarrie, Existentialism, New York (1972), pages 18–21.
  64. ^ Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Ted Honderich, New York (1995), page 259.
  65. ^ John Macquarrie, Existentialism, New York (1972), pages 14–15.
  66. ^ Robert C. Solomon, Existentialism (McGraw-Hill, 1974), pages 1–2.
  67. ^ Ernst Breisach, Introduction to Modern Existentialism, New York (1962), page 5
  68. ^ Walter Kaufmann, Existentialism: From Dostoevesky to Sartre, New York (1956), page 12
  69. ^ Matustik, Martin J. (1995). Kierkegaard in Post/Modernity. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-20967-2.
  70. ^ Solomon, Robert (2001). What Nietzsche Really Said. Schocken. ISBN 978-0-8052-1094-1.
  71. ^ Religious thinkers were among those influenced by Kierkegaard. Christian existentialists include Gabriel Marcel, Nicholas Berdyaev, Miguel de Unamuno, and Karl Jaspers (although he preferred to speak of his "philosophical faith"). The Jewish philosophers Martin Buber and Lev Shestov have also been associated with existentialism.
  72. ^ Frederick C. Beiser, German Idealism: The Struggle Against Subjectivism, 1781-1801, Harvard University Press, 2002, part I.
  73. ^ Geuss, R. The Idea of a Critical Theory, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, ch. 4.
  74. ^ Smith, Woodruff D. (2007). Husserl. Routledge.
  75. ^ Dreyfus, Hubert L.; Wrathall, Mark A. (2011). A Companion to Phenomenology and Existentialism. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4443-5656-4.
  76. ^ Pragmatism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). 13 September 2013. Retrieved 13 September 2013.
  77. ^ Rorty, Richard (1982). The Consequences of Pragmatism. Minnesota: Minnesota University Press. p. xvi.
  78. ^ Putnam, Hilary (1995). Pragmatism: An Open Question. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 8–12.
  79. ^ Peirce, C. S. (1878), "How to Make Our Ideas Clear", Popular Science Monthly, v. 12, 286–302. Reprinted often, including Collected Papers v. 5, paragraphs 388–410 and Essential Peirce v. 1, 124–41. See end of §II for the pragmatic maxim. See third and fourth paragraphs in §IV for the discoverability of truth and the real by sufficient investigation. Also see quotes from Peirce from across the years in the entries for "Truth" and "Pragmatism, Maxim of..." in the Commens Dictionary of Peirce's Terms, Mats Bergman and Sami Paavola, editors, University of Helsinki.
  80. ^ Peirce on p. 293 of "How to Make Our Ideas Clear", Popular Science Monthly, v. 12, pp. 286–302. Reprinted widely, including Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (CP) v. 5, paragraphs 388–410.
  81. ^ Pratt, J.B. (1909). What is Pragmatism?. New York: Macmillan. p. 89.
  82. ^ Pragmatism – Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  83. ^ William Egginton/Mike Sandbothe (eds.). The Pragmatic Turn in Philosophy. Contemporary Engagement between Analytic and Continental Thought. SUNY Press. 2004. Back cover.
  84. ^ "Alfred North Whitehead (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)".
  85. ^ William Blattner, "Some Thoughts About "Continental" and "Analytic" Philosophy"
  86. ^ Seibt, Johanna. "Process Philosophy". In Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  87. ^ Nicholas Gaskill, A.J. Nocek, The Lure of Whitehead, University of Minnesota Press, 2014, p. 4: "it is no wonder that Whitehead fell by the wayside. He was too scientific for the "continentals," not scientific enough for the "analytics," and too metaphysical—which is to say uncritical—for them both" and p. 231: "the analytics and continentals are both inclined toward Kantian presuppositions in a manner that Latour and Whitehead brazenly renounce."
  88. ^ Kerr, Fergu (2008). After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-4051-3714-0.
  89. ^ Aquinas, De veritate, Q. 2, art. 3, answer 19.
  90. ^ Feser, Edward (2009). Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide. Oneworld Publications. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-85168-690-2.
  91. ^ Paterson, Craig; Pugh, Matthew S. (2006). Analytical Thomism: Traditions in Dialogue. Ashgate. ISBN 978-0-7546-3438-6.

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