A philosopher is a person who practices or investigates 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).[1] 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.[2] Those who most arduously committed themselves to this lifestyle would have been considered philosophers.

Occupation type
Activity sectors
Competenciesverbal reasoning, intellect, academic ability
Education required
university education (usually postgraduate) or (mostly historically) equivalent tertiary education
Fields of
Related jobs
lecturer, author, essayist

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.


The separation of philosophy and science from theology began in Greece during the 6th century BC.[3] Thales, an astronomer and mathematician, was considered by Aristotle to be the first philosopher of the Greek tradition.[lower-alpha 1] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6]

According to the Classicist Pierre Hadot, the modern conception of a philosopher and philosophy developed predominantly through three changes:[6] 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.[6] 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.[6] 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.[6]

Many philosophers still emerged from the Classical tradition, as saw their philosophy as a way of life. However, 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. [7] 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.[8] 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). Various prizes in philosophy exist; including the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy, the Rolf Schock Prizes the Avicenna Prize and the Berggruen Philosophy Prize. Some philosophers have also won the Nobel Prize in Literature and The John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity. Outside academia, philosophers may employ their writing and reasoning skills in other careers, such as medicine, bioethics, business, publishing, free-lance writing, media, and law.[9]

See also


  1. Aristotle, Metaphysics Alpha, 983b18
  1. φιλόσοφος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel. p. 4
  3. Russell 1946, pp. 10–11.
  4. Hadot 1995, p. 27.
  5. Hadot 1995, p. 5.
  6. Hadot 1995, pp. 30–32.
  7. Hadot 1995, p. 271.
  8. Purcell, Edward A. (1979). Kuklick, Bruce (ed.). "The Professionalization of Philosophy". Reviews in American History. 7 (1): 51–57. doi:10.2307/2700960. ISSN 0048-7511. JSTOR 2700960.
  9. APA Committee on Non-Academic Careers (June 1999). "A non-academic career?" (3rd ed.). American Philosophical Association. Retrieved 24 May 2014.


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