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).
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. Those who most arduously committed themselves to this lifestyle would have been considered philosophers, and they typically followed a Hellenistic philosophy.
In a modern sense, a philosopher is an intellectual who contributes to one or more branches of philosophy, such as 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.
This section is about the history of philosophers as an occupation. For a history of philosophy in general, see History of philosophy.
Ancient India and the Vedas
The first account of philosophy composed can be found in the ancient Hindu vedas, written between 1500-1200 BCE (Rigveda) and circa 1200-900 BCE (Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda). Before the Vedas were composed, they were orally passed down from generation to generation.
The word veda means "knowledge." In the modern world, we use the term "science" to identify the kind of authoritative knowledge upon which human progress is based. In Vedic times, the primary focus of science was the eternal; human progress meant the advancement of spiritual awareness yielding the soul's release from the entrapment of material nature etc.
Vedic Philosophy provides answers to all unanswered questions i.e why there is pain and pleasure, rich and poor, healthy and sick; God - His qualities, nature and works. Soul – Its nature and qualities, souls of humans and animals; reincarnation – how does it happens, why one is born as he or she is. What is the purpose of life? What we ought to do?
Vedic knowledge comprises the four Vedas (Rig, Yajur, Sāma, and Atharva) with their numerous Samhita, 108 Upanishad, 18 Purāna, Mahabharata, several Tantra texts. The entire Vedic Philosophy is divided into six systems:
Nyaya: The Philosophy of Logic and Reasoning
Vaisesika: Essence of things
Sankhya: Nontheistic Dualism
Yoga: Self-Discipline for Self-Realization
Mimansa: Reflection of dharma
Vedanta: The Conclusion of the Vedic Revelation The understanding of this system involves the pragmatic knowledge of how society must be organized, how the economy should be managed, and how the political class must govern society
In short, all six schools of Vedic philosophy aim to describe the nature of the external world and its relationship to the individual, to go beyond the world of appearances to ultimate Reality, and to describe the goal of life and the means for attaining this goal.
Ancient Greece and Rome
The separation of philosophy and science from theology began in Greece during the 6th century BC. Thales, an astronomer and mathematician, was considered by Aristotle to be the first philosopher of the Greek tradition.
While Pythagoras coined the word, the first known elaboration on the topic was conducted by Plato. In his Symposium, he concludes that love is that which lacks the object it seeks. Therefore, the philosopher is one who seeks wisdom; if he attains wisdom, he would be a sage. Therefore, the philosopher in antiquity was one who lives in the constant pursuit of wisdom, and living in accordance to that wisdom. 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. 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.
Among the last of these philosophers was Marcus Aurelius, who is widely regarded as a philosopher in the modern sense, but personally refused to call himself by such a title, since he had a duty to live as an emperor.
According to the Classicist Pierre Hadot, the modern conception of a philosopher and philosophy developed predominately through three changes:
The first is the natural inclination of the philosophical mind. Philosophy is a tempting discipline which can easily carry away the individual in analyzing the universe and abstract theory.
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.
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.
In the fourth century, the word philosopher began to designate a man or woman who led a monastic life. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, describes how his sister Macrina persuaded their mother to forsake "the distractions of material life" for a life of philosophy.
Later during the Middle Ages, persons who engaged with alchemy were called philosophers – thus, the Philosopher's Stone.
Early Modern Era
Generally speaking, university philosophy is mere fencing in front of a mirror. In the last analysis, its goal is to give students opinions which are to the liking of the minister who hands out the Chairs... As a result, this state-financed philosophy makes a joke of philosophy. And yet, if there is one thing desirable in this world, it is to see a ray of light fall onto the darkness of our lives, shedding some kind of light on the mysterious enigma of our existence.
— Arthur Schopenhauer
Many philosophers still emerged from the Classical tradition, as saw their philosophy as a way of life. Among the most notable are René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, Nicolas Malebranche, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. With the rise of the university, the modern conception of philosophy became more prominent. Many of the esteemed philosophers of the eighteenth century and onward have attended, taught, and developed their works in university. Early examples include: Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
After these individuals, the Classical conception had all but died with the exceptions of Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche. The last considerable figure in philosophy to not have followed a strict and orthodox academic regime was Ludwig Wittgenstein.
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. According to a 1993 study by the National Research Council (as reported by the American Philosophical Association), 77.1% of the 7,900 holders of a PhD in philosophy who responded were employed in educational institutions (academia). Outside academia, philosophers may employ their writing and reasoning skills in other careers, such as medicine[vague], bioethics, business, publishing, free-lance writing, media, and law.
Some known French social thinkers are Claude Henri Saint-Simon, Auguste Comte, and Émile Durkheim. British social thought, with thinkers such as Herbert Spencer, addressed questions and ideas relating to political economy and social evolution. The political ideals of John Ruskin were a precursor of social economy (Unto This Last had a very important impact on Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy). Important German philosophers and social thinkers included Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, and Martin Heidegger. Important Italian social scientists include Antonio Gramsci, Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, Franco Ferrarotti, and Elena Cornaro Piscopia.
Important Chinese philosophers and social thinkers included Shang Yang, Lao Zi, Confucius, Mencius, Wang Chong, Wang Yangming, Li Zhi, Zhu Xi, Gu Yanwu, Gong Zizhen, Wei Yuan, Kang Youwei, Lu Xun, and Mao Zedong. Indian philosophers include Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanuja, Chanakya, Buddha, Mahavira, Śāntarakṣita, Dharmakirti, and Nagarjuna.
Main article: Women in philosophy
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Women have engaged in philosophy throughout the field's history. While there have been women philosophers since ancient times, and a relatively small number were accepted as philosophers during the ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary eras, particularly during the 20th and 21st century, almost no woman philosophers have entered the philosophical Western canon. Notable female philosophers include Maitreyi, Gargi Vachaknavi, Ghosha, Hypatia, Hipparchia of Maroneia, Mary Wollstonecraft, G. E. M. Anscombe, and Susanne Langer.
Prizes in philosophy
See also: Philosophy Prize Category
Various prizes in philosophy exist; among the most prominent:
Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy
Rolf Schock Prizes
Berggruen Philosophy Prize
Certain esteemed philosophers, such as Henri Bergson, Bertrand Russell, Rudolf Christoph Eucken, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre, have also won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity, created by the Library of Congress to recognize work not covered by the Nobel Prizes, has been given to philosophers: Leszek Kołakowski in 2003, Paul Ricoeur in 2004, and Jürgen Habermas and Charles Taylor in 2015.