Philosophical thinkers have had a great impact on how the western world developed. Science and politics, as well as our laws and morals, owe a lot to the big ideas these philosophers came up with. However, many people don’t even know their names. Seven of these thinkers have had the most impact on the modern world.
The Ancient Greeks are the most famous of the philosophers. When people think about philosophy, an image of one of these names will usually come to mind. Aristotle, for example, tops just about every list of the greatest philosophers in history. His influence was huge, and he wrote on logic, ethics, politics, and science.
Two other well-known Greeks, Plato and Socrates, worked around the same time as Aristotle. Plato taught Aristotle initially, but their philosophies diverged later as Aristotle formed his own opinions. Plato in turn was taught by Socrates, and through him many of the Socratic ideas lived on. This is especially important since Socrates never wrote anything down.
Britain also produced influential philosophers. Two of the most famous are David Hume and John Locke. Locke had a very practical and simple style. His philosophy was based on the idea that our knowledge comes from our senses. Though famous for philosophy, he was actually a physician by trade.
The rise in popularity of Hume, a Scottish skeptic and empiricist, would mark the beginning of a new way to philosophize. His main idea was that human knowledge is derived from sensory experiences. In his view, our beliefs come from our feelings and ideas about how the world should be.
Mainland Europe produced two major philosophers in the form of Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant. They were both influenced by Locke, and Kant especially was able to become a major voice due to Hume’s ideas. Kant, a German, argued that we can only know what we perceive the world to be, an idea called the phenomenal world. We cannot know, in his opinion, what the world is really like. Descartes lived in the 1500s, long before Kant. In some ways he founded modern philosophy with his ideas, and his famous quote is known by many. It is: “I think, therefore I am”. This quote sums up his ideas well.
In his view, perception is unreliable, and deduction is the only way to examine, prove, or disprove anything. He glorified the infinite power of the human mind and the strength of mind over the body.
Other lesser-known philosophers have a role to play in the history of this science and art. These include Arthur Schopenhauer, and the Greeks Seneca, Heraclitus and Parmenides. Seneca was a Stoic that emphasized wisdom and a happy life, Schopenhauer was a pessimistic thinker that said we could use art to bring us temporary happiness, while Heraclitus and Parmenides both believed the universe could be reduced to one thing. For Heraclitus, this was divine reason. For Parmenides, it was a state of indivisible unity.