Philosophy is a discipline that studies and tries to answer some fundamental questions for human beings: what is the meaning of existence, the search for truth, morality , ethics, beauty, language, the mind, among many others.

In the West, we have divided philosophy into some stages (for example, Greek philosophy, medieval philosophy and modern philosophy) and within each one we have placed different thinkers who have helped us to understand and produce social and cultural changes.

In this article you will find 30 of the most famous philosophers in history in Western societies, as well as a brief description of their theories.

The most important and famous philosophers in history

Despite the fact that thousands of people are involved in the course of history, there are thinkers whose influence on the intellectual world is so relevant that it modifies, to a greater or lesser degree, how societies evolve. In this selection of philosophers you will find the most relevant intellectuals as far as Western countries are concerned.

Thales of Miletus (624-548 B.C.)

Considered the first philosopher of Western culture, he was one of the first to give a rational explanation to the phenomena of the world . He proposed that water is the element that gives rise to all living things and through it he relates it to the soul, movement and divinity.

He is considered to be one of the first astrologers in Western history and is credited with the works The Solstice and The Equinox, although it has been difficult to ascertain whether he actually wrote them.

  • “The 32 best phrases of Thales of Miletus”

2. Heraclitus (563-470 B.C.)

Also known as The Dark One of Ephesus, he used to lead a solitary life and is recognized as one of the inaugurators of metaphysics . He criticized some religious concepts of his time and considered fire to be the main element of life. He was one of the first to use the concept of “becoming” as a basic reality underlying everything that exists.

  • “Heraclitus’s 35 best phrases”

3. Anaxymen (588-524 B.C.)

Anaxímenes explained some processes that were later taken up by modern physics, which are those of condensation and rarefaction. Also was one of the first to divide the days according to the geometry of shadows , so he is credited with having invented the clock.

Together with Thales and Anaximander of Miletus, he is recognized as one of the first astronomers and founders of Ionian philosophy, which studied the atmospheric state and movements of the celestial bodies.

4. Pythagoras (569-475 B.C.)

Greek philosopher and mathematician, his thought is one of the oldest and most important antecedents of mathematics, analytical geometry and modern rational philosophy .

He is remembered for having developed the Pythagorean theorem which is used to measure the length and angles of the rectangular triangle, and works such as The Harmony of the Spheres. In fact, in some contexts he is known as the philosopher of numbers.

  • “Pythagoras’s 35 best famous phrases”

5. Democritus (460-370 B.C.)

One of the first to defend that everything that exists is made up of atoms (even the soul, which is where true happiness is found), so he has been placed in the group of atomist philosophers.

He maintains that ethics and virtue are achieved by the balance of the passions, which in turn is achieved through knowledge and prudence . His theory includes books of poetry, physics, mathematics, philology and technology.

  • “The 24 best phrases of Democritus, Greek philosopher”

6. Socrates (469-399 B.C.)

Socrates is recognized as the thinker who transformed the direction of European philosophy and the wisest of the Greek philosophers. His works are written in the form of dialogues and were transmitted by his disciples.

The basis of his philosophy is the idea of virtue as the foundation of knowledge and wisdom. That is why is recognized as a moral theory based on the recognition of good and justice.

  • “70 phrases of Socrates to understand his thought”

7. Plato (427-348 B.C.)

One of Plato’s most studied theories is the theory of ideas , with which he defends the existence of two opposite worlds: that of ideas (the universal reality that is immovable), and the sensible world (the particular reality that can be modified).

Plato was strongly influenced by the philosophy of Socrates, but also by the pluralists, the Pythagoreans and other pre-Socratic philosophers. He was also one of the first to study the body as an entity separated from the soul , insisted on form and eternal order, on the transience of sensible things, and on using logical reasoning based on mathematics and astronomy. All this has made this thinker one of the most important philosophers in history, especially within the scope of Ancient Greece.

8. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)

Plato’s most renowned student, he sought the ultimate essence of the human being. He had a great interest in biology and his thought had an important medical heritage that was taken up again in the beginnings of modern science.

He was also interested in the study of logic, metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, psychology and aesthetics, and is credited with establishing the great divisions in philosophy. He is one of the most representative figures of The Academy, the philosophical school founded by Plato, and later, he founded his own school: The Lyceum.

  • “Aristotle’s 100 Best Sentences”

9. Epicurus (341-270 B.C.)

Philosopher who inaugurates the school of epicureanism, where the central elements are rational hedonism and atomism .

He defended the pursuit of pleasure directed at prudence. He rejected the idea of destiny and also the idea of fatality that was very recurrent in Greek literature.

  • “Epicure’s 40 Greatest Quotes”

10. St. Augustine (354-430)

A philosopher-theologian, an outstanding member of the school of La Patristica, whose most remembered work is The City of God, where he tried to counteract the attack of those who thought or lived in a way contrary to Christianity.

