A philosopher is an individual who practices philosophy, a term originating from Ancient Greece and denoting a 'lover of wisdom'. Traditionally, philosophers dedicated their lives to addressing existential questions about the human condition. This wasn't necessarily tied to discourses or commentary on theories or authors. However, contemporary philosophers are intellectuals who contribute to various branches of philosophy, including aesthetics, ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics, among others.
The history of philosophy can be traced back to the ancient Hindu Vedas, composed between 1500-1200 BCE, which provided answers to significant existential questions. The Vedas consist of six schools of philosophy, each dedicated to understanding different aspects of the world and the individual's relationship to it.
Philosophy separated from theology in Greece during the 6th century BC, starting with thinkers such as Thales and Pythagoras. Ancient philosophers dedicated their lives to the pursuit of wisdom, leading to the creation of different Hellenistic schools of philosophy. This era concluded with Marcus Aurelius, who, despite embodying the philosophical life, refused to label himself as a philosopher due to his duties as an emperor.
The medieval period saw philosophy become increasingly tied to theology, with the concept of a philosopher changing to denote someone leading a monastic life. This transition was influenced by Christianity's rise and the development of universities, which professionalized the teaching of philosophy. By the early modern era, philosophers like René Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz continued to view philosophy as a way of life, but the modern concept of philosophy, tied to academia, was gaining prominence.
In the modern era, many philosophers remain in academia, making it a significant part of the professionalization process within the discipline. However, philosophers can also employ their skills in other fields such as medicine, law, and business. Key thinkers throughout history include Claude Henri Saint-Simon, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Lao Zi, Confucius, and many more. Female philosophers have always existed but have been largely excluded from the philosophical Western canon. Prizes in philosophy, such as the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy, the Rolf Schock Prizes, and the Avicenna Prize, honor significant contributions in the field.