Among his outstanding reflections are first God, then the soul, and finally the world. He defended the existence of logical truths , which for him resided in the cases in which the statements corresponded to external reality; and ontological truths, which referred to being.

11. Averroes (1126-1198)

Averroes was a philosopher of Andalusian origin who was considered one of the most important teachers of Islamic philosophy and law, but also of medicine and astronomy.

His thought influenced both Western societies and Islamic philosophy and is recognized as a philosopher and theologian who questioned the relationship between religion and science , faith and reason, and with his philosophy he sought to validate both.

12. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Philosopher and theologian from the scholastic school , whose philosophy is fundamentally realistic and concrete, but based on the exploration of the idea that the divine exists. In order to describe reality, he takes the existing world as a starting point, and therefore a part of his thought is centred on the idea of Supreme Existence.

He recognized two dimensions of knowledge that in both cases come from God, so they are collaborative and give rise to theology: natural knowledge, which refers to reason and logic; and supernatural knowledge, which refers to faith.

  • “The 70 best phrases of St. Thomas Aquinas”

13. William of Occam (1288-1349)

William of Occam is recognized as one of the philosophers who laid the foundation for the change between the theological philosophy of the Middle Ages and modern philosophy. He distinguishes between reason and faith , separates himself from the proposals of both St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and develops a thought of his own known as nominalism.

According to Occam, we cannot know the intimate essence of beings through the reason that categorizes those beings in species, but we can only know them through their individuality and basic sensory experience. That is why his philosophy is recognized as the beginnings of modern experimental science.

14. René Descartes (1596-1650)

Rene Descartes is credited with laying the foundations of modern philosophy. One of his most popular phrases is cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am), in which he argues that the world is composed of two separate substances: the mind and the body. In short, it consolidates a dualistic vision of reality.

He proposed a philosophy of reason centered on the subject, that is, that absolute truth is found in the mind , which equates it with the idea of God, and that valid knowledge is built by rational thought and calculation.

  • You may be interested in: “The valuable contributions of René Descartes to Psychology”

15. John Locke (1632-1704)

He is recognized as the father of classical liberalism and one of the main philosophers of the school of empiricism . His reflections revolve around the relationship between science and democracy, and his ideas inspired a large part of the foundations of contemporary democratic societies.

He rejected the existence of a biological determinism in the human being, so there are no innate ideas, but all come from experience. This had an important influence on modern epistemology, that is, the theory of knowledge that laid the foundations of scientific development.

  • “John Locke’s 65 Greatest Famous Quotes”

16. David Hume (1711-1776)

It represents the empiricist philosophy, which considers that knowledge does not arise in an innate way (as the rationalists maintained), but that it is constructed through sensitive experience.

He was interested in the relationship between the profoundly critical philosophy of religion and attention to the transmission of the world through education and traditions. Among his most important works are the Treatise on Human Nature , and essays on morality and politics.

17. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

One of the main exponents of both empiricism and rationalism, maintains that knowledge is composed not only of reason but also of experience. He tried to find the relationship between nature and spirit and to discover the principles of action and free will.

For Kant, the primary forms of sensitivity are space and time, and these are the categories we can make intelligible reality. To achieve this intelligibility and to make use of the things of the world we must adapt them, so finally we cannot know them as they are, but in their version manipulated by ourselves. For this philosopher, what exists beyond human perception, the so-called noúmeno , cannot be known perfectly.

18. Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)

He is considered the highest representative of German idealism and one of the paradigms of modern man. He develops much of his thought around the “absolute idea” which is the ultimate cause of the world, an objective cause that can only manifest itself in self-knowledge.

He argues that everything develops in a dialectical way , that is, through constant change and the development of history. For Hegel the dialectical method has three moments: thesis, antithesis and synthesis, and serves to understand the real situation of the world.

  • “Hegel’s 32 best famous quotes”

19. Auguste Comte (1798-1857)

French philosopher who is known as the father of positivism, a philosophy that was considered superior to materialism and idealism and which proposes that authentic knowledge can only be achieved by the scientific method, that is, by the testing of hypotheses.

He is also remembered as one of the founders of modern sociology along with Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim. Another of his famous theories is the theory of evolution or the law of the three stages, which served to describe the mind and knowledge as processes that advanced through a theological stage, then a metaphysical one and finally a positive one.

20. Karl Marx (1818-1833)

Recognized for making strong criticisms of capitalism, he proposed that capitalist societies are structured by social classes, and that the struggle of those classes is what makes societies change. In this sense, the ideal society is one governed by the proletarian class and a socialism without a state.

He developed modern communism and, together with Engels, Marxism. Some of his most important ideas are that of surplus value, the theory of class struggle and the materialist conception of history .

21. Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)

One of the greatest defenders of revolutionary democracy, freedom and the social transformation that comes from the hand of the people. He strongly criticizes religion, as well as the economic system based on private property.

Currently his most studied works are the Communist Manifesto , From Utopian Socialism to Scientific Socialism and the Introduction to the Dialectics of Nature .

22. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Of German origin, Nietzsche is especially remembered for the phrase “God is dead” with which he wanted to criticize religion, ideals and Western philosophy based on moral and false norms .

He had faith in the appearance of a new man, whom he called the Superman, who could overcome traditional morality and generate his own system of values with a genuine will to power. This is why Nietzsche is considered one of the most powerful critics of modernity.

  • “Nietzsche’s 60 best famous phrases”

23. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

Also of German origin, Heidegger is one of the representatives of the existentialist philosophy , since he thinks that the human being has been thrown to the existence (without having asked for it), reason why the main mission of philosophy must be to clarify the sense of the being, to which I denominate Dasein (to be there).

24. Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

French philosopher considered one of the greatest exponents of the existentialist current, which became especially popular as a result of the Second World War.

Some of the key questions in his thinking have to do with the meaning of life in relation to the idea of freedom and personal responsibility . Among his most famous works are Nausea and Critique of Dialectical Reason .

25. Jürgen Habermas (1921-)

Habermas’s thought has been one of the most influential in modern philosophy . He describes modern and contemporary values by proposing that modernity is based on a cultural disarticulation in the cognitive sphere (due to scientific and technological progress), the evaluative sphere (related to moral and ethical evolution); and the aesthetic-expressive sphere, which is expressed in countercultural forms of life.

He is credited with having made important contributions to critical social theory, theory of science, theory of language and meaning, and theory of action and ethics.

26. Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017)

One of the most important contemporary sociologists , whose work has been considered key to understanding today’s societies. Bauman’s thought analyses social networks, the social changes caused by the expansion of the internet and social movements of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Perhaps the most prominent term in Bauman’s work is “liquid modernity”, in which he questions the ways of life of the post-modern subject in the face of the multiplicity and instability of references and imaginaries and the lack of lasting values.

  • “Zygmunt Bauman’s 70 best sentences”

27. Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Foucault is one of the most important thinkers of the 21st century, who has characterized himself as a poststructuralist philosopher for his criticism of the structuralist current that had defined activity in the social sciences.

He developed a new notion of subject that starts from a critique of the contemporary institutions that objectify him (such as the prison, the psychiatric hospital, or science itself), as well as from the analysis of power relations and, above all, from the question of how human beings become subjects.

  • “75 phrases and reflections by Michel Foucault”

28. Noam Chomsky (1928-)

Chomsky is an American and socialist philosopher, political scientist and linguist who has conducted important studies in linguistic and cognitive theory as well as political activism. His most popular theory is the universal grammar , with which he has proposed that language acquisition has common and innate principles in all languages.

He is also famous for his defense of libertarian political structures and his criticism of capitalism, social Darwinism and U.S. imperialism.

  • “Noam Chomsky’s 30 best famous quotes”

29. Slavoj Zizek (1949-)

A philosopher of Slovenian origin who is considered one of the most important critical thinkers of modern times. His theories incorporate the proposals of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxist dialectical materialism and revolve around political and cultural movements , current social crises, the construction of ideologies and contemporary systems of thought.

Among his most outstanding works are El sublime objeto de la ideología , Estudios culturales. reflexiones sobre el multiculturalismo and ¿Quién dijo totalitarismo? Five interventions on the (mis)use of a notion .

  • “Slavoj Zizek’s 20 best famous quotes”

30. Byung-Chul Han (1959-)

Philosopher and essayist originally from Seoul and professor at the University of the Arts in Berlin, whose thought has become increasingly important in studies of the contemporary era.

His works make a criticism to the economic and political systems based on the neoliberalism , the labour competition, the digital exhibitionism and the little political transparency of the current societies.

Bibliographic references:

  • Pérez, J. (2014). John Locke. Notebook of Scientific Culture. Retrieved March 4, 2018. Available at
  • Labrador, A. (2015). Jürgen Habermas: communicative action, reflexivity and the world of life. Sociological record, 67:e24-e51.
  • Chávez, P. (2004). Historia de las doctrinas filosóficas (History of Philosophical Doctrines). Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México: Mexico.
  • Roa, A. (1995). Modernidad y Posmodernidad. Coincidences and fundamental differences. Editorial Andrés Bello: Chile
  • Armstrong, A.H. (1993). Introduction to ancient philosophy. University of Buenos Aires: Buenos Aires
  • Leaman, O. (1988). Averroes and his Philosophy. Routledge: USA.
  • Copleston, F. (1960). St. Thomas Aquinas. History of Philosophy Volume II. Retrieved March 4, 2018. Available at